Orbi vs. eero in a house that’s already (somewhat) wired for ethernet

There’s a million comparisons already out there between Orbi, eero, and the other wireless “mesh” routers for home use (like AmpliFi, Luma, and Google WiFi). But because people are always looking for reviews to match their unique homes, I figure I’d toss this out there, see if it helps anyone still debating what to purchase.

Why am I just comparing Orbi and eero? Because I already had an eero set-up, but wasn’t 100% happy with it, so I thought I’d try out an Orbi. According to tech review sites like The Wircutter (which do much more comprehensive, all-purpose reviews than I can ever do), Orbi and eero tend to duke it for the top two spots.

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The Orbi units quite literally tower over the eeros. That alone, might be a deciding point for many users without much vertical space for a wireless router.

First up: What’s my house’s set-up like?

When we moved in a few years ago, consumer-grade wireless mesh routers weren’t a thing yet, so I converted some phone jacks into ethernet jacks. That way the cable modem could be hooked up to two different wireless routers on both ends of the house.  Both wireless routers would be set up with the same wifi credentials (network name and password).

ONE CABLE MODEM/ROUTER –> TWO WIRELESS ROUTERS (ON OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE HOUSE)

The upside to doing it that way? I could use equipment I already had (two Apple Airport routers) to cover the entire house.

Or so I thought.  There was still a dead spot in my daughter’s room, which lies between two bathrooms (notorious wifi killers).

Also: The hand-off between the two (identical) wifi networks wasn’t always seamless as you moved from end of the house to the other, no matter how much I tweaked the network settings.

The two-router system worked okay overall, but it could be better (especially in my daughter’s room). So when eero came out, I had to give it a try.

I bought a three-pack, spreading them around the house.  I plugged two directly into the wired ethernet ports. The third went in the middle of the house — right on top of the dead zone.

So what was wrong with the eero set-up?

Not much, actually. It really worked great for the most part. Set-up was easy, and I got great coverage with high speeds throughout the entire house, BUT:

  1. The eero units don’t have many ethernet ports. (Only two per device) So I had to keep my old Apple Airport units around as dumb ethernet hubs. (With their wifi capabilities turned off.) The need for additional devices to provide more ethernet ports added complexity that would prove to be a problem down the line.
  2. My Philips Hue lights started acting up.  There was a very annoying (and very inconsistent) delay when using my phone to adjust the smart lights.  The delay was not there when using the dedicated Philips Hue light switches we had around the house, which don’t use wifi (they use their own proprietary wireless signal). It was also not there when I adjusted the lights when away from home.  The delay (which effectively rendered my phone useless as a light switch) only happened on my home wifi network.
  3. I have a dedicated computer as both a Plex server and an iTunes media sharing machine. (Meaning, as long as the computer is on, I should can access a trove of media content from any other computer or device in the house.) Both Plex and iTunes media sharing stopped working in the early days of using the eero. After hours unplugging all the equipment and re-plugging them back in in different configurations, I eventually got iTunes media sharing working again, but not Plex.

One thing that was always suspect to me about the eero: Its constant need for internet access just to keep your local network functioning (even if you don’t need internet, like just wanting to connect to your Sonos speakers, Hue lights, etc.) Eero routers need to check in with the servers at eero headquarters just to function properly. Could that be creating some kind of proxy issue that’s confusing the Hue?  The complexity of the network — a cable modem with a built-in router, two Apple Airports used as ethernet hubs, and three eero devices, all on the same network that’s both wireless and wired simultaneously — made things too complex to troubleshoot with ease.

One way to simplify things: Just get the Netgear Orbi!

The average American house only needs two Orbi units (compared to three eeros). And each Orbi unit has a bunch of ethernet ports built-in. I could finally do away with those Apple Airports (or any kind of ethernet hub)!

Also: The Orbi doesn’t require an internet connection just for the barest of functionality. With the Orbi, If your internet goes down, your home network should still stay up!

So I thought I’d give Orbi a try, and if it worked, give my eeros to a family member with simpler networking needs.

How did Orbi work out?

Long story short, not great for my needs.  Remember how my home has some wired ethernet ports?  One of them is in the family room. I plugged the “main” Orbi unit into the ethernet port in this room, and then plugged my Sonos, Blu-Ray player, and Apple TV directly into the Orbi. (No additional ethernet hub required!)

