D-Link Omna vs. Logitech Logi Circle: Which home security camera to keep?

I didn’t intend to do a comparison piece between the D-Link Omna and Logitech Logi Circle, but here I am, with both in my house, and I only need one. One has to go. But which is it?

First: Let’s talk about my needs. I’m really only looking for something to check in on my kids during the day. I want something more full-featured than a baby monitor, but it doesn’t need to be a full-fledged security cam (which I already have through my security company). I’m looking for something in between.

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The Omna in all its glory.

The brand new Omna immediately stuck out to me. It’s the first web-enabled “security” camera with built-in HomeKit support, which I currently use with my Hue lights. (What is HomeKit? It’s a protocol that allows smart home devices from different companies to work with each other — and to blend seamlessly with Apple’s ecosystem of products and software.)

It also has a built-in microSD card slot allowing it to store video locally, no cloud service needed. Looking for a dedicated security cam? Don’t get this one, because if the crook steals the camera, they steal the video evidence of the crime too. But if the idea of paying $4-$10/month just for access to your own videos sounds like a pain, this is an alternative. Guess which boat I’m in? (The boat that doesn’t want to shell out any more bucks per month.)

Because it’s not cloud-enabled, there’s no need for a subscription to unlock core features. What you see if what you get.  Zone motion detection? Check. Notifications when activity is caught on camera? Check. Ability to look at past events? Check.  The only limitation to how much it can record is the size of the microSD card you put into it (which is an additional, albeit only one time, purchase, of course).

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Above you can see the motion settings. You pick the zone. You pick the sensitivity. You pick how often it triggers (i.e. if it senses motion twice or more in a given amount of time, it only sends one notification).

Nice benefit: Even if your home internet goes down, the camera will still keep on recording when it senses motion.

Potential drawback: In only records in 20 second increments (the 20 seconds immediately following when it first senses motion).

The feature I love the most (and the main reason why I bought it)? Once it’s set-up, you don’t need the dedicated Omna app anymore…if you’re an Apple user. You can just use Apple’s Home app — the same app I use to control my Hue lights.

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The ability to see my room specific lights, cameras, and other smart home devices on one screen is SUPER convenient.  It also makes sharing with other people in the household a breeze.  Once I set it up on my phone (which is done in 3 easy steps), the new camera automatically appeared on my wife’s Home app. Didn’t have to do anything at all on her phone.

So as you can tell, I bought the Omna. I set it up. And I was happy…until I went to Best Buy to get a microSD card and saw that the Logi Circle had just gone on sale.

Two days ago, the Logi Circle and the Omna were the same price — $200, which is why I went with the HomeKit-enabled Omna over the Logi Circle, despite it’s great write-up at thewirecutter.com (where tech reviewers go for reviews). But as of this writing, the Logi Circle is now only $130. That’s $70 in savings. With the Omna still in its return period, I had to check out the Logi Circle.

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Both have the same basic (and free) functions: A live view of any room in your house and the ability to record motion-triggered events.

The Logi Circle has no local storage, though, so you’re dependent on Logitech’s cloud-based hosting of your video. At the free tier, you get a 24-hour recording archive. NOTE: That’s not 24 hours OF recordings. Just recordings FROM the last 24 hours. Like the Omna, the Logi Circle only records in snippets, based on when the motion sensor is first triggered. Unlike the Omna, the snippets vary in time and can go well-over 20 seconds.

Possible detriment: If you put the camera in a place with a lot of activity, that’s a lot of video uploading. It could tax the speed of your home network a bit.

But the cloud-service (even at the free level) does come with a perk: You can view a special time-lapse video (30 seconds in length) of all the activity over the previous 24 hours. And you have the option to pay $4 or $10/month for a 14-day or 31-day recording window.  The $10/month option also unlocks the ability to record by zones (something free on the Omna), as well as some other features — like the ability to tell when a “person” triggers the motion sensor instead of an animal or the wind or something.

So that’s how they are the largely the same at the free level. But how are they different?

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  1. The Logi Circle is vastly more customizable.

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You can choose another resolution if the 1080p setting uses up too much data (either uploading or downloading on your mobile device while on the go.


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The ability to set up motion zones might be extra, but the Logi Circle has some free “alert” settings missing from the Omna, like “smart location” which checks to see if you (i.e. your phone) is home. It also has more generous delay times, up to 30m, which can keep your phone from getting cluttered with notifications for the same activity.

2. If your internet goes down, so does your ability to record anything on the Logi Circle. Not a problem with the Omna.

3. Degree of visibility and video quality. Both offer HD imaging, but not all HD is the same.  Blurry pixels in HD are still blurry pixels. Also: The Omna has a much wider degree of visibility.

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The Logi Circle’s 135 degrees of visibility.


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The Omna is 180. Note: Both pics were taken from the same exact spot.

4. Night Vision. Both offer night vision. But the Logi Circle made a weird “click” noise whenever it enabled its night vision mode (i.e. anytime it senses motion in a dark environment, or you if you check-in for a live stream). I think that’s because the Circle senses for motion first (or waits to be contacted for a live stream), then looks for light, then enables the night vision mode if needed.  The Omna senses its dark first and already has it’s night vision lights enabled (and ready) for when it senses motion.  The click noise was definitely noticeable, and it draws attention to the camera.

5. As mentioned, the “alert” options are quite different.  The Logi Circle’s added customizations results in much fewer notifications on my phone.

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6. Apple Watch support! Because it’s HomeKit enabled, the Omna sends preview images to your Apple Watch whenever it senses motion. And you can also watch a (tiny) live stream of your home from your watch.  The Logi Circle does none of the that. Even on your iPhone, you don’t even get a preview photo.

7. The Logi Circle has a battery! The Omna does not. The Omna is made to stay in one place. In fact, I tried moving to another room and had to set it up all over again (why? I’m thinking it’s because I have an eero system, and switching from one eero router to another changed the IP address assigned to the Omna, which confused it.) The Logi Circle can be taken off it’s dock (i.e. the permanent place in your house where it sits) and moved anywhere for up to a few hours. I had no issues moving it all over the house. Just know that the battery can drain quickly in a place with a lot of motion. (Putting it in battery saver mode turns off the motion sensor, saving energy because the camera only turns on for remote live viewing).

So which will I be keeping? I love the look of the Omna… I love the HomeKit integration, but for a saving of $70, I can do without those things.  And I’ll get some other things, too, like a battery and some modest, free cloud storage. So I think I’m going with the Logi Circle… Or not.  I need to think a little longer on it…


Products mentioned in this write-up:

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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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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.

 

Pocket Casts vs. Downcasts: Which is the superior podcast app?

I’ve been using Pocket Casts as my main podcast-listening app since the beginning of the year. (You can read my original review here.) The main advantage Pocket Casts has over Apple’s own podcast app?  Greater ability to organize podcasts.  For example, I like having a listview of only podcast episodes that have been both downloaded (i.e. not-to-be-streamed) and are unplayed.  Pocket Cast can do that.  Apple’s podcasting app can’t.

IMG_0684Pocket Casts does have one annoying quirk, though. The app’s filters are a great way to view your preferred podcasts, but they lack “continuous play” (i.e. when one podcast ends, the next one on the list automatically begins).  To get that, you have to manually add episodes to a separate playlist.  It would be better if filters and playlists were the same thing.

(Note: The app does offer a couple other ways to “build a queue,” but none of them are ideal solutions.)

This might not seem like a big deal, but I hate it when I’m driving and the podcast I’m listening to ends, only to be followed by dead silence.  The last thing I want to do while behind the wheel of a car is mess with my iPhone.  It might not happen often since the average podcast is about an hour long, but it happens enough that I figured it’s time to give another app a chance.

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That app:  Downcast.  Let’s take a look at how it compares to Pocket Casts.

Like Pocket Casts, Downcast has a little red icon with two curved lines.
Like Pocket Casts, Downcast currently costs $2.99.
Like Pocket Casts, Downcast is extremely customizable when it comes to automatically filtering out (or in) podcast episodes.
Unlike Pocket Casts?  Downcast does its filtering right in playlists.

Downcast must be my new default podcast player, right?  Not so fast.  Let’s look at them side-by-side.

