Livescribe Sky Wi-Fi Smartpen Hardware Review

Livescribe Sky Wi-Fi Smartpen Hardware Review

Feb 25, 2015

When I look at adding accessories to my workflow, I try to keep to a few important precepts: portability, functionality and compatibility. Portability is obvious; the ability to use stuff on the go is quite important. With regards to functionality, before adding an addition or substitution to my creative/work process, I’d rather know that it is worth the time to make a change. Lastly, the ability to use a tool with other tools and across platforms is priceless.

On paper, Livescribe’s Sky Wi-Fi Smartpen seems to touch on these elements quite comfortably.

Livescribe has created quite the niche with in the smartpen offerings; it has several products, with one of the most celebrated (Livescribe 3 Smartpen) on its way to full Android compatibility shortly. The Sky Smartpen is more of a cross-platform workhorse that boasts some admirable tricks up its sleeve.

The review unit Livescribe sent us showed the piece in its retail glory: the 4GB pen, micro-USB cable, two covers and a good deal of documentation. Livescribe also cobbled together starter pack of sorts, as we also got a Livescribe starter notebook and a more ostentatious Livescribe Moleskine Lined Dot Paper Notebook.

live2

The pen itself is interestingly designed, and, at first glance, I suspected it might be a tad unwieldy. It looks a bit like a traditional fountain pen, tapering from the “top” to the exposed pen tip. On the frame, one finds a speaker grill, microphone and monochrome OLED display, while at the very bottom, there is a 3.55mm audio jack and a micro-USB charging port. The unit also has a built-in camera and wi-fi chip.

The smartpen arrived mostly charged, do I was able to get right into using it. The online setup hints at some if the functionality coming up, as one gets it up and running with wi-fi and also connects to Evernote. Holding it in hand allayed in handling concerns I might have had.

live8

The key is the paper in the notebooks. Using microdot technology and the camera in the pen, it allows the device accept commands from the paper, but also, it takes written data and translates it to Evernote, such that one sees a digitized form of the handwritten note in Evernote just as it appears in the notepad. It’s an interesting concept, and depends on wifi connectivity and, of course, the aforementioned paper.

In practice, the solution is dreamy. The paper incorporates visual commands that can be read by the smartpen camera when an icon is touched by the tip. One can write notes on the microdot paper, or initiate a voice note by visual voice command. When finished, syncing can be attempted (by icon as well), and it appears in a corresponding Evernote notebook. Even the setup is pretty interesting, and is facilitated by the same paper-camera combination.

live7

The end result, when it works, is a smooth concept. I used it to take training notes while coaching, and having a digital copy that can be shared and otherwise manipulated is invaluable. Evernote functionality itself opens up a a wealth of secondary options (like Skitch) which increase usability. The microphone allows it to be used as a an audio recorder.

Ah, but the key is when it works. Updating the unit was a bit of a drag, and it took me quite some time to fix a sync issue. The notebook is a phenomenal idea, and while the smartpen can be used as, well, a pen, for full functionality, one needs to use the companion paper. Now, Livescribe does provide templates for people to print, but a postscript printer is needed to provide the visuals the smartpen needs to interface with. Also, the Sky Smartpen (at $170 on Amazon) can be a sizable investment.

There are a bunch of accessories, from pen cases to dedicated headphones to replacement ink cartridges that can potentially add even more usability to this device.

Even though it isn’t new on the market, this piece is an excellent cross-platform tool that creates a viable connected solution in the right hands.

It’s hard to put a price on that.

Skylink Alarm System Hardware Review

Skylink Alarm System Hardware Review

Feb 25, 2015

In another life, I was involved in safety, and I remember how involved securing people and places could be. The physical system themselves could be confusing mazes of people and incompatible hardware. It was madness, and the people who were most in the dark tended to be the consumers themselves.

Thankfully, home automation in general (and, specifically in this case, Skylink Alarm System) gives the power back to the Everyday Person.