Unlike the eero, the “satellite” Orbi unit cannot be plugged into 2nd ethernet port (nor would you want to).  It’s supposed to go in the center of the house.  So that’s where I put it.

The resulting wifi network was great. Covered the whole house, and the download speeds even clocked a bit higher than with the eero.

BUT:

What about that second ethernet port on the far side of the house? As far as wifi coverage is concerned, I didn’t need it anymore. But I still had to have my Philips Hue hub in that room (for proximity to the Hue light bulbs in our bedrooms). And the Hue hub NEEDS an ethernet connection.  So I still had to use the ethernet port in that room.

And that’s where the Orbi was useless.  No matter what I did, the Philips Hue hub was basically invisible to my Orbi-centric home network.

Here, let’s follow the signal from my phone to the Hue Hub:

On my phone, I hit a button to turn on a light –> My phone is wireless connected to the Orbi system via wifi –> the Orbi is connected via wired ethernet to my cable modem/router –> the cable modem/router is connected via ethernet to an ethernet hub –> the ethernet hub is connected to both the Philips Hue hub –> the Hue hub connects wirelessly to the various Hue bulbs in the house (via something other than wifi).

Oh, and also in the mix is an AppleTV, which is necessary to make HomeKit work. (HomeKit is Apple’s system for controlling smart home devices from your iPhone’s home screen.)

The fact that the Hue hub had a wired connection that went through the cable modem/router before going to the Orbi kept it treated as a second class citizen on the network. (as far as I could tell)

With the eero, there were no second class citizen devices.

So back to eero I went, and that’s what I’m using now, simply because the eero system incorporated my two wired ethernet ports into my home network better.

Yes, I still sometimes have a bad delay when using my Hue lights, but it still works most of the time. And that’s better than none of the time.

So if you’ve got a home network that’s a mix of wired and wireless connections…you might find a system like eero to be more your liking. Results may vary, though, as no two homes are exactly alike.

The Apple Watch Sport band conundrum: Why doesn’t Apple want you to pair a white watch with a black band?

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Okay, this post is for the Apple junkies out there.  If all you know about the Apple Watch is that it exists, this post probably isn’t for you.

So much has been said about the Apple Watch, I didn’t think I’d have anything new to offer by the time I got mine.  Well, I was wrong.  Apple offers a wide variety of watch sizes, colors, and band choices. But there’s one combination they really don’t want you buy, and I think I figured out know why.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting Apple To Announce A New Product

IMG_1009Congratulations! You’re due for a new Apple product! Any day now, Tim Cook is expected to birth something revolutionary and magical. Or not. You never know with Apple. What pops out of the largest uterus in Cupertino — and when exactly it will pop — might be a mystery, but here are some things to definitely expect when you’re expecting Apple to announce a new product:

1. Anxiety. The responsibility of owning a new Apple product can seem overwhelming. How do I keep it clean? What if I drop it? How do make sure it gets fed enough data? OH MY GOD, I’M NOT READY FOR ALL THIS RESPONSIBILITY!?!?! Fret not, my friend, you are not alone. Every expectant consumer has those same questions and fears. Just take solace in knowing that people a heck of a lot dumber than you are handling the immense responsibility just fine. Oh, and use AppleCare. Despite GOP efforts to repeal AppleCare, it’s still around, and the piece of mind it offers is well-worth the cost.

2. Weird cravings. The closer you get to the due date, the weirder your desires will become. I want an iPhone 6 with a 7inch double-sided touch-screen! No, I want a 12inch MacBook Air with a retina display and a floppy drive! No, I want an iWatch big enough to mount on the wall and watch 4K 3D TV on!! Relax. The weird cravings will pass. In the end, you’ll be happy if it’s just a healthy device that isn’t delivered to the market prematurely.

3. Sudden weight gain. Knowing that Apple’s next iWhatever will almost certainly be slimmer and lighter than any personal device you currently own will suddenly make you feel much heavier in public. This is normal. My advice is to try something that’ll counter the effect, like starting a juice cleanse or adopting a trendy food allergy. (Warning: juice cleanses and trendy food allergies do not actually help people lose weight, but talking about them incessantly will help you lose friends… which is kinda like losing weight.)

