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Fitbit Force… sorry Fitbit Charge HR Review September 21, 2015

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Technology.
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fitbit-forceFitbit has become a leader in the digital pedometer movement. Of course, they more than measure steps since it can count flights of stairs, calculate miles and calculates calories. Fitbit had started with simple clip-on fitness trackers and then added wrist bands. The Fitbit Flex is a basic tracker that gets inserted into a band. It came out in mid-2013. It does have limited functionality, which is why I had want to get the Fitbit Force.
The Force came out about the same time but at higher price point. But with the extra cost came the promise of more features. The Force showed the time, whereas the Flex only showed 4-5 bars to demonstrate progress against the daily goal. Once the data was synced to the Fitbit website, the details were viewable in a phone app, but the Force also showed the actual steps taken, floors, and calories burned on the small LED screen.
The Force, from my perspective was a big step up from the Flex. In addition to the display advancement, it also offered the eventual promise of call notifications. Via the bluetooth connection, you would be able to sync the data to higher-end phones and with that, came the possibility of call notifications from the phone back to the wristband. But alas, the Force was recalled before this call notification would be realized… sort of.
Once they released the Charge series of devices in late 2013, they upgraded the firmware (software running on the device) and my Fitbit Force suddenly received call notifications. This was huge for me, since I often missed calls when my phone was on silent, vibrate or not on my personal. It was big relief to get this functionality since it was a big reason I had moved up to the Force in the first place. (I asked for it as a gift for Christmas 2013).
After using it for over a year, I started this review in February 2015 to highlight the Fitbit Force. However, in February of 2014, Fitbit opened a voluntary recall of all Fitbit Force wristband devices – only a couple of months after I got it. The Force had been recalled due to some users experiencing a rash under the wrist band.I did not have this reaction and continued to use the band for over a year after the recall. However, Fitbit offered the recall to all users regardless of if the user experienced this problem. Since the next generation, the Charge series, was only available in limited qualities (especially through the Christmas rush), I had held off on turning mine in. Shortly after I started this review though, I decided to turn in my Force and upgrade it to a Fitbit Charge HR once the product was more readily available online and at stores.
fitbitchargeThe recall process took about 6 weeks to submit my Force and get a refund. But the refund fully paid for (and some) the purchase of the my new Charge HR since I was a return customer. it felt like forever though to get my new device. I decided to go with the HR, instead of the base model Charge because I am a numbers freak. I love getting more information about my workouts. With the Charge HR, I could have immediate feedback about how hard my body was working and how well I was recovering.
The biggest downside of this instant feedback though is the battery life. While the Force could go a full two weeks, as promised by Fitbit, the Charge HR can only make it 5 days according to Fitbit. After 5 months of use, I can confirm this is accurate. It is disappointing, but it is workable. I set up the charging cord in my car and I charge my Charge HR during my 45 minute commute. It typically takes 90 minutes to charge, I charge it both ways and I am good to go for another 5 days.
While going from 14 days to 5 days of battery life is depressing, I think the re-design of the wristband made up for this weakness. The Force had a simple double male-female locking system on the band. It did not hold very well and if bumped or pulled in a certain way, the band would fall off. On several occasions, I lost my Force. It came off while taking my shirt of or when I was working in the yard. I was constantly concerned with it coming off. However, the Charge HR designed included a more standard and proven method like any belt. It holds solidly and I have never feel like it will come off, though I do still find myself checking my wrist once in awhile as a remnant of past experiences. In other words, I barely notice it is there.
Some day, I will write a review of the web site and smartphone app, but since it is constantly changing, it is hard to pin down. The app is great – I think better than the website. It displays all tracked information and allows for creating goals and challenges with friends. Since the device tracks sleep automatically, it is a great way to see if you are getting enough. It also allows you to zoom in on activities, as long as you remember to start and stop the timer during the run or activity. I like being able to see how my heart rate tracks throughout a run.
My suggestion is if you are looking to step up your game with fitness trackers, definitely consider the Fitbit Charge HR.
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What do you track? August 8, 2013

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Before Google Glass came out, people started strapping cameras to their chest and recording their lives. They took pictures of the places they went and the people that talked to. Day after day, year after year…. with the cloud and the low cost of storage it has become very easy to record our lives.

