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T-Mobile Review (from a former AT&T customer)

Kristen and I had been AT&T customers since 1998. But rising costs, ever-crappier customer service, and sky-high international data plans lead us to leave AT&T in mid-June.

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Wemo Mini Smart Plug Review

The Tiny Office is great. But, at it’s core, it is a shed. And even though it’s well insulated it gains and loses heat quickly which means that during harsh San Diego winters, with lows nearing 40 degrees, you need a little heat. And during the summer you need a little A/C.

The problem? The office doesn’t have a thermostat. And the office is “way out there” when I’m in my nice cozy bed sleeping. That’s where the Wemo Mini Smart Plug comes in handy.

I can manually turn on the little heater or A/C with an app on my phone. Or I can use IFTTT to schedule it to turn on. Or, even more awesome, I can also use IFTTT to automate turning it on an off based on days of the week and outside temperature.

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Amazon Tap Review

A couple months back I was looking for a nice Bluetooth speaker for my office. Specifically, something that was better sound than my Macbook speakers and better than the built-in speakers on the TV mounted on the wall.

I wanted it to be small, have good sound, and connect to anything. After some digging around I went with the Amazon Tap and have been pretty pleased.

What is it?

Here’s the official description:

  • Just tap and ask for music from Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn
  • Uses the Alexa Voice Service when connected to Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot to play music, read the news, provide weather reports, and even order a pizza
  • Streams all your music via Bluetooth from your phone or tablet
  • Delivers crisp sound powered by Dolby, with dual stereo speakers that provide 360º omni-directional audio
  • Provides up to 9 hours of playback
  • Always getting smarter and adding new features and skills
  • Includes Charging Cradle

Adam’s description:

It’s a portable Bluetooth speaker made by Amazon with some built-in Amazon features.

The Good

You might be familiar with Tap’s big brother, Amazon Echo. Echo didn’t meet my needs for my office for a couple of reasons. First, I just needed a speaker and not a personal assistant. Second, I’m not 100% sold that I want an internet-connected device listening to and recording everything it hears. Edward Snowden would tell you that’s a bad idea.

What I like about Tap is it’s simplicity.

  • I like that it’s got a crazy long battery life… it’s listed at 8-9 hours but I regularly use it 12-14 hours between charging.
  • I like that it’s portable. I can use it in my office all day. But I can (and do) pick it up and take it with me. So when I’m out working in the yard I can still listen to music or a podcast or whatever I want. It switches pretty seamlessly from being connected to home wifi and my phone’s Bluetooth. So I’m looking forward to taking Tap on vacation or the beach or anything like that.
  • I like that it’s connected to all things Amazon. I ditched iTunes Radio when they went to a subscription service for Amazon Music, which is part of the Amazon Prime membership. I stream music all day, every day. Plus, I can add something to my Prime Now shopping list or ask when my next Amazon order will arrive.
  • I’m learning to like Alexa. I’ve been kind of slow to find a real function to Alexa (or Apple’s Siri for that matter). But I’ve been learning to use her to set timers and add things to my calendar or any other number of small tasks. I know I can connect Alexa to all sorts of home automation things, too. So I look forward to telling Alexa to turn off the lights in my office and set the AC to 75 degrees.

Things I Don’t Like

There are a couple of things that kind of annoy me about Tap. First, it’s really hard to turn it off manually. I know I can press the button and say, “turn the power off” and it’ll power down. But I don’t think the actual power button on the back turns the thing off… just on. Second, Alexa can sometimes fail to deliver what you want on Amazon Music. She seems to be infatuated with recommending a couple of stations I don’t particularly like. Since I use Tap for background noise while I work (like right now as I’m writing this) I like to ask Alexa to “just play some music.” Instead of playing Amazon Music stations I listen to all the time, say the U2 channel, she’ll start playing some random alternative music channel. And if I tell her “I don’t like that channel, play something else” she gets confused and says “I don’t know what you want, Adam.” That’s a little too angsty and existential for me. Just play something else!

The Money Line

Is this worth $129? On the face of it, as a Bluetooth speaker alone, a better value would be found in the Bose or JBL portable Bluetooth speakers. Though I didn’t do a side-by-side comparison my assumption is that both would have a higher quality sound experience. So just as a Bluetooth speaker I don’t think it’s a great value… should be more like $70.

But when you add in the other stuff that it does… that it can connect to your home wifi to play music independent of another device, plus have all the benefits of Amazon Alexa, plus still be used as a Bluetooth speaker? I think it might creep into that category of being a good deal. Though, in all honesty, $99 would be a better price point. 

