Category: Product Reviews

WATTPAD – Deep Gratitude from a Parent

By Michele Brod, Md7 Lease Consultant

As a parent, I’m keenly interested in the apps my children use on their phones. Mostly, I monitor that the app is age appropriate (and how much cellular data it consumes). Online reading apps have been a life and budget saver, as my twin 13 year old girls are avid readers and it has been challenging to keep up with their appetite for new material. Toronto based Wattpad, with over 45 million subscribers every month, has taken the online reading platform several steps beyond electronic books.

Wattpad allows authors to post original works online, as a finished product or incrementally, for example, chapter by chapter. Readers create a public or private profile and can post comments, questions and suggestions which appear as a comment bubble icon in margins. Reader suggestions incorporated into the next segment of a story get honorable mention (a “shout out”) from the author. Wattpad monitors content and comments for profanity, abusive language and bullying, just to name a few online problems I’m concerned about as a parent. The company hosts online writing competitions, the two main ones are called the “Wattys” and “Just Write It.” More popular stories often spark “fanfiction,” where fans create spinoff stories of their favorite characters or side story lines undeveloped by the original author. (There have been some issues regarding fanfiction and copyright infringement, for authors of books currently printed for sale. The company works with authors and publishers to identify and remove such material.)

The most popular work on Wattpad, “After” by Anna Todd, has been published in book format and rights to “After” were acquired by Paramount Studios. Wattpad has collaborated with several publishing firms to help aspiring authors transition to print and other media. A new division, Wattpad Studios, aims to centralize and develop initiatives that give authors a chance to profit on their work.

As for my concerns as a parent? Content is restricted to age appropriate genres and I’ve barely noticed any data use for the app (less than 1 gig/month each phone line.) Additionally, my young readers have expressed interest in becoming young authors and submit to Wattpad regularly. Hollywood, here we come!

Wattpad is currently available in over 50 languages, with over 300 million story uploads and 90% of all activity occurs on mobile devices.


My Washer and Dryer Are (Not) Connected

By Tom Leddo, Vice President

As noted by my colleague, Mark Christenson in his recent product review about the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt, whenever it is time to purchase something new for my house, I always look to see if there is a new version of whatever I am buying that is “connected” in some way. I even recently followed Mark’s lead and got a smart deadbolt, but I opted for the Kevo by Kwikset.

I’ll be candid in saying that I chose the Kevo mainly because a great friend of mine works for Kwikset and so I am partial to their products. Thus, they are on every door in my house. I must say, “I LOVE IT” and highly recommend it because my phone is always with me and I can lock and unlock my door with a touch of my finger. I can also allow others through the door remotely for either a designated period of time or on a one-off basis.

But in the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (IoT) and “smart homes,” not all devices make complete sense to connect. As I have said a number of times, “I am not sure why I’ll ever need a connected toaster, but I am sure the same was said about putting a phone in someone’s car in the 1980’s. So I remain open minded.”

With this in mind, I replaced my old washer and dryer late last year. My wife and I primarily based our purchase on the capacity size of the barrel, energy/water efficiency and ease of use. But the fact that this particular set was also “connected” and included an iPhone app helped finalize our decision. We selected a paired, Samsung washer and dryer.

I am extremely happy with our new washer and dryer. If you haven’t upgraded any of your appliances in the last five to ten years you will be surprised by the advances that have been made.

But the “connected” functionality of this particular set is really bad. Through my home Wi-Fi and an accompanying iPhone app, I am supposed to be able to monitor the status of wash/dry cycles and perform remote diagnostics that can expedite needed repairs. But I have never gotten them to connect. The app has as an average rating of 1 out of 5 stars across 17 ratings in the app store with comments such as:

  • “Clearly this app wasn’t given any user testing as it is so clunky to use it’s embarrassing,”
  • “I was really looking forward to using this app but it would never connect to the washer,”
  • “…makes me want to return my washer and dryer out of principle,”
  • “Don’t even bother. I wasted too much time trying to set up this app,”
  • “Can’t get it to work… was excited to use it, now just disappointed,” and
  • “Useless app.”

These comments are not about the washer and dryer itself, but rather the accompanying app that enables it to be “connected” and very accurately reflect my personal opinions.

For me, here is the bottom line – The new appliance set works great except for the wireless functions so I am not able to sit in front of the TV or in my backyard on a Sunday afternoon and know exactly when the drying cycle ends to remove my shirts with less wrinkles. I still have to do it the old fashioned way of estimating or remembering how long it has been since I started a fresh load. But this is just a small hurdle in the world of more connected devices and I am still not giving up on moving into the connected world – I remain open minded!


Product Review – Google’s Project Fi

Cyrus Sidhwa
Lease Consultant

I’ve had cell service for so long, I can’t even remember when I first got it. However, until 2016, despite the billions of dollars that the major networks spend on advertising, I never felt compelled to switch service providers. All of that changed for me with the advent of Google’s Project Fi.

How did I find out about Project Fi? I’ll admit it: I’m a Google fanatic. I use Google Photos, Google Music, Google Drive, Google Maps and Waze, I’m typing this article in Google Keep, and of course I use Gmail and my cell is Android. My fandom gave me the curiosity to check out Project Fi. Once I started digging, there were 2 basic concepts that drew me to Project Fi: price and network performance.

Let’s start with performance. How could Google possibly create a competitive nation-wide network if they are just now entering the game? Rather than trying to throw antennas up on 100,000 towers, Google created a truly innovative and technology-driven solution. With Project Fi, you now have both T-Mobile AND Sprint on the same phone. The best part is the phone automatically routes you to the faster of the two networks. You get the best of two of the nation’s largest LTE networks for the price of one!

In addition to providing access to both cellular networks, Project Fi also improves the way you interact with Wi-Fi. Whenever a Project Fi customer is connected to an open Wi-Fi network, Google protects the user’s data. By sending data through a Virtual Private Network, Google prevents others from being able to see (and steal) your data. This means you can now feel secure when entering sensitive information like a credit card number at your local coffee shop. Pretty cool.

OK, so what about price? First of all, their pricing is beautifully simple and extremely fair. The plan starts with unlimited talk and text for $20 a month. Then you pay $10 per GB of cellular data. Although you initially choose how many GB you pre-pay for each month, it doesn’t really matter. For example, let’s say you choose a 2GB a month plan (remember, Wi-Fi usage doesn’t count against this). You would be pre-paying $20 a month for the data. If you only use 0.9 GB of data in a month, Google will lower your next month’s bill by $11 (for 1.1 GB of unused data). Nice! So what’s the catch – do they burn you if you go over? Nope. If you use 2.7 GB in a month, your next bill will be $7 higher (no surcharges, etc). There are no annual contracts or termination fees. Finally, there are no more of the seemingly endless monthly fees (if you look at your cell phone bill, you’ll probably find you’re paying over $20 a month in fees alone). I am on the 2GB plan: $20 for unlimited talk and text and $20 for data. My first bill, including fees and taxes, is only $42.49. On average, I use about 1.5 GB of cellular data each month, so I’ll probably save another $5 a month too. Simple and fair… I love it!

There are two major limitations on Project Fi during their “Early Access Program.” First, there are currently only 3 phones with the technology to be Project-Fi capable: The Nexus 6P, Nexus 5X, and Nexus 6. Another shortcoming of the early access program is that there are no family plans. Since my wife is an iPhone user, she can’t join Project Fi yet. Between our two plans, we are still going to be saving about $60 a month! However, for larger families, Project Fi’s lack of a shared plan may be an issue.

I have to admit, I’m excited to be a part of this new technology. As with any brand new technology, I’m guessing there will be a few glitches along the way. That said, I’ve only been with Project Fi for a week, but I’m happy with the network so far. If you’re an Android user who doesn’t need a shared family plan, Project Fi might be a great fit for you.


Product Review – Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt

Mark Christenson
President of Md7 International

As the Internet of Things becomes more and more prevalent, whenever I need to replace something at home, I find myself looking to see if there is an internet version—whether that is light bulbs, garage door openers, alarm systems, refrigerators, temperature gauges, etc.  One item I had to replace recently is a deadbolt.  We have had a keypad-controlled deadbolt on our house for some time, and it has become one of my favorite pieces of technology because I don’t need to fish around in my pocket for a key.  Also, if needed, I can provide the code to family members and give them access when I’m not at home.  However, the deadbolt functionality was a little like a flip phone in that it simply replaced a key with a keypad (and still had a traditional key-actuated function in case of dead batteries).  If I wanted to add a new code, it required a somewhat complicated, non-intuitive set of numeric keystrokes to set up a new entry code, and it required that I go through a similar, complicated, non-intuitive set of keystrokes to remove that code if it was only intended for one-time use.  And it still required physical contact with the deadbolt.  However, there is a new product from Schlage that claims Bluetooth functionality with an iPhone or Android device as well as remote connectivity and control through Apple’s HomeKit—the Schlage Sense Smart Deadbolt.

I ordered it from Amazon the day before Thanksgiving and it arrived the day after.  Installation of the deadbolt into the door was simple.  It took about 10 minutes to remove the old one and install the new one.  Following the instructions closely, it was also easy to pair with my iPhone via Bluetooth and configure codes and control the action of the deadbolt.  I can add and remove codes easily, I can set up “temporal fences” that only allow certain codes access at certain times on certain days, and I can get a nifty update on when and how the deadbolt has been used (opened by the button inside, via a device, which code was used, time of day, etc.).

The first 20 minutes with the deadbolt were awesome and showed me a bright new future.  It even works using Siri—I can invoke Siri and say “unlock front door” and a couple seconds later I hear the whirr of the deadbolt and I can walk in.  So far, so good.  Assuming all this would work remotely via HomeKit, I felt like I had stepped from the aforementioned flip phone to a smart phone in terms of front door access.

However, HomeKit functionality is only marginally better than “completely unusable”, and even that is being generous.  (This means that Android users, although left out of HomeKit, are not any worse off functionally speaking!)

First, getting the device to connect to HomeKit requires an Apple TV, either a 3rd generation with the latest Apple TV Software 7.2 or 4th generation running tvOS 9.0+.  Second, the Apple TV must be within Bluetooth range.  The deadbolt connects via Bluetooth to the Apple TV, which itself is the hub for Apple’s HomeKit technology.  Unfortunately, there is no HomeKit configuration screen, but rather it is supposed to work simply by ensuring that remote access is enabled for HomeKit on your iPhone, and that your Apple TV is connected to iCloud using the same iCloud/Apple ID as your iPhone. Sounds very easy and Apple-like, so I rebooted the lock, my phone, the Apple TV, my home network, the lock, my phone, etc.  For about three hours I had perfect functionality when I was within Bluetooth range, but it ceased to work when I moved outside of Bluetooth range.  Well, except that one time where I asked Siri to “open front door” and, when I went back home, it was open!  So apparently, it is not “completely unusable” but rather it works once, randomly, and that’s it.

I’m hopeful that firmware updates, HomeKit improvements, and Apple TV OS updates, or some combination of those will eventually provide the promised remote access.  However, until then, 95% of the desired functionality is available, and I just need to make sure I set up some remote codes ahead of time in case I need to share one with a family member in order to give them access.

Pros:  Easy to install, Bluetooth functionality and integration with Siri works well, profile of keypad is much sleeker than previous version

Cons:  Expensive, remote access via HomeKit is virtually unusable


Fitbit Charge HR Review

by Amy Hou
Title Officer

As a follow up to Cyrus Sidhwa’s February 26, 2015 post on the Fitbit Flex, this post will talk about the newer Fitbit Charge HR.

I recently received the Fitbit Charge HR for my birthday. With my wedding coming up in less than six months, I was thankful for any bit of help in motivating my fitness goals. Little did I know just how helpful it would be.

Similar to the Flex reviewed by Cyrus, the Charge HR tracks your daily steps and distance travelled. Unlike the Flex, the Charge HR also features the PurePulse™ heart rate monitor that continuously provides your real-time heart rate. I must say the heart rate feature is one of the coolest things about this device. I am able to see my current heart rate as I type this post (66 bpm), track my previous night’s average heart rate during sleep (56 bpm), and check out the heart rate peak from my step class last Friday (171 bpm). Speaking of workouts, since the Charge HR monitors heart rate, it is able to more accurately track the calories burned by a particular workout compared to the Flex. A co-worker has complained to me at the water cooler that his Flex, while great at giving him a fairly accurate calorie burn number when he tracks a run outside, does not give him any credit for any sort of stationary weight training exercise. This makes sense because the Flex is only tracking your movement. Since the Charge HR is also taking your heart rate into account, it provides a more accurate figure and gives “credit” for those stationary weight-training exercises.

Physically, the Charge HR is a tad larger than the Flex with a band about the width of your average sport watch. Also, instead of the lights that illuminate when you tap the Flex, an actual display illuminates when you tap the Charge HR. This display will cycle through key data points like current time, daily total steps, current heart rate, daily distance travelled, daily calories burned, and daily stairs climbed.

Also, one of the complaints Cyrus had about the Flex – the fact that you have to manually tell the device when you are sleeping or waking up in order to use the sleep tracking function – is no longer an issue. The Charge HR, through some sort of pure magic or actual technological advancement, can just tell when you are asleep or awake and tracks that time automatically.

Overall, the Charge HR has been a great motivator. I think the key for me has been the sense of awareness it provides me. When it tells me I have had a very inactive day, I feel pushed to get it together and get my daily numbers up. Even when it tells me I’ve had a super active day, I feel happy but still pushed to keep up the good work. Also, there is a slight social media factor where you can see how your weekly steps compare to those of your Fitbit using friends. If you’re competitive like me, there is nothing like being just a few thousand steps behind your friend, Eunice from college, to ensure that you make it to the gym tonight.

With the help of the Fitbit, this bride is on track to fit into her dress!

 


FitBit Flex

by Cyrus Sidhwa
Md7 Lease Consultant

After gaining 20+ pounds in 2014, I was happy to find a FitBit Flex under the tree on Christmas morning. The Flex is a device you wear on your wrist that tracks your daily activity level. I have never enjoyed tracking workouts, but I was willing to give it a shot. Boy, am I glad I did. Let me tell you, I love this thing!

One great feature about the Flex is that it is extremely light-weight and comfortable to wear. I also like that it is water resistant. I only take it off to charge once every 5 days. If I had to take it off to shower, I would forget to put it back on half the time and just stop wearing it.

I also love the simplicity of the Flex. It has a small display of five lights. Whether you’re walking, running, exercising on an elliptical, or even pushing a stroller, the FitBit will track your steps. At any point during the day, you can simply tap on the Flex and anywhere from 0-5 lights will illuminate. Each light represents 20% of your step goal.

For the times when you want to see more detailed information, there is a free FitBit app that syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth and displays your exact daily step count. This is my favorite feature! Whenever I pull up my stats and find out I’m only a few thousand steps from my daily goal, I suddenly find new motivation to walk the dog. I often find myself walking to the grocery store instead of driving. Knowing that I have a specific goal that is within reach is a huge motivating factor! Be warned: You may find yourself unexpectedly sweating up a storm at 9pm when you are suddenly lugging home a dozen grocery bags overloaded with the chicken breasts you found on sale!

The Flex app also tracks the distance you have walked and the calories you have burned. Another cool feature is that you can track your current exercise. So, if you want to go on a 5 mile run and you see you’ve gone 2.5 miles, you know it’s time to turn around.

Flex can also track your sleep. When you are about to sleep, you tap the Flex 5 times and it goes into sleep mode. There are more advanced FitBit trackers that automatically sense when you go to sleep. These trackers also track your heart rate and display the distance traveled during exercise directly on the tracker. Pretty cool stuff!

There are a couple of minor complaints I have about the Flex. I don’t like having to manually tell the device that I am going to sleep or waking back up. I often forget to wake it back up in the morning, so I stopped using the sleep tracker. Also, if you are doing something that causes your hand to bang on something several times in a row, the tracker may think you are putting it into sleep mode and stop tracking your steps. This has rarely happened, but it’s something to watch out for. My biggest complaint is that the sync between the Flex and my Android is a little hit and miss. Sometimes it syncs right away. Other times, I’ll have to force-close the app, or even restart the phone before the sync will work. It’s not a big deal, but a little maddening in our on-demand world. First world problems….

All in all, I love my Fitbit Flex! The only way I’m going to stop using it is if I decide to upgrade to one of the more advanced models. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get some steps in!


Hey There, Good Lookin’

by Ben Estes
Real Estate Counsel

Ever since Pebble set the then Kickstarter record for funding in 2012 the smartwatch has been the future of mobile technology. Now with the announcement of the Apple Watch, every major mobile technology manufacturer is in the market, including Samsung, Apple, LG and Motorola. And the market is booming. The smartwatch industry is set to earn 700 Million Dollars in 2014, which is already 5% of the watch industry, and is estimated to grow by triple digits every year.1 However, until last month, what the smartwatch industry was missing is something that could excite the casual watch enthusiast and techie alike.

Then came the Moto 360. What the Moto 360 does better than any other smartwatch, is tell time, a simple function that has been the standard for wrist wear since the 1880s. Obviously all smartwatches tell time, but the Moto 360 does it with style. It is the first smartwatch with a rounded face, which is a welcomed relief from the bulky rectangular designs that look more like the wrist calculators of the 1990s than the future of wearable tech. From the gray leather band to the seven customizable watch faces, the 360 makes for a great purchase if all it did was tell time. However, the Moto 360 creates the ultimate information environment.

Paired with Android Wear, the Moto 360 uses Google Cards and a handful of apps already compatible to share information from your phone to the watch. Many people ask what a smartwatch can do for them, and even more people wonder why you would want an extension of your phone on your wrist. The answer is simple, the ability to check updates and information on your wrist allows you to not only be more up to date, but at the same time save countless hours normally spent checking worthless updates on your phone every vibrate. With a simple flick of the wrist you can see if that buzzing is a daily deal email or social media like, or if it is an emergency message from family or client. Overall, the Moto 360 is a stylish timepiece and an efficient communicator. Just when the mobile phone industry made wearing watches obsolete, it made wearing (smart) watches the next big thing.

[1] http://www.forbes.com/sites/arieladams/2014/03/07/the-size-of-the-smartwatch-market-its-key-players/

Photo courtesy of KnowYourMobile.com


Product Review: Spigen Tough Armor Case for iPhone

by Lynn Whitcher
Associate General Counsel

I spilled my two-year old nephew’s lemonade slushy in my purse during a baseball game recently and, as luck would have it, my cell phone was ruined.  After weeks of trying to get all the gunk out of the buttons and speakers, I finally broke down and got another iPhone.  But then began the odyssey of finding the perfect case.  I had been a loyal Speck customer for years, but the rubber edging had been wearing down pretty quickly on my last few cases and I was tired of replacing it with the same old thing.  I wanted something different.  I wanted something sleek.

Enter, the Tough Armor case by Spigen.  It has a hard polycarbonate outer shell with specially designed shock absorbent corners and shock dispersing interior lining.  The raised bevel edge on the front of the case protects the screen from scratches, without the stretching seen with the Speck.  (I added a screen protector too, sold separately.)  The power and volume button covers are easy to use and very responsive to the touch.  The case is made of high quality materials, so it’s super light (31 grams) and has a slim profile (adding just 4.4 mm in height).  Amazon sells this case for about $19 and offers a video review that does a great job of going over the features.  The case is available in six colors, including champagne gold, silver, white and black.

The Spigen isn’t watertight, so it won’t save me from future lemonade slushy spills.  I do expect it will provide excellent protection at the bottom of my purse or gym bag, and from the inevitable fact that I will drop my phone a few times.  Overall, it’s the perfect balance of function and design – just like the iPhone.

Note: the Spigen Tough Armor case is also available for the newly-announced iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus.