David Bodner Answers: Is Amazon Fire TV Worth Adding to Your Entertainment Center?

David BodnerReader Question (Joe): David Bodner, I’ve been thinking about purchasing the Amazon Fire TV. What’s distinctive about this product and how is it different than the competing products?

David Bodner Answers: Over the last several years, Amazon has grown from the world’s biggest online retailer into a fully-fledged technology and media company. Through devices like the Kindle Fire and services like the ever-growing Amazon Instant Video library, the company has easily become a competitor in the same league as Apple, Google, and other key players. Recently, Amazon announced the release of its new set-top box, the Amazon Fire TV. The device–which can be used to stream media much like the Apple TV, Google’s Chromecast, and the line of Roku products–also has a slew of unique features that may make it worth adding to your entertainment center. Here’s a look at what’s getting the most buzz.

For Cord-Cutters

Cord-cutting has become almost something of a rite of passage, especially among the younger generation. As increasingly more people are abandoning traditional cable and satellite TV service in favor of streaming their content from the Internet, a number of useful devices have popped up over the years. The Apple TV is a favorite among iOS devotees because of how flawlessly it interfaces with the iPhone and other Apple devices. Google’s Chromecast made a splash last year with its low price tag and easy setup. And Roku–which has been in the business of streaming since 2008–is constantly coming up with new innovations to host its enormous catalog of channels.

With so many competitors, it’s not surprising that many people asked whether there was really a place in the market for an Amazon set-top box. Still, the company wanted a platform on which they could promote their massive library of streaming titles. The Amazon Fire TV is a very high-quality device that can easily be used by cord-cutters to get their media fix. In addition to Netflix and Hulu Plus apps, the Fire TV focuses most of its attention on Amazon’s streaming services. If you are an Amazon Prime subscriber ($99 per year), you have instant access to a catalog that includes thousands of titles–many of which are unique to the service. You can also rent or buy almost any movie or TV episode straight from the Fire TV since the Amazon Instant Video catalog is basically all encompassing. As of its launch, the device doesn’t provide access to the Amazon Cloud Player (the company’s cloud-based music service), but representatives insist that support for music is coming very soon.

If you are already a cord-cutter with one of the other three competitor devices, you probably won’t have much of a need for the Amazon Fire TV in its current generation because it doesn’t add much functionality that you can’t get from your other set-top boxes. If you are looking to get your first streaming device, however, you may find that the Fire TV is the right choice for you–especially if you already have Amazon Prime and/or currently use a Kindle Fire (which can be integrated with the Fire TV for a few extra features).

For Gamers (David Bodner included)

One major innovation that sets the Fire TV apart from its competitors is that it has a faster processor that is specifically intended to support gaming. For an extra $40 above the $99 base price, you can also buy a dedicated gaming controller that allows you to play first-party and third-party games. Though the catalog isn’t currently huge, Amazon has promised that thousands of titles will be coming soon. While the device can’t truly compete with console systems like the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, it should be a fun way for families and casual gamers to get their fix.

For Techies

Some people (like David Bodner for example,) will always want to buy the newest device on the market simply to see what kinds of technological innovations it brings to the table. The Fire TV won’t disappoint in that its processor is much faster than anything else currently available. You will be awed by how quickly you can zip around between content, especially if you are used to quickly overwhelming your Apple TV or Roku player. Amazon also includes a feature called ASAP (which stands for Advanced Streaming and Prediction). The Fire TV will learn your browsing and streaming habits and start to cache video in the background so that you won’t have to deal with the lag of buffering when you want to start watching something. Instead, your content will load immediately and start playing the moment you decide what you want to watch. A final innovation comes in the form of the Fire TV’s remote control. Enabled with voice search, you can easily speak into the remote and have it understand what you are looking for. Its voice recognition is actually on par with (if not better than) most mobile operating systems.

The Bottom Line

When deciding if the Amazon Fire TV is worth adding to your entertainment center, you will ultimately need to decide why you are considering the device. If you want it purely for streaming purposes, it will do the job but won’t really stand out above its competitors. As a casual gamer, you will find it’s currently the best device in its class. And if you’re looking for innovations, you will find them but probably won’t be wowed. On the whole, the Amazon Fire TV is a solid addition to a competitive lineup, and it has the potential to become a frontrunner among like devices sometime in the future.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

David Bodner Reviews Five Wearable Tech Gadgets for 2014

David BodnerThe age of the smartphone and tablet may be in full force, but the tech giants of the world have already moved on from these cutting edge technological devices and onto the next generation of tech marvels. Never satisfied with the current saturation of technological devices in the marketplace, some of the world’s largest technology giants are determined to make 2014 the year wearable technology really gets up and running.

Those (like David Bodner) in attendance at the Consumer Electronics Show back in January surely noticed that alongside curved display smartphones and televisions, wearable tech was vying for the limelight on center stage. Whether consumers are ready to adopt it, or the technology is ready for mass adoption, wearable tech is coming. The following are five up-and-coming wearable tech devices that are sure to garner a lot of attention.

Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses ($999)
Google isn’t the only company talking about glasses as the next great piece of wearable tech. The Vuzix M100 smart glasses are already in production and shipping to customers. Although not designed for the general public, the Vuzix glasses bring exciting potential to businesses and industry.

Capable of attaching to work glasses or a headband, the M100 smart glasses are meant for use in warehouses and storage centers. The glasses are powered by a T1 processor and run on an Android OS. An onboard camera can capture 5-megapixel still images and record video in 1080i HD.

Epson Moverio BT-200 Smart Glasses ($700)
Another set of smart glasses already available to the public, the Epson Moverio smart glasses might look bulkier than other smart glasses, but don’t let that turn you off. The glasses feature a binocular LCD-projection lens system with a built-in compass, gyro, and accelerometer. Also included on the BT-200 glasses are Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 3.0, and a handheld controller running Android 4.0.

Epson has managed to bring various partners on board with its smart glasses, offering some intriguing potential. Partners already lined up include first-person shooter video games and paramedic services. The smart glasses have an app capable of allowing paramedics to see patients’ veins.

Pebble Steel Bluetooth Watch ($249)
Smartwatches seemed ready to serve as the likely successor to smartphones and tablets in the tech wars, but some of that momentum has slowed with poor performances and reviews. The Pebble Steel Bluetooth watch offers a more realistic “smartwatch” for consumers. The steel housing and functional watch gives the Pebble the look and feel of a real watch, not a calculator on the wrist.

Its Bluetooth connectivity and centralized app store give the watch traction as a piece of wearable tech, as well as a one-stop-shop for developers to sell apps for the device.

LG Lifeband Touch Wristband ($180)
Arguably the most prevalent pieces of wearable tech at the moment are fitness wrist bands that track mileage, speed, and calories for fitness fanatics. LG looked at the current selection and scoffed, releasing the LG Lifeband. While it offers many of the typical fitness band features, it has a few tricks up its sleeve too.

For starters, the LG Lifeband has no clasp. Instead, it slides onto the wrist like a flexible bangle and features an OLED display that notifies runners of incoming calls. Using an LG Earphone Heart Rate Monitor, fitness fans can listen to music while the Lifeband tracks their heart rate. It also syncs with many popular fitness apps, such as Wahoo Fitness and RunKeeper, to help analyze workouts upon completion.

Heapsylon Sensoria Fitness Socks ($199)
The next logical step in wearable tech, pardon the pun, is towards fitness socks. The Heapsylon Sensoria Fitness socks take the fitness sensors off the runner’s wrist and put them where the rubber meets the road. The socks are manufactured with textile sensors in the sole, which collect and transmit information via a magnetic ankle bracelet.

The bracelet transfers information to a smartphone via Bluetooth technology, and the information can be synced to a running app or stored in a cloud account. The fitness socks track important factors for runners such as cadence and stride, and can even monitor weight and determine if the runner has collapsed.

Wearable tech is still in its infancy, but as the major tech companies and startups move away from the early fascination with smartwatches, some exciting technologies are emerging. The future of wearable tech doesn’t appear to lie in smartwatches that merely act as an extension of the smartphones everyone already carries.

Smartphones and tablets were exciting because they represented a departure from the norm. Smart glasses that improve productivity in the workplace and fitness tech that more accurately tracks data offer more exciting potential than smartwatches.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

David Bodner Explains Three Reasons to Tap into Home Automation

David BodnerFor David Bodner, there are three reasons to tap into home automation – safety, convenience and energy Savings.

Home automation has come a long way from its early days when it was expensive to implement. Today, including automation in your home or office building is affordable, and the results bring so many benefits that it only makes sense to tap into this type of technology. The three most important advantages that smart home innovations provide include safety, convenience, and energy savings.

Safety and Home Automation

An added measure of safety is created when you take advantage of a fully automated home. The presence of automated door locks allow you to check and see if you locked the doors before you left home. If you are worried about home invasions, you can set up alerts if someone enters the home, letting you know if an intruder has entered the premises. This provides peace of mind whenever you are away from home, even during extended vacations.

You can also add a layer of protection against accidental fires. Using your smartphone, tablet, or computer, you can check up on your appliances to make sure they have been switched off, keeping your home safe against overheated devices.

Convenience and Home Automation

With smart technology, you can save time every day. It becomes possible to control your home’s comfort, lighting, and appliances remotely with a simple touch of your finger. As a result, you never need to return home to turn anything off.

Having the capability to control your interior climate control system via smartphone and/or web applications provides the kind of convenience that makes this technology even more worthwhile. You have the ability to program your setting, which allows you to adjust the temperature for comfort throughout the year.

You can also take advantage of the convenience provided by sensors that turn lights off when a person leaves the room. This strategy can save money on energy costs while maintaining comfort within the home. Lights are turned off when they aren’t needed and turned on when they are.

Energy Savings and Home Automation

One of the benefits of this technology is that you can improve your energy efficiency, allowing you to save money on your energy costs without sacrificing any of the comfort that you have grown accustomed to. As energy prices and the cost of living continue to skyrocket, many consumers are looking for new ways to try and save on their daily electricity expenses. Incorporating home automation strategies into the living environment offers an innovative way to save on the cost of heating, cooling, and illuminating your home.

Home automation systems are designed to turn off appliances and systems when they are not needed and turn them back on when they are. This can save huge amounts of energy. Home automation plug-in devices allow you to program nearly everything in your home, giving you the opportunity to make your home more comfortable while also saving energy. You can install timers for the bathroom exhaust fan, program towel warmers, and incorporate timer switches that save energy by allowing you to automatically turn devices off after a predetermined time period.

Eliminating Phantom Loads

Many electrical devices create phantom loads even after you turn off your electronics and appliances, simply because they continue to draw power. This type of passive energy consumption can increase your electrical costs. To avoid this scenario, you can plug your appliances and electronics into a smart power strip that has the ability to identify when you have turned a device off. This type of power strip automatically cuts the power to the device so that it can no longer draw any energy. According to the Department of Energy, your savings could be as much as $100 a year.

A Bit about Home Automation

With home automation, you get savings, comfort, convenience, safety, security, and peace of mind. You save money because you don’t waste energy, which is good for the environment. You can purchase a simple energy efficiency system for a few hundred dollars or a more elaborate one for several thousand dollars. No matter which system you use, the benefits and money saved with the technology make the initial expense worth it.

Home automation provides remote controllers that turn off appliances, open and close drapes and blinds, and automated faucets and irrigation systems that help to cut back on water usage. You can use programmable thermostats to turn the heat or air on automatically, and you can do so a short time before you get up in the morning or arrive home from work, school, or an outing. With home automation, you can transform your way of living, enhance your level of comfort, and create energy savings.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

David Bodner Explains Why You Need a Surge Protector for Your Computer Hardware

David BodnerReader Question (George): David, between my personal and work technology needs, I’ve got some pretty expensive computer equipment at home. How important is it that I use a surge protector rather than just plugging everything into a standard wall socket?

David Bodner Answers: Most people don’t think twice before plugging in their computers or other expensive electronic hardware directly into a power socket. Others might use a power strip if only for the sake of convenience, but these are not always the same thing as a surge protector. However, you should always get into the habit of using a proper surge protector to keep your electronic equipment safe, and the following explains why this is the case.

What Are the Risks?

All of the power outlets in your home or office are designed to provide a consistent current and voltage of electricity, and anything which you plug into them relies on this fact. Power surges can happen in any country, although they more often happen in places with less reliable electrical grids. When a power surge happens, the voltage can suddenly increase. In many cases, a power surge is completely beyond the control of the electricity grid.

Power surges often happen during lightning storms, although they may also be down to electrical faults in the region. When a power surge or spike occurs, any electrical equipment connected directly to a power outlet may be instantly fried by the excess voltage. Some electrical items, such as kitchen and bathroom utilities, are quite resilient and will rarely be damaged by such power surges. However, more delicate electrical equipment, such as computers and home entertainment systems, are often far more sensitive. While your home insurance might cover you for such an eventuality, you could still find yourself with a completely dead computer along with a fried hard disk which once contained all of your files. For this reason, you should take extra care to minimize the risk of this happening.

