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: 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

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. ūüôā

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 ‚Äď 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