Turn any headphones into bluetooth wireless headphones for $20

There are few things as unpleasant in life as getting a headphone cable snagged on a doorknob. Or the corner of a table. Or the watch of a total stranger passing me on the sidewalk.  Because the cable runs the length of my body, from the earbuds on my head to the phone in my pants pocket, it’s way too easy for it to get caught on just about anything, and it’s a truly jarring experience every time it happens.

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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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The curious case of a curious case: A review of the X-Doria Engage Folio for the iPhone 6

“You have a Costanza.”

That’s what a producer on Grey’s Anatomy said to me several years ago, when the show was in its infancy and I was an assistant in the writers room. I had no idea what he was talking about.

“I have a what?” He pointed to the wallet I was holding, a leather trifold filled beyond capacity. I still didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Seinfeld,” he said, “you know the episode with Costanza’s wallet?” And then it hit me. That was the episode where Costanza’s wallet, overstuffed with receipts, coupons, scraps of paper, and, well, just about everything besides actual money, started affecting his health. Carrying it around — and specifically sitting on it — was giving Costanza tremendous back pain. I looked down at my own overstuffed wallet. Yep. I had a Costanza.

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The Costanza wallet in all its glory.

I became immediately self-conscious about the size of my wallet. I traded my triple fold for a double fold. But that wasn’t enough. Some time later, I traded the double fold wallet for a super-slim one that basically held an ID and a few credit cards, and that’s it. That worked well for a while.

Until I lost the wallet.

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Quick Review: Platinum Power Case for iPhone 5 and 5s

This has been a crazy summer, and I’ve been pretty negligent about posting to this site.  Sorry about that.  To play catch up, I’ll be unloading a bunch of a “mini reviews” over the next few days.  First up — The Platinum Power Case for iPhone 5 and 5s.

449A6223My wife’s iPhone 5 has a habit of dying on her at the worst possible time (like when her car has been towed).  So I went to Best Buy to find a “power case” for her — i.e. a case with a built-in reserve battery.  I was going to get a Mophie juice pack, which seems to have cornered the market on such things, but then I saw a Platinum-branded power case — a “Best Buy Exclusive” — that cost considerably less than the equivalent Mophie.  The Platinum Power Case offers a 2100 mAh battery for $70.  To get a Mophie with that sized battery, you’d have to spend well over $100 (closer to $120, actually, at the moment).  That’s a pretty big price difference, so I figured we’d give the Platinum power case a shot.

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The case has a simple one-piece design, allowing your iPhone to be easily slid in-and-out (when you need it to — otherwise, the phone stays in solidly).  There’s an indicator on the rear of the case that tells you how much power is left in the reserve battery. And there’s a switch. What does the switch do? Basically, the power case works like this:  1) Slide your phone in.  2) Use your phone like normal.  3) When your phone’s internal battery gets in the red, you slip the switch, turning the case on, which will start recharging your phone’s internal battery.  Like the gas engine in a Chevy Volt, the power generated the case doesn’t actually run your phone, it just recharges the battery that still does all the work.  

Note: According to the Platinum documentation, they recommend re-charging your phone back up to 80% and then stopping, as recharging your phone past 80% takes more power than it’s worth.  Not sure if that’s a limitation shared by its more expensive competition.

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Anyways, the case works exactly as advertised.  The company says that a 2100 mAh battery should give your iPhone an additional 8 hours of talk-time, but we never tested the case to its limits.  I just let my wife use it as needed, and she found it to be a convenient — if bulky — addition to her phone. 

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Other than its size, there is one more potential limitation to the case.  The shell engulfs your phone’s built-in headphone jack. If you want to use your headphones, you probably need to use the mini-extension cable that comes with the case (see photo below). 

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That’s not a deal breaker, so we kept it, right?  Saved the money over the Mophie?  Nope.  Because its size, my wife always kept the phone in her purse.  Twice in one week, she pulled her phone out of her purse only to find that the case had gotten switched on by accident — powering her phone when it didn’t need any juice, and leaving her without reserve power when she actually needed it.  That was a deal breaker.  Back to Best Buy it went.

We wound up getting a Mophie Juice Pack Helium for ten dollars more.  The battery isn’t as big — only 1500 mAh — but that’s still a enough reserve power for my wife (and probably most people).  The Helium is also much slimmer.  The slender profile alone is worth the slightly higher price over the Platinum (if you don’t really need the extra-extra power).  If I needed a power case for myself, the Helium is the one I would get. (But I don’t.)

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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.  

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: