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: 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

Target Does Email and Twitter Wrong

I love Target. Really, I do. I just placed an online order with them yesterday. My financial planner even recommends doing the bulk of our grocery shopping at Target so we can save 5% with our Red Cards. Yep, my husband and I both have Target Red Cards. But, sometimes Target does both email and Twitter wrong.

But one thing has been bugging me for a while. While most of the email newsletter (okay, ads) that I would get from Target would fine (maybe even informative), I started getting their weekly baby ads. That seemed odd since I don’t have kids and, at 51, never plan to have any. But then I remembered that a year ago I ordered a baby gift from a Target gift registry. And that’s when the baby emails started. I looked on the email to see how to opt out of the baby emails. Nope, it was either all or none. I checked the Target web site. Same thing – either all of the email ad they wanted to send me or none.

So I tried Twitter. Here’s the conversation I had with someone at Target on Twitter (you can click on the image for a larger version of the screen shot):

Target Does Twitter Wrong

Frustrated, I did what they wanted and opted out of all email communication from Target. It was so disappointing. The next replies from the AskTarget Twitter were no more helpful.

Target Does Email and Twitter Wrong #2

I did sign up for the weekly ad reminders again, but I was very careful to uncheck the box that said “yes, please also email me additional offers, exclusives and promotions from Target.”

In a world where there is all kind of customization available, how hard is it to let consumers choose what information they want to get from a company? It’s not and Target needs to learn that lesson fast.

And, Target? My first name is Carla. Not whatever was in the “hello” box when I went to sign up for the weekly ad reminders.

Target Does Twitter Wrong 3

— Carla

The High Cost of Free Software: Be Careful What You Download

As I was driving into school this morning, I was listening to Sunday’s episode of “This Week in Tech” with Leo LaPorte and a panel of tech writers. It’s worth watching the first part of the video linked below just to see Leo in his steam punk apparel with his “new” steam punk laptop. But, listen to the first fifteen minutes or so where the panel discusses something that they called “douche ware”.

There’s always been malware around that can do all sorts of bad things to your computer. But douche ware is different in that it observes the letter of the law, but not the spirit. It tells you that it’s going to install a toolbar or other “enhancements” to your machine but it may also keep adding programs every few days.

In some ways, the term “douche ware” makes it sound like sites like Download.com and software developers are adding these things to their software installers to just be a greedy douche bag. But there may be a reason why.

Ed Bott of zdnet.com on the show states:

Basically, there’s a dilemma that software developers are in. They can either go with these monetization companies which load up their installers with “special offers” and which in turn allow them to make a frightful sum of money or they can take a day job and get out of the software business.

What this means to you and me as consumers is that we need to be ever more vigilant when we install software, especially software we have downloaded. Don’t just click “yes” blindly and read each screen before clicking anything. That is unless you like multiple toolbars and having your home page & search engine changed and many more programs installed besides the one you thought you were getting.

As someone who has been teaching online classes for over ten years now, I learned early on to add the following statement to my syllabi:

It is not the instructor’s responsibility to resolve your technical problems whether it be computer or ISP related.

It is always amazing the things that people (my students) will download without thinking a bit about it. So think before you click and practice safe downloading.

— Carla

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: Ancestry.com and Family Tree Maker

When she was alive, one of my Mom’s favorite hobbies was genealogy or researching family history. When I still lived at home or even later when I was visiting for the weekend, Mom would often get up on and announce that we were going to “go visit dead relatives” that day. In Mom-speak, that meant we were going on a road trip to check out cemeteries and photograph gravestones of our deceased family members.

My great great great great grandfather was an Indian spy during the American Revolution so Mom decided to tackle the paperwork needed to get her mother into Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Then, she added herself and just a few years before she died, she added me.

When Mom passed away, I paid my dues back at her Illinois chapter for a while, but then went inactive with plans to move to a DAR chapter closer to home. During a recent visit back home, my brother and I got talking about doing something with all of Mom’s family history research and I got the genealogy bug.

After my spring semester wrapped up and we got back from Florida, I downloaded Family Tree Maker software from Ancestry.com. Since I’m on a Mac, my only option was Family Tree Maker for Mac 2 which usually runs $69.99 to download (you can also have it shipped). Luckily, I found a coupon on RetailMeNot.com and my final cost was only $36.74.

Family Tree Maker

When you buy Family Tree Maker, you get a 14-day membership to Ancestry.com. This, for me, was the best part. I remember Mom having to dig through books and old microfiche trying to find the information she needed. Then, she recorded it on this elaborate file card system where each family member had a card. It was both time and space consuming. With a few clicks on Ancestry.com, I was easily able to flesh out much of my family tree. This was especially true for the well researched branches like those related to my family’s DAR patriot.

Ancestry.com

A subscription to Ancestry.com is not a cheap thing. A U.S. Discovery subscription which allows you to access all U.S. records on Ancestry.com is $22.95 a month or $79.00 for a six-month subscription. The World Explorer subscription gives you unlimited access to everything on Ancestry.com and is $34.95 a month or $149.00 for a six-month subscription. As is true for most online purchases, check RetailMeNot.com for coupons. Also, there are iOS and Android apps available for free to use with your Ancestry.com subscription. You can learn more about them at http://www.ancestry.com/ancestry-app.

I splurged and got the World Explorer subscription for six months. My Gesell-Streeter family tree is up to 853 family members. After my subscription expires, I’ll see what resources I can access on my own through my local library and hopefully my new DAR chapter (if I ever hear back from them). I also have some cousins who are also interested in joining DAR and I look forward to helping them.

The whole time I’ve been using Family Tree Make and Ancestry.com, I keep thinking about how Mom would have loved this. I’m sure she would have fussed about some of the technology, but the ease of access to records stored in other states or even countries is amazing. I’m so glad I decided to pick up where she left off. It’s good to visit dead relatives from time to time.

— 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.