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!

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!

Did the GERD leave Apple?

For those who know the GERD, you know I’ve been a big fan of all things Apple since 2003. You see, I’ve loved books on tape for years (hang with me, I’m going somewhere here); back to when they were only available on cassette tapes (hundreds of them!). Then I discovered Audible.com; away with you tapes and CD’s, its digital content for me! The problem was MP3 players in 2003 either didn’t have a large enough hard drive, or couldn’t handle the proprietary Audible format. Then I found out that this new iPod thingy achieved both of these lofty goals; I left a vapor trail to the nearest Best Buy and purchased one (I still have it!). That led to a procession of iPods, iPads, and even iPhones. I love the engineering, the innovation, and the ecosystem that Apple brings to the table.

Then a funny thing happened – others started to catch up. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Apple got an awful lot of flattery. While most of the attempts came up short (anyone remember the HP Slate?), slowly but surely the quality improved, and ecosystems caught up. I wrote last August about Android’s improvement (https://techgerd.com/2012/08/14/apple-or-android-ive-used-both/). Google Play and Amazon have stepped up with great content and more apps. The hardware is getting better as well. Better cameras, better processors, better screens, and bigger screens! People wanted bigger screens and the new Android phones have ‘em. Apple has yet to embrace these shifts in design, stubbornly clinging to its strive for a smaller product. I find the larger screens offered by Samsung very appealing; very appealing indeed! In fact…

Wait a minute! Am I having a mid-life tech crisis? Have I considered wondering away from my true love, Apple, towards a flirtatious encounter with Android? I’m feeling flush and a little dizzy…I need to sit down and think about this. It’s all so dangerous and yet exciting!

Will the GERD leave Apple for Android? Will leaving make the GERD happier or would he regret leaving? What would happen to the kids (all that iTunes content)? Tune in next time to see if the GERD leaves Apple!

With all apologies to Clement Clarke Moore…

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
all my gadgets were whirling, including my mouse.
My hard drives were stuffed full of data with care
in hopes that my backup plan, if needed, would be there.

With iPad and iPhone nestled snug in their docks,
Glimmering with displays of Retina fresh from the box
my Wife with her 4S and I with my ‘5
Thankful that our data plan (unlimited) is alive

When on the Amazon site there arose such a clatter
Chromebooks for sale! Get one while they still matter!
Away to my keyboard and my browser (with flash),
Clicked on the bookmark and gave up my cash.

The FedEx truck arrived, the driver was grinning
He knew it’s for me the package he’s bringing
“Good Morning to you GERD”, he says with great pep
With a gleam in his eye and a spring to his step

“Now GERD it appears I have for your consideration
a package from Amazon; could it be another piece of automation?
Another iPad, the new nook reader?
The Fire, the Acer, I know it’s not a heater!

“A Chromebook!” I cry with overstated pride,
“to compute where I want, no matter what I ride!
On airplanes, on cars, on big boats and small
It weighs just 3 pounds; it’s really easy to haul!”

“I see” he says as he turns away to leave
“yet another laptop…doesn’t now that make three?”
“Perhaps” I replied in response to his mock,
“But these were going fast – there was only one left in stock”

Away to my office I rushed with such haste
To rip open the package with time not to waste
A press of the button the screen it alights
And takes me to Google, its app store to delight

My eyes are a’glitter, my mouse works with fury
As selected apps to my hard drive they hurry
On Google, on Gmail, on Pandora and Cloud Reader
On DropBox, on Sugar Sync, on Maps and RSS-Feeder

App after app I download, my hard drive was filling
My excitement was real, my credit card a ’billing
When finally I saw, my Chromebook was set
For that road trip next time I’ll be ready I bet

So value your Gadgets, to each one give a mention,
and always remember; to my blog, pay attention.
And hear me exclaim, although I’m out of sight,
“Merry Christmas to all, and to all a GERD-night!”

Don’t tell anyone, but I like CHROMEBOOKS!

As most of you know, the GERD works on and with computers, and has for more than a few years.  Some time ago, someone far smarter that I floated the idea of a web-based operating system for computers.  The benefits included low cost, faster operation, and easier maintenance.  The main drawback to this brilliant idea was relatively slow internet connections (most were still dial-up at this time), and very limited Wi-Fi.  So, your low cost computer couldn’t do much at home, and almost nothing on the road.  The idea kept germinating until Google developed two new “Chromebooks”, named for the operating system (Chrome) they run on.  Although not truly a web-based operating system, the Chromebook leverages the web for most of its applications.

I recently obtained the Acer C7 Chromebook and, much to my surprise, I’ve been cautiously impressed.  I had imagined a glorified doorstop, but once I played with one I noticed the peppy response; even video played smoothly without all the herky-jerkyness I’ve seen with most net-books.  It has a 320GB 5400 RPM hard drive, plenty of space for my “on the road again” movie collection (the Samsung Chromebook has only a 16GB solid state hard drive, better for speed and battery life, but really, really small!).

The Acer C7 Chromebook comes with 2GB RAM – I upped mine to 4GB, but be careful – doing so yourself voids the warranty, and while I did notice a performance bump after the upgrade, it is not essential .  As for applications, don’t get confused like I did – the Google Play web site features Android applications and they will not work on the Chromebook.  Go to the Chrome site (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/category/home?hl=en) – not all the apps in the world are available, but the list is pretty good (and growing) and a shocking number of these apps are free.  Yes, Pandora, Netflix, DropBox, You Tube and Angry Birds are available along with the usual Google suspects, Gmail, Google Drive, and all the Google Microsoft Office alternatives (Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc).

