Category Archives: Hardware

You Can’t Find a Smarter Thermometer

This post was sponsored by Kinsa Health. All opinions and experiences are 100% mine.

Thankfully, we’ve been blessed with a happy and healthy daughter. Jedi has only suffered through one cold, although using the word “suffered” doesn’t seem like an accurate portrayal of the experience. Throughout the absolute sniffles last year, she remained rather bubbly for a baby. We weren’t even sure if she was sick – but the congestion pretty much solidified her condition as a flat fact. What a trooper!

A couple of days ago, Jedi woke up quite hoarse. We weren’t sure what to make of it. Just the night before, she had been her regular ol’ self. Sure, she’s prone to expressing random screams of elation – but we didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary with her behavior (or her voice). Immediately, we turned to our digital thermometer to see if she was running a fever. Fortunately, she was registering in a normal temperature range. We remained concerned.

There’s a myth that’s been circulating on the Internet for decades – that I love tech. However, I simply do NOT love technology for the sake of it being technology. That’s a pointless proposition (and an empty passion). I love what technology does to empower us, and absolutely loathe how some use it to destroy others.

It’s with that approach, I look carefully when it comes time to find tools to better fit my needs. Otherwise, I’d be like: “Oh, it’s new tech – it must be good because it’s new tech.” Or: “Hey, it runs on batteries – it must be more amazing than anything else.” Yeah, no. There’s more to it than that.

As luck would have it, Kinsa had reached out to me recently to ask if I’d be able to take a look at their “smart” thermometer. Smart? I already know how to interpret numbers, and my current thermometer isn’t broken. Well, it’s not the thermometer itself that’s necessarily smart – it’s the system tied between the Kinsa Smart Thermometer and its corresponding smartphone app (available for iOS & Android).

And, before I forget to tell you, they’re offering this product at a reasonable $19.99 (instead of $24.99) if you happen to get a Kinsa Smart Thermometer through me.

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Normally, you would take a child’s temperature (or your own, perhaps) and be done with it. But what about tracking data over time without a struggle, keeping it organized to report to your physician, or being aware of what all symptoms combined may mean without having to do further research? What about being aware of localized trends that may further pinpoint a likely illness? Yes, you could probably spend hours upon hours of research (because, we all know that a parent has nothing but extra time on their hands) – or you could get it all done in about a minute.

What’s your time worth to you as a parent (or a person, for that matter)? Sometimes, the worst part of a child’s illness is not knowing or not having enough information that you can use to better diagnose (or help your child care provider help remedy the situation with recorded intelligence). We felt helpless when Jedi was sick – not just because she couldn’t communicate effectively with us as an infant, but because we wanted to help her feel better as soon as we possibly could.

An app in conjunction with hardware may not get you (or your child) well any sooner, but it will give you far more insight to better lead you to making decisions as parents. Ignorance is not bliss – it’s dangerous when you’re speaking to the health of yourself or your loved ones. This is a tool to combat ignorance with actionable intelligence. Smart technology isn’t smart unless it helps you make smarter decisions – and that’s why the Kinsa Smart Thermometer is now in our array of parenting tools.

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Oh, and Jedi’s voice is making a recovery; she likely has laryngitis, so we’re keeping her hydrated with plain ol’ water and trying to keep her from using her voice as much as we possibly can (though, reasoning with a 1.5 year old is quite often an exercise in futility). I’m happy to say we didn’t have a chance to give this smart thermometer a full workout this time around – but the next illness may be right around the corner.

Kinsa does meet ASTM and ISO standards for professional accuracy, and may take a quick 10 seconds to get a reading. You can use it orally, rectally, or under the arm; we opt to go with the least invasive measurement option. You can use disposable plastic tips, too (though the device is water resistant and can be cleaned without worry). Use it to track any member of your family – unless one of you never gets sick.

And if you always have a fever with the only prescription being more cowbell, there may be no hope for you. Pac-man fever may still be treated with a 99.9% cure rate, though. This smart thermometer may not be able to detect or diagnose either one of these afflictions. Sorry. Maybe in the next iteration?

Get one now (with a 20% discount) – before you need it.

Why Do You Need a #FellowesInc Shredder?

This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Fellowes for SocialSpark. All opinions are 100% mine.

I’ve gone through so many shredders over the years. They’ve all survived near-endless stacks of papers, but every one of them has shuffled off its metal coil due to a random paperclip or staple making it into the mix. Why did I have to concern myself with busywork that the hardware (itself) should have been able to handle on its own? Well, there is no Bill of Rights for office products; not all shredders are created equal.

My next shredder, I decided, would better be able to handle errant items without causing me undue stress. It’s not like I go out of my way to find things to shred. It’s just that I don’t want to worry about what I can (and cannot) feed into the mouths of these monsters.

When given the opportunity to shred it with a Fellowes 79Ci, I was more than willing. I mean, right there on the front of the box it shows you (with clear illustrations) that the hardware can handle paper clips and staples all the way to plastic cards and compact disks. You just can’t go shoving that kind of stuff into your current shredder if it wasn’t designed to handle anything more than regular ol’ paper.

If your current method of shredding involves scissors, it’s time to upgrade. If you already have a shredder nearby, but it chokes when you stack more than two sheets of paper atop one another, it’s time to upgrade. If your current shredding solution jams (in an extremely non-musical way), it’s time to upgrade. The Fellowes 79Ci might be worth snagging… before you hit another snag.

So, just how loud is this sucker? It isn’t. Of course, every single shredder emits some amount noise (friction happens) – but the 79Ci isn’t going to have you scrambling for ear plugs. I’d have taken actual decibel readings, but I’m not so sure that would impress my girlfriend as much as knowing I’m not going to wake her up when I decide to do one of those late night shredding sessions. Don’t laugh. It happens more often than I’d care to admit. Jam sessions? No.

As the literature claims, this Fellowes shredder is “100% Jam Proof” – and for anybody who has ever faced a pile of half shredded documentation, this should bring relief. Halting your workflow when a piece of equipment doesn’t do what you need it to do is frustrating (at best). When you need to shred something, “janky” isn’t an option. And, even if you never experienced a jam before, have you been shredding things well enough?

The 79Ci was designed with a higher level of security in mind – cross-cutting up to 14 sheets at a time into several hundred pieces (per sheet). Nothing is overkill when it comes to the safety of your information. Why else would you be shredding papers? Ah, and your information isn’t the only thing that will remain safe; there’s a mechanism that will automatically stop the shredding when your hands touch the paper opening.

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With its 6 gallon (pull-out) bin and 12 minute (continuous) operational timespan, you’ll probably be set with a Fellowes 79Ci sitting somewhere in your home, office, or home office. Don’t wait for someone to steal what you shouldn’t have shared. You protect your online accounts and passwords, right? Protect your print outs, too. And, heck… who doesn’t want to have a shredder?!

So, Do You Really Want one?

Okay. Leave a comment on this post stating what you would be shredding if you won. If you care to read the official contest rules, feel free to do so. Just promise me that the first thing you decide to shred will not be a printed copy of this particular blog post. If you want to enter more than once, check out our sister review on LockerGnome.

Android 4.0 – Ice Cream Sandwich: Hot or Cold?

After watching Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich / Samsung Galaxy Nexus launch live on YouTube last night (and providing running commentary in my Google+ Profile all the while), I’ve come to one conclusion: Android 4.0 (“Ice Cream Sandwich”) will be awesome. But, to that end, did anybody really expect it to be worse than what we’ve seen before? That would have been more of a surprise.

With any luck, carriers will push out the long-awaited OS update to capable devices within a short matter of time (and short, in this case, is extremely relative). It’s difficult enough for the average consumer to keep up with the cavalcade of new Android devices that seem to drop every other month; why must carriers further burden a customer’s decision-making process with a questionable software update calendar / no OTA updates?

So, yes – the bottom line? If you can get a phone with Ice Cream Sandwich on it today, you should absolutely do it. With it will come countless new features and refinements:

  • Easier way to manage your widgets
  • iOS-like folder creation
  • The ability to add “people” directly to your home screen
  • A Calendar app that enables you to zoom in to reveal appointment details
  • “Visual Voicemail” with an audio-speed slider
  • Easy screen shots (finally)!
  • Closer-to-real-time voice dictation feedback
  • Get up to 16 “tabs” in Browser.
  • Deep-level data usage charts
  • Android Beam – allowing you to share data with another Android Beam user

And Dan Morrill further goes on to highlight Upload Settings, Disabling Apps, Camera Controls, Improved Download Manager, Support for Encryption for Phones, and Audio Effects. Is that all? Hardly.

I hesitate to speak too much about the Samsung Galaxy Nexus – since I haven’t touched it or tried it, and I’d be hesitant to trust opinions from those who also have not – but the screen sounds delicious: 1280×720 resolution at 316ppi! Compare that to the iPhone 4/4S’s resolution of 960×640 at 326ppi. To quote Yoda: “Size matters not.” He never said anything about resolution or pixels per inch, though – and that’s what really matters with these pocket computers. That’s right: I called ’em pocket computers. If you’ve got a problem with that, take it up with the definition of “computer” and “pocket.”

