Friday, March 03, 2017

Circle with Disney parental controls and Internet filtering - thumbs up!

Circle with Disney parental controls and Internet filtering receives my enthusiastic thumbs up after one week of use at my home with two adults and three kids. Previous solutions we tried (OurPact, taking devices away, scolding, etc.) had mixed success. My kids would play on their mobile devices and game consoles all day long if I let them.

My need was for an automated solution with the following requirements:

1. The ability to set time usage limits for each child and their associated devices (e.g. 2 hours per day), bedtime "Internet off", content and app filters.

2. Easy for BOTH me and my wife to use, support for multiple devices (iOS, Android, Mac, PC, Xbox, Playstation, etc) with no requirement to install software on each device.

3. Finally, I preferred "one time purchases" rather an a monthly subscription fee. I'm cheap and prefer to keep costs low.

I looked at a variety of hardware and software solutions, including purchasing a new wi-fi router (e.g. Synology RT2600ac) but ultimately I decided on Circle with Disney for $99 on Amazon ($90.37 after $8.63 off sale).

Circle with Disney is a small white box that connects to your home network via wi-fi or Ethernet cable and installed and managed via a free iPhone or Android app. Installation and configuration was fast and easy. I created a profile for each child and then associated their devices. This was a bit tricky because it wasn't always easy to tell which device was which. A few tips:

  1. For iOS devices, open Settings > General > Wi-Fi Address (MAC address) which is also displayed in Circle
  2. I have two wireless networks, 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz. While Circle can manage both, when Circle is first configured it must use the 2.4Ghz network. Devices on the 5Ghz network didn't show up. Moving the device to the 2.4Ghz network temporarily allowed me to see the device and associate it with a child. Once configured, the device could connect to either network

Out of the box, Circle manages Internet access via wi-fi and not cellular. However, for an addition $9.99 monthly subscription (in-app purchase), you can manage cellular access as well. Thankfully, cellular access in our neighborhood is poor and discourages the kids from using it. Circle also won't limit access to downloaded content. For example, if my kids downloaded a video or music, Circle wouldn't limit usage.

While Circle isn't perfect, it has helped me gain control over my kids Internet usage and I recommend it.


Likes
  • Inexpensive ($99) and no subscription fee for wi-fi and wired Ethernet device management  
  • Easy to use. I set bedtime for my kids (weekday and weekend schedule) and time limit for each child for the day
  • "Insights" provides details on how much Internet time each child has used and time spent in each app
  • Everything is controlled from a mobile app that is used by the parents
  • Nothing to install on devices
  • The ability to give "rewards" for more Internet time or a later bedtime for each child
  • The ability to associate devices with children. All other devices can be unmanaged and have unlimited access
  • Content and app filtering
  • The ability to manage all devices including smartphones, tablets, PC's Xbox and Playstation.

Dislikes
  • It was hard to identify some devices and not all devices immediately displayed in Circle. Switching my devices to the 2.4Ghz wi-fit network did the trick. I sometimes needed to resort to looking at MAC address. However, this is a one-time process for each device.
  • Some devices like an Xbox are used by multiple people and can't be shared
  • $9.99 a month subscription to manage cellular usage (wi-fi management is free).  AT&T charges the same $9.99 monthly fee for 10 devices.
  • No warnings when the kids are running low on Internet time - disconnect is immediate. Kids can check their quota at http://mycircle.meetcircle.com



More videos available on YouTube

Monday, February 06, 2017

iHealth digital wi-fi scale review - thumbs up!

My employer, IBM, provided me a free iHealth Vista HS5 digital scale as part of my company-sponsored health insurance plan. In 2016, IBM provided a free Apple Watch as part of the Apple Watch for Corporate Wellness Program. I'm thrilled with IBM's efforts to promote healthier, happier employees through the use of technology. I had the choice of selecting the iHealth digital scale, a glucose monitor and blood pressure cuff among other options. I selected the scale. 

The iHealth Vista digital scale setup was very easy. Insert the batteries, install the iHealth mobile app on my iPhone, connect the scale to my home wi-fi network, authorize the Apple Health app and that was it. Stepping on the scale displayed my weight and body fat using four metal sensors. This information and the other measurements below were immediately sent to my iPhone.

  1. Weight
  2. Body fat
  3. Lean body mass
  4. Muscle mass
  5. Bone mass
  6. Body water
  7. Body Mass Index (BMI)
  8. Visceral fat

Previously, I had been measuring my weight regularly on a top-rated Taylor bathroom scale and writing down the results in my journal. The wi-fi scale simplifies this process and also captures additional data. I've found that weighing myself regularly helps me to manage my weight and track progress. 