The good news is that the Chromebook is light (3 lbs), has a great screen (11.6″ 1366 x 768 HD), 3 USB ports, a 2-in-1 card reader, and that spacious hard drive (320GB).  The bad news is average battery life (3.5 hours), poor speakers and no Bluetooth, but for $199, what do you want?  Google throws in 12 free sessions of GoGo® Inflight Internet and 100GB of free Google Drive space (for two years), if you have DropBox or other cloud storage, this may not be needed. Go to the Google Play web site for more info (https://play.google.com/store/devices?feature=corpus_selector)

Remember, this is not a full laptop computer – you will not load Office apps, iTunes, or any other Windows-based apps here.  However, the Chrome App Store offers many alternatives that perform most of these tasks well, mostly free.  Besides, it’s fun to play with the thing!

So now I’m a Chromer, a Chrome-Head, a Chrome-ite, a Chrome-domer (OK, I’ll stop now).  My Acer C7 will definitely be in the GERD’s backpack on my next trip.  I’ve already loaded a ton of music and movies for those times I’m not connected, and have my Google Drive packed full of needed stuff when I am online.

Travel Tech

Sometimes the GERD has to travel.  In fact the GERD is on an airplane right now (at least while he’s writing this); on his way to San Diego from my super-secret East Coast electromagnetic fortress for a meeting.  So on those infrequent occasions when he has to leave his GERD-dom, he wants the right kind of tools to play and work with.  These tools must have certain characteristics; they must be small, they must have good battery life; they must have a common plug for recharging; and of course, they must be really cool!

So, you may be asking yourself what is the GERD’s favorite travel tech (go ahead and ask, I’ll wait). Naturally, it’s my iPad, I mean not only do I never leave home without it, I rarely leave the room without it.  I have a 64GB Wi-Fi iPad 2 (insert audible gasp).  I know, I know, it’s old but believe me the thing is still a tech marvel and tops in my tech travel locker (that’s my back pack).  It meets all my requirements; (1) it’s small enough to slide into place with no fuss, no unsightly bulge; (2) it has a great battery life.  Even though it’s getting older the battery life remains terrific, almost 10 hours per charge.  (3) As for the common plug, while it’s not a USB, mini USB, or micro USB, the 30 pin Apple plug has become so commonplace it’s almost its own category.  I know the new Apple connector is very different (I like it by the way), and in time they too will become commonplace; (4) what’s cooler than an iPad, anyone, anyone?  The cool is still there and I’m never embarrassed to drag out the old iPad and start geeking out (that’s not true with my entire tech line, can you say Acer Iconia Tab? That thing can stop a bullet but takes 10 minutes to boot up!)

There is, however, more to Heaven and Earth than the iPad.  The Kindle Fire HD makes an excellent travel companion.  My stereo Bluetooth headphones are always with me (Rocketfish High-Definition (RF-MAB2)  https://techgerd.com/2012/08/11/my-favorite-bluetooth-headsets/).  A good laptop is always a plus; my new ASUS U46e (http://www.asus.com/Notebooks/Superior_Mobility/U46E/) packs 8GB of RAM and 750GB hard drive on a Windows 7 64-bit OS with excellent results.  Add 6+ hours of battery life and you’re got a toy to blog away on during those long flights.  Need to add more content without buying a new system?  Add a Wi-Drive that allows you to stream data from it to any one of several devices over its own Wi-Fi signal.  (http://www.kingston.com/us/usb/wireless#wid).

So the next time you leave your Fortress on a trip, taking along the right tools will help you get away without actually being away.

It’s The Price Stupid!

Hey gang, here’s one fun thing we all can do as we wait to see if the latest hurricane is going to kill us all; let’s think about the price of technology!

Just about everyone in the known galaxy announced new products last week.  Apple, Google, Microsoft, the Klingons, and the Penguins of Madagascar (the GERD thinks it was a tablet; the one that eats everything ate it so I’m not sure).  In the wake of this gadget blizzard there is one thing that stands out when considering this cornucopia of cool gadgets, what’s the price?

When Apple introduced the original iPad one of the things that attracted the GERD (besides the engineering, the great display, the size, and the ecosystem) was the price – $499 seemed like an extremely affordable price for what the GERD was getting.  So much so if fact that he would go on to buy 4 of ‘em (in the GERD’s defense, I didn’t buy them all at once and the other three did eventually go to family members).  To purposely misquote a famous politician, “it’s the price stupid!”

Let’s recap – Kindle Fire HD – $199; Google Nexus 7 – $199; Samsung Chromebook – $249;    Apple iPad Mini – $329?  Oops!

The GERD has bought expensive toys and inexpensive toys – there was a time when the gulf between the two was wide.  However, Apple has forced everyone else to not only innovate but engage in aggressive pricing and Amazon, Google, Asus, Samsung, and others have done so.  When good companies are forced to do this, we, the consumer, are the winners.  As long as this competition continues, we will continue to win.  Once they start idolizing the bottom line, the prices will start rising and the quality will start dropping. When that happens the era of the tablet will be over.