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If I could, I would control every piece of my home from my phone. But I’m too poor to make that happen right now. What I was able to afford was putting a Wink Hub/GE Link Light Bulb starter kit on my Christmas wish list last year and I was lucky enough that my wish came true. Christmas shopping is in full swing and if you’re anything like me (I assume you are if you’re reading this) you’ve been seriously considering home automation and connected devices. There are so many ways to automate and connect the home such as lighting, door locks, garage doors, security, appliances, HVAC, etc. My goal is to share with you some of the things that I have done with my home and how I control it with my Android phone. Hopefully you get some ideas on how you can make your home awesome and you friends can share your fantastic connected/automation ideas with me.
Some of these connected devices were purchased with my own money, some I was given for Christmas, and some were provided by Wink for review. I have been using the Wink Hub with various connected devices and the Wink App on various Android phones for almost a year now. I’ve been using the Wink App with my Nexus 6 and a Samsung Galaxy S6. I will share the length of time I’ve been using each device when it is reviewed.
The Wink Hub alone doesn’t do much for you, but it’s the brains of the operation. The Hub supports many different protocols such as Bluetooth, Z-Wave®, ZigBee®, Wi-Fi®, and Lutron® Clear Connect®. So if you check out Wink.com, you’ll find a host of different products that you can buy into to make your home smart that will all connect through the Hub. There are sensors, security, lights, switches, deadbolts, thermostats and more. All these items will connect into the Wink Hub which you can control and automate from one central location on your phone.
Setup in my opinion was not a piece of cake. But I think if you are fully aware of what you’re getting into you can be prepared for the situation and it shouldn’t cause you too much trouble. The Wink Hub requires a Wi-Fi network with 2.4 GHz routers running on WPA-PSK, WEP, or open security. It does not currently support 5 GHz networks. So, you may need to check your wireless router and see what options you have. To use the Wink Hub, you may need to get a dual band router or go and buy a cheap router just to support this system. I have a dual band Netgear N600 router that I set up the 2.4 GHz band to specifically handle the Wink Hub and it has worked great. One other issue I ran into was putting my Wink Hub too close to my wireless router. The answers I got from looking into support from my connectivity issues early on were that the Wink Hub being too close to the wireless routers can create interference. Since I moved the Wink hub away from the router it has worked beautifully since.
Alone, the Wink Hub will set you back $89. For some reason, the price for the Wink Hub has gone up over the past year. I’m not sure if this is because Wink initially wanted to incentivize us to purchase their system or if there have been upgrades, but I believe when I was originally in the market for one they were $50 and now their $89. But there are some starter kits and ways to get some dollars knocked off that price. There’s a starter kit that comes with the Wink Hub and two Cree Connected Bulbs for $97 for a savings of $20 if you were to buy them all separately. There’s also a Security and Monitoring Kit that comes with two door/window sensors, a motion sensor, a plug-in appliance module and the Wink Hub for $147 and saves you almost $50. Both of these kits are great ways to start connecting and automating your home.
I searched Home Depot’s website and found you can find the Wink Hub there for $50 and there are loads of other bundles. I’ll be reviewing pieces of these different kits over the following weeks. If you’re patient you may think about waiting for holiday deals. My guess is they’ll come around but I have no insider information to offer on that.
The Wink App
There are a lot of things that impresses me about the Wink app. In general, it’s the software hub for your connected devices/home automation. It is constantly getting updated to support new connected devices and features. I’ve had the GoControl Essential Security Kit for months and only since a recent update to the Wink app around a month ago do I feel like the connected security devices were actually convenient to use. But now they are convenient to use, and my wife and I absolutely love the Connected Security devices. Here are the different features of the app:
Accessing Your Connected Devices
Within the home screen of the Wink app is where you access the different categories of your connected devices such as Lights + Power, Sensors, Thermostats, and your Wink Hub. If you click on the different categories, one can then access and use the different connected devices. For example, if we click on Lights + Power, we then have access to all of our connected lights where we can toggle them or change the brightness. You can then access the individual connected device settings to change its name, icon, or access product support. Keep in mind, these devices can be accessed anywhere you have a data connection. You can do it while you’re on your home Wi-Fi, or you can do it while you’re thousands of miles away on vacation. You can turn off your lights or unlock your door for a friend from where ever you are.
Some of the connected devices aren’t super useful to access within the Wink App. This isn’t because the connected devices aren’t useful, but just because there’s no real use in accessing them like sensors for instance. From within the Wink app, sensors tell you when the last time a sensor was activated like a door opening or closing. It’s good information if you need to know, but you probably won’t need to access that information all the time. The good thing is, this connected device home page can be rearranged so your most accessed categories can be front and center. Last, from this Wink connected device home page, you can add new products.
Adding a Product
When you get new connected products, the Wink app walks you through step by step with the installation process.
Here’s a tip: Read and follow the directions.
In short, when you add a device from the long list of possible devices supported by Wink the Hub needs to be put into a pairing mode. Then, the new device needs to be turned on, plugged in, or a button pressed at specific times to successfully get the device in the Wink system. The Wink app has a great guide for each device complete with pictures to take you through the process. When I first attempted to install my first connected devices, the GE Link bulbs, I thought I was too good for reading directions and struggled to get the light connected. I jumped online and learned how to reset my GE Link bulb (yes I reset a light bulb), and then followed the directions on the Wink app carefully and it worked great.
If you’re not excited about what Wink offers yet, hold onto your shorts because we’re getting to the really good parts. Shortcuts are key to a great Wink experience. Shortcuts allow you to create one or more tasks with your connected devices with a single button press. Once a shortcut is created, it resides within the shortcuts page of the Wink app. Additionally, shortcuts can be placed directly on your Android home screen, accessed from Google Now or Android Wear, and can even be activated via IFTTT. So for example, you could have a shortcut that turns off all your connected lights and puts your thermostat into away mode just from one click. So you can make sure you’re saving energy while you’re driving away from your house.
One more thing, within the last month of two, Wink added the ability to enable and disable Robots via Shortcuts which really took Robots to the next level in my opinion. I’ll explain why in the next section.
Enough about connected devices, right?!? How does Wink help us automate? Wink gives us Robots. I also automate with Wink via Tasker and IFTTT, but what Wink provides are Robots. Here is a list of what Robots can be set to detect:
- Arriving or leaving a location like home
- Activating/deactivating a connected device
- Sensors being activated or not being activated for a period of time
- Temperature/humidity rising/falling beyond a threshold
Then more ifs can be added to the equation such as during specified times and for specified times.
So we’ve specified some ifs, now comes the thens:
- Send a notification
- Send an email
- Activate/deactivate you connected devices
- Enable/disable other Robots
So there are a lot of neat things one can do with the Wink Robots. As I mentioned in the Shortcuts section, I use a shortcut to enable my different security sensors so I can effectively arm or disarm my home’s security. The security robots will then notify my phone when a sensor detects something. I also use Tasker in addition to robots so I can create tasks with nested ifs and have a little more control with timing, but I’ll get into that with later posts when I review the different connected devices.
Wink provides a complete central hub to access and automate a host of different connected devices for your home. I would say it is not for someone who isn’t willing to tinker and troubleshoot a bit. You need the right kind of Wi-Fi network and many of the connected devices require reading instructions and installation. But overall Wink provides a great user experience with both hardware and with their app. The app looks great and is mostly very intuitive. I’ve also had great experiences with customer service when I’ve had to use it.
The Wink Hub can be purchased in many different locations including Wink.com, Amazon, and Home Depot if you prefer brick and mortar. The Wink Hub will set you back $89 and connected devices will cost you money on top of that.
Over the next several weeks, I will be posting reviews of different Wink connected devices I am using around my home and will discuss how I use them with my Android device. So keep an eye out for those. I want you to share your experiences automating your home, what connected devices you have, and how you automate them. Let us know if you have any questions about the Wink Hub, Wink services, or the Wink app and stay tuned for more great connected/automated home content.
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While other carriers have begun to offer unlimited data again (with some caveats), AT&T has remained recalcitrant on the issue. Now the nation’s second largest carrier is taking a step to try and urge customers off of grandfathered unlimited data plans. Beginning in February, AT&T customers who are grandfathered into unlimited data plans will be charged an extra $5 per month, in a move clearly designed to nudge customers off of their unlimited data plans.
9to5Mac and The Verge first reported the news, but now CNET has gained confirmation from an AT&T spokesperson that this price hike will indeed be happening.
The spokesperson said, “To help ensure we can continue to provide the best service for all of our customers, a small price increase is being made at this time.”
This price increase may be small, but it’s symbolic of AT&T’s displeasure at its customers still on unlimited data plans. Will the raise actually push customers off of unlimited data plans? In reality, it’s not too likely that these customers will give up their unlimited data over an extra $5/month. Most of these people are quite dedicated to their unlimited data plans, which can easily be seen by the fact that they’ve held onto unlimited data for five years now since it was discontinued.
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Every week we cover new Android apps with Fresh Meat on Wednesday, followed by Android Gaming on Thursday and Top 10 App Updates on Friday. When Monday rolls around, we look back to see which apps were the most appealing to our audience. Read on for the five most popular Android apps from last week. These apps are ones that are most likely new and haven’t appeared in the top five list more than three times.
1. Facility 47
App info: You wake up alone and freezing in an icy cell. You try the cell door but it’s locked, it seems that you are stuck with no apparent escape. All that surrounds you is a letter and a bottle of pills, and no sign of how long you have been here or why!
2. Snap – Widget Drawer
App info: Snap is a widget drawer, similar to the notifications drawer. Give a boost to your productivity and access widgets from any app without having to go to your launcher. Keep your home screen clean.
3. HomeUX Beta
App info: HomeUX provides a simplistic yet highly functional launcher user interface with full integration of Google’s Material Design.
4. Board Defenders
App info: A modern vision, addictive, thrilling and fun fast action game, combining the pace of an arcade with the challenge of a logic puzzle – brain game, based on chess rules.
App info: Take your photos, stories of your kids and share with your family. Very easy to use, even your grand mother or your kid. Track kids’ growth history and compare with WHO standard
Note: To ensure that all apps receive a fair chance to make the list, we will retire any app that has made the list for three consecutive weeks.
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While small and light is definitely the bread and butter of Chromebooks, sometimes a large high-resolution screen is the answer, and the Acer Chromebook 15 is one of the only options that fits that bill in Chromebook land.
At $349, the full HD version of the Acer Chromebook 15 with Intel processor is a little on the pricey end of things for a Chromebook (ignoring the Pixel, anyway), but today the 32GB SSD version will only set you back $249 direct from Acer. And if you want a dedicated Chromebook to use around the house it is a pretty fantastic device. If you don’t care about extra storage and are an Amazon diehard, you can get the 16GB SSD model for the same $249.
It comes with 4GB of RAM — which should really be the minimum allowable — a 32GB SSD, HDMI out, 1 USB 2.0 and 1 USB 3.0 port. The speakers are also notably better than most I’ve found on Chromebooks, due in no small part to the extra space available for them.
I’ve been using this exact model for the last few months, and while it isn’t the sort of thing I would want to travel with, it has been an awesome laptop to have around the house for watching video and getting work done.
The larger high-resolution screen allows for truly useful side-by-side windows, as opposed to the often cramped quarters on Chromebooks. The Intel processor coupled with 4GB of RAM is plenty of power to keep Chrome OS running smoothly, even if you have my habit of opening a completely irrational number of windows and tabs.
If you have any questions about the Chromebook 15, just let me know in comments and I’ll answer as best I can.
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Working in the Android blogosphere, I’ve had the opportunity to review quite a few devices. Yet, the company that continually ceases to impress me is Lenovo. While most other companies follow tried and true formulas for new devices, Lenovo has continued to innovate and try new ideas. Do these concepts always work? No, but that’s part of the beauty of Lenovo. It’s a company that’s not afraid to take risks.
The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Pro is Lenovo’s latest Android tablet, and one of the most interesting to date. Like its predecessor, it features a host of multimedia capabilities, including a surprisingly good sound set-up and the remarkable addition of a built-in projector. What do all of those interesting features add up to in a tablet? Read on to find out.
Lenovo has a lot of experience in hardware, and it shows in the Yoga Tab 3 Pro. The device has a 10.1-inch QHD (2560×1600) IPS display that has a PPI of 299. Inside, the Yoga Tab 3 Pro packs a quad-core 2.2GHz Intel Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, 32GB of storage plus a microSD card slot and a 9600mAh battery. It also has a 13-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front-facing camera, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and LTE.
For the multimedia features, you’re looking at four front-facing JBL speakers that are utilizing Dolby Atmos technology for loud, crisp sound. Lenovo has also outfitted the Yoga Tab 3 Pro with a built-in projector that features a brightness of 50 lumens and a projector image size of up to 70 inches.
As far as hardware goes, the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Pro has you covered.