Why Surge Protectors Help

Most power outlets do not provide any protection against power surges. A cheap power strip, which provides you with the convenience of being able to connect multiple items to one power outlet, is also not likely to have a surge protection facility. When shopping around for a surge protector, be sure to review its specifications to determine whether or not it actually provides protection against unforeseen voltage increases.

A surge protector works rather like a fuse. When the current running through it surpasses the safe maximum, it will protect your equipment by diverting the power elsewhere. However, unlike a fuse, a surge protector should generally not break during a typical power spike. There are also smaller surge protectors available designed for those travelling with laptops, phones or tablet computers.

You should be prepared to spend a bit of money on a decent quality surge protector, since cheaper ones from lesser known companies are often not likely to provide adequate protection. A suitable surge protector should also come with a warranty which guarantees that you will be covered in the event that any electrical item connected to it is still damaged or destroyed by a power surge. Reputable manufacturers often cover you for several thousand dollars of damage, and the only reason they are prepared to offer such generous warranties is that the devices virtually never fail without warning.

Replacing Surge Protectors

Surge protectors have their lifespans reduced during power surges, although they should not actually stop working for quite some time. When the components which protect your electronic hardware eventually wear down, the surge protector will no longer be as effective. If you live in an area which is particularly prone to power surges, you will need to replace your surge protectors more frequently. Most surge protectors provide lights or even alarms which indicate whether or not your electrical items are still protected. This will tell you when you need to replace the device.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell how long a surge protector will last, particularly if it provides no indication as to when it ceases protecting your hardware. Most surge protectors are guaranteed for a certain amount of time, though it is still good practice to replace them after a particularly severe power spike, such as those caused by a major lightning storm.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

Questions and Answers: Once every few weeks (or months!), David answers reader questions from the David Bodner Product Reviews mailbox. Readers can send questions via social media or by emailing David directly.

The David Bodner Chromecast Follow Up

David BodnerMany readers have emailed me about my David Bodner Holiday Gift Choice for 2013 post and I’m therefore going to devote another post to the Google’s Chromecast.

Chromecast Closeup: How Google’s Streaming Device Measures Up

From its ubiquitous search engine to Gmail, Google Maps and Google+, Google is constantly innovating to expand its digital reach. The tech giant’s latest development, known as the Chromecast, aims to bring Google to home consumers’ television screens. This small USB dongle allows home users to easily watch Internet content in just a few simple clicks. The small device is competing head-to-head with products like the Roku and Apple TV, but at approximately one-third the price of its competition, does Google have a winner on its hands?

Examining the Chromecast

Chromecast serves as a transmission mechanism for online content. As its name suggests, Chromecast works with Google’s proprietary browser, Chrome. It also offers direct integration with both Netflix and YouTube. To watch content on the television set, users rely on a third-party device.

Chromecast offers an app for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. This app allows users to easily control content on the television screen. The Chromecast dongle also supports content mirroring from Chrome browser tabs on both Mac and Windows machines. This feature allows web users to watch content that is otherwise unsupported by streaming services.

Google’s dongle also has a few extra features for user convenience. For example, supported television sets automatically tune to the right input channel when content is played via the app. Chromecast even controls the power function on some modern sets.

Comparing the Chromecast to Competitors

The Roku and Apple TV are the two largest competitors to the Chromecast. Both the Roku and Apple TV utilize small remote controls, instead of apps on external devices. The viewing experience is remarkably similar on all three devices, though each has its own unique advantages. For example, the Apple TV mirrors all content from Mac desktops and iOS devices. Chromecast, on the other hand, is limited to content within the Chrome browser.

Both the Roku and Apple TV also have a head start in terms of supported content. Roku boxes support a myriad of different services natively, including Amazon Instant Video and Time Warner Cable. The Apple TV offers exclusive sports content from many major league associations. Google is banking on the Chromecast’s support for Chrome browser mirroring to help catapult the device to mass popularity.

Purchasing Content

Chromecast makes it possible for users to purchase content via Google Play. Apple TV gives consumers this functionality through native iTunes compatibility. Roku also allows users to purchase premium content, through services such as VUDU, Walmart’s streaming platform.

