Home automation chatter has picked up over the past few months, especially now that Apple and Google are throwing their respective kits into the mix. There’s a plethora of approaches to introduce automation into our homes. Whether it’s Z-Wave to disengage your door lock or Zigbee to turn on your lights, the primary method to link up all the various protocols and centralize control is via a hub that rides your home network. And that’s what we’re looking at, three sub-$100 hubs - full of promise to tie together these protocols so that all our current and future home gadgetry play nicely together.
After spending a few weeks with the Staples Connect, SmartThings, and Wink hubs, I’ve come to realize that no one hub does it all… yet. Depending on your app interface taste (UI), technical know-how, determination, and patience, you’ll experience a different reaction from each of these hubs. Like the story of the 3 bears and porridge - based on your breakfast preferences, there is one that may be just right.
To give you an idea of my “just right” hub, I prefer to have a straightforward and simple UI. It shouldn’t be flashy and confusing, but basically do three things well: easily add your connected devices, show the status of those connected devices, and have the ability to automate those device functions via rules. Seems simple enough, right? So, as you read the following sections, keep in mind my preferences. Continue Reading…
Back in 2013, Kwikset released Kevo ($219), a deadbolt created by Unikey that let users lock and unlock their doors with just their phone. This process utilizes Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE 4.0) to determine the location of your phone or a keyfob and whether or not it’s inside or outside the door. So far, the release of Kevo has only been compatible with the iPhone 4s and later because of the BTLE requirement. But according to their support page, Android development is currently underway.
Now connected door locks have been around for a while in one form or another, but Kevo was the first to incorporate Bluetooth into a standard looking door lock. There have been others such as Lockitron and Jawbone’s August, but these are still not fully released. I had originally backed Lockitron, but after waiting a year and a half for the thing to ship, I cancelled my order. The August lock is set to ship later this year.
Microsoft’s latest Lumia 930 top-end smartphone is still a Nokia for now, and shows promise as a viable competitor in the flagship smartphone battle with Apple, Samsung, HTC and Sony.
Aluminium meets glass and plastic
The Lumia 930 is another example of Nokia’s legendary hardware build quality. It’s solid, gives the impression it could take a knock or two without issue and feels nice in the hand.
An aluminium band around the outside meets Gorilla Glass on the front and a quality soft touch plastic on the back – in this case bright green. The screen has a sculpted edge that tapers down to the aluminium side, which feels nice to the fingers as they slide across it, but makes me worry that the main screen area could get more easily scratched if the 930 was placed on its screen.
It’s about as different as a black slab smartphone can get, and while I think it looks fresh and interesting not everyone will like the hard aluminium edges and vibrant colour scheme.
The excellent 5in full HD OLED display is vibrant, crisp and bright (although very reflective outdoors making it slightly difficult to read), but makes the 930 a big phone. Those upgrading from an iPhone 5 will feel it’s enormous, but it has a slightly smaller profile than the Samsung Galaxy S5 and other large Android phones.
Weighing 167g it’s also quite heavy compared to all the current crop of competing Android smartphones, 4g heavier than the Sony Xperia Z2, 7g heavier than the HTC One M8, 22g heavier than the Galaxy S5 and 37g heavier than the Google Nexus 5. It’s also heavier than the 139g Lumia 925 that came before it.
The Lumia 930 feels reassuringly weighty, but isn’t too heavy in the hand or pocket, although it might be too big for some.
Camera: 20-megapixel PureView camera, 1MP front-facing camera
Connectivity: LTE, Wi-Fi (n/ac), NFC, Bluetooth 4.0 with BLE and GPS
Dimensions: 137 x 71 x 9.8mm
Wireless charging built-in
One of the benefits of Windows Phone is that almost all Windows Phones feel alike in their operation. The Lumia 930 has a powerful processor, but it doesn’t feel any faster or zippier than previous models.
Multitasking is handled with aplomb and no unintentional lag was noticeable anywhere in while using the phone. Some of Windows Phone’s animations take some time to do their thing, making getting into and out of menus take a bit longer than you’d expect, but that is Microsoft’s choice on the software side.
The powerful processor does come into its own when dealing with photos and advanced affects, which are chewed through in record time.
On paper the Lumia 930 has a fairly small 2,420mAh battery compared with its size (the Galaxy S5 has a 2,800mAh cell), but the Windows Phone manages to last a good day in use with lots of email arriving throughout the day, a bit of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as a few short videos and an hour or two of listening to music.
Some other larger smartphones will make it through two days, with most benefiting from more power efficient newer processors, but the Lumia does have built-in Qi wireless charging.
With a wireless charger in the box, there is certainly some joy and convenience to be had just plonking the phone on a pad to charge at night instead of having to scrummage around for a microUSB cable in the dark.
Nokia’s battery-saving mode, which limits the number of apps that can run in the background, helps extend battery life without inhibiting functionality too badly and can be switched on automatically when battery charge is low.
Windows Phone 8.1 – the best yet
The Lumia 930 runs Microsoft’s latest Windows Phone 8.1 software, which is a big step forward to catching up to Android and the iPhone in terms of usability.
The unique cross between app icons and widgets called live tiles are great, showing at-a-glance information. Microsoft has added a proper notifications shade that pulls down from the top of the screen complete with quick settings for turning Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, flight mode and rotation lock on and off.
One particularly nice feature is that the wallpaper on the home screen slides behind the tiles, some of which are transparent giving making them look like little windows. It’s a small thing, but a nice touch.
The majority of the rest of the software works as well as Android or iOS. There aren’t any customisable keyboards, but Microsoft’s built in one is decent. With a lot of apps installed the list of all apps is rather long and tedious to navigate.
Microsoft’s worked hard to bring big-name apps to Windows Phone, and for the most part it has succeeded. Spotify, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Evernote Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are all there. I missed Pocket (the saved for later app), Marvel Unlimited and Google’s apps like Google Maps and Hangouts.
Microsoft’s apps are solid, including Office and OneDrive (the service formerly known as SkyDrive). Nokia’s Here Maps works well, with decent offline maps too, plus Nokia’s MixRadio, which is about to be spun out into a separate company, is a particular standout.
Games, on the other hand, aren’t up to par with Android or Apple’s iOS. There are some games, but the majority of the good ones aren’t available on Windows Phone yet. Microsoft might sort that out with better Xbox integration, but it hasn’t yet.
The Lumia 930 has the same 20-megapixel “Pureview” camera as the Lumia 1520 with a two-stage shutter button like a compact camera. While not quite as powerful as the 41 megapixel monster on the Lumia 1020, it is still one of the best cameras on a smartphone.
Nokia uses “supersampling” to make a 5MP image from a 20MP sensor – which removes artefacts from images – but also gives users the option of accessing the full image. Low light performance is good aided by optical image stabilisation to prevent shake blur, as is detail, saturation and colour accuracy in good light.
Nokia’s Pro Camera app is great, providing both a simple but intelligent point-and-shoot experience, as well as every option a camera phone photographer is likely to want, all clustered under an intuitive ring interface.
Nokia’s Refocus app also allows users to refocus images after taking them, just like every high-end smartphone seems to do these days.
The Lumia 930 is a high-end smartphone – the top of Microsoft’s current lineup – but costs from around £440. Officially it costs £550 direct from Microsoft, Nokia’s website has multiple listings from resellers for £440, which undercuts quite a lot of the competition including the Sony Xperia Z2, iPhone 5S and HTC One M8.
Verdict: solid for something a bit different
The Lumia 930 is the best Windows Phone yet. It looks as unique as a black slab can, is solidly built and will appeal to those looking for something a bit different. It’s even got an FM radio, which is becoming rarer these days.
Windows Phone 8.1 is the best version of Microsoft’s software to date, catching up on some features while most of the biggest apps are there, unless you’re tied into Google’s services. Some users will miss the games and other less mainstream apps, while you’ll also have to put up with coming third when it comes to app updates.
Overall, the Lumia 930 is a solid phone, but not a remarkable one. Worth buying if you’re looking for something different, but there are better smartphones around for the same amount of money.
Pros: Great camera, wireless charging, 32GB of storage, Nokia apps, solid build
Cons: Lack of games, lack of non-mainstream apps, reflective screen makes outdoor viewing more difficult
Intro A few weeks back, we put the G-Boom rugged Bluetooth speaker through its paces and concluded that it packs some impressive sound in a distinct looking package. This time around, we’re looking at the competing Ultimate Ears Boom($200) which offers some unique features not seen on the G-Boom, while shrinking the overall speaker size.
Hardware The UE Boom, by Logitech, reminds me of holding a can of Pringles, but slightly smaller and definitely less salty. The circular shape is intended to allow sound to travel 360 degrees from the speaker. On one end of the tube, there is a power button and Bluetooth pairing/switching button. The UE Boom supports Bluetooth up to 50ft and NFC pairing. I can attest to the range using my iPhone 5s and Chromebook. Having the speaker out back for a bonfire, I was easily able to move around the yard without any issues in streaming. Continue Reading…
The Slingbox M1 has arrived and, as expected, Echostar’s smallest, lowest priced placeshifter packs WiFi… along with a variety of software enhancements across the board. As General Manager Michael Hawkey tells me, they intend to significantly grow their footprint with the $150 M1 and associated marketing: “Go big or go home.” While I can’t say for sure what the “M” stands for, amidst increased competition from all corners, their goal is to move beyond road warriors and sports fanatics (often one in the same) to target mainstream, millennials, and mobility.
Like all Slingboxen, the M1 is designed to relay one’s home television content to other parts of the house or beyond… without pesky studio agreements and provider restrictions limiting us. Also, unlike TiVo’s half-assed approach, Sling’s agnostic – operating on both WiFi and cellular networks via a wide array of platforms, including Apple, Android, and computer operating systems. Further, mobile app-powered Apple TV and Roku Slingbox video endpoints are newly improved. Continue Reading…
The Wink Hub ($50) that was announced just last month is now for sale at Amazon and Home Depot. This new low cost smart controller for the home promises to be the most connected hub there is and competes directly with the newly priced Staples Connect Hub. Supporting Wifi, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Lutron’s Clear Connect protocols, there is reason to believe that statement might be true.
I was able to snag the Hub at Home Depot here in Indianapolis. My first online order was promptly cancelled with a call back to me saying that they had not received them. Not really believing the message (Home Depot stated they were in stock), I decided to drive to the store where I was able to pick up the Hub, the Spotter sensor, and a TCP Connected lighting starter kit.
Ever misplaced your keys? Or wanted to know when your luggage has arrived at the baggage claim? Maybe marked the spot where you parked the car in the mall lot?
The Elgato Smart Key aims to address all of these situations as a sensor that you either attach or place on different items for tracking. Depending on what you are looking to track, the Smart Key can notify you of certain situations that might need attention. Walk too far away from your keys, it will start to beep. Attach to your luggage and when it comes near to you at baggage claim, your phone will notify you. Continue Reading…