Category Archives: reviews

Google Wifi box

Thought on My First week with Google Wifi

I just switched out my Apple Airport Extremes for Google Wifi. I’m normally all in on the silo I’ve chosen (Apple usually). I’ve had Apple Airport Extremes since the second generation of them. They’ve never been the best devices, but again the silo. They worked remarkably well within the Apple ecosystem. Mac and iOS would see APs that needed setting up, etc. Easy. The app was nice enough.

Updates were few and far between, barely a scrap of pro user support, or more modern considerations, but they worked and managing them was easy enough from a non shitty app.

Google Wifi unboxingI’ve been keeping an eye on the emerging Mesh Wifi world, and saw this review. Wirecutter has a great writeup as well, but it didn’t cover Google Wifi and a few others, because they hadn’t shipped yet. One of my main things was it has to look not terrible since at least one will live in plain sight. Apple kit sets the bar high there.

I’ll admit, the unboxing was Apple like. A nice plain white box, subtle logo, three very pretty little pods resting inside. Cords and unsightly bits in nice individual compartments below. Nice.

Google Wifi Setup

Setup is pretty straight forward, and you can read all about it in the blog post linked above, so I won’t re-hash that. One thing I’ve learned in keeping up a home network, changing your network name is a big pain in the ass, so don’t unless you need to. Prior to booting the first Google Wifi up, I powered down the AirPort Extreme. Then as I went through the process I named my network the exact same name as the majority of devices would look for, and made sure the password was the same. Most things just reconnected no problem.

The one hassle I had in this area is that Airport Extremes let you treat your 2.4 and 5gHz networks as separate things, so I had “Wilker” and “Wilker 5G”. This was also my own thing, since it made sure my machines connected to the faster AP that was was serving 802.11ac and the slower b/g/n wouldn’t slow down the ac connections. A hold over for sure. The downside was that the device that would be the biggest headache, were the ones on the “Wilker” network. iDevice switches and the Sonos speakers. Things that don’t have a UI to interact with. Long story short, lots of resetting and reconnecting later, everyone is happy on the new and improved “Wilker 5G” network.

Google Wifi App

Google Wifi appWhile I like the app, it’s clean and pretty easy to use, it’s also the only way to interact with your Google Wifi. No desktop app, no (blech) web interface, sadly also no iPad app. Phone only. Deal breaker? No, but a pain sometimes when I’d rather use my iPad.

It is nice to be able to see my network like this, it’s one of the things I liked with Apple’s Airport Utility. This is even better since I don’t have to look at each device to see what’s on the network. They’re all listed regardless of which AP they’re talking to, very nice.

I’m not sure of it’s overall utility, but the idea of a priority device is in the app. google Wifi device list When looking at the list, you can tap that little green circle in the bottom right, and assign a device on your network priority traffic for one, two or four hours. I’m not sure why I would care do to that. It might be useful to do it indefinitely for say my media center, or the AppleTV to ensure streaming is always good, but I can’t imagine having to every few hours, pick who gets priority.

 

The other really nice thing in the device list, is seeing the data usage. You can see it in the list, and tapping on a device let’s you see that devices traffic either real time or back a few days/weeks/months. Kinda neat.

Google Wifi Mesh

Google Wifi meshI’ve been interested in mesh since I started reading about. The idea isn’t new, in fact I’ve used my previous generations of Airport Extremes in a mesh setup, but it’s much more manual and labor intensive to setup and manage. Google Wifi makes it much easier!

I do wish you could wire additional base stations to help spread the load down through the modem, but not a deal breaker.

The hardest part of set up was placing the units. Our house is a rowhouse, tall and skinny. My first thought was one unit in the office closet where the Airport Extreme was, then one upstairs at the entry to the rooftop deck since usually internet up there is the pits.

Except as you can see, the office closet isn’t a great location, I suspect because the washer and drier are right in line between the main google wifi unit and the office one. I’ll play with location later.

The rooftop one right now is in the master bedroom, straight down the hall from the office. The Unit gave an error, when on the roof. I’m not sure if it was just a fluke or if all units need to be close the main unit (which goes against my understanding of how mesh works). Will play with that one as well later.

