Category Archives: Electronics

Motorola Xoom vs iPad: Which one Lost?

How do you know your product has failed?

When it’s sitting at the top of Woot – after Not Selling anywhere else. [EDIT: for the sake of Varun’s sanity, a very spirited commenter in the thread below, I amended this paragraph to help him better understand.]

I don’t know about you, but I hate buying something (new or used) only to know that it’s not going to be around (or supported) for much longer. Not to say that the Motorola Xoom tablet is a failure, but… normally, you wouldn’t find successes sitting in the digital equivalent of a bargain bin.

If you would still love to get your hands on this tablet computer, you’re better off looking for people who are more-than-willing to sell their remorse to you. I’m guessing you can get a Xoom for even less than what this web site is selling it for.

I might also mention that I’ve never touched a Motorola Xoom – but why would I? Why would you? Five years ago, the Xoom may have made for one interesting portable device. Five years ago.

And, for clarification’s sake: I have absolutely nothing against the Motorola Xoom for what it is! Unfortunately, it fell short of expectations in just about every way – and when you’re trying to compete with the iPad, you’d better have one amazing story to tell at a no-brainer price point.

Some people hate Apple so much that they’re trying to prove a point by buying something else. Stupid, but I guess it’s admirable. If you’re really itching to spend money on anything that isn’t an iPad at this point, you’re better off looking at HP’s TouchPad – if only because you know a single company is controlling the experience (hardware AND software).

I think it’s fair to say that the Xoom lost – but it didn’t go down without a fight!

Why Customer Service is Important in Business

I’ve been a Best Buy shopper for as long as I can remember. At one point, I even worked there. Recently, there have been a few red flags raised in reference to some of the bad customer service decisions they’ve made recently when I’ve gone in to make purchases.

The most recent example of this came when I brought a 10% off coupon in to the store to use on a new cable modem I was getting for a service upgrade I’m having done at my home. To my surprise, the cashier denied the coupon because the word modem didn’t appear anywhere on the coupon printout (even under the list of exclusions).

As I scanned the list of applicable devices, I noticed one word that is clearly associated with the device in question. Networking is covered by the coupon, and I can’t think of any device more suited to the term than one that connects your existing network to the Internet. In fact, the only port (other than the coaxial) is a networking port. The very purpose of this device is to interact with and route information to and from your network. Why wouldn’t this be covered under networking? Cable modems are even sold in the networking area of the store – right next to routers and switches.

What’s more disturbing, is the computer system itself denied the coupon. This is either a clear indication of intentionally bad business practices or a lack of basic technical understanding on the part of the person or persons responsible for promotional offers. In either of these cases, Best Buy should know better and honor their promises. A coupon that is made with the intention of bringing customers in only works if it’s honored by the retailer.

So, over an amount of less than $10, Best Buy has lost me as a customer. The hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in profit I could give them in the coming years is now going to go to another retailer that believes in respecting their offers. This is just another reason why customer service is important in business. If the local store had the foresight to correct the problem and provide proper customer service, they could have saved a customer and avoided this public outcry for them to do better.

Do you feel I’m in the wrong? Have you ever had a disappointing customer service experience at Best Buy or another electronics store? Leave a comment and tell me about it.

Five Ways You Can Make Your Home More Energy Efficient

Making your home more energy efficient makes sense on so many levels. You can save a lot of money over a relatively short period of time by making just a few adjustments around the house. Here are five ways you can make your home more energy efficient:

Replace Incandescent Lighting with LEDs or CFLs
Incandescence, by its very definition, is light emitted from objects that are heated up to a point where they glow. These bulbs are extremely hot to the touch, and heavy on electricity usage. A standard 60watt bulb can cost you more over the period of a year than the difference in price between it and an LED or CFL lamp. This is also coupled with the relatively short lifespan traditional incandescent lights offer when compared to the 25-50 thousand hour lifespan of an LED lamp.

Use Energy-Efficient Fans During Hot Days
Fans don’t actually cool the air. I’m going to say that. What they do is keep the air moving so it does not become stagnent in front of windows and other heat-generating areas of the home. They also make a space feel cooler as a result of the breeze they create. This can result in lower bills by maintaining a comfort zone at higher temperatures. Because the air is constantly moving, it doesn’t have time heat up as much as it passes in front of windows or over a warmer appliances. Ceiling fans are a great way to keep an entire room more comfortable on a hot day.

Install Dimmer Switches
Installing dimmer switches (or stand-alone lamps with this functionality) gives you the ability to lower the amount of electricity used by the lighting in your home when you don’t need the room to be lit as brightly. Control over the intensity of the lighting can also come in handy when company is over, giving your home a warmer and more inviting look.

Check the Seal Around Doors and Windows
Installing weatherstripping around doors and windows that have lost their seal over time can keep outside air from entering your home and causing your furnace and/or air conditioner to overwork itself. This transfer of air can end up costing you hundreds over a short period of time. Building codes in many jurisdictions actually require weatherstripping to be installed on all exterior windows and doors, as well as any uninsulated room.

Have Your Central Air Ducts Checked Yearly for Leaks
It’s easy to overlook this important part of home maintenance. Leaky air ducts can cause your furnace and/or air conditioner to essentially waste sometimes 40% of their output due to leaks caused by aging and critters that make their way in to the home. In colder climates, many home repair businesses offer a discounted preventative maintenance check for central furnace systems during the autumn months. The opposite goes for warmer areas, where discounts are typically given during the spring months. These checkups often include a cleaning as dust and dirt builds up in the vents and air ducts over time and eventually flies back out in to the room creating a potential problem for allergy sufferers.

Spending money on electricity sucks. That money could be much better utilized on more entertaining or productive things. The tips presented here are all pretty cheap – and they could end up saving you a lot of money. If you have any tips or tricks that can help save you on your electric bill, please post them as a comment below.

Can the Nook Color Compete With Other Android Tablets?

Jake Ludington of LockerGnome is looking for a tablet small enough to fit in his cargo pants pocket with the capability to run Android apps. The Nook Color by Barnes and Noble may be exactly what he needs to get the job done. So, can the Nook compete with other Android tablets?

With a 7-inch screen, the Nook Color is slightly more compact than many of the other tablets out there. As an ebook reader, the screen is just right for reading text on a page-to-page basis. In fact, the Nook’s screen is bigger than its biggest competitor, the Kindle, which sits at 6 inches. This makes it small enough to fit in a cargo pants pocket, which is exactly what Jake was looking for. Colors are vibrant and vidid on the 1024×600 display. When compared to the slightly more powerful Archos 70 ($335), the Nook ($249) actually features a higher-resolution.

One important note here is that the Nook is powered by Android, but not all of Android’s features are made available to the user out of the box. In order to unlock the full potential of the Android installation, the user needs to root (think Jailbreaking) the device. This may void your warranty, but if an inexpensive Android tablet is what you’re looking for, this can make it possible.

If you are planning to use the Nook as an Android device rather than a book reader, you may want to keep in mind that the Nook has an underpowered processor when compared to other Android tablets. The ARM Cortex-A8 processor (800MHz) is about as powerful as one you might have found in the very first generation of Android phones. Though it certainly doesn’t compete as strongly with the Xoom or Samsung Galaxy tablets, it is capable of handling basic tasks such as email, web browsing, etc.

At this point, price for performance on the Nook may beat everything currently out on the market. At $249, you essentially have a capable Android tablet with a decent screen and build quality. Though underpowered by today’s standards, and really just an ebook reader at heart, it can deliver more bang for your buck than even the incredibly disappointing $99 Maylong tablet.

How to Monitor Your Electricity Usage Remotely

Have you ever been curious exactly how much your appliances and other electronics are costing you to run? You could use something like a Kill-a-Watt which measures the amount of electricity being pulled on a single outlet, but what if you want to keep track of the electricity usage across your entire home? This is where the PowerCost Monitor can really come in handy. It’s an easily installed gadget that is intended to help monitor your electric usage remotely.

This two-part device includes a transmitter and a receiver. The transmitter installs with a simple ring clamp to your external electric meter (digital or analog AMR, AMI, and Smart Meters) and uses a censor to determine the speed and measurement of usage. It then transmits this measurement to the PowerCost Monitor inside.

The whole thing can be installed in about 20 minutes, including the software setup.

The PowerCost Monitor can not only tell you how much electricity you’ve been using, but how much it will cost you come billing time. You can call your electric company or look for a detailed rate card included in with your monthly statement. Some companies have tiered pricing, and this device supports varied rates.

So, other than double-checking your bill, what makes something like this worthwhile? Well, by seeing exactly how much electricity your drawing can help you determine a plan of action to lower your monthly electric bill. Turning off lights, using fans, changing your thermostat settings, and other various cost-saving methods can be put to the test with this real-time monitor.

