Category Archives: shopping

Pros and Cons of Android vs iOS Circa October 2017

(I will update this from time to time… last updated Oct 2017)

All the apps I use are really on each so no issue there. So it really comes down to silly things.
Most people seem to be locked into one or the other. I’ve used both quite a bit and am agnostic/impartial. So here are the things I’ve noticed. Things to keep in mind… an important one to me is Google Voice integration. For some it might be some camera features.

What I would buy:
iPhone SE A1662 32gb Verizon or better… SIM FREE
Moto G 4th generation / “Moto G4” unlocked

Android Pros
– I personally think the web interface of archived photos is about 1-million times better than iOS
– I love being able to press ANYWHERE on the screen to take a picture in the camera app. Easier to switch to video than in iOS
– my older 3G phone doesn’t seem to prevent tethering which is helpful when travelling (I believe this is because the OS is out of date… in this case a good thing!)
– “if this phone is lost call XXX-XXX-XXXX” msg on lock screen is trivial! So helpful! Has saved us once!
– photos are widescreen. Apple still does 4×3 type photos?!?!?!
– Google Voice integration. Being able to MAKE calls appearing as your google voice # makes it easier to switch networks/SIMs.

Android Cons
– cannot install Amazon apps without having to go thru all sorts of ridiculous stuff (because they don’t want normal Android users to compete with Fire???)
– if everyone else is on Apple… no apple messaging/facetime
– older androids had much worse security choices in apps and storage was not encrypted by default. Better starting in Android 6.0

iOS Pros
– Old phones are MUCH MUCH MUCH more supported by new updates to the OS. iOS 11 on iPhone 5S
– Much better news app
– Google knows enough about me already.
– camera is great
– slowmo mode and timelapse are great
– can still get a small phone! iPhone SE is great!
– locking out apps when driving!
– 5 presses Emergency Call feature!

iOS Cons
– Expensive to get a FULLY unlocked (CDMA/GSM) phone which will work on all 4 major networks. “SIM FREE via Apple Store”. If you just need *GSM* unlocked, I think that’s easier — like I think the iPhone SE A1662. But it’s a bit murky. Web pages explanations don’t necessarily match my experience with carriers.
– Setting up data networks is sometimes a mess. If you cannot find the proper profile file to set the APN,
you CANNOT do it manually. Also it (for me in iOS 11) failed once and I had to restore from a backup I had made in iTunes! (Yikes!)
– Getting a “if this phone is lost, call XXX-XXX-XXXX” msg on the lock screen is nearly impossible. This msg WILL appear
once you REALIZE it is lost and lock it from iCloud, but having it right on the lock screen is WAY BETTER!

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The Wirecutter needs to review Bluetooth 4.0 receivers

Not sure why they haven’t reviewed them yet. Perhaps they are too inexpensive to bother? In any case, I think the one they would choose is this one:

Brightech – BrightPlay Home HD™ Bluetooth 4.0 Music Receiver / Adapter with apt-X Technology for CD Quality Sound

My reasons:
1. Bluetooth version 4.0 (4.0 means lower energy use in mobile device)
3. 3-year satisfaction guaranteed warranty
4. 4.4/5.0 Amazon reviews rating
5. Reasonable price

Buying a separate Bluetooth receiver for your existing stereo or radio is a much better approach then buying a completely new one, just to get a built-in bluetooth receiver.

Beware. This is for a home audio system, not a car. That would be a separate review.

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using employee happiness reviews in choosing one product over another

Let’s say you are on the fence about which product or service to buy.

–One consideration is the environmental track record of the company as a whole.

–Another is to consider the makeup of the individual product itself. It’s likely (for example) that the lighter product will have less impact (as a very rough rule of thumb).

–Spending less is also always good, since it frees up your money to be used in more productive ways. Choosing between a $200 phone and a $15 phone? Get the $15 one and give the $165 to your favorite non-profit/NPO/charity.

–As well, you probably can’t go wrong looking at how well they treat their employees. For instance: Virgin Mobile or Lycamobile for a cell phone prepay plan?

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Simple.TV vs Aereo — A Replacement Review

I just bought a Version 1 Simple.TV (aka STV1 or STV-1000 or “the white one”) via Amazon with “Lifetime Premier Service Included” for around $120 total.

What you will also need:
– a spot to put it such that it has ethernet and antenna access (no wifi, but one could use a powerline ethernet adapter)
– an ethernet cable long enough to reach
– a second OTA antenna
– a spare USB2 or USB3 hard drive
– a little patience
a Roku, chromecast, etc. (But you probably already have one if you’ve been using Aereo)

I only needed to buy an extra ethernet cable and for now am putting up with an old smallish HD and a less-than-ideal antenna (meaning I am not getting one of the 17 channels I should be getting) but I wanted to test things before I bought something better.

I mean, it’s not as easy as the zero set-up / zero hassle of Aereo, but it’s working well.

– no monthly fee. It will be break-even in 10 months
– quality of programs seems to be at least as good as a the aereo quality we were getting via our Roku 3.
– slightly better show guide layouts both in Roku 3 and browser

– no ABC until I get a better antenna
– not cloud… one needs a place to put the gear (and the patience for setup) and stuff can break and who has time for more junk?
– My white rev1 has only one tuner, but there is a rev2 model with 2 tuners, though I have heard it has a fan, so this is a tradeoff depending on where you need to put it
– Their scheduler for recordings doesn’t have a few nifty filters that the Aereo one had, but fingers crossed that it will improve
– My old USB drive is only 40GB so it holds 17 hours which is good, but I had 60 hours with aereo, so I might buy a $50-$60 drive like this one and then I’ll have even more than 60 hrs

I will update this in a few weeks to let you know how it’s going… whether it’s a pain, or what.

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Where did the netbooks go?

My 2014 inexpensive laptop buying advice….

Q: Dell, Acer, Asus — all used to make 7″ and 10″ netbooks. We have a great Dell netbook called the Dell Inspiron Mini 1010 from several years ago with Windows 7. It has a 10″ screen and no CD/DVD drive, but otherwise is a very functional laptop with a full-sized keyboard. Perfectly great for email and facebook and Netflix and youtube and such. Why don’t they make such things any more in 2014?

A: It seems like they do, it’s just that they call them inexpensive Ultrabooks now. For example, the Dell Inspiron 11 (Haswell/Intel Celeron 2955U based) looks great for $300.

Q: But what about a “chromebook” like the new Acer C270?

A: It’s a tradeoff. A Chromebook is much simpler, but if you are ever going to want to have the option to run actual Office apps or Steam or Minecraft or Portal, etc, etc. for video games (for example), then one has to go Ultrabook route.

Finally: One of my most important qualifications is a laptop must be dead-simple to install more RAM. Some laptops make this difficult, but with others one can do this in 3 minutes.

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Erik explains: Hulu vs HuluPlus on your TV

Q: Can I watch Hulu (free! not HuluPlus which is $8) on my TV in my living room?

A: Yes! I do this all the time with a Mac Mini. A less expensive option in 2013 is a $200 Chromebook.
So just get a:
$200 Chromebook w/ a HDMI plug
$350 Laptop w/ a HDMI plug
$550 Mac mini (which all have HDMI plugs) and a wireless keyboard and mouse

Normally you can only use HuluPlus via Roku (we love our Roku for Netflix!), AppleTV and other streaming services. But HuluPlus is a paid monthly subscription, whereas Hulu is free. As are most “recent episode” archives at the websites of the major networks — ABC/CBS/NBC/etc.

HuluPlus advantages:
– Of course, do the math… a $200 chromebook is 25 months of $8/month HuluPlus. And a Roku is very easy/handy vs it is a bit of a pain to use a laptop w/ one’s TV.
– more episodes
– HD (Hulu is not usually HD)

Hulu vs Chromebook. Chromebook allows:
– flash games
– web/facebook/email/twitter
– google docs / office-like apps
– use it in a different room than the TV occasionally

(Even better than a Chromebook… but more expensive/heavier/slower to start)
Hulu vs $350 laptop w/ HDMI. A laptop additionally a laptop allows:
– games/Steam
– real Microsoft Office apps

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Ooma Review

Thinking about dropping your traditional phone service for an IP-based phone? Look no further. Buy an OOMA TELO immediately and decision made!