4. Morning sickness. This is the sick feeling you will get the morning of the supposed product announcement, when it suddenly dawns on you that you have absolutely no idea what Tim Cook is about unveil. Sure, it could be a cool new phone. But it could also be a blender. In one fateful breath, you will realize that no one on the internet knows anything. You’ll suddenly notice that every “exclusive report” on every website purporting to know what Apple will release is based on the same “anonymous sources” with specious connections to “overseas suppliers.” Same for all the self-proclaimed Wall Street Analysts who cherry-pick from said reports to make whatever “bold prediction” will get them airtime on CNBC. And, of course, when the spurious predictions turn out to be bunk, they shirk responsibility and act like it’s Apple’s fault. (I’m looking at you, Gene Munster, senior analyst at Piper Jaffray, and the Apple-branded HDTV set you’ve been predicting as “imminent” every year since 2009.) Sorry, got off on a tangent there. Where was I? Oh yeah, morning sickness the day of the product announcement. Try to get plenty of rest the night before, avoid greasy foods when you wake up, and take it easy on the coffee. Also: Don’t believe anything you read about Apple in the days leading up to unveiling.

5. Messiness. Once the mucus plug of consumer innovation finally spills its contents, the internet will become a messy, messy place indeed. Best to stay off social media for at least 24 hours, until the backlash and the backlash to the backlash have subsided. All that really matters is the, um… lash? That doesn’t sound right. But let’s go with it for now.

6. Post-partum depression. This will kick in the moment you hold the new little miracle in your hands for the first time, after your credit card has been charged and you’ve parted with a considerable amount of money. Don’t worry, though. The first time someone in public compliments you on your new acquisition, you will feel much better. The sudden sense of technological superiority will jump-start the pleasure center of your brain. (FYI: For this reason, you never want to be the last person in your neighborhood and/or workplace to get a new Apple anything.)

7. A growing distance between you and your Apple-less friends. It’s a sad fact of life: Once you become an Apple household, you simply won’t be spending as much time with your non-Apple-having friends. You will get new friends, though, and they will be much more awesome than your old friends. They are called Apple Geniuses and they are available by appointment only.

8. Transcendence. This is what happens as soon as you realize your life has been irrevocably changed by the little bundle of joy. You will wonder how you lived for so long without it. You will admit you can never go back to life before it. You will get sucked into your new device. Literally. You will be like Johnny Depp in that movie where he died and was brought back to life as a computer program. That movie had a happy ending, right? I don’t know. Didn’t see it. Did you? No? Did anyone see it? Hmm. Well, let’s just pretend it had a happy ending and move on to…

9. Ennui. This is the inevitable sense of boredom that will overcome you. Life’s old pleasures will cease to have impact. New pleasures will emerge, but they will pass quickly. The rush you felt the first time you unlocked your phone with nothing more than your fingerprint will be long gone. All that will remain: A hole in the center of your being, filled with the dispiriting notion that your new Apple product will one day be obsolete. As will you.

10. Wonderment. You will wonder what happened to the whole iDevice-as-a-baby metaphor. You are probably already at this phase right now.

11. Temptation. The longer you possess your no-longer-new Apple product, the more tempting the Samsung commercials will get. You’ll see some new Amazon product getting a ton of press and you’ll picture yourself holding it in your hands. You’ll take a second look at that ad for… Windows? “Wow,” you’ll say, “Windows is actually looking pretty good these days.” But the temptation will give way to…

12. Mutual respect, deep-seated appreciation, and a Hollywood ending. Sure, the novelty of your new Apple product will wear off. Siri’s limitations will become readily apparent. The device’s heft and quirkiness will become more pronounced as it ages. Curiosity will lead you back to Windows or maybe over to Android or one its many variants, but the experience will be painful, oh-so-very-very-painful: Why does this Windows 8 computer have two separate interfaces that DON’T WORK TOGETHER AT ALL? Why can’t this brand new Android phone be updated to the latest Android OS? Why does this Amazon device seem to be designed solely to get me to spend even more money on other stuff? And you’ll find the only thing that will relieve the pain is your once-new-but-now-old Apple product. The one you came this close to selling. You will apologize to it. You will hold it close, caressing it with tenderness. You will promise never to abandon it again.

Well, at least not until the iPhone 7S comes out in 2017. According to the internet, it’s going to be so freakin’ awesome!!!

For the movie rights to this post, please contact @ericbuchman. All I ask for is casting approval, final say on the script, and payment in German bearer bonds.

Did your new computer come with free packaged software? Here’s why you shouldn’t open it.

