Guest Review: Motorola Droid Maxx from Verizon

Yep, it’s a guest review from my husband Tom. If you ever read his reviews on our old Tag Team Tech blog, you’ll recognize his writing style. 🙂

I love this phone.

There, I said it. Shortest guest review ever. (Yes? Carla? You’d like a few more details? OK. I guess that’s fair.)

So what makes it so good? This may sound odd, but it’s mostly because of the lack of drama. There’s another well-known phone manufacturer that makes a big deal out of its product’s ability “to just work,” but my time with this phone has pretty much had the same outcome. I’d want to do something.  I’d touch the screen and, if necessary, enter information. Then the thing I wanted to have happen would … well … happen. No big deal.

Droid MaxxWhile my everyday phone is an iPhone 5S, my everyday tablet of choice is a 2nd Generation Nexus 7. It’s what I read on at night in bed and the tablet that will go with me on trips. I have an iPad, but it’s pretty much used on the couch while watching TV.  There’s an awful lot about the Android OS that I like over iOS, but I’ve been less enamored with the manufacturer specific customizations on other Android phones. That’s part of the appeal of the Nexus 7 tablet:  pure Android as Google intended with no fluff added. The Droid Maxx can’t say the same about customizations, but Motorola is owned by Google now and they have used a pretty light hand with the Motorola-branded apps. One example, the Droid Zap app, is a photo-sharing app along the same lines of AirDrop on iOS that makes for a nice commercial, but might or might not have any real utility in real life. Two things to take into account about that last sentence:  I’m not exactly in the demographic that worries a lot about sharing photos with people around me, and I say the exact same thing about AirDrop on iOS. On the other hand, the Droid Maxx features the ability to respond to voice commands simply by prefacing them with words “OK Google” (and not having to touch a button to wake up the phone first). Google’s overall  voice integration is far superior to Siri on iOS. (You have to explicitly enable the “always on” voice feature, so you don’t have to use if it creeps you out).

I’ve already mentioned iOS more times than’s appropriate in a phone review at this point in the history of Android. I think we’re way past the point of arguing whether one platform is “better” than the other. You’ve got two different philosophies of how a mobile phone ought to be implemented, and the Droid Maxx is as fine an example of the Android philosophy as you’re going to find. It feels great in your hand.  The screen is large and bright and gorgeous. The touch screen is responsive. There is no noticeable lag when you ask the phone to do something and it’s an LTE phone so the network response is fantastic. Motorola is claiming that you can get 48 hours of battery with normal usage and I’m leaning toward believing them on that. I didn’t formally time it or anything, but I used the phone hard and never had any trouble getting well into a second day of use before having to think about charging. One intangible is that this is a phone I don’t feel like I need to stick in a case.  The back is grippy and is made of kevlar so it’s tough. It’s thin and weighs about 5 ounces, so not needing a case might be something that makes this an attractive choice for you.

By now this phone has been out for a while and there’s always something new and sexy coming along.  Keep an eye on this phone.  Any promotional offer you might find will make this phone a great deal.

My Beer Apps Post on Verizon Wireless

Since I re-launched RadioCarla.com in May, it has been interesting to watch which posts get the most attention from my readers. Far and away, the posts that day after day keep getting views are my tech reviews, especially the app reviews. Recently, I was asked by the folks at Verizon Wireless Midwest to write a blog post for them on beer apps. It’s a perfect blend of my love for craft beer and technology plus I appreciated the opportunity to write for a new audience.

Beer Apps – Keep Oktoberfest Spirit All Month Long
http://vzwmidwestarea.com/beer-apps-keep-oktoberfest-spirit/

[Please note that I was not compensated in any way for writing this post.]

Review: UP by Jawbone

Review: UP by Jawbone

As you may remember, I recently reviewed the FitBit Flex and mentioned that I was able to track mine down at my local Verizon Wireless store. The kind folks at Verizon Wireless liked my (unsponsored, unsolicited) FitBit Flex review so much that they offered me an UP by Jawbone demo unit to try next.

The UP Health Wristband comes in five colors (light grey, blue, navy, light mint, hunter green, orange, red and onyx/black though many locations only have grey, blue & black), three sizes (small for wrists 5.5-6″, medium for wrists 6-7″ and large for wrist 7-8″) and runs about $129.99 most places I checked. The textured appearance, especially in the black, reminded many of the people who saw it to a tire. The color is solid and can’t be changed without buying another unit.

The silver JAWBONE cap you see above removes to reveal a mini-stereo plug that goes into the headphone jack of your smart phone to sync. It also connects to the charging cable (included). A quick review of Jawbone forums showed that there were many incidents reported of UP owners losing their cap. The Jawbone store online sells replacements in a pack of three for $9.99.

The UP by Jawbone is listed as water resistant, but several official comments on the UP forums said that you couldn’t swim with it on but you could leave it on in the shower. Some users reported being able to wear it in a pool with no problem. However, some also reported wearing it in the shower caused issues.

The demo unit I was sent was a large sized one which was good since I have large wrists. The spring motion that allows you to open it up to put it on also applies slight pressure at times.

UP App

The UP companion app is available for both iOS and Android. The colors are bright and bold and the app is set up like a vertical time line with your information. Swiping to the right makes your account information, lifeline, trends, team, apps, notifications and other settings available. Swiping to the left shows your goals, gives you the sync button, lets you set sleep alarms or idle alerts, use the stopwatch, take a power nap or log a workout or your sleep.

Food is logged by tapping the small knife & fork icon on the main timeline page. You can enter it manually, scan a bar code or take a photo of your food with your phone. Companion apps for the UP include RunKeeper, MyFitnessPal, MapMyFitness, Withings, IFTTT, Wello, notch.me, Lose It!, Sleepio, Maxwell Health, CarePass, TicTrac and GymPact.


For me, I found the slight pressure from the UP wristband to be a bit annoying at times. I found myself taking the wristband to rub my wrist because I thought the skin was getting irritated.

While I liked the option of an idle alert or setting a power nap alarm, I didn’t care for the food logging aspects of the companion app and I could never get the “take a picture of your food” part to work correctly. I also thought the app was a bit garish, especially on iOS 7 now.

One of the interesting things I ran into was inconsistency on the number of steps counted. Since I’ve been wearing the FitBit Flex since June, I have a good idea of how many steps I take in a typical day. I wore my Flex on my right hand and the UP by Jawbone on my left. The first day there was a difference of 1,000 steps. I mentioned on Facebook that I only took the UP off to shower and someone asked how big my shower was! The next day, there was only a difference of 28 steps which made more sense.

I’ve tried to avoid comparing the UP by Jawbone to the FitBit Flex as much as I could. But, another post will be coming with a feature by feature comparison of the two devices. For me, since I need to be able to wear it in the pool, the FitBit Flex was the only choice. But the UP by Jawbone may be more to your style. My suggestion is to try them both on and see which one suits your lifestyle.

Review: FitBit Flex

Wearable computing is one of the hottest topics in technology right now and the health & fitness segment of this area is one of the biggest within that sector. Lord knows I love a gadget, but other than the occasional pedometer (which usually didn’t work correctly), I always passed on the various version of fitness wearable computing because they didn’t work in water where I do the majority of my fitness training. Until now, that is. FitBit recently released their new Fitbit Flex Wireless Activity + Sleep Wristband and it’s water resistant! Finally, a fitness gadget for me!

FitBit Flex Tracker

I first got to check out the FitBit Flex when my friend Julie let me check hers out. I was a bit worried about the actual wristband fitting my larger than average wrist. Not to worry! Each FitBit Flex comes with both a small and a large wristband. And, if the large still doesn’t work for you, FitBit will send you an XL wristband just for asking (you do have to send them a copy of your receipt). The wristband comes in black or slate when you buy the initial FitBit Flex and you can buy additional wristbands in teal, tangerine, and navy as a three pack or individually online at the FitBit Store. The actual tracker (seen in the blowup circle above) can be easily moved from wristband to wristband. The tracker needs to be charge about every five days using the USB dongle provided.

For a while, it was hard to find the BitFit Flex in stores due to high demand. I wanted mine before a trip I had planned and it was quite the search to find one. Luckily, my local Verizon Wireless store had just got in two of them when I called so I snagged one up for $99. I also learned to check the Verizon Wireless store for more than just cell phones.

My trip was a travel agent training at the Disneyland Resort. Having previously done one in 2005, I knew that we would be walking A LOT so I knew it would be a great time to try out the FitBit Flex.

You can see how you are doing towards your steps goal by tapping the wristband twice. You can also put it in sleep mode by tapping it quickly five or so times. I have problems with that myself so I just mainly use the FitBit app (available for iOS and Android).

FitBit Flex App

By default, the FitBit app shows you your steps, distance, calories burned, weight, very active minutes, sleep and water. You can modify these as you prefer. One of the benefits of the FitBit Flex is that you can add non-walking/running activities on the app. Again, perfect for someone who does water aerobics like me. Yes, you need to enter your weight for the app to be able to correctly calculate how many calories you have burned. It will also track your weight if you enter it on a regular basis.

