Streaming stick battle heats up

A few months ago when the Google Chromecast launched, many pondered whether it would be a “Roku-killer”, (Roku being the market leader with a range of the easiest, smallest boxes available). At just $35, the Chromecast cost substantially less than the lowest-priced Roku at the time, but also offered a lot fewer content options, though they are adding new services all the time. Two key differences were the form factor (a little memory stick-sized thing as opposed to a tiny box the size of a deck of cards), and the fact that the Chromecast relies completely on your mobile device as a controller rather than having a dedicated remote.

Roku Streaming Stick available at Walmart.comWell, Roku seems to be fighting back with its own Roku Streaming Stick announced this week and expected to hit the market at the end of March at $49.

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Roundup: Top 8 connected tech items of 2013

Now that the holidays are over and everyone’s getting back into the swing of things (slowly, of course… we’re all catching up on our internet reading today it seems!), here’s a list of my favorite smart devices from the past year. If you have gift cards burning a hole in your pocket and/or have been thinking about getting a new gadget to start your new year fresh, this may spur some ideas.

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Thanksgiving family fun with the Chromecast

So I’ve written before about how much I love being able to queue up and “throw” YouTube videos to the living room TV with the Chromecast.  But over Thanksgiving weekend my visiting 17 year-old niece and I took it up a notch, with dueling phones (mine a Samsung Galaxy S4 Android phone, hers an iPhone) both adding videos to the queue at the same time to share with the rest of the family.

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Google smart watch – the future is here!

This commercial for the Samsung Galaxy Gear (which I always refer to as the “Google smartwatch” even though that’s not its real name) is one of my favorites ever.  In a nutshell it illustrates the future fantasy drilled into our brains by pop culture – from “Star Trek” to the “Knight Rider”; from Maxwell Smart to Fred Flintstone… now delivered to your very own wrist, today, fer reals. The future has arrived, and it’s somehow totally normal and yet unbelievably cool.  How can you resist, really?

So what does this thing actually do?   Continue reading

Saving Money Using Smart Technology

Life today is all about efficiency and cutting back on energy usage (and bills!), and that’s where a number of smart technologies come in. Just as the vacuum cleaner revolutionized the households of the twentieth century, smart apps can cut costs and time for the households of the twenty-first century. But where do you start?

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Hands on with the Chromecast

I’ve been living with the Google Chromecast for a few weeks now, and love it. Touted as the easiest, least expensive way to get online streaming to your living room TV, this little $35 device plugs directly into the HDMI outlet in your TV, and comes with connectors to get power either via the USB port on your TV or into wall outlet. Some have called it a Roku-killer, though I’m less certain I would go quite that far.Chromecast pop up

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Tips to get the most out of your personal assistant app

A few years back, you may remember the AT&T commercial featuring a large blonde Swedish guy in a bulky woolen sweater named Sven who acted as a family’s personal assistant, letting them know the weather, advising them on their schedules for the day, giving them a quick stock report. Six years ago this just seemed like a fun way to explain smartphones (and perhaps a pretty accurate prediction of how much we would come to rely on them), but today there are some new apps that come scarily close to being a true Sven.
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How to create strong passwords you can remember

How many passwords do you have? For email, your computer, phone, wi-fi network, social networks, online banking, online shopping… not to mention your home router, videogame console, work stuff… it just goes on and on. That doesn’t even include being required to change some of them periodically. And to be fair, it’s a good idea not to use the same password in too many places, especially with the “high-priority” accounts like your email and banking. So many people end up writing them all down (which sort of defeats the purpose – even worse is keeping the list on your computer or phone!!), or resorting to a password manager app to try to keep track of them all.

Most experts will say that you really should create super-strong passwords which are many characters long (definitely more than 8 – the longer the better), including a mix of upper and lower case letters, symbols, numbers – all kinds of things. But the trick really is coming up with something that uses these techniques, yet isn’t such a complicated password that you have to write it down for yourself.

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Oxford English Dictionary adds new tech terms

Now your kids can tell YOU to look it up in the dictionary when you aren’t sure what some tech term is:  today, the Oxford English Dictionary (a.k.a. the OED – the online version of it, anyway) has added a number of new words, including some connected life related ones:

Internet of things – exactly the kind of thing we discuss on this here blog! All about getting various devices and appliances to talk to each other

Phablet – cross between a phone & tablet (usually based on that middling size), like the Galaxy Note

Selfie – a photo taken of yourself, usually with the front-facing camera on your phone or a webcam, and posted on a social network

Digital detox – a vacation from computers, smartphones & tablets, often specifically applying to time off from social networks

See the full list of new words on the Oxford Dictionaries blog here.

Top five reasons to get a fitness tracker

Sometimes it is difficult to get started on the path of a healthier lifestyle and to know what that looks like. How much should I eat? How does exercise help? How does sleep fit in to all this? Setting up and meeting goals such as being aware of what you eat, eating healthier foods, sleeping better, and getting more physical activity is easier using something like the Fitbit, or Jawbone Up, which both include a food diary, sleep cycle tracker, and activity journal. One of these portable, wireless activity trackers can be your personal electronic friend when trying to reach your fitness goals, and connecting it to your computer or supported mobile devices allows up-to-the-minute tracking of your health statistics.

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