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.

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 (, 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:

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.

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.

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.

AT&T Admits It Cannot Handle the Traffic

The truth? You can’t handle the truth! This quote from the movie “A Few Good Men” pretty much sums up the way I feel about the news flying around the web today regarding AT&T. I’m angry – much as many of you are. Guess what, oh darling AT&T? We already knew you couldn’t handle our iPhone traffic. We’ve known this for nearly four years now. We’ve attempted to tell you. We’ve begged and pleaded. We have whined, nagged and thrown virtual temper tantrums. FINALLY you admit there’s an actual problem. Doing this a long time ago would have gone a long way towards keeping customers happy and loyal to your company.

In today’s FCC filing, the mobile giant admits that it needs help in order to succeed. It clearly lays out the reasoning for wanting to buy out T-Mobile: it needs the additional boost to the network. The company’s mobile data volume jumped by more than 8,000% in the time period from 2007 to 2010. As a result, its network is dealing with capacity constraints far more severe than any other provider. Sure, Verizon has the iPhone now, as well… along with other smartphones. But the sheer volume of this Apple device on AT&Ts network has brought the carrier to its knees.

AT&T claims in the filing that the buyout “will thus benefit consumers by reducing the number of dropped and blocked calls, increasing data speeds, improving in-building coverage, and dramatically expanding deployment of next-generation mobile technology.” With devices such as the iPhone generating more than twenty times the amount of data a conventional smartphone does, the network is clogged on a constant basis. Calls are dropped and lost. Downloads are stalled. Connections aren’t available. It’s a nightmare, and one which AT&T hopes will end with this merger.

The company has said repeatedly that there isn’t time to beef up its network on its own. It takes years to get proper permits and things lined up in order to build even one tower. Imagine the time – and money – it would take to erect enough towers to make the network truly stable again. This merger makes sense for that reason alone – but not everyone agrees.

Sprint is vehemently opposed, for obvious reasons. The merger will undoubtedly make the company an enormous one. Sprint wants the government to put the kibosh on the entire deal, claiming that it will create a “duopoly” which will prevent other companies from being competitive. Sprint also feels that the deal will raise prices through the roof.

As an AT&T customer, I sure won’t mind having a more stable and reliable network. I don’t want to sneer when the Verizon guy asks if I can hear him now. I’d like to simply use my phone anytime – and anywhere – I wish. I can see the point of view of the competing businesses and those opposed. I don’t know… what do you think? Is this a deal that should be allowed? Keep in mind that the data demands on AT&T – and all other companies – will continue to skyrocket over the next few years. Should they be merging together in this manner, or should they be attempting to build more towers?