2. Design and Build Quality
Lenovo’s past tablets have excelled in terms of design and build quality, but the Yoga Tab 3 Pro takes that fame even further. The device still features that classic Lenovo design with a cylindrical battery and kickstand, but it swaps out the textured plastic back for faux leather, which adds an air of refinement. The faux leather is also far more comfortable to grip than the bumpy, textured plastic.
The distinctive kickstand still features a number of different poses, including the interesting ability to hang on a hook. This may initially be a little baffling, but it has some uses. You can use it to comfortably watch a movie without a solid surface to place the tablet on or you can use Lenovo’s eFrame software, which allows the Yoga Tab 3 Pro to become a digital picture frame or calendar. The calendar features gorgeous landscape photos and actually has some use, as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
As far as build quality goes, I wouldn’t be worried about the Yoga Tab 3 Pro. It feels sturdy and well-constructed, with no creaking or flexing in the body. The size of the tablet also aids in the build quality, as it’s much smaller than its predecessor, making drops less likely.
Cheers to Lenovo for continuing its tradition of excellent design and build quality.
Sharp though it may be, the display on the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Pro could still use a bit of work. Whites are a little tinted, and colors are saturated, but slightly off. Blacks are actually quite deep for an IPS display, and pleasantly enough, we couldn’t find any light bleeds on our unit, which has been a problem for some of Lenovo’s past tablets.
While the display may not be perfect, it’s very sharp and is perfectly decent for viewing movies, pictures and other content.
Lenovo has had a rough time with software in the past, but with the Yoga Tab 3 Pro, the company finally seems to be listening and has held back a bit on the software. Past versions have been heavy with customization, which led to a lot of lag and slowdowns. This new software still has some problems with bogging down, but it’s less heavy than past software and also looks much nicer.
Lenovo may still be better off just ditching its own software and going with stock Android, but if it can work on the performance optimization and make the UI a little more cohesive, we might able to accept that as a compromise.
As one downside, the Yoga Tab 3 Pro is running Android 5.1 Lollipop rather than the newer Android 6.0 Marshmallow. Lenovo doesn’t have a great track record with timely updates, so if you prefer to have the latest and greatest software, you may want to look elsewhere.
As mentioned in the software section, the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Pro does have a performance bugs. During some animations in Lenovo’s custom software, the device will lag or stutter. Most of these seem related to Lenovo’s software customization rather than to the hardware or OS itself. As far as specs go, it should be quite capable of handling itself without lag, as long as it’s properly optimized by Lenovo.
A little more work and Lenovo could have a very powerful tablet on its hands.
With Lenovo’s past tablets boasting impressive battery life, we expected a lot from the Yoga Tab 3 Pro. Fortunately, it delivered. Lenovo estimates about 18 hours of usage time, but we were able to stretch that to about 20 hours without a problem. The Yoga Tab 3 Pro brings in a 10,200mAh battery and, as an added bonus, it does support fast charging, which significantly reduces the amount of time needed to get a charge.
Keep in mind that using the built-in projector is going to burn through more battery. But if you’re running low, it’s easy to fill back up again with the fast charging. All in all, Lenovo has once again delivered solid battery performance.
7. Multimedia Features
Not a category that we usually use in reviews, this one is for devices like the Yoga Tab 3 Pro that bring in unique features for multimedia. The sound on the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Pro is something special, with the device delivering very crisp sound, even at high volumes. Even more impressive than the crispness is the actual volume of the speakers. The four speakers can get rather shockingly loud, making a perfect companion for the projector, as you likely won’t have to worry about using external speakers to make sure everyone can hear.
The built-in projector is the other unique feature and while seemingly odd, it’s actually full of uses. Not only can the projector make it very easy to watch a movie with friends, but it also has more practical applications for the professional world. It’s quite easy to run through a PowerPoint or slide show on the Yoga Tab 3 Pro, and the projector gives you a simple and portable way to display it to others. Very handy, indeed.
Lenovo has spent the last couple of years creating interesting devices and then refining them based on feedback. The Yoga Tab 3 Pro is the latest step in the refinement process, and it shows significant improvements over its predecessors. It’s faster, sleeker and more functional than previous models. It’s continued to take the unique core elements of Lenovo’s tablets and develop even more uses for them.
These refinements ultimately lead to a better experience for the user, which is the end goal. As it stands, Lenovo can continue to refine a few things, but the company is headed in a very good direction with the Yoga Tab 3 Pro.
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