Running on Bluetooth…I found a New Toy!

Mpow Headset 1

Ah, Mpow! When you asked if I wanted to review your Swift Bluetooth 4.0 Headphones, I really wasn’t that excited. I mean, they look good, but my desk drawer is full of useless Bluetooth Headsets that look good!  Yes – I have more Bluetooth Headsets than the combined population of several small countries. It’s a sickness, but I’m OK with it.

Then I thought about it; I may have a lot of Bluetooth headsets, but how many are good for running? The list narrows.

I run fairly frequently (2-3 times a week), indoors and outdoors, and the biggest headache is finding a quality Bluetooth headset that fits well, has good sound, and doesn’t fall off have way through a run. I’ve gone through a bunch of ‘em. I’m currently using a set of over-the-ear headphones that are really good, so the bar was set high when I received my Mpow® Swift Bluetooth 4.0 Wireless Stereo Sweatproof Jogger, Running, Sport Headphones.

I have several inviolable rules about gadgets, especially headphones; (1) it must have a common (MicroUSB) power adapter, it must have good battery life, it must be easy to use, and it must be cost effective. After using the Mpow Swift Bluetooth 4.0 Headphones for several days now, I can tell you it meets all my expectations.

Adapter: Mpow uses a MicroUSB plug for recharging – no weird, proprietary connector that once lost is never found again. Mpow provides a cable, but any MicroUSB cable will do to recharge your headset. I ran it dry and it took less than 2 hours to fully recharge.

Battery Life: From full recharge this headset lasted 4 hours and 45 minutes of constant use. Do I need a life? Perhaps, but I listened to a couple of movies and some music before the voice in my ear said that the battery was low.

Ease of use: Just press and hold the “Mpow” power button to start the Bluetooth syncing process. The connection held (no dropouts or noise). The easy-to-find and use volume buttons double as “Next” and “Previous” for music selections. I found it easy to adjust the volume or change music selections while running, something beyond the capabilities of most headsets.

Cost effective: You will not go broke buying these. The build quality is terrific and the additional ear pieces help you find the perfect fit! Only time will tell about durability, but I’m betting on a long and useful life.

Running: I ran for an hour (treadmill) and the Mpow headset did not move, slip, or cause any distraction. I worried the sweat would cause them to fall out – didn’t even come close. The secure fit also served to block out surrounding noise – the person jabbering on their phone next to me, the din of 50 treadmills all running at the same time…nothing but music made its way into my ears!

Sound: Careful – these can get VERY loud, but some headsets I’ve used just aren’t loud enough. No matter the volume setting, the sound holds; good bass and treble, no noise (thanks Bluetooth 4.0!), and the secure fit means you get all the music and none of your surroundings.

I was really surprised by the fit. You forget they are even there! So watch out Treadmill, Lawn Mower, Leaf Blower, and my Daughter’s lovable (loud) dog, I’ve got the Mpow Bluetooth 4.0 Headphones and I’m not afraid to use them!

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iTone-Deaf

I hate to keep telling people I’m a big fan of Apple, just before I criticize them. For one thing, it sounds so fake; for another, it’s just not as true as it used to be.

Yes, at one time, almost every media device I owned had the Apple brand on it, and I was a happy camper. iPhone, iPod, iPad, iTunes, MacBook; you name it and I had an Apple device that did it. However, over the past few years, I drifted away from the Apple fold and discovered other devices and other platforms.

Yes, I’m talking about Android.

Do I believe Android is better than iOS? No – and yet, the Android operating system had made great strides. Let’s be clear – Apple basically invented the successful Tablet and mobile computing platforms. However, with Google Play and Amazon, the Android user can find most of the content of the Apple iTunes store (many times at a slightly lower price!). You can’t find much in the way of older content – those classic or, perhaps, cult classic movies and TV shows, but new movies are released in Google Play at the same time as on iTunes.

So why am I now criticizing the very platform and ecosystem to which I was so happily devoted? I have three basic reasons;

  • Failure to incorporate the Micro SD:
    • I have a 16GB Apple Mini Retina. It is a beautiful tablet, but after loading the ever-growing iOS and the default applications, I have 10.8GB left.
    • The average HD movie is approximately 4GB in size. For example, “The Avengers” weighs in at 5.93GB, “Big Hero 6” is 3.21GB, and “Les Miserables” wins the prize at 6.05GB.
    • I can load 2, perhaps 3 of these movies if I want to watch them away from the friendly confines of a wireless internet network (like when flying on an airplane). That leaves little space for music or other apps.

