Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Tile - finding your lost keys solved

I experimented with the Tile last November to see how small (or big) it actually was and how effective it was at finding lost keys or other items. 

I was impressed enough that at Christmas I gave a number of them out as stocking stuffers and secret Santa gifts. 

Connecting it to your iPhone app is dead simple and using the app to find the lost item attached to the phone is also easy. I would say that if your tile is buried in a wife's very full purse, it is very hard to hear it ring until you are really close, but the in and out of blutooth range helps you triangulate the location quickly just by walking around the house with the phone. This method is less effective if the lost item is actually in your car, but knowing that is a location to check again reduces the required time to locate items. 

The best example of a real world lost item recovered happened a few weeks ago when my wife dropped her keys between a hotel and her first rest stop while returning from a volleyball tournament. The app kept showing the keys as lost, but once another phone with the Tile app came into range of the keys, a location was sent to my phone and were able to physical redirect our look and find the keys. 

We have been using Tile on every pair of car keys in the house and have even experimented with it in wallets that are often misplaced between purse changes. 

While I would love to see a smaller footprint, a louder noise generator, and the ability to pair to more than 2 phones, I would highly recommend the device to anyone who is prone to lose spare car keys, mail keys or house keys. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Apple Music finally arrives for Sonos

Many of the tech blogs today raved about the arrival of Apple Music for Sonos. While I will admit the UI and UX are good, I can't help but feel incredibly frustrated by Apple and what seems to be a more common trait of theirs: mediocrity. 

I am a big fan of Apple's products, but by no means a fan boy (iTunes for example is still a terrible UX for any media and even the latest Apple TV implementation is a serious disappointment). 

However, this is more of a damaged goods story in my view. Apple acquired Beats in May of 2014 (more than 18 months ago). They launched Apple Music on July 1st of 2015 to much fan fare -- but failed to warn those who "upgraded" from Beats (which was an amazing service) that it would break Sonos (it was buried in the fine print). 

So now a full 7 months later I finally have a music service back on Sonos that is similar to the reason why I subscribed to Beats in the first place - except none of of saved Beats favorites transferred. 

So in the end, Apple took an amazing product, broke it for 7 months, and then launched a similar service - but somehow maintains fan fare for today's launch on Sonos. 

I hope this does not portend of things to come...


Sunday, November 29, 2015

The WiFi enabled Video Doorbell by Ring

I had been meaning to try this device for quite sometime, but it's predecessor (the Bot) had too many issues to justify an install. I looked high and low for an alternative and then this summer Ring deployed their newest product (now called "Ring").

I would say right off the bat that the install was incredibly simple. Took me less than 20 mins, came with the right screw drivers and even a video to demonstrate the installation procedure. 

The doorbell part works beautifully. When someone rings, it not only sounds the normal chime but also alerts any iOS devices with the app installed, allowing someone to see the person at the door on video, hear them and speak to them (awesome if you are in the back yard or not at home when a package requiring signature arrives). 



However, the other touted feature is the ability to detect motion at your door and record a brief video while alerting you (a security feature). I experimented with various ranges of distance but nearly all of the distances have too many false positives (i.e. the wind moving a flag, etc). When it is dialed back, it often misses the video capture of real motion because the device does not have the horse power to start video capture quickly enough. 

The video playback feature is commercially reasonable. Less than a few dollars per month to have every 30 second video accessible in the cloud. However, about 1/3 of the time, the encoding / transcoding of the video fails in various parts of the video. I can't tell if it is the hardware or the service they are using for the transcoding and deployment to the service. 

Conclusion: if you need a replacement door bell with a video option, this is worth the effort. However, if you can wait until the next version (better processor, faster recording start, better motion/IR sensing algorithm), I would wait. 


Saturday, November 28, 2015

The new Amazon FireTV Stick


My new and improved FireTV stick arrived this week. I wanted to test a few things with this $39 device (includes Voice remote) including its Wi-Fi performance, the voice remote itself, the new Alexa functionality, the new iOS app, it's "Instant Start" capability and the ability for "anyone to install". 

I am still very pleased with the full-on Amazon FireTV in my living room -- the 4K rendering from Amazon and Netflix are gorgeous on my 78" Samsung 4K set. 
I had my 12-year old do the install. Took him less than 5 minutes with the hardest part being the WiFi password. Simple as advertised. 
The Wi-Fi performance (now dual band) is much better than the previous stick 1080P looks great over my Apple AirPort Extreme Wifi. 
The voice remote is every bit as functional as the full FireTV version and much better than not having the voice search. 
The new iOS app is also great, including the access to voice search and Alexa. Works easily with both of my FireTV devices. 

Finally, the instant start works as advertised.

My view -- much better than the previous version and frankly much better than the Apple TV. I have always been a fan of the content-oriented UI vs an App-oriented approach. 

Amazon has been running sales all weekend on both version of the FireTV...a great Christmas gift.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

My first week with Tesla AutoPilot




First of all, let me say right up front - this is definitely still BETA. Keeping your hands on the wheel while driving 75 mph is definitely a requirement.  My first impression is that AutoPilot is currently driving like a teenager--over correcting most of the time and correcting too often (not to mention occasionally scaring the crap out of me). However, automatic cruise control started this way last April and got better and better over a few months and I would honestly say now it is amazing. 

In its current state, these are the use cases I think make sense:

- "the reach". How many times without auto pilot are you trying to grab something, trying to open something, etc, and doing insane things like holding the wheel with your knee? A no-brainer. 

- LA traffic. Rush hour often means stop and go traffic between 0 and 40 miles an hour. This is a perfect use case for auto pilot - relax, listen to an audio blog, make a blue tooth call. 

- "the long drive". Even with your hands on the wheel, there is comfort in the car looking out for changes. I will say that there are times you feel like you are fighting it (i.e. It wants to be in the middle of the lane but as a motorcycle passes in between traffic you want to move to the left), and ironically it drives more accurately in the nighttime than the day (I think that has to do with the reflective lines being easier to distinguish vs. the washed out daytime view). 
I think we are 18 months or more from being able to comfortably drive at 75 mph on a highway without fear of the autopilot misreading the lines on the road and sounding the very alarming collision alert signal so ou can quickly take control. 










Saturday, October 17, 2015

My 4K living room update (10 months later)

In December of last year (2012) I finally wrote up my 4K experience and the result wasn't pretty.
During that time, content was only available from either the Samsung hard drive that came with the TV, or Netflix, Amazon and MGO apps on the Samsung TV.  Netflix would constantly crash, Amazon would constantly buffer (despite bandwidth being available) and the MGO app let me download the content but would never let me play it back.  Even if/when it worked at all, it meant my sound was going thru the TV speakers, not my 7.1 surround sound system.  I concluded then that it could not take off with consumers until some OTT box maker created a 4K decode chipset so a consumer could route through their home entertainment reeiver and have a higher quality app experience (the apps built for TV chasis get the least amount of development effort and have always had subpar performance on all TV platform...in my experience).

Well 10 days ago I finally received my new Amazon FireTV with 4K capabilities. 
While I surprised that Apple did NOT come out with the capability, I was not surprised at its very sharp picture and continued leverage of a content oriented UI (vs. Apple's "app centric" approach -- even with universal search).
I unboxed it 10 days ago right before a long trip to London, but found a problem immediately with the 4K playback tied up in the way HDCP 2.2 was handshaking between the FireTV, my Onkyo NR-636 Receiver, and the Samsung UH9000 series TV.  So I did a little reading last night in the Uber on the way back from LAX and Crutchfield of all sites gave me all of the information I needed.  It turns out that even though ALL of the manufacturers here have been smart and are providing update-able firmware to prepare for what is now HDCP 2.2 (prevents in-stream copying of 4K content), their user manuals were incredibly poor at describing the simple fact that of the 4 or 7 HDMI 2.0 ports they had only one (1) was HDCP 2.2 compliant.  Samsung (below) was forward thinking in their approach to the UHD television generation and created this single "smart" input device for the UHD range which is not only updatable via the internet automatically, it is a replaceable device (in the event a hardware update is required for something in the near future) in a way that does not require a new TV.  But, they are terse in their description of that they call "MHP" on their HDMI 4 port, which is turns out is the ONLY HDMI connection that will pass through HDCP 2.2.


Onkyo is a bit more straight forward in their documentation, but again only have a single port in (under HDMI port 3 for some reason) and an HDCP 2.2 compliant "out" HDMI port.   However, they are good enough to clearly document that even on the back of the receiver itself (and in all of their documentation on their own site and at Crutchfields).

So, making all of this work (after a bit of reading) requires:
  • Amazon FireTV (or other 4K device supporting Netflix UHD and Amazon UHD).
  • An Onkyo TX-NR636 receiver (or better -- the NR636 is roughly $499 now).  I did update the firmeware for this, which gave me Dolby ATMOS and supposedly improved the HDCP 2.2 handshake.  The FireTV needs to be connected to HMDI 3 (STB/DVR).
  • The Samsung UH9000 series TV (the 8000 will do 4K only at 30 Hz).  The Samsung TV needs to have one end of the HDMI cable in HDMI port 4 (MHP) and the other in the Onkyo out (no other choice really).

From start to finish I probably had 30 minutes invested in the reading, 30 minutes invested in pulling cables in and out of ports, 30 minutes in updating the Onkyo firmware (via USB), and 30 minutes re-programming my Harmony Ultimate Home remote system (previously everything had been through HDMI port 1 on the TV, not 4, because I had no idea what the MHP reference from Samsung was on that port until I read the Crutchfield guide).

The downside for the industry here is rather obvious.  This just eliminated a huge chunk of consumers (too much effort required) and has eliminated my capability to get another 4K device (Blu-Ray, AppleTV, Roku, cable/telco provider or otherwise) since there is ONLY ONE PORT on the Onkyo and on the Samsung.  In fact, I could not find a model in the current Onkyo line-up that supports 2 inputs to the receiver that are HDCP 2.2 compliant (perhaps a physical way to prevent stream copies)--and Onkyo is definitely leading the industry in video switching.  This will definitely slow down 4K as consumers will be forced to choose their local cable/telco (assuming they ever get their crap together) vs. their favorite OTT solution.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Apple Pay in the UK

In the last 4 days I have used Apple Pay here in London more times than I have in the U.S. in the last 4 weeks. 

When I was last in London in July, hardly anyone took Apple Pay as it had just launched. But this week, largely thanks to Verifone taking contactless payments, I used it for just about everything--coffee, a black cab, sandwiches, my Heathrow Express ticket, dinner, etc. 

The irony is that because the U.S. Cards are still 'chip and sign' vs 'chip and PIN', they are frankly a huge pain in the ass here, requiring the waiter or barista to run off and find a pen most times, delaying the transaction, etc. In other words, using the Apple Watch or iPhone requires no signature and is MUCH faster than not using it. 

Now if we can just get a similar widespread deployment in America...