The Starter Kit review unit Skylink sent us was interestingly small, but packed quite a lot: a singular Internet Hub, one Keychain Remote, a Motion Sensor, power adapter, ethernet cable and a small cache of screws and such for optional mounting. Not included, but needed to set up are a total of seven (7) AAA and AA batteries. The idea is that the Hub acts as the brains, and the other pieces connect together to create a cloud-supported, user controlled safety and security network.

Setup is intuitive enough; after batteries are installed, the powered Hub gets connected to a modem. Then, with the help of the SkylinkNet Android application (which requires prior account creation), one can complete the setup of the Hub, and the overall system settings. Next, the sensors and included keychain can be paired and programmed with notification settings, chimes, names and more.
skylink2

Next, one gets to place the sensors where they need to me. yes, I probably enjoyed this way more than I should have. The included double-sided tape is especially useful here, and I was more or less able to test out the best location for the sensors continually.

I was impressed as to how similar it is to a conventional alarm system. Things like arming, disarming, delayed exit and such are all supported via the app and keychain. The Hub provides audio sound to accompany activity based on the status of the system. As an added benefit, the app can also be used to control Skylink home automation modules.

skylink3

I absolutely adore the fact that the setup is infinitely expandable/customizable; one can literally build to suit with extra pieces such as sensors, outdoor alarms, vibration sensors, silent alarms, and more. A system based on power and internet connectivity does have at least two potential flaws, and I like that the Hub incorporates battery backup to somewhat ameliorate that issue, along with the option of phone backup functionality. The app is fairly expansive (up to 100 sensors and controllers), and works well as a software bridge, while simultaneously providing backup control. I do think more documentation and more consistent app navigation is needed.

Put together, it is a much better DIY solution than I envisaged. No contracts here, but the flip here is that at the basic level, it’s all on the user. Still, how can one not be a fan of consumer control, especially with regards to home automation?

Juno Power Kaebo Micro-USB Cable Hardware Review

Juno Power Kaebo Micro-USB Cable Hardware Review

Feb 24, 2015

You got the device, and now you want to keep it alive to keep you happy. First thing you think of? It probably should be about the charging cable. Now, most devices do come with their charge cables, but what if one wants something a bit tougher, and one that can go from device to device, charging and syncing on the way?

That’s where the Juno Power Kaebo Charge and Sync Cable comes in.

The retail package Juno Power sent us highlights a piece that looks atypically interesting for a power cable. It’s mostly gray finishing is book-ended by expected silver tips; these tips are aluminum though for increased functionality. The main body is fairly different in look and feel, as it consists of a braided cloth exterior that works in gray. It comes across as different, but not necessarily flashy.

If this cable claims to be sturdy, it is definitely an attribute one could go to the bank with. The construction does seem to afford it a discernible degree of durability, and this was apparent in my unscientific testing. I did a series of impromptu miscellaneous things to it with my overly eager son… things that were inspired by things he has wrecked charging cables in the past: tug-of-war, jump rope and even imaginary wild mustang lassoing. None of the rough-housing seemed to affect the cable’s integrity.

kaebo2

The cable looks to work as a charging cable, and also facilitates syncing data. I ran it in comparison to OEM cables we have, and there wasn’t a noticeable difference (with the exception of an HTC-supplied cable which seemed to charge a corresponding device faster). Sync-wise, I used it to pair a host of devices, from smartphones to wireless headsets to a smartpen, and it worked without a hitch via USB 2.0.

I really like the construction. It feels tough without invoking the heft of medieval armor, and because of its build, it reacts well to being stuffed and loosely rolled up. Its length is a huge advantage as well; at about 5 feet, it can access power in and through tight spots, and its inherent flexibility comes into play in several ways.

In the end, a good look can not replace raw functionality and, at least in the beginning, the Kaebo Micro-USB Cable doesn’t make that mistake. For those on the standard mobile device charging port train, it’s a pretty decent stop option ($7.99 on Amazon).

FUEL iON Magnetic Wireless Charging System

FUEL iON Magnetic Wireless Charging System

Feb 23, 2015

So many devices… and so little, uh, battery time?

With all the unique devices out their, the one thing a lot of us would trade it all away for is probably extremely long battery life. Next best is probably an easier, wireless method of charging — and this something the FUEL iON Magnetic Wireless Charging System from Patriot promises to deliver via advertised neodymium technology.