The range between the transmitter and the receiver is 30 meters (100 feet), which is long enough to reach nearly completely across most houses. It doesn’t take up much space at all. The PowerCost Monitor will not work with net metering applications such as wind and solar, or on a business meter that uses demand pricing.

In the southern US, the largest component of your yearly energy cost is air conditioning. Often, summer-time electric bills can double and even triple due to the energy required to cool most homes. A device like this can keep you informed and let you know what to expect come the end of your billing cycle. More importantly, it can help you discover the settings that work best for you and your budget.

The Filtrete Wi-Fi Thermostat

I have never installed a thermostat before, but thanks to the help of several incredible community members, I managed to pull it off without electrocuting myself. Andrew, a long-time member of the LockerGnome community, turned me on to a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat that enables me to control my home air conditioner and furnace by way of a smartphone over the Internet.

Once I got the thermostat, I quickly realized that there is a little more to it than just popping out the old one and plugging the new one in. Thankfully, a plumber from AA Plumbing here in Seattle was kind enough to offer some basic advice on how to hook it up. This got me most of the way there.

He told me that I needed to line up the wires to match the way they were configured on my old thermostat once the new one was installed. At that point, I removed the old thermostat, painted, and installed the new one. At this point, I discovered a rogue blue wire that wasn’t connected to the old thermostat. It turns out, this wire is needed to power the thermostat. Old “dumb” thermostats didn’t really need to be powered, so the wire has been sitting there idly waiting for the day when a member of the LockerGnome community would suggest a better thermostat.

Unfortunately, I still needed some support to discover exactly where this blue wire needed to go and whether or not I needed to rearrange any of the others to make room. This is where another amazing member of the community, teesix (http://twitter.com/teesix), stepped in. He responded to my distress call and let me know he’s HVAC certified. After some back-and-forth over Twitter, he got everything sorted and the installation was complete.

Now, I have this incredibly advanced thermostat that not only features a touch screen interface, but is also Wi-Fi and Internet enabled. This allows the Filtrete Wi-Fi Thermostat to be controlled remotely by way of an iPhone app, and a web application accessible by the vast majority of browsers out there. As an added bonus, this thermostat even updates its firmware over the air. Yes, you read that correctly, the firmware updated once an Internet connection was established.

If anyone else has any suggestions on hardware, software, services, or anything else that might help me live a geekier existence at home, please pass them along.

Five Recent Technological Advances in Consumer Electronics

Someone asked recently whether or not I felt that the days of major technological breakthroughs were behind us. To this, I say absolutely not. Mankind will constantly strive to achieve new heights in technology as we continue to discover new ways to create and understand technology. Here are five recent technological advances in consumer electronics:

Multi-Touch
Until recently, touch screens were clumsy and inaccurate in general. This meant that either your area of selection needed to be wide enough to compensate for the resistive screen, or you needed to use a stylus to pinpoint your area of selection. Portable devices such as the Palm Handspring have been around for over a decade, though the requirement of a stylus and clumsy interface kept it from really taking off.

More recently, multi-touch devices have found their way to the consumer market. This technology allows users to use multiple fingers to create gestures that are translated to commands quickly. Computing platforms including all-in-one computers, mobile phones, tablets, and even some television remote controls have adopted the technology to allow users to use their fingers to navigate through a seemingly endless amount of applications.

3D Television
Whether or not you consider 3D televisions to be a fad, it has certainly had an impact on the world of consumer electronics. Now, instead of having to go to a movie theater to see your favorite film in 3D, you can take the experience home. While 3D technology has been around for some time, recent advances in how video is captured coupled with a renewed consumer interest has created a lively market for the content.

In the next five years, will every new television sold have 3D capabilities? All indications at present are that this is certainly a possibility.

HD Video Recording
If you remember how consumer video cameras and camcorders looked and worked five years ago, you might laugh at what dominated the market at the time. We are able to record, and even transmit, video in full HD from our phones when only a few years ago most televisions weren’t even capable of displaying video that by today’s standards is relatively low quality.

In terms of typical web video sizes, 320×240 and 640×480 are moving aside in favor of 1280×720 and 1920×1080 with 4k and higher resolutions in sight. The discussion has become less about will video quality eventually match reality, but about when.

Ultra-Low-Voltage CPUs
What do most smartphones, tablet computers, netbooks, and low-powered desktops have in common? They are made possible by small, ultra-low-voltage CPUs. These microprocessors allow small devices with minimal cooling capabilities to operate with enough computing power to handle a fully-functional OS like Windows or Linux. In addition to a smaller form factor and low heat output, battery life can be dramatically improved thanks to their relatively small energy footprint.

Wireless Connectivity
This is a broad area of advancement as so many independent improvements have been made in recent years, the days of having dozens of wires tangled behind your desk are quickly coming to a close.

Bluetooth keyboards and mice are becoming standard, Wi-Fi standards have improved to the point where connections are more fast and reliable, mobile broadband is becoming available in more areas with some speeds meeting or exceeding that of their wired cable or DSL counterparts, and even wireless charging is possible.

How to Make an Unboxing More Interesting

The trend of unboxing popular tech on camera has been around for years. While many would claim the origins of this form of gadget porn come from the much-anticipated PS3 release, videos and/or pictures of desirable tech products being taken out of the box for the first time may well be as old as the camera itself.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of these videos are frankly rather boring. A narrator points the camera at a box and opens it, saying pretty much the same thing everyone else that has unboxed the same thing says before them. Still, these videos are extremely popular, and that begs the question of how to make an unboxing more interesting.

Throw Out Practical Applications
Yes, we all know what the gadget is, and we don’t need a narrator to tell us what it looks like as we watch it being unboxed before our eyes. What users could find interesting are details about the practical applications of said gadget. If you’re unboxing a computer, explain what you intend to do with it and how this particular purchase would help you accomplish this. A look at the specs, instead of commenting on it being pretty, would be interesting as well.

Don’t Dwell on Packaging
It’s a box, made out of cardboard. Yes, it may have an interesting tab or padding, but people are tuning in to see the item itself and spending most of your time on the packaging and making the device an afterthought isn’t going to be interesting in the long run.

Personality
It would be foolish of me to say that I do the best unboxing videos, however, personality plays a big role in how your unboxing is received by the audience. If you are monotone, and generally unenthusiastic about what you’re doing, your audience will reflect that lack of passion when it comes time to hit the subscribe button or leave a comment. Offer more than just the typical gadget porn. Give them something to either laugh at or think about throughout the course of the video.

Extras
You might score extra points by unboxing more than just one thing in a single video. If you’re opening a phone or mp3 player, grab a case to go along with it and demonstrate how that particular case fits on the product. This will kill two birds with one stone, and instantly make your video more useful than one that just focuses on the same item every other tech vlog is fixated on.

Dear Fanboys: Go Away

Do you have any idea how much I loathe the fanboy mentality? I honestly don’t care if you’re an Apple lover, a Microsoft admirer or an Android proponent – you’re all equally insane! Being a fanboy does not mean you enjoy or believe in one product more than another these days. It means that you are so insanely narrow-sighted that you cannot possibly understand that a different brand may just work better for another person – or even yourself.

Hat tip to Chu Chu for this fantastic fanboy depiction!

I had an eye on Twitter a few moments ago, and noticed that a friend was sad to realize that her three-year-old HP TouchSmart is slowly starting to fade. This has been her primary machine since August of 2008, y’all. She works from home and spends about ten hours per day – seven days each week – using the heck out of this beast. I’d say it has held up pretty well, wouldn’t you? Through blogging, Tweeting, video editing and even gaming, this setup has never let her down. Not once in nearly three years has she complained about this piece of equipment being bad, wrong, cheap or poorly made.

Wouldn’t you know it – an Apple fanboy was quick to jump down her throat in a Tweet response. His response? “That’s what you get for buying cheap crap. You should have gotten an iPad.” Fanboysaywhat? Are you serious here? Any computer that holds up for three years under intense usage – with NO upgrades or hardware changes at all – is obviously not “cheap crap” as you claim.

This is what I’m talking about. This person is so blinded by his lust for all things Apple that he has failed to realize his beloved product wouldn’t even work for what she needs. (Let’s also not forget that the iPad didn’t even exist when this particular computer became hers in August, 2008!) Would you honestly attempt to use an iPad as your main computer? If you can then kudos to you. As much as I adore my iPad 2, there is no way in hell I am going to get rid of my desktop. I’m willing to bet most of you wouldn’t, either.

Here’s a tip, fanboys: lighten up. Learn to embrace the fact that other people have different needs, wants and likes than you do. Stop harassing them and shoving your favorites down their throat each time there’s a problem with their favorite product. Guess what? Yours isn’t perfect, either.