Overall I’m pleased with it. I use it all the time.

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Amazon Prime Now Review

Grocery shopping is a waste of time. The stores are designed to get you to walk up and down all the aisles, hoping you’ll wander by something they’ll tempt it’s way into your shopping cart on the way to find the bread, milk, and eggs you came for.

That’s the basic premise of Amazon Prime Now, a grocery delivery service from Amazon.

What is it?

Amazon Prime Now is a benefit of Amazon Prime where members can download an app to place orders for fast same-day delivery in select zip codes.

Adam’s Description: It’s a Amazon’s attempt to collect even more data about you. The benefit is you can get food delivered in a couple hours and if you spend enough you’ll get free delivery.

The Good

Grocery delivery is far from new. People have had food delivered to their door for centuries. Some argue that cities formed largely to consolidate food production and distribution… so the idea of food delivery is one of those things that, once you try it, connects deep.

This is Amazon’s second attempt, at least in San Diego, at grocery delivery. The simple fact is that companies have been trying to figure out online grocery shopping for the past 15 years. I remember when we lived in Chicago the rise and trickle-out of Peapod. (They are still around!) We tried Amazon Fresh but found that the $299 annual subscription plus a minimum $35 order just too cumbersome to really adopt. We used it a couple of times before Kristen flat out rejected it.

Over the weekend we had three difference Amazon Prime Now deliveries. The first was a spontaneous act. We typically order pizza on Friday night. When I placed my order for “the usual” I decided to pop onto the Amazon Prime Now app and order a six pack of Mission Brewery’s blonde. Presto! Right after the pizza came a guy rang the doorbell and handed me a six pack. Everyone in the house roared with laughter!

Kristen jumped on the bandwagon Saturday evening, converting her shopping list into two orders for the weekly groceries. The staples came from Amazon itself and the rest came from Sprouts.

Here’s what we like

Price, selection, delivery: The prices have become competitive to local grocery prices & more specialty shops have come on-board which makes the selection much better. When you add that in with free 2-hour delivery? All of a sudden Amazon Prime Now gets very, very attractive.

Shopping gets easier & faster: The vast majority of what you buy at the grocery store is the same with each trip. Bread, milk, eggs, cereal, coffee, etc. What’s great about Prime Now is that you can create two kinds of lists. I can add all of the stuff I always buy into a list I call “the staples.” Then, as I’m planning meals for the week I can add things to another list say, “this week’s grocery list.” Then when it’s time to place an order I can either dump all of those things into my shopping list OR (and this is fun) I can just go to my Amazon Tap and say, “Alexa… add everything on the staples list to my shopping cart, also add this week’s grocery list.” And boom, it’s done.

Things I Don’t Like

Selections are limited – Amazon Prime Now kind of opens pandoras box. Grocery shopping is infinite and you kind of expect them to have everything, plus have it at competitive prices. That’s just not the case yet. I think it’ll get better over time as people adapt to it, but if price and selection are what really matters than Prime Now isn’t exactly ready for primetime.

Quantities aren’t there yet – I think that this service could replace our bi-weekly trip to Costco. But they just don’t have the bulk item thing right yet. Stuff that we buy a lot of is available on Prime Now… just at a much higher cost than Costco.

Scheduling deliveries is funky – Above I made it seem more simple than it really is. In reality, the things that you want to order get sorted into shopping carts based on where the groceries are coming from. This means that when you place your order, as with this week’s groceries in our house, you’ve got to manage what items come from which store. To get free shipping you still need to hit a minimum threshold for each store… meaning you can’t use it just to pick up a couple items.

Who are these drivers?!?!?! – When we used Amazon Fresh everything got delivered from these cute little Amazon Fresh vans. The three orders we received this weekend were delivered by what looked like Postmates or Über drivers or a guy who just got fired from Über or Postmates for being too creepy. The people delivering our groceries did a fine job. But their beater cars and misfit uniforms just didn’t elicit much confidence. No way I’d let them in my house! Leave it on the porch, homey.

The Money Line

I know Amazon Prime Now isn’t available all over the U.S. just yet. But I think Amazon is going to get this figured out. As more areas come on board you’re going to see them iron out the wrinkles. As Kristen said last night… “If they could make it so I could have our groceries delivered to the rental house when we were on vacation… that’d be great.” Not quite there yet, but Amazon Prime Now seems like it’s on it’s way.

 

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Reviews

Nest Protect Review

This is my third review of Nest products. (A Google company) Also see my reviews of the Nest Thermostat & Nest Cam

Becoming a homeowner has unleashed something deep inside. We went from 7+ years of renting across the street, where we barely locked our doors or thought about where we lived much, to wanting to make sure that our investment is well cared for and looked after to the best of our abilities.

I suppose that’s as natural a response as an ironic one?

That said, as soon as I saw what Nest Protect offered I knew I wanted to give it a try. Since our house had been rented for the last 20+ years it had an array of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that mismatched, were untested, and were oddly placed. You can imagine a tenant just placing them wherever they thought was needed or where they thought might suit their needs. But we had no idea how old any of these detectors were nor how well they may or may not work.

With that in mind, I bought three. One for the hallway near the bedrooms, one for the garage where we store our company’s product, and one for the Tiny Office.

What is Nest Protect?

Here’s the official description:

The Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm speaks up to tell you what the problem is and where it is. It can even send an alert to your phone if an alarm goes off or the batteries are getting low.

The simple act of beeping has saved thousands of lives. But a beep only lets you know that there’s a problem. Somewhere. In an emergency, you don’t have time to guess what’s wrong. With Nest Protect, you don’t have to. Meet the Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide alarm.

Adam’s Description:

It’s a $99 smoke/carbon monoxide detector that talks to all the other overpriced Nest stuff in the house. But hey, it talks to you and checks itself, so that’s cool.

The Good

There’s a lot to like about Nest Protect. It’s good looking, it’s got a lot more features than your standard smoke detector, and they work in concert with one another. So if there’s a problem in my garage it’ll give a verbal warning to the rest of the house PLUS it’ll alert me on my phone.

Installation

Out of the box you turn it on by pulling a little paper tab. From there, you go through a very simple setup process using your mobile phone or tablet. Basically, this pairs it with your Nest account and gets it connected to your home internet. One of the things I really like is that after you setup the first one with your phone you can literally just take the rest of them out of the box, put them next to an existing Nest Protect already in your house, press the big button, and it’ll connect itself to your Nest account and wifi. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

After you’ve got it connected (and you’ve named it) you just install it like any other smoke detector. Nest Protect comes with all the screws and mounting plate you’ll need. If you have the battery operated one it comes with a set of batteries that are supposed to last 2+ years. If you have the wired one, you just wire the mounting plate to the electrical box, then the Nest Protect snaps into the mounting plate. In our house, I wired ours into a ceiling junction box, the mounting plate fit nicely on the electrical box, now the Nest Protect essentially acts as the face plate on that junction box.

Installation took approximately 10 minutes per location. Really, really easy for the do-it-yourself-er.

Features I Like

I really like that all of the smoke/carbon monoxide detectors in our house work in unison. This is normal in a commercial building but a nice luxury for a residence. If I’m in my office and there’s smoke in the house, my office Nest Protect will announce, “Attention, there is smoke in the hallway!

I love that Nest Protect works with other Nest devices. For instance, let’s say carbon monoxide is detected. Nest will automatically disable your furnace until you clear the warning. Or, let’s say there is steam in the shower, Nest  can tell the difference between steam and smoke, so you can set it so that it turns the HVAC fan on to clear the steam. Or, if there’s a little smoke in the kitchen, Nest will ask you if you’d like to turn the HVAC fan on to clear the smoke. Likewise, if you have Nest Cam’s installed in your house, any alarm instance will automatically trigger video to start getting recorded, even if you don’t have it scheduled to record at that time.

I like that there is an activity monitor built in. Basically, Nest Protect is always working and it can detect if someone is home. So let’s say you leave but forget to tell your Nest Thermostat? Protect will detect that you’re not home and set your HVAC system to “away” so that you aren’t heating or cooling when you’re not home. Boom, a penny saved!

Like with all things Nest, I really like how easy the status of everything, and a history of everything it’s capturing is easy to spot, and easy to save. You can do all of this on any smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer. Plus, since you can use a third-party service to export stuff outside of Nest. I’ve got it set-up to export everything to Google Spreadsheets, so I have a full log of every time my HVAC system turns on, smoke alarms are tested, and links to video every time the cameras detect motion. That’s all really, really cool.

One last little feature I really like is that it’ll act as a nightlight. In the middle of the night, with all the lights off, when it detects that I’m walking down the hallway it lights up a white LED glow. That’s a silly feature to like but it’s totally useful! (You can even set the brightness on this feature in the settings.)

Things I Don’t Like

Outside of the price point, I don’t really have any complaints about Nest Protect. It’s easy to install, easy to maintain, and works. That’s about all I’m looking for in something like this.

If I had to make up a complaint it’s that you don’t get to precisely schedule the monthly checkup. You give it a window to do it and it happens without much warning. It’d be nice to get a heads up alert maybe 5 minutes before it happens, because if you’re not paying attention it’s weird when the testing begins. But that’s super, super picky!

The Money Line

If you’re looking for some reassurance that your home is safe while you’re away, the $99 price point of Nest Protect won’t bug you. We have three of them installed in our house right now, I wouldn’t mind getting 2-3 more. So I guess that’s my recommendation!

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Apple TV review

Last week I mounted a TV in the Tiny Office, connecting it to the new edition of the Apple TV. The previous edition of the Apple TV has been the backbone of our cord cutting efforts and while I did also purchase a Smart TV with Roku built-in for the house, my exclusive Mac usage in the office meant that Apple TV makes the most sense.

What is Apple TV?

Here’s Apple’s official description:

TV is a major part of our lives. We gather together around our big screens to watch big shows and big events. Yet somehow, the overall experience of TV has continued to stagnate. Until now. It all starts by recognizing that apps are the future of television. HBO NOW, WatchESPN, Netflix, Hulu, iTunes — apps are quickly becoming how we watch today. So we built a new foundation around this vision — with a new operating system called tvOS, innovative ways to connect with 
your screen, and a smart use of Siri to search for something to watch. This is the new Apple TV. This is where television is headed.

Adam’s Description:

It’s is a small, internet connected media streaming device. It connects your TV to the internet and your home network essentially turning your TV into a giant computer monitor.

IMG_6458
The new Apple TV remote. The matte black area above the menu button is a touch pad, with a click to select. (Only about 15% bigger than the old Apple TV remote, too)

The Good

I was slow to get on board with Apple TV. I actually had one for about 2 years as part of my travel kit when I speak before we started using it at home. But once we got rid of cable TV the Apple TV has become more and more important to us.

I really like the new edition. I think it’s well worth the $149 upgrade. The addition of apps and tvOS is huge, already leading to the release of 500 apps.  I also really like the new remote… it’s really the star of the show. But the star of the show, feature-wise, is the edition of Bluetooth! No more pointing the remote at the TV. And you can sync Apple TV to other Bluetooth devices! In my case I connected my wireless headphones and instantly replaced my need for a nice sound system in the office.

IMG_6456
No need to buy a mount, just zip tie it to your wall mount.

Installation

Installation takes less than 5 minutes. Take it out of the package, plug it into the wall, plug the HDMI into the device and the back of your TV, then turn it on.

If you have another iOS device connected to your home network just turn on Bluetooth and select the Apple TV, your iPhone or iPad will actually set-up the Apple TV for you. (This didn’t work for me) Going through the manual setup process took a total of 2-3 minutes, add your iTunes login credentials and wifi password and you’re done.

You can buy mounts. But since this device is basically invisible after installation, I just zip tied it to my TV mount and called it good.

Features I Like

I already mentioned the two new features I like most, the new remote and the the addition of Bluetooth. Beyond that I like that the new edition has 32 GB of storage for movies, music, and games. And I really like that tvOS has opened up Apple TV to act a lot like Apple’s line of phones and tablets. Instead of waiting for Apple to add things, like in previous editions, you can go to the app store and add whatever you want. Plus, if you’ve already purchased the iOS version of a game you can add the tvOS version of the game for free. (Sssshhh… we haven’t told Jackson that the office TV has games!)

As of right now, my most used apps are the CBS All-Access app, WatchESPN, and Netflix. But I really like some of the other apps.

Another little thing that I actually enjoy is the new moving screensavers. That might sound silly but they are STUNNING. For real, you can watch them all here.

Things I Don’t Like

If you aren’t already invested in Apple stuff, particularly if you’ve not purchased movies and music through iTunes, I would recommend Roku instead of Apple TV.

  1. The ongoing battle with Amazon means important apps are missing. As of right now there are a few major things missing that make Roku better. Namely, Roku has Amazon Video [for Amazon Prime members, huge!] and Apple TV doesn’t. (Amazon doesn’t even sell the Apple TV….) But Apple TV is also missing the Sling app. You can still use Sling on your Apple TV, just through AirPlay, which somewhat degrades the experience, especially in contrast to the Roku which has Sling natively and broadcasts it in full HD. But it’s also missing the ability to play Amazon Music, which is what I use instead of the overpriced, overhyped Apple Music.
  2. The remote degrades Bluetooth headphone playback quality. I’m not an expert, but I think the Bluetooth frequency is relatively limited in what it can handle. So if I’m streaming a podcast from Apple TV to my headphones, if I do anything with the remote, which also uses Bluetooth, the sound quality will degrade and stutter until the remote goes to sleep. I think that might be a bug, but it’s an annoying one until Apple addresses it.

The Money Line

If you’ve got an older edition of Apple TV, it’s time for an upgrade. If you’re thinking about dropping cable… you probably want to go ahead and invest. It’s a beautiful interface and Apple has already shown that they are going to continue to invest in tvOS. (Here’s a list of new features in yesterday’s update)

The addition of the app store, Siri, games, media storage… really, Apple TV is another step towards giving you the media you want when you want it.

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A Review of Nest Thermostat

Let’s start off with the most obvious: Do you even need a thermostat in San Diego? I mean… isn’t it always sunny and 72?

So let me start my review of the Nest Thermostat, 3rd Generation by acknowledging that most San Diegans go months without turning on their heating/cooling system. But, it is winter in an El Niño year in Southern California and we’ve actually used our HVAC a lot more than usual because of the unusual weather patterns. And, as I’ll share below, you can actually use your HVAC system for more than just heating and cooling.

And ultimately? For me it’s about saving money.

What is Nest Thermostat?

Here’s the official description

A thinner, sleeker design. A bigger, sharper display. The 3rd generation Nest Learning Thermostat is more beautiful than ever. With Farsight, it lights up when it sees you coming and shows you the time or temperature from across the room. And the Nest Thermostat is proven to save energy. That’s the most beautiful part.

Features

  • Auto-Schedule. No more programming. With auto-schedule, Nest learns from you and programs itself
  • Auto-Away. Don’t heat or cool an empty home. Auto-away adjusts the temperature after you leave
  • Remote control. With the Nest app, you can change the temperature, check energy history and get an alert if your home is too hot or cold
  • Display Screen: 24-bit colour LCD, 480 x 480 resolution at 229 pixels per inch (PPI), 5.3 cm diameter
  • Nest Thermostat - InstallationWi-Fi 802.11b/g/n at 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz, 802.15.4 at 2.4 GHz, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
  • Nest Leaf: You’ll see the Leaf when you choose a temperature that saves energy. It guides you in the right direction
  • The Nest Learning Thermostat works with 95% of 24V heating and cooling systems, including gas, electric, forced air, heat pump, radiant, oil, hot water, solar and geothermal
  • Auto-Schedule – No more confusing programming. It learns the temperatures you like and programs itself, Auto-Away: The Nest Thermostat automatically turns itself down when you’re away to avoid heating or cooling an empty home

Adam’s Description

It’s a $250 thermostat that connects to the internet and other stuff from Nest. 

The Good

I really like the Nest Thermostat. Really like it.

Nest Thermostat is the flagship of the Google acquired Nest Labs. ($2.4 billion in 2014) Started in 2010 they kind of lead the pack when it came to home automation for the common home owner. They effectively took what high-end HVAC systems have done for a very long time and brought those money-saving features into homes.

Installation

Nest Thermostat - iOSLike the Nest Cam it was easy to set-up and install, started working right out of the box. Since I already had a Nest account it was super easy to add it to my account. Literally, it took less than 30 minutes to get it out of the box, read all the instructions, disconnect the old thermostat, and install this one.

As soon as you have it installed and added to your account, Nest Thermostat appears on your device, meaning you can control your home heating and cooling system anywhere you’ve got access to the internet. (And, as we’ve learned, it continues to work just fine if your internet goes down.)

Features I Like

  1. The most obvious one is that you can control your system from anywhere. I don’t have to think… “Did I remember to turn the furnace on?” I can just look. Likewise, if you’re in bed and you wake up a bit earlier than you normally do… you can get the heat going before you even get out of bed.
  2. Nest Thermostat - Usage HistoryI like that it learns your behavior. After a few days the thermostat starts making educated guesses about when you’ll be home and when you won’t. (You can manually tell it you are away, as well, then it’ll not heat/cool your house while you’re gone.) We’re actually home quite a bit so early on it had a tendency to say we were away when we were actually home working.
  3. It looks and feels really cool. This is a bit intangible… but the thermostat went from something forgettable and merely functional, to something you actually notice. Plus, they’ve not skimped on the design so it actually feels cool to move the dial. (I’ve actually caught the kids playing with it!)
  4. It lights up when you walk by. This is kind of silly, but I like that when you walk by it lights up and shows you the time or temperature. (Whatever you set it to do)
  5. It tracks your usage. This is HUGE! A few weeks back we had a cold spell, so the heat was running quite a bit more than we normally do. Each day I was able to login and see exactly how many minutes our furnace ran, at what times of day, etc. This actually altered our behavior in a way where we heated the house up early in the morning but not throughout the day, which meant we actually kept the house comfortable while using less natural gas.
  6. Nest - Account PageIt opens up features of your HVAC system you wouldn’t normally use. One of the things I noticed as I got access to data about our houses heating and cooling was that we tended to build up humidity, which made it a little uncomfortable in the afternoon. Since it’s consistently less humid outside than inside during daylight hours I’ve learned that we can run the system’s fan for 15-3o minutes during the day, very little electricity used, and drop the humidity level 10%-20%, which makes it more comfortable. Without access to data about the interior temperature & humidity compared to the weather outside… I never knew that.
  7. One system talks to another. Like all Nest products, the thermostat has an API connection you can use to share data with other resources the house. (Even non-Nest products) One thing I do is export all of my daily usage data to a Google Spreadsheet. I don’t really know what I’m going to do with that data just yet… but it’s interesting and I wanted to record it, so I did. But Nest also talks to other Nest system. We’ve just started testing Nest Protect, their line of smoke & carbon monoxide detectors. You can set it up so that if there is steam detected in the kitchen or say you’ve burned a bit of dinner, the HVAC system will automatically run the fan for 15 minutes. (I’ll share how to do that and a full review of Nest Protect in a later post.)
  8. Saving me money. At the end of the day, it’s not about looking cool, it’s not about connecting to the internet or talking to other things… it’s about giving us the information we need to minimize our energy usage. Each month, they send you a report about your usage and the longer you use it the better this will get.

The Bad

Really, the worst part about Nest Thermostat is the $250 price tag. As I was researching buying it… as well as the reality that I’ll want/need to add one for the Tiny Office… I kept wondering about it’s shelf life. If this product is six years old and it’s on generation three, how long will it be until the one I’m buying right now is obsolete?

Other than that there just isn’t anything I don’t like about it.

The Money Line

We’re officially in deep with Nest products. Multiple Nest Cam’s, soon we’ll have three Nest Protect’s, and two Nest Thermostats. That translates to a lot of money.

Is it all worth it? I do believe the thermostat will pay for itself over the next 18-24 months. But the rest? Let’s be honest and admit that they are gadgets. 

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Reviews Tech Tuesday

A Review of Nest Cam

Now that we’re homeowners again I’m in the midst of a whole litany of home improvement projects. (I’m even writing today in my half built Tiny Office to get a sense of where I’ll want furniture, install outlets, and stuff like that.)

Along the way I’m testing out home automation gadgets, trying to find some balance between playful stuff, home safety & security, and energy efficiency.

What is Nest Cam?

Here’s the official description. 

Meet the Nest Cam security camera.

24/7 live streaming. No dead batteries. No missing moments. This is what a security camera should be.

Features

  • 24/7 live video streaming – See your home on your phone in 1080p HD. And control Nest Cam from anywhere
  • Alerts on your phone – Get motion and sound alerts so you know if anything happens
  • Night Vision done right – See the whole room at night – not just a limited spotlight view
  • Talk and listen – Hear the baby. Or talk back to get someone’s attention
  • Quick, easy setup – Plug in Nest Cam and download the Nest app to get started. No hub needed
  • Don’t miss a thing – Subscribe to Nest Aware to get 24/7 continuous recording and powerful cloud algorithms that give you personalized alerts. Every camera comes with a free 30-day trial

Adam’s description

It’s a $200 web cam with a $100/year subscription service. 

The Good

I’ve been testing Nest Cam for about a month. So far, so good It’s easy to install, easy to use, and works as advertised.

Nest Cam was originally developed by a startup called Dropcam, acquired by Google Nest’s Labs in summer 2015. Google, Amazon, and Apple all seem to be fighting to get a foothold in the emerging market of home automation things called The Internet of Things. So for Google, acquiring Dropcam probably just made sense and they wanted to get it before their competitors did.

Installation

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 9.20.04 AMOut of the box Nest Cam comes with a few physical installation options. It comes mounted on a well-weighted metal stand with a magnetic base. It’s good looking, nice enough to just plug it in, stick on a shelf, and forget about. The stand is easy to aim in whatever direction you’d like. There’s also a wall mount that’s easy to install, the camera then snaps to the base with a magnet.

The software is also super easy to install. You install the Nest app on your phone or tablet (iOS | Android) then plugin the camera. The only hitch for me was that I had to then create a Nest account on my phone when doing so on the website would have been a lot easier for my fat fingers. Following the instructions in the box you first pair the camera to your phone and then the phone app helps you install the Nest Cam onto your home wifi. This process takes about five minutes and then you’re up and running.

Features I Like

It’s a good camera that’s simple to use, set it and forget it. We use it to broadcast at 720p but you can also use it at 1080p or 360p. We chose 720p because it was clear enough for our needs but didn’t bog down our wifi. We found 1080p did.


I like that the corresponding app (and website) is easy to use, you can toggle features on or off based on your preferences.
I like that we can set it up on a schedule or remotely turn it on or off, etc.

Nest Cam Alert Areas
Nest Cam Alert Areas – You create zones and toggle which you’d like to receive alerts about.

I like that you can set alert areas. One of the key features is that you can chose to get a notification if there’s motion in an area you define. This is pretty simple… you just go into your account on the website, draw a picture around what you want to monitor, and indicate that you’d like to get an alert if there’s motion in that area. That’s helped us cut down on some of the annoyance we had with it originally, which I’ll share below.

I like it’s portability. While we have ours permanently mounted on the exterior of our home I’ve seen other users who move it around, even using it as a cheap and easy way to broadcast meetings, events, etc. That’s pretty cool!

I like that it’s efficient. We have one mounted outside of our house in a place where we don’t have power. So we’re actually using a Jackery Giant (USB battery pack) to power the camera, each charge lasting about 20 hours.

I like that it works with other Nest products. In the future I’ll write reviews of Nest’s other products, their thermostat and smoke detector. But, so far, we really like that all of those devices work together and are accessible from the same app.

I like that Nest is providing a way for other manufacturers and developers to interact with Nest products. I’m using things like IFTTT to automate a whole bunch of stuff around the house, more on that in another review.

The Bad

The first is the most obvious. It’s too expensive for what it is. I recently purchased web camera’s of similar quality for about $30 at Wal-Mart. Is the fact that it has a wifi capability and an app worth an extra $170? For me it was. But for lots of people I don’t think it is. I have a feeling that it’ll drop to about $99 before Christmas 2016 and that they’ll release a new $199 version about the same time.

I don’t like that it’s not waterproof out of the box. It’s not rated for outdoor use, per se. But let’s be honest… most people are going to want to use it outside. It makes no sense that you have to buy aftermarket accessories to make it waterproof. This reminds me of the first few versions of GoPro where you bought the camera and then you spent three times that on accessories just to get the silly thing to work. We added a $20 waterproof case from Dropcessories that allowed us to mount them outside where they might get wet. That’s $20 to fix what is otherwise a design limitation.

Nest Cam Review
$100 per year for one camera, $150 per year for two cameras.

I don’t like that you need to pay for Nest Aware. To get all of the features of Nest Cam to work you really need Nest Aware, their subscription service that records live footage. Basically, without Nest Aware you can’t go back and look at things your camera has recorded. Say… someone prowling your home. Without the Nest Aware subscription you could get the exact same thing with a waterproof GoPro Hero 4 Session and their native app.

What About Data Security?

“But Adam, you’ve long said that anything you post online is not private, it’s public. How is this different?”

Well, first of all it’s definitely in the best interest of Google to protect the data of Nest users. Since they are investing billions of dollars in home automation, you better believe that they want to keep this stuff secure from hackers.

Second of all, the way that we’re using Nest Cam… to capture video of outside of our home… is not technically “our private space.” The Supreme Court has affirmed that things that happen outside of your home are not assumed to be private. Just like I can take a picture of you on the trolley without your permission, I can video things that happen outside of my house without needing anyone’s permission. (For non-commercial purposes, that is.)

Third of all, while I’m OK with the perception that what we’re broadcasting is indeed private, I’m aware that it potentially is not. I’m 100% aware that my privacy is a perception in a lot of ways. (After all, I carry around a recording & tracking device in my pocket all day…)

I would be more concerned about Nest Cam streaming 24/7 inside of my home. I’m sure that my account is somehow vulnerable to hackers (or government’s prying eyes) and I just don’t think it’s a great idea to make it easier for someone to see what’s happening inside my house are even pick up the audio of people in my house talking.

But the things that we’re using with Nest Cam (and the thermostat) aren’t directly tied to our house from inside of the account. For instance, while the thermostat is recording a lot of information about our house… it’s benign information like humidity levels, outside temperature, stuff like that. When/if we start using Nest for more sensitive stuff… I’d at least like to see my Nest account protected with 2-factor authentication. 

The Money Line

We really like Nest Cam. While we initially were infatuated with it we’re finding it to fit into our household rhythm. We’ve used the advanced features to make the notifications work for us, so instead of alerting us of every car that drives down the street or every time the wind blows a tree… we’re getting adjusting it so that it’s only alerting us when we want to be alerted, like if someone is at the door.

Is it worth $200? I don’t know. What’s the cost of being able to check in on your house when you’re away? What’s the value in knowing who is poking around in front of your house when you’re not home?

I think $200 is buying us a little bit of assurance and, at least for now, it’s worth it.

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Reviews

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Books Reviews social media

Book reviews for A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Social Media

I’ve enjoyed reading reviews of the new book posted to Amazon.

Here’s a sample of 5:

A Great Resource for Parents

This short book is crammed full of information on social media that every person should know! The chapter on Internet privacy was especially informative. It’s well worth the read!

I like it. A short book gets a short review.

Excellent Resource for all parents and teachers/youth workers

I am a parent of an 8yr old who very much wants to own an iPod touch so she can text me and play Words with Friends with her parents. And take pictures and videos that she can send to grandma, grandpa, and friends. My 5 yr old will be there soon enough, as well. This book gives me hope rather than fear and practical guidance for the conversations to come with my children about online responsibility. I appreciate that Adam and Marko refer to online gaming and cell phones as social media outlets, and they address national laws concerning age limits and such.

As a youth minister who daily connects with teens, parents, grandparents, and colleagues via Facebook, Twiiter, Instagram, and LinkedIn… This is a gold mine of information to have in my back pocket (or rather on my Kindle app!). I have already begun referring parents having teens & tech struggles.

This book is and was SO needed. Thank you for combining your wisdom and experiences in this easy to read book! Congrats on a job well done.

Thanks Leena. We were definitely hoping to alleviate fear by giving information and principles. Glad they work with all ages!

Great Guide for Lost Parents!

I would recommend this book to any parent. The younger your child is the better as we look at preparing for the world of Social Media. If your child is a preteen (4th-6th Grade) then you NEED to read it now. If your child is in Jr. High then you need to read it yesterday. Remember with all of this that prayer and God are your number one resource in raising children. Great book! Definitely 5 stars.

Bingo. The content of the book was guided by a parenting seminar I do. It’s not aimed at high-level professional social media types… we worked really hard to keep it approachable while pointing to the data, plus offering our best advice.

A Great Resource

I have to admit that I was not expecting to get too much from reading this book as I am already fairly in the know when it comes to technology. I was however pleasantly surprised and found myself recommending the book to a friend with a child in the pre-teen years shortly after finishing it. It is a quick read, but is actually a handy resource on what is happening on the internet and how to handle it with our kids. As a parent of kids just entering those years, I am sure I will refer back to this book as a resource from time to time.

Really humbled by this. I’m glad our experience is helping you and your friend.

A great guide for the experienced and the newbie

As a parent and a youth leader, I am very impressed with this book. It is short enough to not feel overwhelming; informative enough feel like I’m actually learning something; and practical enough for me to know I’m going to refer back to this book time and time again.

I feel like the intention of this book is to help parents who don’t know anything at all about social media. But I can say as an avid user of social media myself (very important in helping me connect with a lot of the teenagers I work with!), this was still a very helpful book! I can’t impose boundaries on kids that aren’t my own, but I can make suggestions, and help parents who need ideas. I can apply some of these very good guidelines to my own children when they become teenagers (which will be much sooner than I am ready for, I’m sure), knowing that by being involved in what they do, I am showing that I do care about them as a parent.

One of my favorite parts of the book seems to sum up the whole: “As parents of teenagers, we are trying to raise adults. We’re more interested in wisdom than compliance, more interested in responsibility than high walls of protection, and more interested in healthy parent/teen communication than maintaining a veneer of good appearances.” Amen and amen. Well done, Adam and Marko. I highly recommend to all parents of teenagers (and preteens).

That’s great feedback. I think I’ve learned that most adults, even avid users, are using social media… are even pretty savvy. But they haven’t taken the step back to think about their use… the UI of everything is so intuitive, it comes naturally. I’m glad the book helped frame some of that for you.

Wanna read it?

Available at Amazon in soft cover or Kindle. Also available at The Youth Cartel & Simply Youth MinistryOr learn how to get it for free.