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Halogen vs. LED light bulbs: Which is the better replacement?

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There’s a room in my house that currently has eight 60-watt incandescent light bulbs (i.e. the kind that have been commercially available for nearly a century now).

Scratch that.  It has seven.  One blew.  Now I have to replace it.

Since new laws went into effect on January 1st of this year, old-style incandescent light bulbs have been harder and harder to come by.  Contrary to public opinion, though, they have not been completely banned.  Stores are still allowed to sell any inventory they have left, and you can still find many wattages online.

Another thing people are frequently mistaken about:  The “ban” still allows for new incandescent bulbs to be produced, they just have to be more efficient.  For example, a bulb that used to take 60 watts to produce light now needs to do the same with 43 watts.  Also worth noting, the law has a lot of exemptions, which can be found here.

So the question now before me:  Which new-style bulb will blend in best with my 7 other incandescent bulbs?

So off to Target I went, to see what they had.  Two bulbs stuck out.

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First up, a halogen/incandescent hybrid made by GE.  At first glance, you wouldn’t notice any difference between these bulbs that use hydrogen and the traditional bulbs they replace.  In fact, you can only see the difference when you take a look inside the bulb.

This is the inside of a traditional, incandescent bulb —

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And this is the inside of a halogen bulb —

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The difference?  The halogen bulb appears to have a tiny condom in it.

In terms of performance, halogen bulbs are just efficient enough to meet the new standards.  The 60w equivalent uses exactly 43w.  The halogen bulbs share the major benefits of their incandescent brethren:  1) They are also completely dimmable and 2) They spread light evenly in all directions.

They also share a major detriment:  a relatively short life span.  And if you’re looking to lower your home energy bill by a few bucks a month, this isn’t the bulb to do it, since it’s the least efficient of the replacement technologies.

Next up was an LED bulb also made by GE, in their “energy smart” line.

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The bulb is one of the most “traditional-looking” LED bulbs yet.  It has an aesthetic that evokes an old-style look while coming off as sleek and modern.  The bulbs are heavier, but no bigger size-wise and can be used in just about any fixture where’d you use an incandescent bulb.  LED bulbs use a lot less electricity and last 20 times longer, so the savings (especially in the long term) will actually be noticeable.

They are also dimmable, but that comes with a big caveat.  The current crop of LED bulbs only dim from about 20% to 100% brightness.  What that means is if you put one in the same fixture as an incandescent bulb and hit the dimmer switch, they won’t stay evenly lit except at the highest levels.  At 20% of the power or less, the LED will go completely black while the incandescent will still produce some light.

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There was also this warning on the package:  “Not for use in totally enclosed recessed luminaires.”  Whether that is because of safety reasons or performance reasons, though, I do not know.  (It could just mean the bulb won’t last as long, but it could also mean they’re a potential fire hazard in such a fixture… Those are two very different concerns.)

Which one did I buy?  Both.  But I wound up using the halogen bulb in the room with the seven other incandescent bulbs.  Why?  Because they’re all attached to a dimmer.  No one can see the difference.

The LED still has a place in my home, though.  Just not with any older siblings.

Note:  No matter what technology bulb you buy, when trying to match bulbs already installed in your home, ALWAYS make sure to check the color temperature, as that’s what counts most.  Soft white bulbs should go with soft whites, daylight bulbs with other daylight bulbs, etc.  If you really want the closest match, look on the package for the numerical color value, which is measured in kelvin.  

Don’t buy that universal remote control just yet…

Kevin Costner said it best in Waterworld when he uttered the eternal words: “DRY LAND IS NOT A MYTH!”  It’s not. Especially if “dry land” is a metaphor for “a single remote control for your whole A/V system.”

And the only remote you’ll ever need may already be in your house — it may already be on your coffee table! — just sitting there, barely tapping its potential.

Here are three steps to help get closer to that magic number of 1 without having to pony up for a new remote:

Step 1: Elimination.

Fewer components means fewer remote controls. Do you really need an A/V receiver? Maybe not. How many different ways do you need to access Netflix? Just one will do.  How about that VCR? Keep it in a closet until your parents visit bearing that old VHS tape of you in the one local commercial you did as a child in the ’80s. (What? That’s just me?)