The review package that Patriot sent to us was rated specifically for the Samsung Galaxy S5, and contained a white charging base, a back cover, micro-USB cable and documentation. The dock comes in hard plastic, with a logo on it; the case is grayish and the cable is stark white. In hand, the case feels decently constructed, and the dock unit has a decent heft without being too weighty.

Setting up is fairly intuitive. The powered cable goes into the dock, and the replacement cover goes on the device. At first the glance, one might be forgiven for wondering about the construction of the the dock; usually, one would expect a lip of sorts at the bottom, but with this one, the “back” tapers down into deliberate nothingness. This design paradigm hints at the major functionality of the system: magnetic charging.

fuel2

The replacement back has pins that line up the Galaxy S5’s charging ports. Almost hidden towards the top of the dock is a small, circular component; this piece is magnetic, and it allows the device to adhere to the dock via the matching component on the rear of the system back piece. And then — get this — the device gets charged by magnetic contact.

This product claims to be faster than Qi charging; in my decidedly unscientific experiments, I tried charging the same device for about 20% increase in battery, alternating between Qi charging system and the FUEL iON. This unit did best the Qi standard handily.

Aesthetically, the system looks good too. I am a simple guy, and enjoy simple things. I like that I can be fairly loose with placement, and the phone holds in place. It doesn’t occupy too much physical space, so it works well as a semi permanent permanent charging and storage solution. I used the system to consume media in landscape, and even as a casting holder. I especially like that the system is somewhat expandable with other portable accessories.

My biggest whine is that outside five or so Galaxy and iPhone devices, there aren’t any compatible cases for most Android devices. Still, it isn’t overly expensive (at $79.99 on Amazon), as it is comparably to regular inductive units.

All in all, it’s worth checking out, and not just for the unique nature; it is a solid solution.

D-Link Pan & Tilt Wi-Fi Camera Hardware Review

D-Link Pan & Tilt Wi-Fi Camera Hardware Review

Feb 20, 2015

When it comes to a secure home, why no pull out all the stops? Connected cameras are a big part of home safety options, and devices made by D-Link — a company that can actually afford to name drop — are especially interesting. As such, we were eager to check out the D-Link Pan & Tilt Wi-Fi Camera.

The review unit D-Link sent us came in retail packaging; in the box, one gets the camera itself, a mounting bracket, ethernet cable, power cable, mounting paraphernalia and documentation. The camera itself is mostly white with black accents. Standing right-side up, it looks like a short lighthouse with a matching white antenna out the back. Dimensions-wise, it is 5.26 x 4.03 x 3.99 inches, and weighs 0.64 lbs.

The main unit has input slots for power and ethernet on the bottom back, as well as a WPS button and reset pinhole. On the front of the bottom there are two LEDs to signify power and WPS status. The unit also has embedded microphone, and advertises different video resolutions.

dlinkcam5

Setting it up involves a computer (Mac or Windows), and downloading the installer and following the instructions. As the contents suggest, the camera can be set up in wired or wireless fashion, and the desktop utility helps to accomplish this. As soon as the wireless setup is complete, the companion mydlink Lite can be downloaded from the Play Store to control the app and manipulate device settings.

The app displays live video via the app; I was somewhat surprised by the clarity, which can be sharpened by manually adjusting the lens. It boasts three different resolution, and there is a distinct difference in them. The pan and tilt functionality is easily handled intuitively by gestures on the display. Camera shots can be acquired via the app as well. I did notice some lag in gesture operations though, but I found the voice quality to be clear.

dlinkcam7

The app allows for event-triggered push notifications, and I also like the fact that firmware upgrades can be initiated from within the app. The app also controls other D-Link connected peripherals (like the recently reviewed Smart Plug), so its nice to have a one-stop point for such units.

Altogether, it’s a pretty nice option that is easy to use and appreciate. It works well in different scenarios and lighting conditions, and is a fantastic starting piece in any connected home setup.

Samsung Ultimate Accessory Pack Review

Samsung Ultimate Accessory Pack Review

Feb 16, 2015

Ah the fun of buying new a smartphone! It’s always great having a brand new device to fiddle with, play games on or just enjoy using, especially if it’s a behemoth like the amazing new Note 4. However, a new phone means having to buy a new raft of accessories. Luckily, our friends at Mobilefun have a useful bundle of vital accessories available to get new owners of Samsung’s phablet up and running.

Billed as the Ultimate Note 4 Accessory Pack, this kit contains everything that a new smartphone owner might need.

First is the ever useful Micro Suction Desk Stand. This is a universal stand that will work with any phone model. It is a small, easily portable stand with a micro suction pad that sticks instantly to any phone. Using it is as simple as pushing the phone firmly onto the pad. Mobilefun have managed to do this in such a way that the sticky pad does not feel sticky at all to the touch and does not leave any nasty sticky residue on your device. The connection between the phone and the stand is very strong too; shaking the stand around will not dislodge the phone and you can rest assured that it will not fall or slide off. The stand even includes a plastic plate that can be stuck to the stand. This allows phones without flat backs, such as those in cases to be used with the stand without having to remove the phone from the case. This is a really nice feature.

Next is the Universal In Car Mount. This is a very important item for most any mobile phone owner. It sticks securely to the dash of your car and allows a clear view of your phone for actions like GPS and voice replies to SMS. The holder’s arms support any phone from the gigantic Note 4 to smaller iPhones. The suction cup uses a unique twist-lock mechanism that causes the device to stick fast to glass. It also includes an adhesive pad that allows it to stick to other surfaces like plastic.

I found this a bit problematic however. I tested this by sticking the phone to my fridge. After about half a minute the phone holder itself came away from the suction part and my phone ended up on the floor. The second item I tried, the suction cup failed and the entire holder ended up on the floor. While a great idea and very simple to use, I would not trust this device with very heavy phones.

Next is the Universal Car Charger. This is a familiar charger than plugs into your cigarette lighter and charges your phone. The device also includes an additional USB port to allow charging of two devices at once. This is very good.

There is also a smaller mini desk stand/desk stylus included. This is small enough to fit in a wallet and is very useful.

Also included is a basic Perspex case. It only covers the back of the phone, but it feels solid and does the job. 5 screen protectors are also included.

All up the Samsung Note 4 Ultimate Accessory Pack is a solid pack of useful items. The stand and the car charger work great and the case and screen protectors are a good starter set, although the car holder is a bit unreliable. For $30.99 its a bargain. Recommended!

Thanks to our friends at Mobilezap for providing the items for this review.

Puro Sound Labs Kids Bluetooth Headphones Hardware Review

Puro Sound Labs Kids Bluetooth Headphones Hardware Review

Feb 4, 2015

Here’s the problem: I’ve come to appreciate quality earphones the older I’ve gotten. I won’t describe myself as an audiophile, but I do enjoy the output a quality set of phones can bring. As such, I do have write a few. Wired, wireless, over-ear, in-ear, lounging, sport… you name it, and I probably have a set for the occasion.

I baby them too. They’re cased when not in use, and issued in places that negate the possibility of silly mishaps, like (gasp!) sitting on them. All because I like having options, and dislike procuring stuff twice.

You know what is kryptonite to gadget longevity? Kids.

Take my daughter for instance. Ariana Grande must be heard, ave outside hearing the SAME song played on loop, I have to reluctantly lend her a pair of mine.

Why aren’t there more gadgets available for kids? That’s a question the Puro Sound Labs Kids Headphones looks to answer.

puro2

To be honest, I expected a set of headphones full of frills and overly bright colors; the review package Puro Sound sent set me straight. The retail box contains the charging cable and AC adapter, 2 cases (soft and hard), special 3.55mm cable and the headphones themselves, with the headphones being mostly tan with an emphasis on soft gold and chrome highlights, and it has prominent buttons for toggling on, wireless pairing, volume up and down, as well as audio and microSD charging ports and an LED light on the left cup. The cups are braced by cushioned material, and are able to extend from the band for bigger heads (or hairdos). The band is also covered in soft material for a more comfortable experience; the main parts are crafted from lightweight aluminum.

These headphones, on paper, rack up up some nice features: 16 hours of usage (200 hours standby time), built-in microphone, balanced response, and (most interesting to me), a means of limiting overly loud outputs.

Getting the gear going is a matter of charging, and using the bluetooth pair button to match it to a compatible audio source. I like the crisp sound it produces, and the conduction seems topnotch. The advertised sound control is superb; I didn’t feel like I lost fidelity while keeping my ears safe. But even more importantly, the real testers (my kids) loved them, and, for once, didn’t complain about being forced to keep the volume down.

Not bad.

puro4

There are a couple things I especially like, and which make this a bit more than just a kid’s accessory, is the aforementioned microphone, which allows for usage with phone calls. Then there’s the wired functionality, which allows the unit to be used even if the battery is drained (and the supplied audio cable keeps to the noise limiting paradigm, in case one wondered).

All in all, the Puro Sound Labs Kids Headphones has a soft touch, but is great enough to have mature sensibilities. It’s priced relatively well ($79.99 on Amazon), looks good and does a lot.

IOGEAR TuneTap Wireless Audio Receiver Hardware Review

IOGEAR TuneTap Wireless Audio Receiver Hardware Review

Jan 31, 2015

As we become more connected in the digital sense, wireless solutions become that much more relevant. Bluetooth is an oldie but goodie, and the trusted protocol is easily incorporated in several ways. Now that it is all but ubiquitous with regards to mobile devices, it makes sense that mobile devices — especially Android — can be the ultimate hub in connected setups.

Looking at the IOGEAR TuneTap Audio Receiver, it’s easy to see why it could be compelling; it’s small, easy to set up and comes from IOGEAR. The review unit sent to us exhibits that size, which is 2.88 x 2.88 x 0.97 inches, weighing only 1.6 ounces. It is a sleek little thing, with solid fusing and ports for audio out, optical out and a power jack; on the top, there is a subtle LED light right under the logo. The package also contained 3,55mm to RCA cable, power cable and documentation.

The unit itself is a bluetooth puck that, in simplistic terms, takes in audio and converts it to signals that can be picked up by other bluetooth accessories. This opens up a bunch of scenarios: home sound system? TV? Wired speakers? The idea is to connect the TuneTap in wired fashion to the compatible audio output device, and then connect the TuneTap itself to a bluetooth audio source (Samsung Galaxy Note 4). Setup is intuitive: the TuneTap gets connected to power, and then we tried it with a set of traditional speakers via the 3.55mm cable. Subsequently, connecting to the mobile device with the mobile device is a simple matter of using the device’s bluetooth menu to find and pair to the TuneTap.

tunetap2

Voila. Everything worked smoothly. The sound quality is crisp, and pretty distant when both bluetooth devices are within range of each other. I tried the unit with a couple different devices, and it worked well every time. I like the choice of output cables; it just makes sense.

The need for power is both a blessing and a curse. It does curb the mobility somewhat, but that concern is tempered by the joy of not being concerned with charging the unit. The added optical cable is a bonus, as is the included NFC which allows for touch-pairing.

As far as solutions go, kudos are due for the simple ones that just work. This one definitely fits the bill.

HUB-IT Sync & Charge Station Hardware Review

HUB-IT Sync & Charge Station Hardware Review

Jan 20, 2015

Okay. So the HUB-IT Sync & Charge Station looks to charge several mobile units at once. And?

Not so fast. Seriously.

The review unit sent to us packs the main unit, four cartridges (more on this later), power cable and a lot of paperwork. We also got a curious extra qi-enabled cartridge which was an enigma at first. It has an interestingly classic look: ebony, glossy black, and it looks like the base of a four-sided pyramid (with most of the top cleanly shorn off).

Out of each side, there is a charging cable which, in the stock state, barely extends past beyond the main unit. The review unit sent to us showcased a typical set up of the system: micro-USB piece, macro-USB, Apple-centric lightning cable and legacy charging cable too. The cables are retractable; one can pull at a cable to make use of the cable, and then pull it again to make it retract. Beneath three of the cables, there is one USB port each; the fourth has a port for power input, and one for micro-USB 3.0. It sports 7 LED lights as well. Size-wise it’s 6.69 x 6.69 x 1.34 inches and weighs just under 9 oz.

hub3

On its own, based on this feature set, the Hub-it works well. It intuitively can be plugged into a wall socket and provide up to 4A of current to several mobile devices.

It’s the component system that really makes this unit stand apart.

The included documentation encourages one to pop the removable top of the unit. Doing so reveals the interior and the creative aspect of the dock. Each charging cable is an independent piece evaded in a plastic, spring-loaded “cartridge; each one can be be moved around, swapped out and replaced with another if need be. Thus, one only can install only required cartridges he/she wants. As such, the dock is quite customizable. The true utility is in these cartridges; one can even add cartridges for handheld gaming units. There are “power” slots too, which allow one to add qi-wireless functionality, or even a power pack to create a power bank.

hub4

In practice, the components we used worked fabulously, and I came away pleasantly surprised.

This unit is one of those that sells itself to you very quickly. It isn’t the cheapest solution (at $72.89 on Amazon), but the whole thing is not too hard to justify, and the extra cartridges are fairly affordable at under $8.00. I do harbor preemptive concerns with regards to the long term efficacy of the cable retraction, and the top feels a bit delicate.

The true testament is that in a short time, the Hub-It has elbowed it way into my workflow. For me, that is truth enough.

Olixar Light Bulb Speaker Hardware Review

Olixar Light Bulb Speaker Hardware Review

Jan 7, 2015

We get pitched a fair amount of accessories to take a look at, and, frankly, some are very, uh, unique. Not all work, either; some are ambitious, but might have a fatal flaw. Or two. Or seven. In any case, mobile accessories can be interestingly varied.

I’d like to say I am open-minded, and I do feel like a decent assessor of product, but every now and then, I am surprised.

But hold a sec; let’s talk about the Olixar Light Bulb Speaker.

The name says it all: it’s a light bulb that doubles as a bluetooth-enabled speaker. The review package MobileFun sent us highlights the unit; in hand, it is mostly white, with a gold mid-section. It is more streamlined than “regular” bulbs, but also weighs a bit more. It sports LED light too, and emits 3W light (which the distributor says is equivalent to 50W from a standard bulb. It screws into regular receptacles (the package comes with an adapter piece for European light sources) and works the same way. Turn on the switch, and it bathes the room in bright, warm light. It functions well upright and upside down.

bulb4

Now, the part that is of special interest is the speaker functionality. The Bulb has a 4.0 bluetooth module, and when it is on, one can pair it to a bluetooth audio source. Anyone who has paired bluetooth devices will do this instinctively: search and tap to pair, and after this, the Light Bulb Speaker streams the audio seamlessly. The audio quality is pretty nice, and it continues working with the constant electric source.

All in all, a surprisingly effective and portable audio solution.

But back to the opening premise. Light Bulb speakers are not an overly unique or new idea. Pricing and efficacy might be the biggest barrier to adoption. That’s where this piece just might be successful, in that it works well, and won’t break the bank (at $32.99 via MobileFun).

And, by and large, it showed one reviewer that the proof is in the pudding.

Amazon Fire TV Review: A Gamer’s Perspective

Amazon Fire TV Review: A Gamer’s Perspective

Jan 5, 2015

The past couple of years have definitely been the years of the streaming media unit. All the big players have a hat in the Big C, and with good reason: we like content. Lots of it.

Enter Fire TV, the still-relatively-new offering from Amazon.

Amazon provided us a gaming bundle package to check out, containing the black unit, black remote, power cables, batteries, and the optional bluetooth gamepad (one should ensure one has HDMI cable). It’s fairly svelte, a bit smaller than one would guess, coming in at 4.5 x 4.5 x 0.7 inches and just under 10 oz. It has a quad core processor and 8 GB of storage, and supports output of 720 x 1080p up to 60fps.

Specs aside, there is little to dislike about Amazon Fire TV. It looks good, and is a veritable source of content. It has a lot of the go-to programs that can be downloaded to it: Netflix, WatchESPN, Pandora, Crackle, Showtime Anytime (based on provider) and, of course, Amazon Instant and Amazon Music, among other offerings. Setup is easy, and the included control is definitely a huge positive. On its own, as a streaming accessory, it holds its own against the competition.

firetv3

What piqued our interest (duh) is the gaming aspect. The Amazon Appstore has grown into a veritable source of Android apps. Buoyed by great publicity, Amazon Coin program and the renown Free App of the Day offerings, it is possible for users to amass quite a trove of apps which can be used on Fire devices and compatible Android hardware in general.

Fire TV gives folks the opportunity to play select games on the TV via the box. The supplied remote can be used with games, but the optional Fire Game Controller can be purchased to really get into wireless gaming. The Controller looks and feels just like a conventional console controller and nothing beats playing Minion Rush on big hi-def screen. I didn’t catch serious lag, and the entire experience was quite enjoyable and shockingly cohesive. there’s also a software app available on the Play Store and Amazon Appstore.

firetv4

No, not all games are compatible, but more are added everyday. Games that work with Fire TV are marked as such, and for now, there are several dozen available, including Riptide GP2, Prince of Persia, Sonic the Hedgehog, Asphalt 8 and more.

I do find the latent strategy intriguing. On paper, if the catalog of compatible apps continues to increase, it might help the Fire TV overcome any perceived weaknesses when compared to competing streaming hardware; the gaming aspect does take it to a a whole new level. In many ways, because of the things it brings to the table, Fire TV might be able to replicate what the original Nintendo Wii did: create an army of “casual” gamers that are already familiar with Android-based time-wasters.

Ultimately, Fire TV wins because it doesn’t take on too much, and does what it does relatively well. If Amazon keeps its promise to keep up with development, outer space is the limit.

D-Link Wireless Smart Plug Hardware Review

D-Link Wireless Smart Plug Hardware Review

Jan 2, 2015

I’m admittedly addicted to technology, particularly of the mobile kind. I’m sure it’s clear at this point that I like accessories that add functionality to mobile devices. I like the idea of my daily driver being my lifestyle hub, and am ever interested in seeing what companies are doing to expand upon the connected home idea and the Internet of Things concept overall.

D-Link is no stranger to connectivity. For folks like me that watched ethernet cables give way to wireless local area networks, D-Link is synonymous with wi-fi. It makes products for both the enterprise and consumer sectors, and we were especially to check out one of its connected home products: the D-Link Wireless Smart Plug. This piece looks to be handy by allowing users to access and control plugged in appliances wirelessly.

The review unit that D-Link sent to us is relatively unassuming; outside the retail packaging, it’s a solid white piece, much like a solid outlet tap. Size-wise, it comes in at 3.54 x 2.40 x 1.40 inches  and weighing 4.41 ounces. It has the pins on one face, and input slots an on button and LED light on the opposite end. There is also a subtle WPS button on one side.

smartplug1

Setting it up is a matter of connecting the unit to Wi-Fi, and the companion D-Link Home app helps with this. Using the app as a guide, I was able to get the unit up and running, albeit with some gnashing of teeth and timely deviation from the official instructions. Then, I tried it out with a simple appliance: a table lamp. using the app, I was able to toggle the lamp on and off, as well as schedule such events.

What I really dig about the Smart Plug is the simplicity of the concept. The holiday season, which brings unique, seasonal lighting, is a great period to check it out, as it can bring real savings in electricity costs. The advertised thermal protection is something else that can be taken advantage of. As part of a connected home setup, it’s a great addition, especially as it is possible to run multiple pieces via the same app.

smartplug3

So… if I have to gripe, it’ll be directed at the app. It can be finicky at times, and I did incur a crash during regular usage. The app is still the heart and soul of the system, so I’d rather have it than not. Also, at this point, the cost might be a barrier to adoption of multiple pieces. At $49.99 (on Amazon), it might be considered a serious investment. To be fair, it is priced competitively within its own space.

In an age where connectivity is a privilege worth having, the Smart Plug feels like a worthy entrance piece.