I think I started tracking my life a long time ago. I used to track what I spent, earned and saving in little notebooks. Most people think I was crazy, but now millions of people do not think twice about tracking their finances online using Mint or other online banking tools. I, for one, love Mint.com. Years before the FitBit came out, my wife and I tracked our steps and activity levels using something called a SportBrain. It was one the first electronic pedometers that allowed you view your progress online. Now, we have the FitBit, Nike Fuel Bands, and the JawBone Up all tracking people movement.

Now that I have gone over to the dark side as a smartphone owner, I have started recording more and more different things. I like to think I am maximizing the usefulness of my phone. It is a small computer that is always with me. And it is capable of just about anything. So what do you track?

Here is a little taste of my list:
Gas fill-ups – I have over 50, 000 miles on my current car (ok, it was 52, 909.5 when I filled ip this morning) and I can tell you that I average 21.7 MPG and the average price per gallon has been $3.41. I also try to track the maintenance costs so I know what the total cost of ownership is.
Running – this is a more obvious one since most people/runners do it. I used to use Garmin watches, but recently switched to the Nike+ and Runkeeper apps on my phone (although Nike needs to resolve a problem with the app since it crashes and is useless since the last update!)
Sleep – this is a new one for me. I have been trying out this Sleep as Android app that tracks sleep patterns and tries to wake you up at the right time. I am not sure it works that well for that, but it does tell me I need to get to bed earlier and how restfully I have been sleeping.
Money – since I have done this since I was little this seems like an obvious one to me. Mint is a great tool that will let you track and categorize all your spending and income. It is also help when looking up expenses for taxes or other reasons.
Days Since… things I need to remember. Like when was the last time I put salt in the water softener. When was the last time I gave blood (Today). How about when my phone contract comes due. Easy. This app keeps this list sorted and serves as a good reminder of when things need to get done… yes, my “weekly” WordPress post is 4 days over due.

So what do you track? What do you need to track?

Favorite Video Podcasts July 11, 2013

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Video podcasts. It is a tough medium, I think. With audio, you can start with a TV show or you can just talk. But to make a good video podcast, it requires a lot more effort and editing. I think there are probably a lot of good ones out there, but here are a few of my favorites.

imgres-1The first and most obvious one has to be TED Talks. If you have already seen a few of these talked which I often repost here, you will know why. If you have never seen a TED Talk, you need to climb out from your rock and open your mind to the variety of 18 or less minutes speeches and presentations that are designed to entertain, enlighten and engage. You can find my favorite, reposted talks HERE. (Even though I may repost a higher percentage of them, not all the talks are about politics. They are often the most thought provoking in today’s divided world.)

imgresAnd on the other end of the spectrum, is a podcast called The Apple Byte with Brian Tong as the host. Primarily focused on the world of Apple products, the show covers what is going on in the consumer technology sector including rumors or even mistakes that Apple is dealing with. It has some good insights and the host is a pretty entertaining character. I also have to give props to Brian’s other show which should on this list too. Prizefight pits two of the top gadgets in different categories and they get reviewed side by side. This a good show to check out if you are looking to buy a new toy.

imgres-2Tekzilla has gone from a show to a franchise. There are various different shows under the Tekzilla and Revision 3 umbrella, but I seem to be stuck watching the main show. It offers great variety of coverage of news and questions from listeners. It discusses do it yourself projects, reviews and how to make the most of your technology. The three primary hosts include Veronica Belmont, Robert Heron and Patrick Norton. One challenge I have for you if you decide to watch this one is to try not counting the number of times Patrick says, “It is kinda funny (or interesting), right.” Good luck!

hsw_pos-257x45Are you a conspiracy theorist? I am not, but I often wonder if we are always getting all the information from our media sources. There is so much out there on the Internet. Many ideas and many crazy people. I don’t have time to research and look into every crazy idea out there, but the Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know is video podcast provides interesting insights and introductions into the conspiracy theories that are out there. They cover things like UFOs, the NSA, and The Free Masons.

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imgres-3And for my last recommendation, I have to give a tie, but not because these two are equally good. It is because they are the same. For anyone that remembers the Seinfeld episode where they were casting the stars for the show they were trying to pilot, you will get this “joke”. Originally, there was a site called Engadget run by three brilliant hip technologists. They had a some disagreements with their new parent company and decided to go out on their own and start a similar site called the Verge. They started their own tech journalism site along with a regular show called On The Verge. Well, The Engadget Show lives on but they had to cast copied, literally copied down the host with the same beard, the same team. The shows seem to be released on the same schedule and often cover similar topics, but in much different ways. Both are good and fun to watch and provide lots of good insight into the technology and gadget world.

Favorite Audio Podcasts July 9, 2013

Posted by shwaldman in Politics, Society, Technology, Work.
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There is so much good content online. You could read, watch and listen to anything and everything at any time. I have a hour long drive to work and from work. Rather than just listen to talking heads or bad radio, I download and listen to content as often as I can. I also listen when I work in the yard or exercise, but I still have growing library of information that seems to multiply everyday on my computer.

Here are a few of my favorites. Like I said, there are many more, so if you have one that I haven’t listed, please let me know.

lifehacker Lifehacker. They have a great web site and once a week, they release an hour long podcast that covers the latest news, hints and listener questions. If you are looking for a way to improve your life in any way, through technology or not, you definitely need to check out their website and if you like that, these guys are fun to listen to each week. I usually come away with at least two things I want to implement into my life.

pti_300PTI (Pardon The Interruption) is an ESPN show with Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser. They are classic sports journalists who can speak to any sport and do. They cover all the latest news and action highlights and bring in often touch on hidden gems. They only down side is that this is an audio recording of a TV show, so they will reference videos or images you can’t see. I wish they would make this a video podcast and it would make my other (next) list.

krys_boyd_150NPR has some amazing content. I listen to several compilation podcasts that pull in stories of my favorite categories, like Economy, Education and Technology. But my pick for this list is a little known show from an NPR station in Dallas, TX. They run two one hour interviews shows every weekday and each one is usually very interesting. The host, Chris Boyd, is one of the best interviewers, always incredibly prepared and offering thought provoking questions for a great conversation with the interviewer. This show lives up to its name, THINK! I have a couple more blog post coming from recent shows that I listened to – unfortunately, I am about 8 months behind in my listening!

mzl.xvsnrnou.170x170-75On CNN, Fareed Zakaria has a great global news coverage show called GPS, Global Public Square. It is another show converted to an audio podcast, but I find very little if anything is lost in this change. Fareed is another excellent interviewer and very well informed journalist and he can open eyes to the global situations that affect us all. I highly recommend this one if you are looking for a global perspective and how activities across the world affect Americans.

sidebar_book_drive_pDaniel Pink is a well-known author of business, management and work environment books. He started with Free Agent Nation in 2001 and his most recent book is called To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth about Moving Others. But I think he is best known for the best seller Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us from 2009. Pink’s podcast is call Office Hours. It is a casual interview/conversation with other authors and professionals in the field of organizational development and behaviors. While I don’t always agree with the accuracy of this assumptions, it often gives me something to think about how I operate in life and at work.

Favorite App Honorable Mention July 6, 2013

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I was remiss in not adding a sixth app to the list on my last post. I only found out about this app last week from Lifehacker. But this one isn’t really an app. It is more of a GUI (graphical user interface) over haul.

Many of the Android phone have slightly different GUIs that are installed by the cell phone manufacturer or the cellular service provider. I believe my phone has Touch Wiz which is good enough. It is fast and easy to use.