OOMA TELO on Are those enough 5-star reviews for you?

All you pay after the initial purchase is some ~$4 telecommunications fees you already pay on your “normal” telephone bill.

People seem to be confused about this. But it couldn’t be easier. Just make sure your old phone system is unplugged from the street or Cable or FIOS or whatever it was connected to. And then plug the OOMA “to phone” line into a jack in your house and voila, every jack in your house now has phone.

Our Ooma (actually, we have 2… I also use a separate one for my home office phone number) have worked almost perfectly for 4 years. There are VERY occasional moments where the phone will weird-out, but that is (to me) totally worth the $200+ I save each year.

If you aren’t interested in saving money, then there is probably no reason to not just keep using your normal phone.

E-911 works PERFECTLY for us. Just make sure you keep your address updated.

The voicemail app at the website is great. There is also an interesting feature where you will get an email or SMS if someone calls 911 from the phone.

So, to summarize:
– You will like it
– Only drawback is VERY occasional flakiness
– Oh, and your phone won’t work when there is a power outage unless you are able to power your internet and the ooma device. This doesn’t bother me at all because 1) we hardly ever lose power and 2) if we do we can use a cell phone.

Some random advantages:
– 7-digit dialing local dialing. But you can enter 10 or 11. No confusion.
– no “1” needed for long distance calls. But you can!
– VERY cheap international calling via prepaid minutes at their website.
– You can bring your phone number with you. Just take the ooma on vacation and plug it in to the ethernet/wifi.
– I’ve personally had very good luck with their technical support when things have been glitchty.


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low-flow showerheads review

Over at the wirecutter they write in their article about showerheads: “If you go less than 1.5 gpm you’re going to have to spend so much time in the shower rinsing off that you will waste more water than if you didn’t.”

That’s totally not true (in my experience). We have been very happy with our 1.0 gpm Bricor and that includes the resident with VERY LONG AND THICK hair. No complaints. At all.

It’s also probably news to the 140 people giving this 1.25 GPM showerhead (Niagara Earth Massage) a 4.5 out of 5 star rating at Amazon. It’s also a cheap experiment, since it’s less than $10.

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REVIEW: LEGO CREATOR 3-in-1 brings back the LEGO magic!

OK you lego-loving moms and dads…

In case you were wondering where all the cool lego sets of your youth went and find yourself explaining “when I was a kid” look no further than the LEGO CREATOR 3-in-1 sets. After being unimpressed with the overly branded sets and the overly complicate technic sets, I have found lego nirvana for me and my kids!

My 5 and 8 year olds can typically build these LEGOs together without Ma or Pa. The 5 year old can pretty much to it himself, but likes when the 8 year old helps. But totally depends on the kids. Sometimes I help because I like LEGOS too!

BTW, if you have kids younger than 5 and 8, you should run not walk over to and grab a LEGO DUPLO TRAIN — the one with the electric engine. And buy a load of switches! The advantage being that with a 2 and 5 year old, you and/or the kids can play with this together without the 2-year old choking on anything or biting/tearing all the little yellow-arms off minifigs, etc, etc.

BTW, another aside… our 5 and 8 (and I!) still often have a lot of fun with the duplo train too. DUPLO fun does definitely not stop at age 5 if you buy tons of cool long pieces at or the like.

OK, so back to the 3-in-1 creator sets…

What I find works best is to keep each set in a gallon-sized ziploc/ziplock along with the instructions. One can of course mix sets altogether, and that is of course great for totally free-wheelin’ builidng but makes building from sets a hassle — takes a long time to find individual special pieces.

And speaking of “special pieces”, I think that (along with the 3-in-1 instructions!) makes these sets great. There are very few of what I call “special pieces” — pieces that are made pretty much just for that one set. Most are typical pieces found in many different sets.

OK, here are a few of our favorites (and some wish list items) around here. Most of these should be in the sub-$20 category. There are a lot of them. Here goes!

1. LEGO Creator Construction Hauler 31005 — 18 wheeler with digger/backhoe, cherry picker, offroad transporter with dune buggy

2. LEGO Creator Highway Speedster 31006 — sports car, roadster/hot-rod, tow-truck

3. LEGO Creator Super Racer 31002 — Formula 1/F1 race car, go-kart, quad bike/ATV

4. LEGO Creator Red Rotors 31003 — twin rotor helicopter, propeller plane, twin-rotor hovercraft

5. LEGO Creator Blue Roadster 6913 – -sports car, roadster/hot-rod, jeep/off-roader

6. LEGO Creator Thunder Wings 31008 — robot, car, jet plane

7. LEGO Creator Street Rebel 7291 — motorcycle, moped, chopper

8. LEGO Creator Propeller Adventures 7292 — propeller airplane, jet, hovercraft

9. LEGO Creator Super Soarer 6912 — jet plane, helicopter, dual-hull speed boat

10. LEGO Creator Dune Hopper 5763 — dune bugger, quad bike/ATV, trike/motorcycle

11. LEGO Creator Helicopter 5866 — mountain rescue helicopter, air show bi-plane, speed boat (online instructions for 4th model: high-speed swamp boat)

12. LEGO Creator Fierce Flyer 31004 — animals! eagle, scorpion, beaver

13. LEGO Creator Power Mech 31007 — robot, helicopter, pickup truck

Any I am missing? There are some more expensive ones too, but I prefer these cheaper ones. The more expensive ones get to be a bit much for my kids. And older kids I think would prefer Technic or Mindstorms. Most of these are pretty recent (circa 2012 or 2013) and should be available at Amazon. Just watch for price-gouging. If stock is low, stay away from the sellers looking for prices above MSRP.

You might be asking… how many different sets can LEGO make with a car, helipcopter, plane, ATV, hovercraft. One of every color perhaps? The tricky thing is that they don’t label the sets all that clearly. A helicopter can also just have “Rotor” or “Copter” in the name, or might not mention any of this at all if it is one of the alternate 2 designs.

See also:
REVIEW: Magna-tiles vs magformers

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Just say IPad Mini? (2012 Holiday / XMas Tablet Shopping Guide)

When the IPad Mini was released, the first review I read was negative, but it seems like many prefer the Mini to the fullsize. I think it really depends on your needs. I already have a 10″ Android tablet that gets used around the house primarily for Youtube and Netflix and games. No need for another tablet here. But if I commuted daily on the train, I could see it being useful to have an LTE IPad Mini or Nexus 7.

Preference: Apple IPad Mini
(Pros – LTE available, Price, weight, size=>easier to fit in purses, jacket pockets, etc)



The Wirecutter

NY Times

Preference: Apple IPad “3” (and current “4” w/ faster A6X Graphics)
(Pros — LTE and Retina Screen)

Dave Winer/Scripting News/Gizmodo,
article 2

Background on the Apple IPad Mini

Vs Androd / Nexus 7 / Amazon Fire HD (Pros – price!)

Apple displays are better color wise but the Android 7″ displays hae higher resolution

Bottom line

Overall? IPad Mini or Android 7″ tablet (Google Nexus 7, Amazon Fire HD). I think this really comes down to whether you know there are Apple/iOS only apps or games you want/need. If not, you might be happier with Android because of price and screen resolution.

Price? Android 7″ tablet (Google Nexus 7, Amazon Fire HD)

Games? Apps? IPad Mini

Eyesight/reading? IPad 4 or 7″ Android tablets (all are “Retina”)

Second iPad: IPad Mini

School/Work: Apple Macbook Air / Thinkpad T430 or Dell Laptop!

Wait for Retina IPad Mini? This will take quite a while. Don’t wait.

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