Without the ability to use a Micro SD expansion card, I’m stuck with loading a few movies, apps, and music files for my trips. Oh, I have a few other options; load the Standard Version (SD) movie format, which is far less in size, but then why buy a Retina display? I could use an expensive wireless hard drive, but the iPad won’t play iTunes purchases movies or music (Purchased MPEG-4 video and AAC music format – Apple proprietary) from such a drive – I’ve tried!  I could also buy an iPad with more memory – but that is another expensive option.

The iPad Mini 3 with 16GB of memory and a 2048×1536 resolution screen costs $399. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4” with the same 16GB of memory and a 2560×1600 resolution screen costs $349. It also has a Micro SD card slot that can handle up to a 64GB card. That’s 4 times the base memory, all available for content – no operating system files. Plus you can switch out the SD card – tailor a card with the content for specific moods or purposes and change them on the fly, accessible from the SD card slot on the side of the device.

Let me see – better resolution, the ability to add substantial memory (SD card prices have plummeted, a class 10 64GB SD card will now cost you less than $35), a growing ecosystem of movies, TV shows, and apps, and for less money! Hmmm, let me think about that one!

  • iTunes just keeps getting worse – I don’t know who designs iTunes, but he or she really doesn’t like me! The new interface with iTunes 12 (and now with 12.1) is confusing, frustrating, and is confusingly frustrating!

I work with computers every day and have for the last 25 or so years – I’ve even designed software interfaces. The rule of thumb is to make it simple to use. iTunes used to be, but someone sneaked into the kitchen and added needless complexity to the cookie dough.

The result is not user friendly; in fact is looks like someone us just trying to tick me off! Finding a movie or a song is more difficult than before. Why? Don’t look at me. And the competition is gaining. While Google Play or the Amazon Music store is not iTune’s equal, they are getting better. The apps still trail in number and quality – the most glaring proof is no Amazon Instant Prime app for Android (yet), but watch out, Apple. That sound you hear is their footsteps gaining on you.

  • Justifying the cost is getting more difficult: I know, I know, Apple is a premium brand and one must expect to pay more for a premium brand. However, have you looked at a Samsung Tablet, or the Amazon Fire HD? Others are producing high quality products that cost less and do more (re: my Micro SD rant).

With profits soaring through the roof and its bank account bursting at the seams, Apple is flying high right now. And while I fully support capitalism with all its warts and freckles, there is a limit to what people will continue to pay for a product not that much more advanced than the alternative. And while I am also not an Android acolyte, I enjoy seeing them succeed – competition is good for everyone.

Will Apple listen? The new larger-sized iPhone 6 proves that it can. With its superiority in hardware, operating system, and ecosystem fading, Apple needs to listen more.

Inside Windows 10

I can’t explain it.

I mean I just can’t explain it.

How is it that the folks at Microsoft can’t release two good Operating System versions in a row??

If you look at their track record over the past 20 years or so of new Windows releases, you can discern a pattern.

1995 – Windows 95 – Good
1998 – Windows 98 – So, so
2000 – Windows 2000 – Good
2000 – Windows ME – Disaster
2001 – Windows XP – Outstanding
2007 – Windows Vista – Disaster
2009 – Windows XP – Terrific
2012 – Windows 8 – (Another) Disaster

So, the law of averages would tell us that the release of Windows 9 would be a success, right? Hmmm! How much do we want to tempt fate?

Two things!

(1) The next release of Windows will not be called Windows 9. It will be called Windows 10. Why? Who knows, perhaps they are trying to break the hoodoo of the every other version curse (I mean, have you tried Windows 8? Ugh!).

(2) The next release of Windows, called Windows 10, looks like it will be a winner! I volunteered to be a beta tester and have been playing with the new release for several weeks, on and off.

My first impressions are favorable – they’ve gotten rid of the most annoying parts of Windows 8. The pop out sidebar is gone, so finding the Control Panel and Power switch is easier; the screen full of tiles is gone. Selecting the Windows button or Icon gives you a modified Start Menu; much of the old Start Menu has been restored with the addition of just a few tiles that the user can configure (size, location, and which tiles are shown).

Other, less obvious changes are meant to make some of your daily tasks easier, while binding you into the Windows infrastructure. The addition of a Search Icon on the taskbar is good, but it is tied to the Bing search engine (Windows own search tool) which opens in Internet Explorer (Windows own Browser).

The Evaluation Copy Build 9841 I’ve looked at is not the final release, but is smooth and polished. Despite loading the Windows 10 on a new hard drive, the system recognized my HP Elitebook 2540p and loaded all the drivers. All I had to do was start the machine and it all just worked!