I did some tinkering and realized my office AP was on the closet because that’s where the old Apple one lived. It was in there because that’s where the network drop was. Lightbulb moment, I moved the office unit into the room on a shelf and signal strength was vastly improved. The closet still has a switch for the wired devices.

Final thoughts.

So far so good. All devices are connected and doing well, internet speeds don’t seem any different, things stream well, etc. These are smaller and more discreet than Airport Extremes which is nice. We’ll see how Google does as far a feature updates, etc.

One update, I had a weird google service issue the other day. I don’t know if it was google DNS, or their servers or what, but it directly impacted the google wifi since the app talks to their servers as well, quite frustrating.

 

 

 

I demoted my Apple Watch

I’ve been debating whether to continue using the Apple Watch for a while now. AppleWatch has definitely gotten better since launch, but still hasn’t found a killer app/feature. Activity tracking is the thing that has kept it on my wrist. I had a Fitbit for years, and loved the data collection around my daily activities and health, Apple upped that game.

wooden watchThe final straw as it were, was my 40th birthday, my wife got me a nice wooden bodied watch. I wanted to wear it. So I made the decision to move my Apple Watch to my right wrist, and switch to an activity specific face.

If I were to buy a new Apple Watch I’d likely buy the smaller face model so it’s a little less “obvious”

Wearing two watches admittedly is some solid ’80-90s stuff, but so far it’s working.

I’ve dialed down the notifications on the watch so it’s just stuff I really really want to know about. I’ve switched to a face that shows temp, and activity.

Apple Watch as activity trackerI do miss seeing my calendar entries, but that’s a small price to pay. I’ve already begun rotating through my watch collection again and love it. I need to go to a jeweler and get batteries put in a few. They’ve been neglected too long and their batteries are dead.

My Review of the D-Link Omna HomeKit Camera

So I’ve been keeping on eye on the HomeKit field since Apple announced it. Seeing what devices and manufacturers were launching. One of the things I’ve been waiting for is home security/monitoring. Finally the D-Link Omna is out.

D-Link Omna HomekitI immediately bought two. I still need an outdoor camera solution, sadly the one I have isn’t homekit friendly, nor is the app that I use to monitor it. However the Omna is NOT an outdoor camera. You could put it in a window looking out, but I’ve never had good results with that since the moment the IR lights kick in, they reflect off the window back into the camera.

So, that said, I have now addressed my “Did I leave the garage open?” problem. Usually it’s right after leaving and I just do a quick loop through our alley, but sometimes it hits me farther from home, or as happened most recently, “Did I leave that soldering iron on?”

The main need I had for in house cameras wasn’t to watch the house as much as detect motion and capture it when not home. That’s why the Living Room Cam is at the far end of the house. I don’t need to see Nicole and I watching TV in full HD, but when not home, want to see if anyone is moving around who shouldn’t be. i.e. someone tall enough to be seen, and not my dogs. I think it’ll be a killer feature to set a rule like “When I’m not home, if the front door opens, start recording and alert me” Thanks to the Schlage smart lock which is also HomeKit capable, that’s possible (ish, depending on Apple’s automation piece).

Setup

Setup Is easy, HomeKit tech may have a semi-premium price tag, but set up alone makes up for it. From the Omna app, you add your camera(s). The app gets them on the network, adds them to your HomeKit “Home” in the room you want. D-Link Omna setup

Once that’s done, you really don’t use their app much. THere’s a few settings you set, but after that, short of checking for firmware updates, there’s no need for the app (Into the ‘Home’ folder you go)

The motion capture is pretty basic, which I hope is just a rev 1.0 thing. Once you add an SD card you’re able to configure recording thresholds, capture areas, etc. You can’t view the captured video in the Home app, so you need to keep the Omna app around for that. You also can’t control motion detection triggers in the Home app automation section.

Ideally I’d like to set up capture rules around capture when I’m not home, or certain times of day, etc. I don’ need my Home to turn on lights when there’s motion in the garage at noon, and it’s me, but at midnight that might not be a bad thing, whether I’m home or not. Like I said, hopefully this is just a rev 1.0 thing.

 

Usage

The cameras support two-way audio, though other than spooking Nicole I can’t imagine a use. I’m sure if I talked to the dogs, they’d lose their minds and destroy something looking for us. I’m sure it’s a handy feature, but not one I really care about.