But at the suggestion of the editors at Lifehacker on their weekly podcast a few weeks ago I installed Nova Launcher. It is just as fast, but it does a few things better. First is that the home screens rotate and the widgets adjust accordingly.

Next, with Touch Wiz, you are limited to six home screens and as you cycle through them it stops at the end. But with Nova Launcher, the screens cycle around in a circle. I also like the way it actually looks like a box with corners as you change screens.

And finally, while this seems like such a minor nitpicky thing, it doea group better. With Touch Wiz you can only see one or two items in a group while it is closed. But with this GUI, you can see at least four or five. It makes groups much more worthwhile.

I highly recommend this app to anyone running Jelly Bean.

Favorite Android Apps June 18, 2013

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I moved from iOS to Android in December. I pulled a lot of my same apps from Apple iPod Touch to Samsung phone. But there were some things that are differently and needed Android-specific functions. I suppose this isn’t just a review of Android apps, but I am pretty sure some of them run better or have different functionality because of the different features on Google operating system (like flash support).

So what are my top favorite apps I go to on a regular basis? What I need on my phone are apps that I can use and make my life easier. I have not figured out how to incorporate Evernote and other all-encompassing productivity apps like it into my work flow. But have lots of apps that have unique and valuable features, all available in the Google Play Store. I am not going to bother to cover the core Google Apps. And I am use going to list them as I see or think about them, not in any particular order.

playerpro PlayerPro – This is a great audio player. It costs $4.95 and I don’t like paying for things I don’t have to! It is worth the money. It has all the features I was looking for. It an equalizer, though I don’t use it much. It has a Sleep Timer, which I use all the time. it can be setup to appear on the locked home screen and/or in the notification bar (or not). Many different skins are available (though I just use the default). It handles playlist and allows creation/modification very easily. And it auto-creation recently played and recently added which I find helpful. The one small feature I would like them to add some timer indicator once you start the sleep timer. It also does not do a great job with videos, but I stick it audio use and love it. It could also use a x2 playback mode, but I don’t miss it too much.

airsync Air Sync for Double Twist – Coming from iOS which I used with my MacBook and iTunes, I needed something that would automate getting my files to my device. After a few syncing issues, I have been using this app with very little effort. Once configured, it just works (as long as the DoubleTwist app is running on my laptop). It is a little annoying that it needs to have the screen active during the sync and doesn’t know what to do when I accidentally hit the screen shutoff button during a sync, but very minor issue. It automatically pulls all my smart playlists from iTunes and transfers the selected ones to my phone. It works well and have only had one or two videos that would not transcode correctly. The other thing that is disappointing is that it will not (yet) sync play count back to iTunes. They say it is coming, but I am not sure it would work if I am using PlayerPro rather than the DoubleTwist audio player anyway. It costs $4.99 and is worth every penny not to have to plug my phone into my computer (ever)!

sdrescan The next app was not something I knew I would need when I moved to Android. I knew for months I would need DoubleTwist. But after a few syncs and not seeing my content, I did some research online. It turns out that the Android OS did not know I was adding content through the Sync. So, the amazing problem solvers of the web created apps like SDrescan. It has a simple function to just check my SD card for content and reindex it for the OS and it only takes a couple of seconds on a 64 GB (half full) card. Simply and it works. Free. The only drawback is that you have to hit a button to close the app when it is done its work, but it is also nice to know when it was done.

tasker The one big thing I did like about iOS and Apple in general is how locked down they are. I get they are trying to protect the average user, but for people who want to take control of their devices, Android is the place to be. And the app that truly takes that responsibility is Tasker. Tasker runs in the background and makes your device do what you say when you want it – without having to do anything! Once you configure your phone to do something when something happens, it just does it. For example, this is what I use it for:
a) At 10pm, put all external sound to quiet.
b) When connected to my home network, turn off Mobile data.
c) When I leave my home network, turn mobile data and bluetooth back on and turn off wi-fi.
d) I have run SDrescan every morning so I know anything came to my phone via AirSync will show up.
It costs $2.99, but it makes phone automation very handy and easy.

rr3 The absolute Best Car Racing Game – and it is free – has to be Real Racing 3. It has incredible graphics and life-like physics. It provides different camera angles and all of them make you fee like you are there. Simply amazing. They have tons of actual car models that you buy for game money that you earn from each race. You also have to fix your car based on the damage you have done during the races. Race clean and have less repairs. It has multiplayer but it is only in time-shifted against Facebook friends or other random users. I wish you could connect over wi-fi or bluetooth and race friends, but that is the only gripe. I can not understand how this one is free.
Update: At the beginning of July, EA overhauled this game interface. The game play itself did not change, nor did existing progress in the game. But requirements around repairing vehicles has been simplified and a set of time trial races have been added to each race series – which has the effect of lowering progress percent across all series temporarily. I like this new race mode since it gives a better sense how you compare as a driver across the world.

So, that is my top 5. I use others and when I get to it, I will definitely do another post, but I have been meaning to get this one out, so I hope people read and enjoy.

Android Jelly Bean 4.1.1 running on a Galaxy Note II April 28, 2013

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Android on Galaxy

When the original Galaxy Note came out in October 2011, I was very interested. It almost had all the features and functions that got me to switch to the dark side of smartphone data plans. But it wasn’t quite there yet. The stylus did not get great reviews. The screen size was big and ready for the uses it was designed for, but the software was not. The Android operating system was at 2.3, Gingerbread. And there was a lot it did right, but it did not measure up to the stability, features and applications available on Apple’s iOS. I have heard many of the tech pundits recognize the Jelly Bean is the turning point.

A year later, it was a amazing how much had changed. Moore’s Law says that technology doubles every 18 months and I think this was very evident in both the hardware and the software. The Galaxy Note II is a far superior device. It is ready for prime time. Here is why:

The cool factor on all the features of this phone make it hard to summarize, so I will try to list all the things I am enjoying.

1) How to do a screen capture? Run the side of your hand across the screen like a karate chop.
2) Many of the native applications (Email, Gallery, Browser, Messaging, Polaris Office, S Note, and Video Player) can be resized into a multi-window feature to operate multiple applications at once. And while you can combine these applications, you can also use these with any other application at the same time.
3) The S-Pen. Period. End of Sentence. Okay, so maybe more details are necessary…
a) If desired, it will pop-up the S-Pen application when you take out the pen
b) S-Pen alert will sound alarm if you walk away without the stylus
c) Handwriting recognition and it works well and can be used instead of the keyboard or just to take notes.
d) Programmable quick commands allow you to launch with a gesture
e) Sensitive to 1,024 levels of pressure.
4) MHL adapter allows you to output 1080p to any HDMI device, TV or projector.
5) Application widgets available with Android 4.1 are awesome
6) The active wall paper displaying the weather in the background of each screen is amazing. The screen shots above were taken at night, which is why the screen is dark.
7) There are several applications that I love but I think I will have to save the details for another post. My favorites are: Tasker, Player Pro, Double Twist with Air Sync, Any.Do, Waze, Real Racing 3 and of course, Pandora, Chrome, Sketchbook.

I feel like I am a paid commercial for this phone, tablet, phalet whatever you want to call it. Maybe Samsung will send me their next phone for my review. I can not wait to see how they can improve this device. I think it is near perfect already.