We’ll have to wait and see what else Windows does with this release – will it add tabs to the File Explorer? Will it help battery life for laptops? How much will it cost? I don’t have any of those answers, but so far I’m a fan of Windows 10!

The Pebble Watch: One Year Later…

Last September, I wrote about the (then) new Pebble Smart Watch. My initial impression was favorable; while the number and diversity of apps was lacking, the function and feel was terrific. In the year since, I’ve used the original Pebble (more about subsequent Pebble in a minute) almost exclusively. That includes at work, on trips, and even while exercising. App development finally caught up to the platform. A variety of everyday handy apps makes my Pebble a great watch. Not only are the notifications useful (new emails, texts, and phone calls), but I can control Pandora, set Alarms, get weather data, and use my timer to count up or to count down. All notifications are via the rather aggressive shaker, so no loud noises or embarrassing beeps. Since I first purchased my Pebble, the platform has matured.

Apps – The number of apps increased dramatically over the past year. After the interruption caused by an Operating System upgrade (to version 2.0), the flow of new and updated apps continued. Many (perhaps most) are watch faces – this gets annoying as I want more apps that do or tell me something. The introduction of ESPN does that with sports scores added to your watch.

Battery – I was really concerned about battery life. The unique recharging cable is not my favorite, a point I made in my original blog about the Pebble Watch last September. In the past year, however, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. The battery lasts 5-7 days with normal use. If you use the stopwatch and/or countdown timer much, the battery takes a bit of a beating. Recharging is very quick. I ordered an additional recharging cable, something I’m glad I did.

Reliability – New products both excite and scare me – how will it hold up? I worried the Pebble might develop issues over time, but nothing like that happened. The watch works just as well as the day I purchased it. With new apps, better integration with my Android phone, and better support from the Pebble web site, the Pebble still rocks (sorry about the pun!)

The new Pebble – Pebble came out with the Steel, basically the same watch with metal instead of plastic. This was Pebble’s attempt to bring the watch into the main stream, but the days of elegant watches are long past. You will see almost any color or style of watch on the wrists of well-dressed people these days. So, perhaps it was also an attempt to deliver the same product with a higher profit margin. As a fan of the free market system, I don’t have a problem with that. I’m just very happy with my plastic Pebble.

So, one year later I’m still a Pebble fan. I’ve looked at all the new “Smart” watches to come out over the past year, and nothing surpasses the capability enough to warrant the higher prices. Perhaps one day they will, but in the meantime I’m hoping the inventive folks at Pebble will up their game and release a new version with more oomph!

Protect your iPad Air!

One of the bennies of being the GERD is occasionally getting to review a new product.  I needed to protect my new iPad Air and the fine folks at Anker read my mind and offered me a chance to use the new iPad Air Screen protector (2 Pack). I was supplied a sample for test and evaluation, on the basis that I would provide a fair and honest review.  Well, fairly and honestly, I’ve used ‘lots of screen protectors over the years, none was as easy to apply as this one.  I really hate the ones that use the liquid applicator, so messy and once on, there is no adjusting it.  The Anker product is just “peel and apply”, with the ability to readjust to get it just right.  The ingenuous part is the Dust Removal Sticker.  You see every time I use a screen protector I wind up with tiny bits of dust between the screen and the protector.  Despite using canned air and being very careful, it always happens.  The dust removal sticker allows you to more thoroughly remove any dust before screen application.  Easy to apply and adjust, easy to remove any dust, and really sensitive to touch.  Other than the reduced glare, reduced fingerprints, and protection from scratches, you’d never know it was there.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FDITKKA

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When a Pebble is not a small thing…

It seems like everyone is rushing to create, design, manufacture, and market a “Smart” watch.  The GERD likes watches. He had one of those LCD watches back “In the day”.  You know the one you had to push the button to see the time.  So, the GERD’s been geeking on watches for some time.  In the last several years it’s been difficult to find a good digital (“less than Smart”) watch.  I define a good watch as one that has several time zones, a countdown timer, stopwatch, and a display that lists day and date; a nice look, comfortable band, and a size smaller than a dinner plate is also desired.

With the explosion of “Tiny Technology” in the last several years, the poor old watch was left behind.  Computers, tablets, music players, and Blue Tooth headsets have all grown in capability while shrinking in size.  Your average 7” tablet has far more computing power than the Apollo Capsule that took men to the moon.  Where is the technological evolution for the watch?

Enter the Pebble… an interesting name for a really big technological achievement.  Leveraging existing technology in an innovative package, the Pebble will push everyone else interested in claiming a piece of this growing market to be better.  I read about this new watch several months ago because it was a “crowd sourcing” effort.  The developers obtained the needed funding (within six days, the project had become the most funded project in the history of Kickstarter) and produced the first prototype.

Those who invested were the first to get the new product.  However, the “little Pebble that could” was beset by some initial difficulties – some failed to work at all.  The Pebble team kept working, making improvements and released its first mass produced version in Jan 2013.  In May 2013, the Pebble team released the full Software Development Kit (SDK) which allows third party developers to write programs for the Pebble – this is where the success or failure of this effort lies – without aggressive third-party app support the Pebble is a nice looking but expensive ($150) simplistic watch.

During a recent road trip the GERD got his Pebble on after a visit to a Best Buy near Malbis, Alabama.  Finding these little jewels at a store has been difficult – until recently Best Buy was the only retailer to carry them (AT&T recently announced they will start selling them as well).  You can get them online, but the GERD was hesitant to invest blindly in a new gadget with a history of problems.

I’ve been Pebbleing for several weeks now.  It has a great, easy to see and read display; setup was a snap and it linked to my Galaxy S3 without a hitch.  I love the alert – the watch vibrates (quite strongly) rather than making a sound for incoming emails, instant messages, clock alarms, or anything else you set up.  No sound to embarrass you in a crowd (like those annoying phone ringtones!)  Battery life is rated at 7 days between charges – I’ve seen nothing to dispute that although the GERD does tend to charge his gadgets frequently.

The Pebble downside:  It has a unique charging attachment, violating one of the GERD’s Gadget rules.  Don’t lose it or you will be buying another one.  The Pebble lacks of some basic watch functions; stopwatch, countdown timer, and multiple time zone support (although when linked by Blue Tooth to your Cell Phone it changes time as your phone does in new time zones; in a stand-alone mode, you have to manually change the time.)  Hopefully the third party app developers will come up with these functions, or the Pebble team will add them in a future software update.  Speaking of third party apps, at present there are only a few apps, my unscientific review found approximately 100.  Some of these are pure fluff (fancy watch faces), some relatively useful (Calendar, agenda, SMS list).  Go to the Google Play Store to look for yourself if you’re pondering a potential Pebble purchase.

Bottom line: I like my Pebble, but I want it to get better.  Pebble Developers – Add those basic watch functions and keep the third party app developers working nights and weekends and you just may show Apple and Sony a thing or two!

The Shine is off the Apple (iPhone)

The GERD is anything but an Apple hater, some may argue I’m quite the opposite.  However, as stated in my previous Blog “Did the GERD Leave Apple” I believe that the iPhone has become stale; so stale in fact that the GERD switched from the iPhone 5 to the Galaxy S3 earlier this year (and has not regretted it!). 

So it was with the usual interest that I looked in at the Apple iPhone announcement on 10 September.  What was I looking for?  Something exciting, perhaps?  Sorry race fans, nothing to see here, go about your business.

Yes, Apple did implement the new 64-bit mobile processor and new camera technologies.  Yes, Apple did introduce a new cheaper iPhone (well, cheaper for Apple; you can get better Android-based phones for the same price as the Apple “5C”).  However, there was little to excite anyone, including me that came from this annual iPhone event.   

What Apple seems to be missing here is not just inside the iPhone; Faster processors and better cameras are considered a normal progression; why wouldn’t you upgrade processors and cameras?  What I wanted to see from Apple is a new design for the iPhone – yes that means a bigger screen!  Yes that means a Micro-USB memory expansion slot!  Yes that means a removable/replaceable battery!  Yes that means a new body design! 

I fear that Apple, with still arguably one of the best phones in the world today, is living off of past glories.  Yes, it is difficult to keep rocking the world as Apple has twice in the past few years (iPhones and iPads), but rolling out update after update to internal components without adapting the design of the phone to excite users is taking the easy way out.  The iPad Mini was a needed design change for the iPad line and sparked excitement even though the form factor was not new (everyone has a 7” tablet).  The same can, and should have already been done, with the iPhone.  Give me a 5”, 5 ½”, or even a 6” screen; give me the ability to expand my on-board memory with a micro-USB slot; allow me to replace my battery to extend the lifespan of my iPhone without having to send it off to Cupertino for several weeks.  Give me a flatter, thinner design, much as has been done with the MacBook live.  Come on Apple, excite me!  Alas, however, I see a faster processor (yawn), a better camera (how nice) and a fingerprint scanner (I hope this works).  I know, I know, the new iOS 7 should spark things, but I’m not rushing out to buy the new iPhone 5S because of iOS 7 – in fact, I’m not rushing out to buy the iPhone 5S for any reason.  Maybe next year!