For a healthy marriage, hardware and software must work together seamlessly. Theoretically, this is possible. What works well for some seemingly does not for others. Consider this thorn from ThisIsMyNext (don’t shoot the messenger with bigotry):

As to overall performance, we saw a good deal of stutter in the Galaxy Nexus before us. Taps were not always recognized and there were occasional delays in performing an instruction, though in Google’s defense, it was a phone fully loaded with running tasks and the software is being continually improved and optimized (i.e. it’s not yet fully baked). That having been said, it unfortunately remains the case that Android isn’t as swift and responsive as iOS or Windows Phone (or even MeeGo Harmattan on the N9). Or at least it wasn’t on the demo phone we got a look at. The subtle, pervasive lag that has characterized the Android UI since it inception is still there, which is not a heartening thing to hear when you’re talking about a super-powered dual-core device like the Galaxy Nexus.

Let’s hope they keep tweaking it to perfection. This industry needs healthy competition, and I’m happy to see Ice Cream Sandwich looking like a more-than-viable option.

How to Determine the Gender of your Cable

How can you tell if the plug (or port) on the end of your cable is male or female? While it may seem like common sense in most cases, some cables can pose a bit of a challenge when determining the sex.

The tradition of labeling connectors either male or female exists throughout the electronics and mechanics industries dating back to the early days. Essentially it describes a mated pair of cables by how the corresponding parts fit together. The male cable’s active component is generally shaped as a protrusion that is coupled with a matching female port that the male plug inserts into.

In the video below, LockerGnome’s Brandon Wirtz instructs me on the finer points of determining the gender of various cables:

Based on some of the information presented by Brandon, not every male cable is easily identified as such. Sometimes, the basic shape of the connector itself can be deceiving. The important part is the functional component that actually sends an electronic signal from one component to the other. All a cable needs to be identified as male is a single tiny wire that carries the current protruding in a way that allows it to fit securely on its female counterpart.

In many cases, the sex of the cable can tell you more than just what it needs to be paired with. In the case of electrical cables, the gender of a given cable or port is determined by guidelines that help maintain a directional transfer of energy between one component and another. Should two power sources be connected to one-another improperly, the result could be hazardous.

For cables that simply transfer data from one point to another, gender changers can help in situations where you have two male ends and you need to form a connection between them. In this case, a male to female gender changing adapter could come in handy. These are usually easy to find at electronics stores and are commonly used with audio, video, and low-powered data components.

It’s not uncommon to see a cable that is both male and female. The termination at one end being male and the other female. As mentioned before, this is most common with electrical cables in order to avoid the possibility of an accidental connection between two sources. A computer or monitor power cable would be an example of this. Another common example can be found in extension cables that are intended to add to the possible length between devices.

Determining the gender of your cable is important when you’re undertaking a project that requires multiple connections between devices and can help you avoid embarrassing repeated trips to the electronics store to find the right connector for the job.

Should You Buy an HP TouchPad or an iPad 2?

The HP TouchPad is out and LockerGnome’s Jake Ludington picked one up try out. Comparing the TouchPad to the iPad yielded interesting results. While design differences between the two are a world apart, the heart of their differences lie in the software.

While running the Microsoft FishIETank browser test, the Safari browser appeared very underpowered when compared to the HP TouchPad’s browser. With 20 fish on the screen, the Safari browser on the iPad choked at 2 FPS while the HP TouchPad trucked along at between 9 and 15 FPS. The Safari browser also reflected a resolution of 982×662 while the TouchPad sat at 1024×686.

The performance differences extended well past simple benchmark tests. When loading simple web pages without Flash or other intense scripting involved the HP TouchPad loaded pages faster on a consistent basis.

Then there’s the elephant in the room, Flash. The iPad doesn’t support Flash at all while the TouchPad supports it in almost all cases. Sites such as Google Analytics depend on Adobe Flash to display graphs and other tools that allow you to visualize data.

Where Safari on the iPad appears to have an edge is through smoothness of scrolling and navigating through a page. The HP Touchpad was somewhat sluggish after the page loaded while we were scrolling up and down pages. This issue is likely to be resolved during a future over-the-air update.

The operating system powering the iPad (iOS) has a clear advantage in terms of sheer number of apps currently available to support it. Just about anything you need to do on a modern tablet can be done through apps already available for the platform. WebOS currently has a smaller but growing collection of apps available for the platform.

If aesthetics are important to you, the HP TouchPad is noticeably bulkier than the iPad 2 though it would be fairer to compare it to the slightly thicker original iPad. A shiny black finger-print magnet surrounds the device where the iPad features a non-reflective aluminum body.