FitBit Flex Sleep

The sleep function is one of the best parts of the FitBit Flex. Ever wake up and feel like you didn’t sleep at all even though you don’t actually remember waking up? This will try you why that is. As I mentioned before, you can put Flex in and out of sleep mode by tapping it briskly about five times. When it is in sleep mode, two separated dots on the wristband will move from side to side. Warning! You can put your Flex into sleep mode during normal daytime activities by hitting against things like walls. Check it throughout the day and be sure to take it out of sleep mode as soon as possible.

The sleep monitor diagram shows you your periods of sleep, restlessness and being awake. It uses that information to tell you how much actual sleep you got the night before. This side view (just turn your iOS or Android device horizontal) gives you more information than the standard view.

The food portion of the FitBit app isn’t the best. But, because you can link your FitBit.com account with your SparkPeople account, I just let FitBit log my fitness minutes on SparkPeople and enter all of my food intake using the much more robust SparkPeople app on my phone. There are many other applications that you can link with your FitBit account. You can also add friends who have FitBits and see how they are doing each week. The web dashboard on FitBit.com is very nice, but honestly I mainly just use my iPhone.

I thoroughly enjoy using the FitBit Flex. It encourages me to park farther away and walk a little more each day. I even bought one for Tom so now we often compare steps and sleep patterns. I finally found the fitness gadget for me!

— Carla

Review: Blackberry Q10

My first smart phone was a Blackberry. In fact, my first two smart phones were Blackberrys. I moved on to the Android and then iPhone worlds after that and hadn’t really thought about Blackberrys since then. That is until a few weeks ago when I was sent a Verizon Blackberry Q10 review unit to check out.

Blackberry Q10

The first thing I noticed was how thinner the body was then my 2009 and earlier Blackberry models. The rounded edges felt good in my hands and I noticed that I quickly went back to using both hands with this phone rather than just one hand like I frequently do with my iPhone 4S.

When you fire up the Q10 for the first time, you go through the usual set up process, but also some training on their new OS gestures. There was a lot of emphasis on the fact that you just need to swipe up to get to your settings. But, unfortunately, the rest of the new UI was harder to figure out. I handed it to Tom at one point and he said that the UI drove him nuts in less than 30 seconds.

But the main thing I really wanted to try out was the physical keyboard. I remember worrying about not having one when I made the switch to a Droid X. But I have to say that my main reaction was “Meh”. My typing on the physical keyboard wasn’t any faster than my typing on a virtual keyboard on my iPhone. Also, since the trackball previously on physical keyboard Blackberrys is gone, the screen is a touch screen so you need to touch there to do many of the functions you used the trackball for previously. That took some getting used to for me.

My biggest problem was that the addition of the physical keyboard takes up so much space on the front of the phone that the screen is tiny (720 x 720 pixels). After four years of using Android and iPhone smart phones, the smallness of this screen really got to me. It does make me wonder though if I would have been happier reviewing a Blackberry Z10. The one benefit of trying out this small screen was finding out that our new responsive design for Hoperatives and RadioCarla.com looks good and functions well even on a small screen like this one.

The camera was sluggish and made it hard to take photos of fast moving subjects like my cats. When I took the photo below, Bock was actually looking at me but he had turned away by the time the phone took the picture. At least, it’s in focus. And the camera did a decent job getting all of the shades of black in his fur.

Bock - Blackberry Q10

If you like getting all of your messages (including all email, Facebook and Twitter) in one place, you will love the Blackberry Hub. Personally, that drove me crazy, but then I’ve never liked any kind of combined mailbox like that so it wasn’t a surprise. The font was also rather large for such a small screen.

If you are a current Blackberry user and just can’t give up the physical keyboard, this is a nice upgrade for you. If you are currently using Android or iOS (or even Windows phone), I don’t think this model is going to get you to make the switch to Blackberry.

— Carla

Mini-Review: J.K. Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling’s book A Casual Vacancy is both a collection of character studies and a cautionary tale. I finished last night and had trouble falling asleep afterwards because my mind wouldn’t let the book’s characters go. As many reviewers have already said, it’s not Harry Potter and it’s definitely not magical. It’s gritty and coarse and real just like life is. I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time.

Mini-Review: Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One

I recently signed up for a web site called Influenster.com. It’s a bit like Klout, but with a bit more emphasis on reviews and answering other members’ questions. I thought maybe I’d start sharing some of my Influenster reviews here since my reviews seem to be my most popular posts.


I originally bought Ready Player One as a Audible audio book. Wil Wheaton reads it and I had liked his work on reading John Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars. This literally was a book I couldn’t stop listening to. Literally, I would sit in my car after I reached my destination to hear more. If you love music, movies, video games and more of the 80s, you’ll love this book. Oh, and Wil Wheaton says his own name at one point. I loved it so much that I bought the Kindle version too. Can’t wait for Cline’s next book and the movie version of Ready Player One. Oh, and if you’re from the southwest part of Ohio, Middletown plays a very important part in the book.

Grade: A

Review: Glympse and Twist apps

[NOTE: The Twist app shut down as of April 1, 2014. See my post on this surprising news for more information.]

Trying to coordinate several people meeting at one place is never easy. We all can recall waiting what seemed like forever for someone to pick you up or being the only one at the restaurant waiting for everyone else to show up. Sometimes, you just want to know that a person you care about made it home safe.

Luckily, smart phone apps are providing solutions to these problems. The first one Tom and I tried was Glympse. With this app, you select a contact or multiple contacts, set a duration, add a message if you want and then hit send. Your contact then receives a text or email message to follow your progress towards your destination. You can see whether your contact is watching your Glympse or not too. On the plus side, Glympse is available for Android, iOS, WinPhone 7/8 and Blackberry. On the minus side, because Glympse is constantly checking your location via the phone’s GPS, it can be a major drain on your battery life and your contact has to keep looking at the Glympse to see where you are.

Glympse

Recently, we switched to another app called Twist – On My Way. This app takes a different approach to the problem. When you make a new Twist, you select your location by searching for the name or entering the address. After confirming the destination, you select the recipient(s) from your contact or by entering a phone number, email address or name. If you meeting that person at the destination, you can request their ETA too. Twist gives you the estimated time to get there and you can chose by car, by public transportation, by foot or by bike. You can schedule Twists for later if you like. Even the Twists that you create to be sent right now won’t send until the app picks up that you are actually leaving. So, if you get caught in the hallway on the way out, your recipient won’t get inaccurate information.

Once you actually begin towards your destination, Twist sends a notification to the other party with your estimated time or arrival. If the other person doesn’t have the Twist app installed, a text message is sent instead. Another notification or text is sent when you are one minute away from your destination. If you are delayed while you are traveling, Twist will also notify your recipient and give an updated arrival time. If you have the app installed, you can open it to see where the person who sent you the Twist is, but you don’t have to if the notifications are enough for you.

Your Home and Work addresses are saved as Shortcuts and shown when you first enter the app. Under those, your Calendar and Recent Places are listed for easy access. Twist is available for Android and iOS.

Twist

While both Glympse and Twist are great apps for letting people know when you are going to get somewhere, Twist is our favorite and earned a spot on the main screens of our phones. Can’t recommend it enough.

— Carla

Review Update: Lift app Available on Web

Non-iPhone users can now use Lift thanks to their new web app. From an email sent to registered Lift users yesterday:

Lift now has a web app and a brand new landing page.

Check out Lift Web

It’s everything that was great about our original iPhone app but now everyone can join.

Props to you from all of us,
Tony, Jon, Matt, Erin, Alicia, Matt & Sonya

Re-Post: “Decide” Helps You to Know When to Buy

While I’m traveling this week, I’ll be re-posting some of my past work from our now dormant blogs (Diminishing Returns and Tag Team Tech).

With the tag line “No regrets”, the web site Decide helps you avoid what we call “Leo Laporte syndrome.” If you are a regular listener to any of the Leo’s TWiT network podcasts like “This Week in Tech” or “MacBreak Weekly“, you know that the long standing joke is that as soon as Leo buys a piece of technology, a new model will be coming out the next week or so.

With Decide, you enter the product you are thinking about buying and Decide generates a page with links to online sellers, a Wait or Buy decision with reason, a prediction along with their confidence level. You can filter your results by category, screen size, processor, RAM, price or brand.

When we tried it, entering “Apple Macbook Pro” gave us a “Wait” for prices to drop $88 and a prediction that the price will be the same or go down slightly with 92% confidence. We could have then set an alert for that item via either email or Facebook.

There are some glitches though. When we entered the term “Mac Mini”, Decide gave us a list of HP and Toshiba Mini laptops instead. We never could get it to bring up Mac Mini information. It turns out that Decide is concentrating on TVs, cameras and laptops for now. They hope to add more products soon.

If you’ve ever had buyer’s remorse after buying a gadget, this is the web site for you. There is also a mobile friendly version so you can easily check on the Wait or Buy status of a product while at your favorite store.