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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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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!