The iPad 2 also has the edge on battery life, allowing its user around 9-10 hours of use compared to the HP TouchPad’s 6-8 hours.

They both feature front-facing cameras. The iPad 2’s at VGA while the HP TouchPad sits at 1.3 MP. Only the iPad 2 has a rear camera allowing the user to shoot video at 720p. Admittedly, the iPad 2’s rear-facing camera leaves much to be desired in the way of quality.

Overall, the HP TouchPad is a stunning example of what is possible on the WebOS platform. It gives the user a fast browsing experience and Flash support when compared to the iPad. The iPad is still a clear leader in terms of available third-party apps and battery life. Should you buy the HP TouchPad or the iPad 2? That all depends on how much you use the browser and how many apps you’ve already invested in on iOS.

How to Set up Apple’s AirPort for Extreme Speed

If you’ve been following the ongoing situation with my home wireless network, then you might be aware of the different methods I’ve tried to harvest a fast, reliable connection throughout my home. I have two AirPort base stations and am constantly having signal issues resulting in slow speeds and unpredictable connectivity. All I want is for my connection to be fast and consistent from the basement all the way up to my home office.

Recently, I received an email from Dennis (a member of the LockerGnome community) making me aware of a plan that allows two AirPort base stations to share the same network and Internet connection without creating an issue between them. To my surprise, it worked.

This setup is called “roaming” which allows you to pass between base stations without dropping your connection to the Internet. By doing so, you effectively double your available wireless coverage area giving you consistent speed throughout your home. Here’s what I needed to do to set up my Apple AirPort base stations to do this:

  • Connect all of the AirPort Extreme Base Stations and Time Capsules to the same subnet on your Ethernet network.
  • Give each device a unique name.
  • Give each device the same network name and password.
  • Set up the devices as bridges. (More information on how to set up Apple’s AirPort as a bridge can be found here.)

AirPort wireless devices are configured by default to bridge the connection between an ethernet network and a wireless AirPort network. This means that your wired network is connected to your wireless network through the AirPort device, allowing your wired systems to communicate and share resources with wireless ones.

Once you’ve got everything configured, you should be able to pass through rooms without the two base stations battling it out with one-another and causing interference. They theoretically would work as a team on either 2.4GHz or 5GHz.

This setup is working for me in my home office, and it may work for you. If you know of a better solution to the problem of keeping a solid wireless connection going throughout your home, please email me and let me know. I’m always looking for a better way to increase performance without having to spend an extreme amount of money to do so.

First Impressions of the HP TouchPad

LockerGnome’s Jake Ludington has decided to give the HP TouchPad a try. The webOS-driven tablet computer has been receiving positive reviews out of the gate, and the ability for users to experience flash elements from the web is a clear advantage in cases where the user frequently uses web-based tools that require some level of flash support. Here are some of our first impressions of the HP TouchPad:

The HP TouchPad features a 9.7-inch LED backlit display (1024×768) and a glossy black finish that is a fingerprint magnet. It’s slightly heavier than the iPad 2 and has a build that more closely resembles the slightly bulkier original iPad. That isn’t to say that it’s too heavy to use, but it could be a burdon after a long period of time. Is is comfortable to hold, however, and doesn’t have any sharp corners that would otherwise make the device feel uncomfortable.

After inspecting the TouchPad, it appears to have two reasonably-sized speakers and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the left side. The built-in camera is front facing with no camera available on the back, meaning you’ll need to face the screen at whatever you’re taking a picture of. This indicates the primary use of any camera on this device will be for video chat rather than updating your account.

The 1.2GHz Snapdragon processor seems powerful enough. We were able to do some video benchmarking online and discovered that the TouchPad actually outperforms the iPad in a few rendering situations. However, this is not intended to be a processing powerhouse. It’s intended to be a tablet geared towards running web-based apps with support for stand-alone applications.

Battery life is pretty solid. HP reports say you should be able to get a solid 9 hours out of it during normal use. This appears to be a close approximation. In general, you’ll want to keep a USB cable handy to give it a charge if you intend to use it for more than a normal day’s use.

Switching between apps on webOS is snappy and easy. Navigation requires an occasiona flick and tap giving you the ability to toss unwanted windows and applications off the screen to get rid of them. If you want to look something up, Just Type gives you the ability to search on the device and on the web for something with a single search bar. This is a pretty nice feature, especially when you have a lot of apps loaded in to the TouchPad down the line.

Overall, it’s a fine device for anyone that absolutely must have flash as part of their mobile browsing experience and doesn’t want to deal with Android. Of all the tablet operating systems out there, webOS is doing a lot to prove its feasibility in today’s competitive market. Whether or not the TouchPad really takes off is anyone’s guess.

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!