Ultimately, the Chromecast measures up well to products offered by competitors. Consumers accustomed to the Roku or Apple TV are bound to find the Chromecast intuitive and practical. Best of all, the device’s low price point means the Chromecast is more accessible to a greater swath of the population. The device is also a savvy solution for consumers with multiple home televisions, as the Chromecast is a much more cost-efficient option than its competitors. Furthermore, as a Google product, consumers can expect the dongle’s support for additional services to grow quickly.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

David Bodner Reviews the uNu Power DX External Protective Battery Case

David BodnerOne thing that annoys me about my iPhone (and that I never had an issue with while I had an Android) is the battery life of the device. Back when David Bodner was an Android user, I always carried and extra battery or two in my briefcase. These batteries were literally a dime a dozen and I’d buy a bunch of them on eBay and use them whenever the battery in the phone died. Once I started using my iPhone, I began to notice that I was charging it more and more often. More importantly, when the battery died during my commute, I was left stranded with no device from which to communicate. A friend of mine recommended the uNu Power DX External Protective Battery Case. The uNu Power DX External Protective Battery Case for those unfamiliar (or non iPhone users), is a case that fits around your iPhone that also functions as a battery charger. In addition to protecting your iPhone from scratches and damage, the case provides an iPhone with a boost charge at any time. Basically, in addition to charging your phone, you also charge the case and hit a switch on the case to start the phone charging. The case works extremely well, and has provided me with the power needed to remain constantly connected.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

David Bodner on the Differences Between iOS and Android

David BodnerYou may not know this, but I recently (over the last few months) traded my Android phone in for Apple’s iPhone 5s. A few readers and friends have asked me about the transition, and I am happy to report that things could not be better. At first, my decision to change phones and operating systems was based more on the service offered by carriers in my area. However, once I got my hands on the iPhone 5s, my whole outlook on smartphones changed. Let me just say that I think the iPhone and iOS 7 in particular is way better than the current selection of phones using the Android platform. Notwithstanding the fragmentation issue (which annoyed me to no end while I was with an Android phone) Android users face, the operating system itself is just so much more friendly and easier to navigate. The Android phones I’ve dealt with are just so not as user friendly, it’s hard for me to even understand how it took so long for me to change to an iPhone. Let me end off by saying this: If you use an Android, go out and try an iPhone. Yes, go out to an Apple store and use an iPhone for five minutes. I’m telling you you’ll be shocked and it will change your life.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

David Bodner Reviews The Bose QuietComfort 20i Headphones

David BodnerA few people have emailed me to ask about the best technology present I received this year. Although I generally do not like to pick favorites – especially when it comes to presents, the best gift I received this year was a pair of Bose QuietComfort 20i Headphones. I do a lot of travelling on trains, planes and other forms of transportation and the one thing that always bothers me is the lack of quiet and the resulting inability to get anything productive done during my trip. The problem with this is that I generally save the bulk of my research for long trips. For example, if I am going to write a post about financial modelling calculators and I am not very familiar with the interest rates and other investment calculations, I’ll take a bunch of reports and research papers on a trip. By the time I’ve arrived at my destination, I know enough about the subject to write a comprehensive and thought provoking review. This has been a great use of my time with the exception of when I am using public transportation and I’m in a noisy car or on a noisy airplane. In such situations, I always have a hard time getting work done. Now, I come prepared with the Bose QuietComfort 20i Headphones… These headphones are wonderful and make every travelling moment a moment that I can actually get some work done.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

David Bodner Answers: Headphones – Big Deal or Not?

David BodnerReader Question (Mark): David, I always see headphones advertised as providing a better sound. Now that it is the holiday season and I see some products at a pretty good price, does it make a difference if I use cheaper or more expensive headphones or is this just a marketing gimmick?

David Bodner Answers: Mark, there is no doubt that all headphones are not created equally. Some products definitely provide a much better sound – albeit at a much greater cost. However, one thing to consider before you run out and purchase an expensive pair of headphones is what exactly you will be using them for. I happen to love music and spend most of my day with a pair of headphones on my ears. I’ve therefore upgraded and own a pair that’s more expensive then your average person would spend on headphones. If you listen to music only as you commute to work and that’s pretty much the end of it, you could probably just use the pair that came with your equipment.

If you feel differently and you have an example you would like to share, let me know in the comments section or send me an email.

The opinions expressed above are solely those of David Bodner.

Questions and Answers: Once every few weeks (or months!), David answers reader questions from the David Bodner Product Reviews mailbox. Readers can send questions via social media or by emailing David directly.