Earlier in the summer, I bought a new MacBook Pro at Best Buy.  That’s all I bought, just the laptop.  Before the sales rep rung me up, though, he grabbed a retail box of software off the shelf, told me it’s included for free.  I said “no thanks, if I wanted to use anti-virus software, I wouldn’t be buying a Mac.”  He said he had to include this box of software with the purchase, all their computers come with it.  I really didn’t need or want it, but I also didn’t want to argue with the guy.  I paid for the computer, took the free software, and left the store.

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A few weeks later, when Apple bumped up the specs of the MacBook Pro, I saw that my model got a significant discount.  I could either return my laptop and get a new one (at full price), or get Best Buy to match the newer price of the one I bought.  I opted for the latter.  I went to the store, asked them to match the newer price… and they said they can’t do it.  This post isn’t about the finer details of big box retailer price matching policies, but let’s just say the use of a coupon complicated matters.  I was still within the return period, though, so I said: “How about I just ‘return’ this computer and buy it back at the newer, lower price?”  No problem.  Easy-peasy, they said.  All I needed was the receipt for the original purchase… and the unopened box of  software that I bought with it.  What?  I didn’t “buy” that software.  It was handed to me as I left the store.

Turns out the software was considered “bundled” with the computer, as if I got offered some special deal and only bought the computer because it came with the “free” program.  And Best Buy, like many retailers, won’t allow you to return just one part of a bundle.  I had to return them both together.  Here’s why that’s a big problem:  Hardware can be returned opened and used, so long as it’s within the return window.  Software cannot.  Software can only be returned unopened.  Had I opened that useless piece of software they made me take, I would not have been able to return the computer under any circumstances.

Fortunately, I didn’t open it.  I was able to complete the “return” and save about $150.   But I’ve now been fully warned and so should you — if a piece of hardware you want is “bundled” with a separate piece of software you don’t want — definitely think twice before opening that software package.

A cynical part of me wonders if this whole faux-bundling thing is a deliberate attempt by Best Buy to cut down on computer returns…

R.I.P. The best tech purchase I ever made…

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My HP Laserjet 1200.  2001 – 2014.  You will be missed.

13 years is long time for any piece of computer equipment.  Sure, printers have gotten faster and more colorful, but for an aspiring writer living in his parents’ house just after college, this affordable laser printer was a godsend.  Back then, if you wanted to proof your own film/TV script, you had to either read it on a low res computer screen or print it up.  If you wanted someone else to read your script, you had to send them a hard copy.  PDFs weren’t the norm yet.  Functional tablets occupied just a couple neurons in Steve Jobs’ brain.  Being able to print an entire script at will, without having to go a copy shop… that was freedom.  That printer got me through many assignments in grad school.  It was there for me when I got a chance to write my first produced episode of television.  Thanks to the Airport Express’s ability to make any wired printer wireless, the HP 1200 even survived the transition to wifi.  This workhorse of a machine has quite literally out-lasted every other computer accessory I’ve ever owned.

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Well, except for one.

My Harmon-Kardon Soundsticks purchased in 2000.

How to transfer all your podcast subscriptions from one app to another (the easy way)

Speaking of podcasts, let’s say you’ve gotten a brand new podcast-playing app for your iOS or Android device.  If only there were an easy way to get the new app to know what podcasts you were already subscribed to…  Wait, there is!  If you’ve been using a third-party podcast app like Pocket Casts, Instacast, Downcast, etc., there’s a good chance it’ll allow you export all your current subscriptions into a single file you can then import into your new app.  (Note: Apple’s default Podcasts app, sadly, does not allow this.)

Look in the settings of your current/old app for the option to “export to OPML.”  (If you must know, OPML is a file format that works well with RSS feeds, which are the heart of podcast subscriptions… but don’t worry about the specifics, you won’t be tested on this.)

In Pocket Casts, for example, the option can be found in SETTINGS > SYNC & BACKUP > EXPORT.  The Export window looks like this:

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Just enter an email address you can check on your iPhone or iPad, and it’ll send the OPML file as an attachment to that address.  Open the message on your device, click on the attachment, and then use the “send to” feature (the little box with an arrow pointing up) to send the list to your new podcasting app.  On an android device, you might need to first save the file to your phone’s internal storage, then open it in the new app.

Downcast for iOS makes things a little easier.  Click on the “More” button at the bottom of the home screen, then click on “Tools.”  Select “Export Feeds to OPML” and you’ll see the option to send the file directly to a different application, no email required (unless you really want to use email).

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Overcast makes things even simpler.  In Settings, click on “Export OPML” and a list of compatible apps will automatically come up.

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Pretty cool how Overcast will even recommend other apps you might like if Overcast isn’t your deal. (And I’m guessing all those apps use OPML.)

If you’ve been using iTunes to subscribe to Podcasts, you’re in luck.  Control-click on the “Podcasts” item in your sidebar (if the sidebar isn’t visible, you can unhide it from the View menu), and an “Export” button will appear.  Select OPML as your file format and email it to your device.

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A cursory internet search reveals that a lot of popular podcast apps support OPML, so if you’re switching apps and you’ve got A LOT of subscriptions to re-subscribe to, do take advantage of this convenience.  Note:  This method will inform the new program what podcasts you’ve been subscribed to, but it won’t transfer other metadata, like which episodes you’ve already listened to/downloaded.

And if you’re really, really curious what exactly an OPML file looks like when you open it, here it is:

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 10.21.58 PMSee, I told you it wasn’t that interesting.

 

So you want to get an iPad. Which one is best for you?

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Note:  This post is just for my Mom.  Seriously, she asked for my iPad buying advice, and at this point I’ve gotten better at giving tech advice in blog form than I do over the phone.  Hope this helps, Ma!

At first glance, Apple’s iPad line seems very un-Apple-like.  Apple currently sells four different models, each with its own storage and connectivity options.  Oh, and multiply all those options by two, since Apple sells everything in white or black.  Put simply:  Apple’s usual “good,” “better,” “best” buying options don’t really apply anymore.

But it’s really not that complicated, as there’s only three things you need to consider:

1.  What size screen do you want?

At this point, I think the iPad Mini with Retina display should be the “default” choice.  It’s the perfect size for most people.  Only consider the full-sized iPad Air if you know you really need the extra screen real estate.  If you’re not sure that’s you, stick with the retina Mini.

2.  Do you need a big hard drive?

Apple offers four hard drive sizes — 16GB, 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB.  Do not consider the 16GB unless you’re really strapped for cash.  It’s just not big enough these days for the vast majority of people.  Even if you get most of your media via cloud-based and streaming services, a typical allotment of apps plus a modest amount of the music, photos, and video you’ll want on-the-go will eat up that 16GB much too fast.

The 128GB option is likewise only for a select few, and probably not you.  Though 128GB is skimpy for a laptop or desktop computer, for a tablet it’s still ridiculously generous (at this time).  The amount of apps, music, and photos it’d take to fill up up a 128GB tablet is more than anyone really needs access to on a regular basis.  If you got the money, go crazy, but you’re either never going to use most of the space OR you’ll fill up, only to never touch more than half the stuff on there.

That leaves just the 32GB and 64GB options.  In my experience, 32GB is enough for most people’s needs.  But if you’re at all worried about not having enough space, then 64GB is a reasonable step-up.

3.  Are you okay with only accessing the internet when you’re on wifi?

To get one with a cellular chip or not, that’s the question.  I used to think a cell chip was worth having, because you never know when you’ll be out and about and really need internet access (and wifi isn’t an option).  I no longer think that.  The vast majority of people can function just fine relying only on free wifi (which is more abundant than ever).  Also:  Unless you want to pay extra for a monthly data plan, you’re not going to get much use from the cell chip anyway.

So there you go.  If you want the most reasonable option, a 32GB iPad Mini with retina (wifi-only) is a great choice for most people.  Consider only a larger screen, hard drive, or cell chip only if you really think you’ll need it.

PS -You’ll notice I only talked about two of Apple’s four iPad models — the iPad Mini with retina and the iPad Air.  Apple sells two others, a Mini without a retina display and an older generation full-sized iPad.  I left them out because those “2nd tier” models are only sold with 16GB of storage space, which simply isn’t enough for one’s primary tablet these days.  As a 2nd tablet that’ll never leave home, you might be able to get away with it, especially if it’s just for checking email, surfing the web, and streaming Netflix, but that’s about it.  (Note:  Non-retina iPad Mini’s with 32GB and 64GB hard drives can still be found on Amazon, but their numbers are dwindling.)

PPS – As for white or black, if you really can’t choose, just flip a coin.