My recommendation: Any equipment you haven’t used in at least four months you should disconnect and store elsewhere ’til needed. Seriously, if you only use a device two or three times a year (if even that much), you don’t need to have it out all the time, cluttering things up, forcing you to integrate it into your system full-time.  That’s what auxiliary inputs are for (the kind they put in easy-to-access places on your TV and/or receiver). Only pull out that old laserdisc player when you have to watch the original trilogy in its purest form one more time…

Step 2: Consolidation.

Take stock of what’s left, especially any equipment that might be old & outdated.  If you’re going to buy anything new, I’d rather see you upgrade the gear that matters most than spend money on a remote.  This is your chance to upgrade smartly, replacing two things with one, further reducing your number of components.  For example, if you like your surround sound set-up and need an A/V receiver, consider getting a receiver with a blu-ray player built-in. Or a blu-ray player with smart apps built in. You get the picture.

In my main media room, I’ve only got four items: a Sharp HDTV, a Samsung Blu-ray player (with smart apps), a soundbar, and a DirecTV box. That’s all we need 99% of time I’m there, so that’s all I have set-up full-time.

FYI: Another thing to look out for when upgrading your equipment: Company specific protocols designed to help reduce the number of remotes you have to use. For example, Sony offers Bravia Sync, which allows Sony TVs to control other Sony products. Panasonic offers the similar Viera Link, Sharp offers Aquos Link, and LG offers SimpLink. Sometimes they even work with each other, allowing a Sharp TV to control a Sony receiver, but I still consider those “happy accidents” more than something you can count on.

Step 3: Customization.

449A4793If you have a cable or satellite box, then it comes with a remote that’s surprisingly versatile.  Your remote is probably set-up to turn your TV on and off (something the installer should’ve done before he/she left), but it can also be used to control at least two more devices.

If you have an A/V receiver or a soundbar as part of your system, then you should take advantage of a remote feature called VOLUME LOCK.  This takes the volume buttons on the remote and locks them to one device (i.e. not your TV).

Real life example: My DirecTV box and Blu-Ray player plug into the TV, and I’m using the TV’s “digital audio out” port to send all sound to the soundbar.  I locked the volume keys on the DirecTV remote to only control the soundbar. Since the soundbar automatically turns on whenever the TV turns on (and it turns off on its own too), I don’t ever have to worry about it.  Whenever I want to watch TV, I just hit a single button (“System On”).  If I want to watch a Blu-Ray, I need to take the additional step of switching inputs on the TV, but since I’m only using two inputs, that’s easy enough. (In fact, I’ve disabled all the TV inputs I don’t use.)

We also have a room with an A/V receiver that does not power on/off on it’s own. In that room, we have a very similar set-up, except we just leave the receiver on all the time, so we never have to worry about it.  We also use the TV as the HDMI switcher.  The receiver powers the surround speakers and sets the volume and that’s it.

If you don’t have cable or satellite, but you do have a newer TV, the TV’s remote might also similar functionality, allowing it to be your main remote if you only have a couple other components.

Now, you may not be down to just one remote control by this point — especially if you have an Apple TV or Roku or some other device you can’t live without.  But the above line of thinking should help you get down to one remote that you can rely on the vast majority of the time.  It’ll also make things tremendously easier for guests and non-tech savvy people who live under your roof.  (Besides, if you have an Apple TV, you should really be using a bluetooth keyboard anyway!)

And if you have taken the time to streamline your set-up (at least mentally), but you still think you want a universal remote, the really good news is that now you won’t need to get an expensive one.  As much as I love Harmony remotes and the like, they can cost well over $200 for a nice one (the kind you’d need for a complicated set-up).  That money could be better spent elsewhere… or not at all.

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Addendum #1: The above is going to be painfully obvious to some of you. Sorry about that. Thanks for reading anyway! This post is for people who don’t like to think too much about the tech in their home, they just want it work well.

Addendum #2: If you don’t have the manual for your cable/satellite remote, don’t fret. DirecTV remotes are programmed by the DirecTV box itself actually, via the SETTINGS menu. No instructions needed. For other companies that don’t do things so visually: Just go to the support section of their website. They should have a whole section devoted to programming the remote, as well as manuals you can download.

Review: The Misfit Shine Activity Tracker

In my last post, I talked about how I returned a Pebble Smartwatch because of its deficiencies as an “always-on” fitness tracking device (otherwise, it performed as promised).  I had my eye on the Fitbit Force — and was just about to purchase one — when I saw a friend tweet this:

That was enough to give me pause.  I considered switching to the UP 24 by Jawbone, which retails for around $150, but then I saw the Misfit Shine was on sale for only $80.  The price was right, so I figured I’d try it out.

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The first thing you notice once you open the package is how striking it is — like a flying saucer from Planet Gucci.  The Shine is available in a variety of colors – Jet Black, Grey, Topaz, and Champagne.  It comes with a magnetic clasp that allows you to clip it to your clothing, but there are also optional watchbands and even a necklace accessory.  Misfit seems to think you won’t mind wearing it visibly to dressy workplaces and/or fancy social gatherings and you know what? They may be right.

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This is the Shine in “clasping” mode.

The second thing that stood out to me about the Shine: It’s not rechargeable.  It comes with a conventional watch battery (i.e. the thin, round kind) that is supposed to power the device for at least 4 months before you have to replacement it. This is all part of the Shine’s “never take it off” ethos. Because it’s both waterproof and doesn’t need recharging, you’re supposed to sleep with it on, shower with it on, and according to the packaging “make sweet love” with it on. (Okay, I made that last part up, but you could.)

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There are twelve lights around the diameter of the Shine, each representing a step towards your daily activity goal (which is customizable, of course).  The lights can also be used to tell time, with a solid light indicating the hour and a flashing light indicating the nearest minute.  It’s not minute accurate, but that’s on par with most hyper-stylized watches (i.e. those without any numbers). Activating the lights to see either the time or your daily progress (or both) is as simple as tapping it twice.

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Initial set-up is ridiculously easy. It works via bluetooth, but you don’t even have to open the bluetooth settings on your phone.  The first time you open the app, a circle appears. You just place the Shine in the circle and tap. That’s it.  All bluetooth synchronizations should be this simple.

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Whenever you open the app, the first thing it’ll do is look for the Shine to sync up its data. The app can even sync up with the Shine on its own periodically throughout the day.

 The data itself is minimal, but still useful. The home screen shows you your daily progress:

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Swiping up reveals badges corresponding to daily milestones:

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And tapping on the badges reveals more detailed info about the activity in question:

IMG_0236I found the sleep tracking to be pretty accurate:

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There is no altimeter to measure elevation nor does it tie into the GPS info on your phone to track distance. But for $80 (+$20 for the watch band), I’m not complaining.  The idea behind the misfit is to measure your overall activity for the day. If you’re a hard core runner or biker and want something with more bells & whistles, this isn’t for you. This is for those of us who just need a little extra encouragement to be more active throughout the day.

Other things worth mentioning:

– It does have social networking features allowing you to compare your activity to others.

– It’s completely waterproof, even when swimming, something the FitBit Force lacks.

– It’s smaller than it appears on the box.  Just something to keep in mind if you think you might want to wear it as a watch. The guy on the package has pretty small wrists.

– It doesn’t claim to track steps, which I think is a good thing, since that’s nearly impossible to do accurately. It instead awards you points for movement. The more intense the movement, the more points awarded.

– If there’s a specific activity you do a lot — run, swim, play soccer, etc. — you can set it so that a “triple tap” lets it know that’s what your doing, and it’ll take that specific activity into consideration when gauging your movement.

– It’s so small, you can just stick it in your pocket and leave it there all day.  No need to use the included clasp (or buy a watchband) at all.

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If you like the idea of a fitness tracker you never have to take off, not even to recharge it, consider the Misfit Shine.  If you like funky time pieces, consider the Misfit Shine. If you like to swim, strongly consider the Misfit Shine.  And if those things describe you and you can find it on sale like I did… you should get it.

Products mentioned in this post: