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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Three Video Streaming sticks compared: How does the Amazon Fire TV Stick, the Roku Streaming Stick and the Google Chromecast help you cut the cable TV habit?

We have a Smart TV in the living room. All by itself, the TV is able to connect to the internet using its built-in WiFi connection to access video services like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and others. It's a great way to connect these services without running extra wires and occupying another electrical outlet.

The other two TVs are in the master bedroom and den. These are not Smart TVs but still have a way to get the subscriber services because they're both hooked up to individual XBoxes. It's not such a big deal in the den, where my kids play video games, but the one in the master is used solely to access Netflix so my wife can watch "Orange is the New Black" in peace. Without much room on the dresser for both the TV and the console, the whole arrangement looks messy and its a pain to turn on the box, sign in to XBox live, find Netflix, sign into that, enter your specific saved search and on and on...

She's been getting tired of this unsightly, tedious arrangement and so have I. Luckily, the tech industry has spotted an opportunity and has filled it with some interesting solutions.

The first few products consist of a small box the size of a paperback book. Several companies produce this kind of product including Roku, Sony, Amazon Fire TV and others. They are simple plug n' play devices that deliver all of the content anyone could possibly want.
No bigger than the palm of your hand.
(courtesy: The Verge)
The problem is that each of these products are still a box that needs to be stored somewhere and yet another electrical plug that needs a spot on the power strip. If this is not an issue for you, by all means go ahead and acquire one or more of these for your entertainment setup. But, there is another option.

If size matters to you (insert inappropriate joke here) there are some great video-streaming  products out there that not only deliver the same content as the set-top boxes, but do it in a small package no larger than a pack of gum.

The main players in this game are the Google Chromecast, Roku Streaming Stick and the Amazon Fire TV stick. Size wise, they're all about the same and the prices range from $35 for the Chromecast, $39 for the Amazon and $49 for the Roku.

Invisibly turn your dumb TV into a smart one in seconds
(courtesy: techradar)
All of them use your television's HDMI port to get power (no AC plug!) and deliver the HD content to the TV. And, because of it's small size, it vanishes behind the TV. Two out of three come with a remote (Chromecast uses an app you download to your smartphone) and that's it.
 My family cancelled our cable and we pay a combined $15/mo for unlimited streaming of thousands of TV shows and movies. We call it "semi-cable" and don't miss Ch**ter cable at all. compared the three big players discussed above and produced a handy chart to compare and contrast them for your review. Go to the article here.

Techradar did the same. Go here for another opinion.

And, here's yet another comparison from

Amazon's page for the TV Streaming Stick is here. Although they are so back ordered that you can expect delivery after the New Year.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The iPhone 6 and 6+ Review: Are these bigger phones worth the (much) bigger price tag?

The iPhone 6 and the larger iPhone 6+ have been in user's hands for about 10 days now and the user reviews are starting to come in.

In user's hands: iPhone 6 (L) and iPhone6+ (R)
To review, the new iPhones are larger (6= 4.7", 6+= 5.5") than the current iPhone 5s and are more in line with Android phone manufacturers who have been offering much more screen real estate for years now. Additionally, the new iPhones arrive with iOS8, a new camera and the ability to pay for your stuff using Near Field Communications technology and a great deal more.

Apple also claims the iPhones are the thinnest Apple phones ever, although I have always been puzzled as to why this claim is so important to their market. If it takes an extra millimeter to add a huge battery for a long life, I don't care- just get it done. But Apple has an obsession with thin, thin, thin and thinks everyone else does too. I don't think it's all that important, but apparently others do.

TechRadar extensively reviewed the phone recently and found it to be a better product all around, although they did criticize it for it's high price and average screen resolution. You can find the review here. Be warned- the review runs for twelve pages and is best viewed on a desktop or tablet as loading a new page every 45 seconds can get tedious.

Stephen Fry with his iPhone 6+ (I told you it was large!)
(courtesy: Gizmodo)
In more humorous vein, British funnyman Stephen Fry- long time and proud tech geek, Apple fan and commentator-  has written his take on the iPhone 6. It is very British with it's terms and lingo and slang, but his message is clear and delightful to read. Click here to go to it.

Will I get one of the bigger iPhone 6 siblings when the time comes to make that decision (March of next year)? I'm not sure...

I mean, my iPhone5 has been trouble-free and reliable for the past 18 months, but the way I use my smartphone doesn't necessarily mean I need a million apps, or one of the gazillion accessories available for the iPhone family. And the cost! Wow...

There's a lot of competition out there from Android and Windows phones and they're just going to get better every few months. So, when March arrives, I'm going to have to think a great deal about my next smartphone choice.

I can't wait.