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!

Sorry Gertrude!

The GERD has his share of maladies – a bad knee, a Thyroid that went AWOL several years ago, Sleep Apnea, and a condition known as ShortFatUgly-ness.  All that is bad enough, but there is one condition that really bugs the GERD.  Way up, way, way up, inside my right ear sits a lady (I call her Gertrude) who plays an organ.  This is a special organ – it has only one key, a real high key, and Gertrude plays it ALL THE TIME!  I went to an audiologist last year and he had a name for it, Tinnitus, also known as “ringing in the ears”.  Only mine isn’t a ringing, it’s that real high-pitched key that Gertrude plays ALL THE TIME.  My audiologist was very nice; he gave me a very useful piece of advice.   He said, “GERD, silence is the enemy”.  Once I finished giving him that strange look that only the GERD can (ask my daughters), it started to make sense to me.  When I’m in a really quiet environment, Gertrude really goes to town on her organ.  The quieter it is, the louder she gets.  Ever tried sleeping with that going on in your head?  What my Audiologist told me was to go to sleep at night with some noise, any noise, to take my mind off of Gertrude (he doesn’t really call her that, only I do).  Otherwise she keeps me up all night with her one note song of torture. 

But wait a minute; the GERD’s wife doesn’t have Tinnitus!  How unfair would that be; “sorry dear but Gertrude demands that I play music so I can sleep.  What’s that, you need sleep too??”

To every problem in life there is a technological solution (OK, that’s not really true but it’s fun looking for one).   Like many of you I have used, from time to time, a blue tooth headset with my cell phone.  These tend to be large, expensive, and weak on battery life.  When looking for a technological solution to Gertrude I found a blue tooth headset that is not large, not expensive, and not weak on battery life.  The Plantronics Marque M155 Bluetooth Headset is small in size and fits comfortably and securely in the GERD’s offending ear, and lasts for several hours on a single charge.  It syncs easily and rapidly with my Samsung Galaxy S3, my iPad Mini, and every other blue tooth capable device I have.  I wear it to bed (don’t laugh; I have a condition, after all!).  I play a movie or a music playlist from my Nexus (in its docking station on my night table).  Once the movie/playlist is done, the Plantronics stays unobtrusively in my ear.  Sleeping on my back or on my left side helps.  Even if it pops out during the night, no harm is done.  The best thing is that this beauty only costs around $30.  That’s a deal in the GERD’s book of technological solutions to life’s problem!

 I wear it driving to work (listening to my favorite book from Audible).  I wear it at work listening to Pandora.  Since it’s in only one ear I can still hear conversations, the phone, and my email alert.  I wear it while shopping, doing chores around the house; I even wear it on the airplane.  Having one ear available to hear things is an advantage in every situation, except where certain relatives are concerned.

 The sound quality is really good, if only in one ear.  Sound controls are easy to use; it’s so small and light that I forget it’s there.  And yes, you can also use it to make phone calls!  Call quality is quite good (so I’m told by those who call me), and when the call is concluded the music/Audio book takes up where it left off.  I have 5 of these things and I use them everywhere.  They recharge (quickly) with a standard micro USB connector.

So my audiologist was correct, silence may be my enemy, but with my Plantronics blue tooth headset, I’ve made peace with Gertrude.  She’s not really a bad person, but I wish she would learn to play a new note!