Category: Product Reviews

Review: Ring Video Doorbell

Home security products are popping up everywhere and many of them are do-it-yourself devices.  A video doorbell named Ring is the latest offering on store shelves and it can not only enhance your home’s security but also let visitors know you have a high-tech home at the push of a button.

The device streams live audio and video of a home’s front doorstep directly to a smartphone or tablet. Built-in motion sensors detect activity on your property and trigger instant mobile alerts, giving you the ability to know what’s going on even if you’re not there.

The doorbell comes with everything you need for installation.  Once installed it connects to the Internet via WiFi.  You can sync an unlimited number of smartphones and tablets.  The HD night vision camera works well in any light and can be customized with four faceplate finishes.  $199

Ring video doorbell 2

Review: Oort SmartLED

The OORT SmartLED is based on Bluetooth technology, allowing users to manage the bulbs in their home from their smartphones or tablets without an internet connection.

Put the bulb in a standard socket and download the app.  You can schedule actions up to one week in advance such as turning on and off the light.  With a SmartHub connection, you can create custom actions, such as triggering blue light to flash when you receive a Facebook message or red when your child comes home.

You can also change the atmosphere of your home or office within seconds – 16 million different colors are available.  The SmartLED is energy efficient as the company claims it will last up to 40,000 hours.  $40

oort

Review: XY Find It Bluetooth Smart Beacon

We lose things – keys, purses, wallets and even pets.  Here is a smart little gadget that can help track those lost items.  The XY Find It Bluetooth Smart Beacon helps find nearby items just by attaching it to your valuables, your possessions and your pets.

Download the app, remove the battery protector and then open the app to sync it.  You can assign each beacon a name and a picture, to make it easy when using multiple devices to track multiple objects.

It has a 150 foot range and tells you how close the selected beacon is.  You can also set a function to alert you when you move out of range of the tag.  3-pack $60; 6-pack $100

XY-Find-It

Review: Spine Eyewear

Eyeglasses these days seem to be adding tiny screens and cameras to make them more high-tech.  Can’t someone design a pair of glasses that actually stay on your head?  Thank you, REM Eyewear, as they created an innovative hinge and cable system that not only fit any sized head but also stay put when worn.

On most glasses the “arms” are hinged but only move in one direction.  But with the new Spine glasses the hinge is made up of multiple segments held together by a single cable within, allowing the arms to move in, out, and even up and down.

They grip, they flex, and they shut automatically. The grip ensures the frames do not slip down your face, which has already been proven during a recent round of golf.  The company has designed a modern men’s collection designed for everyday wear.  The classic, minimal shapes feature a signature tip and nosepads.

The optical and non-prescription sunglasses sell for around $250.Spine Eyewear

Spine Eyeware 2

Review: Tablo DVR

If you are ready to discontinue your cable or satellite TV service then you need a backup plan to watch TV.  Houston offers dozens of free, over-the-air (OTA) channels accessed via an HDTV antenna but how do you record your favorite shows?  Tablo DVR is one answer and its sleek, high-tech box is simple to use.

Tablo is the first broadcast TV system designed to combine the functionality of a DVR with the convenience and mobility of a tablet app.  It lets users browse, record and stream OTA programming on a variety of devices including tablets, smartphones, and computers.  And yes you can even watch those shows on a good ‘ol television sets with the aid of an HDMI adapter like Apple TV, Roku and soon Chromecast.

The small device connects to an HDTV antenna and a USB Hard Drive.  Accompanying free apps (iOS, Android, web and Roku) provide the interface.  Tablo comes in two variants – two and four tuner – to suit households of all needs and sizes.  Stay tuned for a new version coming soon with a built-in antenna.  $220/$300

Tablo

Review: TCL Pulse Alarm

Waking up is hard to do for many of us. Traditional alarm clocks and hotel wake-up calls aren’t always enough to rouse heavy sleepers or people with hearing loss in time for work or class.  If you fit into one of these categories you should try the TCL Pulse from Amplifyze.

This is a wireless solution that fits in the palm of the hand and under pillows.  The Bluetooth-enabled alarm/timer offers a choice of vibration, sound or both and can be programmed for multiple users.  Download the app from iTunes (Android coming soon) to set vibration strength and sound level.  If the audible alert doesn’t wake you the vibration of the device should gently awaken you from your slumber.

The device also functions as a timer or reminder system.   It uses 3 AAA batteries and comes with a travel pouch.   $39.95

TCL Pulse

Bet On Vegas As The Place To Watch The Super Bowl

LAS VEGAS, February 4, 2015 – Super Bowl Sunday has seemingly turned into a national holiday with a large percentage of the country focused on the two NFL teams facing off for the annual championship.  Though television has been bringing better viewing experiences with high-def, cable cam, and surround sound coverage, the best place to watch the game is in the stadium itself.  So you didn’t have $2500 (or more) for a ticket to Glendale, Arizona, to watch the Patriots and Eagles?  The next best place to watch the “big game” was in Las Vegas.

I went to the Super Bowl last year in New Jersey but the opportunity did not present itself for this year.  So I thought I would go check out the atmosphere that Las Vegas offers to watch the big game.  I will refer to it as the “big game” as the NFL may crack down on me for using the official name without its permission.

I have been to Las Vegas the past 24 years to watch the opening weekend of March Madness.  The crowds, the game wagering, and the atmosphere make for a wonderful experience to view the games and cheer on your favorite team (anyone but Duke).  So Vegas seemed like a perfect place to watch the big football game, the countless hours of pregame, viewing parties and post-parties.  I found that there are so many football-related activities in this city during the big game weekend that the NFL may want to award Las Vegas all future rights to play the game here.

Quick research on local festivities showed dozens of viewing parties on Super Sunday. Though you could belly up to almost any bar and casino, the real fun happens inside private parties hosted in hotel ballrooms and restaurants.  Prices ranged as low as $25 for a standing room only space to several hundred dollars for a seat, all-you-can eat buffet and open bar.  Of course you could find the champagne and bottle service tables at high-end clubs for $1000 or more.  If that was in my price range I probably would have opted to hop over to Arizona and watch the game in person.

After placing a few bets Sunday morning on the game’s outcome (don’t ask my outcome.  Thank you very much Coach Pete Carroll, NOT!), I put on some comfy walking shoes and hit a few parties on the famed Las Vegas Strip.  First stop was LAVO – a popular club inside The Palazzo – for the annual Lavo Bowl.  $65 got you a general admission ticket with either open bar or the buffet.  Tough choice.  Drink or eat.  $120 got you both which probably works out the best since doors opened 90 minutes before game time.  At $120 I am sure many patrons were hoping for overtime but the young, hip crowd appeared to get their money’s worth of special cocktails, Kobe sliders, salt and pepper shrimp, and more.  The vibe was rocking which matched the look of the club with its sultry lighting, plush couches and long bars.

Watching the game action was easy no matter where you were in the club as flat screen and projection TVs were never out of glimpse wherever you turned.  I did not notice a lot of jersey-wearing party goers here as it seemed the bipartisan crowd was more concerned that final score was over 47 points.  Onto the next spot.

Carmines facadeHeading south down the Strip I stopped in to Caesar’s Forum Shops, a high-end mall attached to Caesar’s Palace.  Carmine’s Restaurant had an inviting placard in front touting its “Big Game Party on “17 big screens.”  For $75 it seemed reasonable thanks to the Italian Buffet from the legendary Italian family-style restaurant based in New York.  The venue was more open and airy than LAVO which is the difference between a restaurant and a nightclub.  A long buffet table welcomed viewers with wings, pasta and other tasty offerings found on the regular menu.

Carmines posterThis crowd was into game watching and cheering a bit more than LAVO patrons.  I spotted many Patriots and Seahawks’ jerseys in the crowd.  Loud cheers could be heard down the Forum Shops cavernous walkway where shoppers tried to get a sneak peek into Carmine’s to see what just happened on the screens.  The vibe in this party was very “homey”.  If I had a giant kitchen at my home with hundreds of tables and 17 big screen TVs, this would have been a typical football watching party I would have thrown.  Waiters kept replenishing the dozens of chafing dishes throughout the afternoon with more delicious food.  By halftime no one seemed to be focusing on Katy Perry’s show on TV but rather piling more on their large plates.Carmines food

I am hoping Carmine’s throws a similar March Madness viewing party this March when I make my annual visit with my college buddies.

My final stop was at a large ballroom bash inside The Cosmopolitan.  Many of the larger hotels and casinos throw watch parties in ballrooms and theaters as they can sometimes fit thousands of people in the seats.   This $300 ticket was not for the faint of heart or stomach.

Cosmo Cowboy CheerleadersLet’s start with the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders welcoming patrons into the venue.  That was almost worth the price of admission.  The seats in two-level stadium seating venue were packed and the floor of the cavernous Castellana ballroom was filled with round tables, comfy couches, blackjack tables, four bars and rows of freshly made food being cooked and served by chefs.

But for all of the food and fun this, after all, was a football watching party.  Instead of having flat screen TVs, we got to focus on movie theater-size projection screens in front with a six-side projection screen hanging from the ceiling.  Sound was piped in so that we didn’t miss a word of Al Michael’s play calling on NBC nor any of the expensive commercials.Cosmo screens

Let’s get back to the food.  Going with the big game football theme we had our choice of New England Clam Chowder or Seattle Creamy Stew (they did have Buffalo wings in case the Bills made it to the big game).  Snack stations throughout the venue served high-end fare from chicken kabobs to steak sliders, while other kiosks simulated in-stadium experiences like hot dogs, popcorn, and peanuts.  After an afternoon of party-hopping all I really wanted was a little dessert.  By “a little” I mean I started with a Haagen-Dazs bar followed by a brownie, chocolate chunk cookie, two homemade Rice Krispies treats, and an apple tart.Cosmo Desserts

The game came down to a final defensive play that made Seahawks’ bettors wish they hadn’t eaten so much.  My final play came about 20 minutes after the game-ending whistle when I left the Cosmopolitan ballroom and headed up to my room to take a nap.Cosmo soups

Compared to last year when I sat in freezing MetLife Stadium in the Jersey suburbs watching a blowout big game, my experience this year in the beautiful Las Vegas climate made for a more fun time.  Sure I didn’t get to see the fireworks and flyovers in person.  But the wagering, strolling, non-stop eating and drinking in this city is the way to go if you don’t have the cash and the patience to visit the actual game (the security to get into the stadium last year took roughly the same time as my flight from Houston to Las Vegas).

So here’s to next year’s big game.  I have just under one year to get in shape for more walking, drinking and eating to prepare to watch the 50th version of this football championship.  The weather and setting should be nice in Santa Clara, California, but Las Vegas will be my site for experiencing the most fun that day.

And if the Seahawks make it for the third year in a row someone PLEASE tell Pete Carroll to hand off the ball the Marshawn Lynch.  And take the over.

Ford F-150 Named Truck of Texas at 2014 Texas Auto Writers Assn. Truck Rodeo

20141009_083515[1]I spent a few days in San Antonio last week living a dream for most every truck fan in the world.  Sixty fellow auto journalists and I had the duty of driving trucks, SUVs and CUVs up-and-down hills, through flowing streams and mud, and dirt and paved roads while judging them across 17 categories.

The annual Truck Rodeo organized by the Texas Auto Writers Association convened at Knibbe Ranch.  This event gives us one-on-one time with teams of manufacturers including designers and engineers.  Even better we had the opportunity to drive the trucks with these reps so we could experience the drive by the men and women who gave birth to these vehicles.

Below is the press release that touts the winners.  Congrats to them all.  Now it’s your turn to test drive them…at your local dealer.

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Ford F-150 Named Truck of Texas at 2014 Texas Auto Writers Assn. Truck Rodeo

The all-new Ford F-150 was named Truck of Texas at the 2014 Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) Truck Rodeo.

“This year, the Texas Truck Rodeo had a record number of vehicles on hand for our members to evaluate,’ said Michael Marrs, president of TAWA, “We want to thank all of our partners in the automotive industry as well as sponsors for making this such a great event.”DSC_9469

Sixty auto writers drove 75 vehicles on and off road for two days (Oct. 9-10) at the Knibbe Ranch outside San Antonio to choose the prestigious Truck of Texas. This year’s Texas Truck Rodeo, which was sponsored by the Steel Market Development Institute, also saw the 2015 Lincoln MKC take the CUV of Texas; the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee capture the SUV of Texas title for an unprecedented fifth straight year; and Ford being named the Truck Line of Texas.

Doug Scott, marketing manager of Ford’s truck group, said, “This is a significant honor, one of the three big ones along with the Motor Trend and North American Truck of the year awards. Our entire truck team is proud and honored to win the Truck of Texas trophy.”

Winning the Compact Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) title was the 2015 Honda CR-V Touring; the 2015 Subaru Outback 2.5i Premium was named the Mid-size CUV; the 2015 Kia Sedona SX was named Full-size CUV; and the 2015 Lincoln MKC was named Luxury CUV.

Stephane Cesareo, Lincoln Global Communications Manager, said, “It’s been a long time since Lincoln participated in the TAWA Truck Rodeo and we will definitely keep coming back. I had never been to Texas and have really enjoyed meeting the friendly members of TAWA and seeing some of the Hill Country of Texas.”

20141009_141932[1]The 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk was named Compact Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV); the 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland 4×4 was named Mid-size SUV; the 2015 Chevrolet Tahoe 4WD was named Full-size SUV; and the 2015 Range Rover Evoque 5-Door was named Compact Luxury SUV.

“We are extremely delighted and proud that for the fifth consecutive year, the respected and influential Texas auto writers have named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the SUV of Texas,” said Mike Manley, president and CEO of Chrysler Group’s Jeep Brand.

The 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit EcoDiesel 4×4 was named Mid-size Luxury SUV; and the 2015 GMC Yukon Denali was named Full-size Luxury SUV. The 2015 Jeep Wrangler was named Off-road SUV.

Mid-size Pickup Truck title was won by the 2015 Chevy Colorado Crew Cab; and Full-size Pickup Truck was the 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch. Luxury Pickup Truck was the 2015 Ford F-150 Platinum; and Heavy Duty Pickup Truck was the 2015 Ram 2500 Laramie Longhorn. Off-road Pickup Truck was the 2015 Ram Power Wagon.

Commercial Vehicle was the 2015 Ford Transit 250. Other winners in the competition included: Best Connectivity, Chrysler Group’s UConnect Access; Best Powertrain, Chrysler Eco Diesel Engine; and Best Technology, 2015 Ford F-150 King Ranch high- strength military-grade aluminum body.20141009_103032[1]

The Texas Auto Writers Association (TAWA) was founded in 1987, with a mission to promote quality and accuracy in automotive journalism and disseminate information about the industry through news related print, online and broadcast media. For more information, please visit www.texasautowriters.org. TAWA’s communication are powered by PR Newswire.

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Media contact: Communications@texasautowriters.org; 469-363-7371

GMC and Chevy Slim Down Their Trucks

Trucks are supposed to big, right?  This is Texas and we like rolling around in trucks where we have to use a ladder to step inside.  Large enough to have a bed that can fit an actual king-size bed.  Side mirrors that rival the size of a chicken-fried steak.

But Texans – and residents of the other 49 – now have new options in truck size from GM.  Two of its brands have rolled out vehicles in the mid-size range that are squarely gunning for the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier and a soon-to-be-released model from Honda.

I spent some time in Del Mar, California, a seaside community just north of San Diego, putting the 2015 GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado through paces in traffic, hills, parking and, yes, a beautiful sunset.

2015 GMC Canyon

These trucks come in a wide variety of configurations but the basics are upfront for the GMC and Chevy models.  A four-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive and an extended cab with rear-hinged doors are standard features.  Options include a V-6, crew cab and four-wheel drive.

While the inside of each vehicle are identical in most features (save for the nice upgrades in the Canyon), the aesthetics on the outside stand out with nods from each brand.   The Colorado’s nose and front end is classic Chevy with a sportier design, hard-molded matte black plastic and lots of color.  GMC styling can be seen immediately on the Canyon with the larger, bolder nose; metal grill and wide headlights.

2015 Chevy Colorado

The technology in the trucks makes driving and comfort easy on everyone.  The driver information center in between the speedometer and tachometer is controlled by some clever switches and buttons on the turn-signal stalk.  Buyers who opt for the Canyon SLT or Chevy Z71 trims equipped with the navigation system get color and even more information.  GM also offers full Wi-Fi hotspot capability with its OnStar 4G LTE offering that will allow up to seven different devices to connect simultaneously.

Setting up the hotspot can be as simple as using your voice and the connection speed was as fast as driving in the speed lane.  I can imagine my kids enjoying trips a bit more by burying their heads in their portable devices streaming music, watching YouTube and giving me directions of the nearest bathroom via their own GPS.

A standout interior feature in the extended-cab and crew-cab versions is the storage space – seemingly every inch is useful.  From the door pockets and small cutout in all the doors to the extra space underneath all the seats, little interior space was wasted.

GMC Canyon console

All Canyon and Colorado models come with six air bags, a locking tailgate that hydraulically lowers slowly and a backup camera.  I tested some models with lane departure and collision warning systems, text-messaging alerts (so much for my Samsung smartwatch) and a feature for iPhones that allow Siri to control some features.

I hereby declare the mid-size truck category war to be reignited.  The GMC Canyon and Chevy Colorado are the first out of the gate and have a head start over the new Toyota and Honda versions.  It’s a great start and I would be happy to ride off into the sunset with one of them.

 

VIDEO: Keep Your IZON On Your Home With WiFi Monitor

I’ve covered the tech industry a long time now and I have been amazed how simple home monitoring and security has become.  Years ago if you wanted to have cameras set up around your house you would call a contractor to have expensive, wired ones installed.  But now this industry segment has become “do-it-yourself” with small cameras connected to your wireless network.

I have several around my home including the new Izon 2.0 Wi-Fi Video Monitor.   It looks like a large lipstick tube which means you can place this most anywhere in your home or office.  The device ingeniously sits on a magnetic base so it can be tilted or mounted at almost any angle.  It only needs to be powered up, which is done by plugging in a USB connector to an electrical outlet or a computer.  Boom, you’re done.  At that point all you need to do is download the app to your smartphone, connect to your WiFi network and you can now monitor and listen to anything.

The Izon 2.0 allows for live streaming of audio and video to your iPod, iPad or iPod Touch.   It also has settings for motion and noise detection that can alert you through your smartphone.  And if that’s not enough the audio and video can be recorded automatically to a free, private account with the touch of a button.  $129.95

Click the video image below for my video review from WFAA-TV in Dallas/Ft. Worth.