Next Up: My favorite Android applications

Why I love my Galaxy Note II April 27, 2013

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I am trying get back into writing these blog entries on a regular basis again. Yes, again! I am motivated and feel this urge to be creative and produce something. I am sure there a variety of reasons, but I would like to think it is in part because of this new device I started carrying around last December, the Galaxy Note II. I feel like it is designed to be:
1) A Phone
2) A Media Consumption device
3) A Creative Tool.
Galaxy Note II

It is a huge phone. It absolutely feels a little odd to talk on the phone with it. Fortunately for me, I don’t talk on the phone much and when I do, I am in the car using Ford Sync Bluetooth or talking through headphones, or my Jabra SPORT Bluetooth headphones. Call quality is fine. I am not much of an audiophile so I am not able to say whether is is good or bad, but with LTE on Verizon, I have not dropped calls or had any complaints about the phone. If I needed a phone more as a phone, this is probably not the one I would get. I think my family probably wishes I liked talking on the phone more often.

I got the Galaxy Note because I like to watch podcasts and play games on it. It has a 5.5″ screen which is a full two inches larger than the 3rd Generation Apple iPod I used before moving to the Note. It is a nearly immersive experience to play Real Racing 3 or Gameloft’s Real Soccer 2013 on the Super AMOLED 720 x 1280 pixels (~267 ppi pixel density) screen. By comparison, the iPhone 5 4-inch screen has 1136-by-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi, but I do not think the average person would consider the pixel density a significant difference when viewing the 37.5% larger screen.

And finally, the Galaxy Note II is the only major smartphone on the market that has a built in stylus. I know the infamous Steve Jobs is infamously known for saying “if you see a stylus, they blew it.” However, if you ask any creative, graphics professional, there is no way to produce quality artistic product with your finger. The screen technology and the finger are just too rudimentary to provide detailed design output. And the technology integrated into the Galaxy Note II and the stylus are simply amazing. The S-pen is a digitized stylus that has similar features to drawing tablets that professional artists use. Consider this: The first Note can sense up to 256 levels of pressure, but the Samsung Galaxy Note II can discern 1,024 – the same number as the Wacom Bamboo dedicated graphics tablets.

All this hardware makes the Galaxy Note II are great device for me. What makes it amazing are all the things you can do with this hardware because of the Android Jelly Bean 4.1.1 OS that it runs on. It has many features that amaze people that are used to all the other basic smartphones on the market. Can you name any other phone or tablet on the market that allows you to watch a video and check your email at the same time?

Next Up: Why I am loving my switch to Android.

Welcome to Android April 26, 2013

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In December, I finally took the leap. Actually, two giant steps. Step 1 was from basic feature phone with no internet and a 3rd Gen Apple iPod to a SmartPhone. It was a big step because I could not justify the extra $40 a month. I am still not sure I can justify it but I have to say it is nice always having access to, well, everything. So, Step 2, not an easy decision. I have a Mac Book Pro and have deeply embedded in iTunes with apps and constant podcast listening for the last four or five years.

AndroidVSiOS
Step 2 – iPhone 5 or one of the multitude of Android phone options? With all the apps I had used and had data with and a major addiction to my iTunes podcast subscriptions, it would have been an easy decision to go with the latest Apple phone. But, I guess I am not settling for the easy route lately. (I moved to OS X in 2009 because I wanted to experience a different OS than what I will always deal with at work.)

So, then which Device/Manufacturer? HTC, Google, Motorola, Samsung, LG? They all make great phones and in terms of hardware, they are typically outmatching Apple at every turn. How to decide? To me, since I consume so much content on my device, it was an easy decision. I went with the biggest screen of any phone on the market, the Galaxy Note II, which was released just after Thanksgiving 2012. I got the big screen and the built in stylus which, turns out is a good gimmick that I used a lot for the first couple of months, but haven’t used too much recently.

I did I make the right decision? Absolutely. I am so glad, I went with Android and the Note II. Do I think I need the $40 data plan still? I am still not sure about this. I have managed to use an average of less than half of my 2 GB data plan each month. I do love having Internet wherever I am, but after being always on at work, I don’t need to be always on outside the office and house too.

Next Up: My first four months with Android…

What Our Future Holds March 29, 2013

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Simply Put: We need to find a way to harness the power of the sun and use that energy to power the rest of our lives. This guy is putting innovation and technology to the test. Now is the time to invent the future.