D-Link Omna viewThe Wide angle lens is really as it gives you a more or less full view of the space. As I play with these cameras, I may experiment with putting them in the middle of our rather long townhouse floor, to see if I can still capture the entire space.

 

HomeKit

Overall so far I’m really happy, but for the most part, if I never have to look at them, that’s good, since that means someone or something set them off when I wasn’t around, LOL.

As more and more devices are released (This seems like a big year for HomeKit based on the last CES) the HomeKit ecosystem will get more and more awesome. I hope Apple keeps up with improving the base HomeKit app/API so users can get creative with the automation tools.

Jarvis Standing Desk Review

I’ve had a standing desk for a while now, I have had one at Uncubed for years, but when Nicole and I decided to redo our home office (we both primarily work from home) I wanted us both to get standing desks.  In the way back it was easy, Geek Desk was more or less the only/main game in town.

Now however, there’s no shortage of options, and opinions :)

As we do now, I started by asking around on Twitter and Facebook. Many chimed in with what they use, or what they’re looking at for themselves. Rarely did anyone recommend the same thing as anyone else, until (IIRC) two people mentioned the Jarvis.

Then someone pointed me to this awesome blog post. Which quite literally saved me a good couple weeks, by doing most of the research I would’ve done. Dave’s post is immensely thorough. The only thing missing was IKEA’s entry into the game, which didn’t matter as it was out of the running for me, based on the size of the table top.

Fitting one standing desk in a home office is easy, two adds some complexity. Table top size, how close we’d want our desks (if they were going to be side by side), etc. is a big deal, as is leaving enough room after two desks are in it, for us and our dogs, and the various other things that go in the office.

After reading Dave’s post, and knowing my experiences with Geekdesks at my office (which I liked, but were still a pretty hefty price, and basic), we went with the Jarvis. The Bamboo top has actually been a Wirecutter favorite for several years, and ranked high in Dave’s own research. We didn’t get the bamboo because neither of us like wood grain as a look.

Jarvis basic desk controlsThe nice thing with Ergodepot (now Fully) is that you pick and choose what you want, including grommet placement. Nicole wanted a grommet in one place, I opted for another, so it was nice neither of us was getting a one size fits all standing desk. Beyond that you can choose from regular controls or the fancier memory ones, can add all manner of things to the desk. We went pretty bare bones.

One thing I like a lot, is that the controls (Up/Down) are lit. and the control is slightly angled. It’s just more visually appealing than geek desk controls.

For those interested, specifically we got for our standing desks:

My Jarvis standing deskJarvis 48″ x 30″ rectangle graphite top, black frame.

Grommet in the center for me, left corner for her (looks like that’s no longer an option which likely addresses my one CON). Now you can choose two grommets (left and right corner) or no grommets.

I already had some extra IKEA under desk stuff holders, so opted to not get the cable management option. Ditto pencil trays, lamps, etc.

Standard up/down switch. Memory seems nice, but it’s not that hard to do, so….

The one thing that drove me a bit batty, was the wait. I’m just not that patient when ordering things (Thanks Amazon). From order to ship, the frame was the next day, the table top was a week later, via UPS ground, which added another week. The delay likely due to the (no longer an option) grommet placement.

 

If I were in the market right now for a standing desk, I’d buy a Jarvis in a heartbeat. Nicole and I both love ours.

Apple Carplay is so close

For my birthday i got a Pioneer head unit that brought carplay to my car.

It’s nice, it really is, but there’s much room for improvement. SO. MUCH. In fact this post was started months ago and now having lived through a few OS releases, my opinion is less.

I’m beginning to wonder if CarPlay is an AppleTV like hobby that will live on in a meh state for years.

What’s awesome:

better siri integration. I was already happy with shouting “Hey siri” over the radio, sometimes two or three times. Now there’s a dedicated mic that listens way better than the mic on the phone where ever the phone might be, and can silence the radio, pause podcasts and streaming music, it’s definitely better.

Pandora, iheartradio, and other sources of music. This isn’t carplay exclusive, but for me, the car was too old for anything more than taking calls over Bluetooth, so now I’m not limited to radio, and it’s liberating! Now if only the apps worked. I upgraded my TuneIn account then promptly wasted 7 months of paying when TuneIn vanished from CarPlay. It’s back, but pretty much sucks. I can’t access favorites, so have to listen to a station on device, so it’s in the “recents” list. iheartradio and Pandora both work much better.

Podcasts and audiobooks. Also not exactly exclusive to carplay, but i detest dongles and other extraneous connectors, so i never had access to either in the car, until now. I’ve removed (thanks to iOS 10.something) the audiobooks app because I prefer to read books, not listen to them, but my podcast consumption has increased now thanks to CarPlay. Our next cross country road trip will be tremendously more entertaining and informative.

img_0429Maps (also a what’s not awesome). The view isn’t very rich, and well apple maps is kind of meh, but nav is nice and the directions and such are adequate.

What’s not awesome:

Maps. Why on earth Apple Devs think this makes sense is lost on me. About 50% of the time, the maps app launches with the “follow me” option off, so the next time I glance at the screen, my arrow is nowhere to be seen. THere are so many seemingly obvious solutions to this.

  1. default always to “in CarPlay, set to track user”
  2. whenever the car starts moving, flip back to “track user” mode.

I get that sometimes you want to pan the map around, but when driving, I feel like it’s a safe bet I want to see the map following me.

Well in this case, being limited to maps. I love Waze. I’ve been using it since it launched. It’s a great app, crowdsourced data is amazing (especially road hazards and police). Apple pulls waze data in, but not all of it, mostly just traffic/congestion data.

Apparently waze doesn’t care about losing carplay users, since when asked about carplay, this was the response.

Well it was fun, but I’m not going to use an app when now my head unit can take care of it. Heck the iPhone mount on the dash is already gone. Thanks for all the fish Waze.

Apps, or lack thereof. There’s just not many, and that’s a bummer. I don’t want angry birds, but it’s a shame apple isn’t encouraging communication, music, etc apps to all roll a carplay add on in. Dash would be a great example of an app that would make sense on CarPlay. Nowhere to to be seen.

I know carplay is still relatively young, most makers are only now in model year ’16/’17 including OEM support, but I worry Apple will do what they often do with things that require third parrot support; build it, expect others to just adopt it, and watch it flounder.

Carplay is ok right now, not amazing, not terrible. I like my new headhunt (Thanks Tom!) but there’s so much more potential. If someone were to ask me if the upgrade was worth it, my answer right now would be, “not really”. A new car with CarPlay, sure, but going to the trouble of an aftermarket upgrade, I’d wait unless the head unit is cheap.

It definitely did give my car new life. I can connect over bluetooth (not at the same time as being wired) and play music, make calls, etc. More than one person can connect, which is nice, but for the costs involved, the gains aren’t that amazing.

I’m Slowly Adding HomeKit Automation to our Whole House

With HomeKit finally being pretty robust, and widely supported I’ve slowly started adding automation to the house. It started with replacing our Nest with an Ecobee, which has been awesome! Then recently I added a iDevices Outdoor Switch to the rooftop. We’ve got some nice patio lighting up there, that I hate plugging and unplugging. I used to just leave it on all the time, which is kinda wasteful during the day, but easier then going over to the plug and fiddling with the cover to turn it all on, etc. (yes, laziness rules the day)

img_0093With the Outdoor Switch not only can I just tell Siri to turn on or off the ‘rooftop lighting’, but also now the lights are on a schedule; sundown, on, 10pm off. Definitely makes it easy and more energy efficient.

The setup wasn’t super smooth. There’s an app from iDevices you use to get everything connected, and that’s a bit finicky. You have to make sure the device is in wifi range, the phone is on the wifi you want to connect (2.4gHz only of course) etc. but once set up, it’s pretty straight forward, and then you can just use the Home app in iOS 10.

I changed my wifi password and that caused some havoc. About an hour later and many many cryptic errors, i was able to reconnect the switch. I basically (YMMV) had to completely remove it from my “home” and erase it’s existence, then fuss with the iDevices app a few times to get it back to connected, then all was good. I’m not sure there’s a better way than that either, which is a bummer.

If you’re looking to upgrade your outdoor lighting controls, etc, especially with holiday light season coming, I can’t recommend the iDevices switch any more highly! Set up hurdles aside once it’s set up, it’s great and reliable.

I gave in, Trying Bluetooth Headphones again

I had a pair of bluetooth headphones ages ago… It’s hard to remember how long but It was around the time of the iPod Photo/color. That’s what I used them with in fact.

They sucked.

Comfort was not high on their list of things to be, they weren’t very comfortable, in fact they hurt to wear for more than 2 hours or so.

Knowing what’s going in it kind of a big deal to me, they were a PITA to charge, or rather to know when to charge. There was some combo of light color and blink rate that would tell you the status of them; connected, battery low, etc.

The finally fell apart about a year into owning them. I never replaced them.

2016

Well whether I want to or not Apple is forcing my jumping back into the bluetooth headset pool. I didn’t have to rush, they kindly offered what’s likely to be the first of many Lightning to 3.5mm adapters I’ll own (I’ve already nearly lost mine more than once). That said, while the adapter is nice, it’s already frustrating. “Where is it?”, “Did i leave it at the office?” etc.

I have some nice headphones a friend bought me, so those will likely warrant keeping the adapter around, but for runs, I’m convinced I’d rather not deal with the hassle of the adapter, and honestly no cords would be nice.

So, what did I get?

I picked up a pair of Plantronics Bluetooth Headphones, they had high marks on amazon, better than many more well known makers. Plus it’s Plantronics, while not a sexy brand, they’re no slouch in wired and wireless headsets market, so I figured they know what they’re doing. The long battery life they claimed was also a nice feature.

For regular workouts I’ve always used an iPod shuffle (I even found one in the street, when mine started to die, yay me!) but I think with a nice pair of Bluetooth Headphones I’ll likely just use my iPhone for workout music. One less device to sync, and charge.

So, the review

img_0095Ok so this morning was my first run with this headphones. Here’s my thoughts.

The packaging was lovely; very nicely done and easy to open.

Once you get the headphones connected (quite easy, paired on the first try) you’re asking to download an app. I’m not a huge fan of apps for single uses, etc but this one is well done for what it is.

There was a firmware update, which this app handled and got me up and running. It’s now in my “useless ?” folder for things I need for very limited purposes. I’ll probably never need this app unless they update it and it has a new firmware. Oh well.

Thought this was just a useless carrying case

Thought this was just a useless carrying case

The headphones come nicely bundled in what looks like a weird sorta pointless carrying case. It was just the headphones, and a USB cord for charging.

But then i noticed what looked like an armband INSIDE the case. A few minute of fiddling with it and BOOM!

Handy little phone holder

Handy little phone holder

An armband!

I don’t know if I’ll use it as I prefer my phone on my fore arm, and I prefer to see the screen, use the onscreen controls.

Though it could be a nice pouch for storing things, we’ll see, pretty sweet idea Plantronics.

 

In Use

My first run felt weird, I’m so used to a cord flapping around and getting tangled on my hand, it was a bit disconcerting at first. That said I got used to it fast, and it’s nice.

The headphones have plenty of volume, but you can hear cars coming and such, which is great obviously if you’re running somewhere with cars. I’m a fan of not losing situational awareness.

Sound quality is ok. I’m going to have to experiment with where my phone is (was on the inside of my fore arm this time). Other than the occassional burp of static, the audio was clear. On some songs it was hard to tell if it was the song or the headphones. Not a deal breaker and possibly just situational until i find the right arrangement. Certainly I wouldn’t want that while I work, but as these are for runs and work outs, it’s not really an issue.

Not that I expected to, but I was pleased I never once lost connectivity, and even with the random crackle, it was never more than a second, and never interrupted the music or anything.

The headphones themselves, have some nice features. The voice prompt is to be honest lovely! Power them up, “connected, X hours of listen time” is the first thing you hear. A tap of the power button gives you an update on expected listen time, and battery percentage. Very handy at the end of a work out so you don’t screw yourself the next day.

Oddly (unless I don’t know what I’m doing) the volume control is only up. Not really an issue as I like my phone accessible for skipping a track and volume anyway. The Siri integration is nice, i haven’t played a ton with that but suspect a hold of the “phone” button and i could just ask Siri to skip a track”

The buttons feel nice, it doesn’t take much pressure to trigger them, which is nice since it’s sitting in your ear and all, no need to hurt yourself.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my Plantronics Bluetooth Headphones and expect to enjoy these headphone for some time. At the price, they’re hard to beat!