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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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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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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App Review: SquareOne — The first third-party Gmail app I actually might keep using

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Everything you need to know about the new iOS email app SquareOne is in the above photo.  That’s the home screen, the first thing you see whenever you open the app. Notice the little numbers in the corners of the boxes? Those are the numbers of unread messages in each of those categories, and clicking on a square will only show you the messages related to that topic.  How does the app know where each message goes? The very first time you open the app, you’ll see all your messages in the “Unsorted” folder.  A simple swipe to the left allows you to select the folder where a particular message belongs. From that point on, whenever that sender emails you something, their message will go straight to that folder.  You don’t have to do anything else. As new people email you, you only have to sort them once. The app will take it from there.

SquareOne doesn’t mess with any of Gmail’s own file structure. When you sign into Gmail from a computer, you’ll still see all your messages as you normally would with no new folders or rules or anything added.  That’s handy because if you decide to stop using the app, you aren’t stuck having to undo all the damage it’s wrought.  The flip side, though, is that if you use Gmail’s own preferences to filter your messages at the server level, SquareOne will not recognize them.  In fact, the app only sorts messages in your Gmail in-box, so the contents of any other folders you’ve manually created (via the web interface) will be ignored.

Another minor drawback to SquareOne is if you have a sender that’s associated with more than one category. SquareOne doesn’t use subject lines or keywords to sort your messages, just the email addresses of senders.  This makes the sorting process really simple (i.e. no “learning process” like other apps that try to guess where messages should go), but if you work with your spouse — this is just an example — it won’t know whether a particular message is work-related or home-related. All messages from any sender will go to the same place. (FYI if you DO work with your spouse… just mark his/her message “VIP,” okay?)

The composing and reading windows look just like any other email app, nothing special there.  But that’s okay because for me, those actions don’t need improving.

Other things to note:

— You can create as many groupings as you need/want.

— It’s Gmail-only at the moment, but they say support for other email providers are on the way.

— It recognizes Gmail’s two-step authorization, if you use it (which you should, for additional security).

— When you first connect the service to your Gmail account, it’ll show you a neat “analytics” report for that account: how many messages you receive on average per month, your average response time, and how “overloaded” your in-box is compared to other gmail users.  If this is the kind of data that interests you, take note when it first presents itself, because there’s no way to get back to this screen once it’s gone (as far as I can tell).

— You can link the app to multiple Gmail accounts.

— You can “silence” individual groups so the app doesn’t push you any notifications when certain people email you.

— Yes, there’s a way to see all your messages in a single unified in-box for those times when you might need it.

I don’t rely too much on my Gmail account mostly because I find Gmail’s web interface to be a tad unwieldy. Even Google’s official mobile app can be annoying.  With a streamed-down app like SquareOne, though — which only does one trick but does that trick very well — I can see myself using Gmail more and more.

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: