Review: Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale

Review Fitbit Aria Smart Scale

Back in 2010, I purchased a Withings WiFi Body Scale. I liked the fact that it would record my weigh-ins via WIFI in my Withings account. Later on, I was able to link it directly to my SparkPeople account too. I even set up a Twitter account so that the scale would tweet out my weight. Shocking, huh?

But, by the summer of 2014, the Withings scale was starting to have some problems. It wasn’t working the way it should and it finally ended up in our eScrap recycling box. So, when Verizon Wireless offered a chance to try out a Fitbit Aria Wi-Fi Smart Scale, I jumped at their offer.

Set-up for the FItbit Aria was much less complicated than the Withings scale. Basically, you just place the scale on a flat (non carpeted) surface within WIFI range and make sure you have the password for your WIFI network. The Fitbit software provided walks you through the rest of the set-up. If you need more help, Fitbit makes detailed installation instructions and screenshots available.

Already having a Fitbit.com account and the Fitbit app on my phone also helped with set-up. Once the Fitbit Aria was ready to go, I could easily see my weight and percentage of body fat either on the web or the app.

When you step on the Aria, it goes through several phases as it comes up with your weight and body fat percentage. Multiple users can use the same scale and it will sense which one is using it each time. Be sure to wait until the Aria tells you to step off so that it has time to send your information via WIFI.

The Fitbit Aria doesn’t support as many of the third party applications as the Withings scale, but it does work with both SparkPeople and MyFitnessPal among others. When I started using the Apple Watch instead of a Fitbit Flex as my fitness tracker, I just added the SyncSolve app for iOS to make everything work together. It’s not a perfect solution, but that’s a review for another day.

The price of the Fitbit Aria is about $30-$35 less than the current Withings scale. Both are high compared to a plain scale, but if you are interested in easy tracking, the extra cost of a smart scale makes it worth the money.

My only complaint is that for the body fat assessment to work, you have to step on the scale with bare feet. As someone with poor circulation in my feet, that means taking off my socks and then putting them back on to weigh myself. It’s a small quibble but it may be an issue for some.

When I was done testing Fitbit Aria, I did something I rarely do – I asked if I could buy it. That’s how much I enjoyed using this scale. It’s been a great addition that I am looking forward to using for a long time.

Review: Garmin vivofit

Garmin Vivofit - grey

When you think of the original GPS units, one of the first names you think of is Garmin. It only makes sense that a pioneer in that market would move into the fitness tracking wearable market. The Garmin vivofit is actually just one of their ventures into wearables.

Garmin Vivofit - black

Unlike most of the other wrist band based fitness trackers available now, the vivofit comes with a battery that lasts over a year so you don’t have to worry about charging it every few days. For many folks, that’s a definite plus.

Because of that battery, the display is on all the time which means you can easily look at your wrist to see your exact step count or by changing the display, the time. This was one of my favorite features since it means that the vivofit can replace my watch. There are six different screens available to display: time, date, steps, steps goal (seen above), miles, and calories burned.

In addition, the elongated red arrow at the top of the display is a reminder to the user to move. The long main arrow means it’s been an hour. Each little arrow in front of the long one means that another fifteen minutes has passed.

Another plus is that Garmin makes XL bands easily available unlike FitBit. I wish they sold you just one instead of three in a pack, but at least you can get them without jumping through hopes.

Garmin Vivofit - red

Like the FitBit and some of the other fitness trackers, the Garmin vivofit will track your sleep though the results on the phone app aren’t as detailed as the FitBit. Holding the button on the band takes you to the sync mode, then sleep (seen above) and finally pairing mode which is only used infrequently.

The Garmin Connect Mobile app is used with several different Garmin devices and I think that’s part of its downfall. I had problems pairing it to the vivofit at first, but discovered by dumb luck that being out of wifi range seemed to solve the problem. As I mentioned before, the detail available could be better, but to be honest, I’ve seen first.

Also, with the current version of the vivofit, the device does not automatically sync with the app. You have to open the app, put the vivofit in sync mode and then make the app sync.

Another problem is if you want to track your food intake with the Garmin Connect Mobile app, the only way you can do it is by using the My Fitness Pal app. As a long time user of SparkPeople, that’s a problem for me and from what I’ve read, it’s a problem for other people.

While researching this review, I discovered that the vivofit 2 is coming some time this first quarter. With it comes the ability to auto sync and it appears to have a way to more securely attach the band to your wrist. While you may want to wait for the vivofit 2, you can get a really great price on the current vivofit model right now.

My husband has had three FitBit units die on him so we’ve been looking for an alternative fitness trackers for him. After testing the Garmin vivofit, I think we may have found it.

Review: HTC One (M8)

With the number of Android phones coming out each month, sometimes it’s hard to know which one to even look at when you’re shopping for a new phone. I’ll give you a hint: You need to check out the new HTC One (M8).

HTC One (M8)

Also available for Windows Mobile, this latest offering from HTC is something to behold. The brushed aluminum design feels great in your hand and looks good too.

The 5-inch full HD display is really crisp and clear. I love both the size and look of the screen. Photos really popped on the screen.

HTC One (M8) also comes with a Duo Camera with UltraPixel. What’s UltraPixel you ask? It’s a feature of the Duo Camera which “lets you add 3D-style depth and change focus after snapping a photo.”

One thing that I really noticed was different from other phones were the dual front speakers. These give you much better sound than you can get from a single front speaker. It really made a difference when listening to music with wide variations in volume like classical music.

The thing I liked least about the HTC One (M8)? The name. Hard to remember and I’ve noticed that many consumers just say they have an HTC One without realizing that there are several models of the HTC One.

The HTC One (M8) is available now at your local Verizon Wireless store for $149.99 with a two-year contract.

Review: Belkin WeMo

RadioCarla Review WeMo

The Belkin WeMo line works great with the new Amazon Echo. Review to come very soon!

One of the highest compliment a reviewer can give a product is an acknowledgement that they liked the product so much that they bought one. An even higher compliment is when a reviewer buys more than one. The Belkin WeMo is one of those products for us.

The Belkin WeMo line of products are home automation devices that also can help with home security. The Verizon Wireless store has three different WeMo products available. All of these WeMo products work with your existing Wi-Fi network and let you control your lights or home electronics anywhere that your smart phone or tablet has an Internet connection (3G or 4G LTE).

The WeMo Switch ($49.98) plugs into a wall outlet so you can control home electronics or lamps from your mobile device. Using the WeMo app, you can set schedules with your Android or iOS smart phone that can help reduce energy costs in your home.

The Belkin WeMo Light Switch ($49.99) lets you to turn lights on and off from anywhere you happen to go. Unlike the regular WeMo switch, the WeMo Light Switch replaces a wall light switch so some DIY skills are needed.

If you want to know more about the energy use of an appliance or piece of home electronics, the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch ($59.99) is the one you want. Trying to figure out which appliance is sucking the most electrity? Plug each one in a WeMo Insight Switch and you can get quick access to how much energy each device is using.

We had a WeMo Switch test unit to try out recently. We’ve always had a floor lamp in our living room that was on a timer. The timers got more advanced over the years, but it was still just a timer set to come on at the same time each day. And anyone watching our house would notice that the time the light went on and off was always the same.

The scheduling available with the WeMo is so much better. Instead of coming on at the same time each day, you can set the WeMo to turn on the lamp at an hour before sunset. Then it automatically adjusts as sunset times change throughout the year.

We usually have the lamp in the living room set to go off at a set time too. But some times, you want to go to bed earlier and the light is still on. Or you go to bed and forget to turn off the lamp. With the WeMo smartphone app, two clicks on your smartphone and the light is off. And it won’t change the schedule for future days.

We loved how the WeMo switch worked for us so much that we ordered two of them before we returned our review unit. The second one is on a floor lamp downstairs that comes on weekdays during regular working hours. It’s been working great and now I’m wondering what we can use a third WeMo for next!

Review: Zombies Run! 5K

Last year, I tried out an app called Ease Into 5K. While it worked okay at the time, there were some things that I didn’t care for and I decided I wanted to try something else. A friend on Facebook recommended the Zombies Run! 5K app and I’m so glad she did.

Zombies Run 5K

The idea behind Zombies Run! 5K is that it puts you in the middle of a science fiction zombies story. You are being trained as one of the runners used by a post zombie apocalypse settlement in England to retrieve needed items like medicine, food and so on. The program is eight weeks long with three workouts scheduled each week. There is also an intro workout that provides you much of the exposition for the story plot. And the British accents just add to the fun for an Anglophile like me.

Zombies Run 5K Workouts

Within the app, each workout is represented by a notecard pinned on a cork board. Before you do that workout, you can see what it will involve. After you finish it, the card shows a summary of what happened during that workout and the date you completed it.

Zombies Run 5K Week 2 Workout 2       Zombies Run 5K  Heel Lift

Tapping on the workout card gives you even more information.  When there is an exercise in the workout, you are shown instructions on how to do it correctly. Then, you tap on the “Start Workout” area at the bottom and go to one more screen before starting.

Zombies Run 5K Start

This was one of the things I liked better than Ease Into 5K. You have the option of changing your playlist each workout instead of having to go to the Settings for the app to change it. The Shuffle option is really nice too. You can even choose no music if you prefer. I also appreciate the GPS check before starting.

Zombies Run 5K Log Story

After you complete the workout, you can click on the workout to see the log and story update. For more detail, synchronize your data with the Zombies Run! web site using Zombie Link. There is also information there on the more substantial training program you can use after finishing the 5K version.

Zombies Run 5K - Problem

The only problems I’ve had using Zombies Run 5K were caused by issues other than the app. As you can see above, the app kept pausing on me one day. Turned out that the problem was with the ear buds adapter I have to use when my iPhone is in the Mophie Juice Pack Plus case. By switching to another case that doesn’t require the adapter, the problem was solved.

This morning, I finished Week Five Workout One. Once I got really going with the system, I haven’t missed a single workout. The story keeps me interested and I keep walking. And that’s what really matters.

— CG

Twist App Alternatives

It turns out that there are lots and lots of folks looking for Twist App alternatives just like me. I’ve been trying several possible replacements out, but each has its own problems.

1. cursor42 was mentioned by its developer in a comment on my original post noting that Twist had shut down. In this app, you set up meets or you can join an existing meet. The problem is that you are tell the app when you are going to arrive. That can be a big problem if you hit unexpected traffic or other delays. After you create the meet, you have to share an invite code “to allow others to join your meet”. You can text it, email it or a few other options. Sending it to someone else’s cursor42 app is not an option. And, if you don’t upgrade to the premium version, the code can only be used by one person. There are also ads on the free version. Sorry, Chris. Just can’t recommend this one.

cursor42

2. en route was the next app we tried out. The user interface is… odd. It draws from your calendar and the receiver has to accept or nothing happens. All in all, it’s just too many steps and if old routes aren’t deleted, they can cause problems. We had planned on writing a more in-depth review, but Tom got so frustrated with en route’s weirdness that he deleted it from his phone.

en route   en route 2

3. beebump was another one mentioned. One look at it and all I have to say is “no”. I couldn’t even bring myself to install it to get screen shots of it.

4. Glympse – And we’re back where we started. It was the location sharing app that we used before we found Twist. It’s been updating several times since I reviewed it last year and it works even better now. While it’s not as slick as Twist was, it’s still the best alternative out there for now.

Glympse

Review: Nokia Lumia Icon

When you think about getting a new smart phone, usually the big decision is between iOS and Android. But there is a third option and no, I’m not talking about Blackberry. For a while now, I’ve been hearing good (and sometimes surprising) things about Windows Phone. On a recent episode of This Week in Tech, VentureBeat managing editor Jolie O’dell that she liked Windows Phone because, compared to other phones, “it’s pretty and twirly and sparkly. It’s the Disney princess of smart phones.”

The new Nokia Lumia Icon is a really interesting phone. With a screen size a full inch smaller than the Lumia 1520, it is still both taller and wider than a iPhone 5S. And similar to how the 1520 was only available for AT&T users, the Lumia Icon is only available for Verizon customers.

Nokia Lumia Icon

Available in both black and white, the Icon like other Windows Phone devices comes with three controls/buttons down the right side. First from the top is the volume control. Then, about in the middle, there is the Power/Lock button and finally lower down, the camera button. After using iOS and Android phones, it took a while to get used to the Power/Lock button to be on the side. The audio/headset jack is on the top and the USB/charging port in on the bottom.

Nokia LumiaI con - Lock Screen

The lock screen is customizable, of course, but it seemed harder to find photos that fit the aspect ratio. As you can see, both time and date are displayed as well as the next event on your calendar. Calendars and contacts can be easily imported from Gmail or Facebook.

Nokia Lumia Icon - Home Screen 1   Nokia Lumia Icon - Home Screen 2

All of the tiles on the home screen can be changed, moved around and re-sized. When you have new messages or notifications, the tile flips between the app icon and the new message like the Facebook tile in the two screen shots above. The People tile in the upper right hand corner also flips between profile images of your contacts.

Nokia Lumia Icon - Apps

If you want to access apps that aren’t on your home screen, just swipe to the left to see the list of all of the applications you have installed. Of all of the ones listed in the screenshot above, Facebook was the only one I added.

Nokia Lumia Icon - AppSocial2   Nokia Lumia Icon - AppSocial

To find new apps to install, you have to go to AppSocial. The set up is a bit different than the iOs App Store or the Android Google Play store. As you can see in the screenshot above on the left, when you search for an app, the first view you get is of app lists that other Windows Phone users have created that include the app you searched for. You have to select the Apps view to see the search results for your search. With a name like AppSocial, I get why they did that, but it can be confusing at first.

Nokia Lumia Icon - Dunkel

So what about the 20-megapixel PureView camera that the Icon comes with? It is pretty spectacular. Just be warned that you’re probably going to need to adjust the flash. I left all of the settings as it shipped and the flash startled both cats plus you can see the results were a bit harsh.

Nokia Lumia Icon - Dunkel 2

The Icon comes with Nokia Creative Studio installed. When you open a photo in the app, you’re first given a series of filters to chose from. You swipe up and down to see the effects of each one and then tap to select the one you want. Then you tap the Edit icon at the bottom (it looks like a pencil in a circle) and you have the edit options like fix, adjust, blur, play and so on. My first effort on Dunkel’s photo was only okay.

Nokia Lumia Icon - Porter   Nokia Lumia Icon - Porter 2

However, this one of Porter came out great. It’s definitely a keeper. I can see me getting better with the editing capabilities as I got used to it.

All in all, I have to say I’m intrigued by the Nokia Lumia Icon and look forward to taking other Windows Phones out for a spin in the future. I’m really curious to see what a Windows Phone tablet is like. I’m not sure it’s the Disney princess of smart phones, but it certainly is sparkly.

— Carla

Twist App Shuts Down as of 4/1/14

[Also check out our Twist App Alternatives post for more information.]

At first, it seemed like a cruel April Fools joke when the following message appeared on the Twist Facebook fan page:

Twist App Shuts Down

But, that announcement was the only official word that the Twist app was shutting down. The next day, Andy Ihnatko (“Chicago Sun-Times technology columnist and Internationally Beloved Industry Figure”) tweeted, “Looks like @MyTwist is dead. Their servers are down and the app’s not available in the iTunes/Play stores. Pouring out a 404…”. There was a glimmer of hope that perhaps they had been purchased, but later in the day, Andy’s contact at Twist confirmed our fears. As Andy put it, “yup, the app’s dead.” Then the web site was taken down and the app was removed from both the iOS App Store and the Google Play store.

I about had to sit down when I heard the news. We had just introduced my college student nephew to the joys of Twist last weekend. Throughout this horrible winter, the last words to my husband each morning as I was heading to work were always, “I love you and I’ll send you a Twist to let you know I got there.”

So what now? The Twist app is still on your iOS and Android devices if you already had it. But, when you try to set up a Twist, you will eventually get the message like the one below:

Twist App Not Working

I know I should just delete it, but I keep hoping it will come make somehow, some way.

I wrote my review comparing Twist to its not-quite-the-same competitor Glympse last June. Since then, it has consistently been the most popular post on RadioCarla.com. Other posts have had more visits in one day, but none were so consistent in their views as that one post. There are a lot of people still interested in using this app and many of them went to check it out from here. I’m sure a lot of those Twist app users would be happy to pay for the app if it came back.

In the mean time, it’s back to Glympse for me. But I’d switch back to Twist or a Twist clone in a heart beat.

— Carla

Review: FitBit Force

NOTE: On February 21, 2014, FitBit issued a voluntary recall for all FitBit Force units.

Tech Review FitBit Force

As the new year came along, there was a sudden surge in interest in some of my tech reviews, specifically my reviews of the UP by Jawbone and the FitBit Flex. But, wait! There is a new fitness tracking piece of wearable technology from the folks at FitBit. Behold, the FitBit Force. Thanks to Verizon Wireless, I was sent a demo unit to try out and compare.

For the most part, the Force has the same functions and capabilities as the Flex, but better. In addition to tracking your steps, distance, calories burned and sleep, it also tracks when you go up a flight of stairs. As you can see from the photo above, the Force is a bit wider than the Flex and has a watch built in. By pushing the button on the side (you can see it below), you can scroll through the information that you have to sync with your smart phone to get on the Flex. No more trying to remember what the dots mean. I was disappointed that the watch display wasn’t on all of the time, but I understand why. The battery life would drop dramatically if it was. But, I’d love to be able to make that choice myself. Perhaps on at work and off for night time. A toggle switch on the smart phone app would be perfect.

FitBit Force Cord

To charge the Force, you connect the cord that’s included to the back. Unlike the Flex, you can’t change your wristbands. You have a choice of black or slate and that’s what it’s always going to be. But the battery life for the Force is about double that of the Flex. That’s a definite plus.

Because I already have a Flex linked to my FitBit.com account and my FitBit app, I tried something different this time. I created a new account at FitBit.com for the Force and used the wireless sync dongle to sync to an older Windows laptop we had. Conclusion? Unlike the Flex, the Force is a great option for people who don’t have a smart phone. You get so much information displayed on the OLED display that having the smartphone app is nice, but not a must have.

FitBit Force Back

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. If you’ve been on social media much or watching Good Morning America, you may have heard that some people are having problems with the Force giving them a rash. The issue seems to be with folks who have nickel allergies. The back connector where the charging cord connects contains some nickel apparently and is considered the culprit.

So, here’s my experience with the Force. First of all, I have skin problems to begin with. I’ve had eczema and acne all my life. I wore the FitBit Force on my left wrist for one week solid and never had an issue. In fact, because it was where I usually wear my watch, the skin on my left wrist was actually a bit better. Now, it may take more than a week for rash to show up, but I saw no irritation of any kind.

Recently, Time magazine did a ranking of 26 fitness trackers from worst to first. Of the three I’ve reviewed so far, the UP was ranked 8th and the FitBit Flex was ranked 6th. The top ranking fitness tracker? Yep, you guessed it. The FitBit Force. It’s that good.

I am actually getting my own Force as a hand-me-down from my husband soon. You know if I develop a rash later on, I will be sure to update this review. But, to be very honest, I’m really looking forward to having one of my own. Now, if they would only fix that watch issue…

— Carla