Pros

  • Easy, fast setup and easy to use
  • Sends data to Apple Health app as well as the iHealth app
  • The price was right - FREE. Fully funded by my IBM health insurance plan.


Cons

  • Apple Heath app is only available for iPhone (no iPad, Mac)
  • Only the iHealth app (not Apple Health) shows historical data and trends over time






Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Apple AirPods wireless headphones - thumbs up!

I've been using the new Apple AirPods headphones for a week now and I'm a fan. I ordered the Apple AirPods online on December 13, the first day of preorders. The delivery date was January 12 but the AirPods arrived at my home early on January 4.

The AirPods fit my ears perfectly like the similar wired Apple EarPods. I've used the AirPods at the gym and in my home office on conference calls and find them comfortable to wear. Sound and microphone quality is a step above the stock Apple EarPods and is very good.

Pairing with all my Apple devices - iPhone, iPad, Mac and Apple Watch was a simple one step process - open the AirPods case and tap on my iPhone screen. However, I ran into problems when trying to connect to different Apple devices, particularly my Apple Watch. After a few days, most of the problems went away except for connecting to the Apple Watch which has been consistently problematic for me on multiple watches (Series 0, Series 2) and multiple headphones (AirPods and Beats Wireless Studio).

I really like the charging/carrying case to keep the AirPods together and charged. I wish, however, that the case wasn't rounded at the bottom so it could stand up on my desk. I'm considering purchasing the new Spigen AirPod charging stand when it is released next month.


Pros
  • Easy, fast setup for all Apple devices sharing the same iCloud id
  • Innovative charging and storage case
  • Very good sound quality
  • Pairs with non Apple devices via Bluetooth

Cons
  • A double tap to mute feature would be useful for conference calls. Learn more about AirPod settings on Apple.com
  • Won't fit everyone's ears 
  • Some initial difficulties switching between devices (e.g. Apple Watch) but the issues went away after 

Update 19 March 2017
After 2+ months of almost daily use, I continue to be a fan of the Apple AirPods and I consider them the most innovative new product Apple has released in the past several years. The issues I experienced during the first week switching devices have disappeared. While there have been some minor firmware updates, there have been no new features or capabilities. I'm hopeful that a double tap to mute feature is added in the future to make it easier to use AirPods on conference calls.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Technology Year in Review

In no particular order, the following are my top technology hits and misses for 2016.

Mobile was hot in 2016 led by the exploding Samsung Note 7. The iPhone 7 offered incremental improvements and Google double-downed on smartphones with their new premium Pixel smartphones. My most used apps include Messages, Snapchat, Pokemon Go, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Super Mario Run, YouTube, Netflix and Waze. From a business perspective, my favorite apps of 2016 included IBM Connections, Box, Microsoft Office 365, Trello, WebEx and Jabber.

Tablet sales continue to decline and I was disappointed by the iPad Pro as it has too many compromises. While the new Apple MacBook introduced incremental improvements, Windows laptops and tablets continue to drive innovation.

Smart assistants made headlines in 2016 with the introduction of the Amazon Echo and Google Home. The Amazon Echo gets my award for the best gadget of 2016. It's a no brainer at $49.95 ($39.95 on sale) if you're an Amazon Prime customer.

Wearables from Garmin, Fitbit, Microsoft and Apple continued to improve in 2016. I upgraded to the new Series 2 Apple Watch as part of Apple Watch corporate wellness program offered through my employer, IBM since it encourages fitness and I'm rewarded with gift cards based on the number of steps.

The new Apple product that most impressed me the most in 2016 was the AirPod wireless headphones. Pairing bluetooth headphones is much more complicated than it needs to be, battery life is poor and dropouts are annoying. Apple has addressed all three of these problems. I hope Apple licenses the W1 chip technology to other manufacturers and we see dozens of new devices in 2017.

Both Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) gained interest in 2016 but products remain niche and expensive, 2017 is poised to be a breakout year as the technology goes mainstream,

Security breaches continued to grow in 2016. While getting hacked is inevitable, the most important thing is how companies respond to hacks in terms of speed, communication and remediation. I continue to be a big fan of password wallets and a long time user of Dashlane which makes it easy to create and manage complex passwords - reducing risk. Competitor LastPass made headlines for adding cloud syncing to its free service.

Operating systems including macOS Sierra, Windows 10, iOS 10 and Android N delivered modest, incremental improvements. My favorite new feature was the macOS/iOS 10 Universal Clipboard which allows copy and paste across devices.

TV made gains in 2016 with more affordable OLED screens, High Dynamic Range (HDR) more 4K content and more "cut the cable cord" streaming options. My purchase of a flat LG OLED TV was my favorite technology purchase of 2016.

The Consumer Electronics Show kicks off on Thursday January 5 in Las Vegas and is sure to include lots of new technology.

Image result for year in tech 2016






Friday, December 16, 2016

Star Wars Rogue 1, Super Mario Run, Man in the High Castle season 2 and Apple AirPods

This was a big week with four major milestones of interest to me:
  1. Super Mario Run app for iPhone and iPad was released
  2. The premier of Star Wars Rogue One
  3. Season 2 of The Man in the High Castle was released on Amazon Prime
  4. Apple AirPods wireless headphones were released
Super Mario Run is now available for free for iPhone and iPad. The game includes 3 free levels and all the additional levels can be unlocked with a $9.99 in app purchase. I'm not very good at it, but it's a fun game the can be played with just one hand. Unfortunately, Internet connectivity is required so I won't be playing on the plane.

Star Wars Rogue One premiered on Thursday at 7pm and I was fortunate to see it with my son and his friend from school - both big Star War fans. I liked it better than last year's the "Force Awakens" and it's my favorite Star Wars film since the "Empire Strikes Back."

The Man in the High Castle premiered last year on Amazon Prime and I was a big fan of the series. I was thrilled see that it was renewed for a second season. I haven't had a chance to watch it yet, but I plan to over the holidays.

Apple AirPods were released. Unfortunately, I didn't place my order quick enough to arrive before Christmas. The estimated delivery date is January 12. AirPods go on sale in Apple Stores next week and I plan to check availability in the event I can pick up a pair faster.



SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

My impressions of the iPhone 7 Plus, Apple Watch Series 2 and more

It's been several weeks since I last blogged and I wanted to share my impressions of several new devices I purchased:


Apple iPhone 7 Plus (black, 128GB, Verizon)
I had been using a 2 year old iPhone 6 that was due for an upgrade. While it took almost 2 months for my iPhone 7 Plus to arrive, it was worth the wait. I like the size, form factor, performance (3GB RAM), battery life, screen, haptic TouchID sensor, water resistance, dual camera and new portrait mode with iOS 10.1. I'm not missing the headphone jack.

I splurged for the Apple iPhone 7 Plus black silicone case ($39) and I'm really glad I did. It looks, fits and feels amazing.

I keep my iPhone 7 Plus charged and ready on my nightstand using the iPhone Lightning dock which also allows me to use standard headphones while charging.

I also signed up for the Barclaycard Visa with Apple rewards to earn 3x points for purchases at Apple as well as special financing. I already earned my first $25 iTunes gift card.  Even the employee at the Apple store was impressed when I cashed out via ApplePay on my Apple Watch with the Apple credit card.


Apple Watch Series 2 (42mm with Silver Aluminum Case with Pearl Woven Nylon)
I had been using the original Apple Watch since it was first released last year and liked it. Earlier this year, IBM began offering a free Series 1 38mm Apple Watch to all US employees with a high deductible/HSA insurance plan to encourage fitness. The "Vitality Today" app even tracks your steps which you can redeem for prizes (e.g. iTunes gift cards). The only charge to IBMers is a $80 tax withholding. I decided to take advantage of the offer and upgrade to the Series 2 42mm for $135 additional. A little more than a month later, the watch arrived. More details on the Apple Watch at Work program is available on Apple.com

The Series 2 watch is slightly thicker than the original but offers much faster performance, a brighter screen and is water resistant. Thankfully, the bands are interchangeable with the original. My favorite band remains the Penom Milenese Loop - a steal at only $10.99 on Amazon with free Prime shipping.

I continue to be a fan of the Spigen S330 Apple Watch stand which keeps my Apple Watch charged and accessible on my night stand.


Amazon Echo Dot (second generation)
Another Amazon purchase and a steal at $49.99 with free Prime shipping. The Echo has found a home in my kitchen and is perfect when I'm cooking and have my hands full. The voice recognition is amazing.


Redesigned Apple MacBook Pro
Apple released new, thinner, more powerful Apple MacBook Pro laptops with a new Touch Bar at an event last week. My current MacBook Pro, purchased last year, works just fine and I don't plan to upgrade at this time. My all time favorite laptop, a 5 year old MacBook Air 11.6 inch remains my trusty backup.


New TV app for Apple TV
At the same Apple MacBook Pro event last week, Apple announced a December software upgrade for the Apple TV which includes a new TV app. The new app provides a portal through which you can browse movies and TV shows across content providers. Apple didn't specify which providers would be included but Netflix announced that they would opt out of the new TV app. Perhaps Netflix doesn't want to share their usage data with Apple. The standalone Netflix app will still be available. I always carry an AppleTV in my work backpack as it remains the best device to view Apple content or deliver a client presentation wirelessly.


Google Pixel
I'm a big fan of my Nexus 5X but I was a bit disappointed with the price of the new Pixel smartphones. While the Pixel is clearly a big step up from the Nexus, they lack key features like waterproofing and a removable SD card. I was also bummed that Nexus users won't be getting the new Pixel launcher and Google Assistant with Android 7.1. I wish Google had continued to make a lower cost Nexus/Pixel phone. I'm in no rush to upgrade the Nexus 5X I purchased earlier this year.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

My visit to the US Open Tennis 2016

Earlier this week, I attended the US Open tennis tournament in Queens, NY with my son.  IBM is a sponsor of the event and I also volunteered at the IBM Cognitive Court, an interactive event
showcasing Watson technology.

I attended the Monday evening opening ceremonies in Arthur Ashe stadium with its new high-tech retractable roof . Phil Collins performed "In the Air Tonight" and Leslie Odom Jr performed the national anthem to a capacity crowd filled with celebrities.

Novak Djokovic, the reining US Open men's single champion, defeated Jerzy Janowicz in four sets in a hard fought match.

On Tuesday, I staffed the IBM Cognitive Court exhibit along with a dozen of my IBM colleagues. The interactive exhibit, located next to Louis B. Armstrong stadium, showcases Watson cognitive technology.  It was a great opportunity to interact with tennis fans one-on-one through a variety of interactive exhibits from make a robot move using mind control, making music with Watson, a virtual reality bike ride and managing a basketball team using analytics.  From the US Open mobile app, the website, match statistics and analytics, IBM technology is making an impact at the tournament.  Learn more in this PC Magazine article.














Save

Monday, August 29, 2016

Apple schedules September 7 event; expected to launch new iPhone 7

Apple sent out invites to members of the press for its September 7 event in San Francisco. While Apple didn't specify on what would be announced, its widely expected that the new iPhone 7 and iOS 10 are likely to take center stage.  The event can be streamed online at Apple.com the Events app on and Apple TV starting at 1PM ET.


SaveSave

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Tap to speak time on Apple watchOS 3.0 beta

Apple watchOS 3.0 beta offers a number of new features including improved app performance (faster app launches), a new app launcher, activity sharing, new Breathe app, new watch faces and Face Gallery, scribble feature feature to reply to text messages.

Additionally, watchOS 3.0 beta offers a new "Tap to speak time" feature for both the Mickey and Minnie Mouse watch faces as shown in the video below


 Enable this feature by opening the Apple Watch app on an iPhone running iOS 10 beta and enabling "Tap to Speak Time" under "Sounds and Haptics"

"Tap to Speak Time" option in the "Sound & Haptics" settings in the Apple Watch app on iPhone

My next task is to enable the ability to unlock my Apple MacBook running macOS Sierra with my Apple Watch instead of a password.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Apple WWDC 2016 and iOS 10

Just one month after Google IO, Apple's World Wide Developer (WWDC) conference took place in San Francisco last week.  Watch the videos on Apple.com.  Key announcements included:
  • iOS 10 includes a redesigned lock screen, Siri SDK, a new an improved Messages app with a new app store, HomeKit app, improved Apple Music and Maps app, the ability to delete several iOS installed apps, Cisco VoIP integration (Enterprise)
  • watchOS 3 includes improved app performance (faster app launches), a new app launcher, activity sharing, new Breathe app and new watch faces (e.g. Minnie Mouse), scribble feature feature to reply to text messages
  • macOS Sierra, the new name for OS/X, includes Siri integration, auto unlock with Apple Watch, deeper iCloud integration, Universal Clipboard with iOS (Continuity), deeper iCloud integration
  • tvOS 10 includes improved search, expanded Siri capabilities, single sign-on authentication, and new Apple TV Remote app for iOS
As expected, there was no mention of new hardware (e.g. (new Macs, new Apple Watch, new iPhone) as the event is focused on software. New hardware announcements are coming. 

Overall, it was a solid but not knock-your-socks off event. As is typical, Apple didn't show all the new features.  The developer betas have even more than what Apple was able to show on stage and even more features are expected when the new operating systems ship this fall.  Public betas are scheduled for next month.

I liked that Apple acknowledged improvements are needed (e.g. Apple Music) and the focus on integration with other Apple devices (e.g. Continuity) which is a key strength and advantage over Android.