Tag Archives: tech

Coin – many cards in 1

Update: 20th Dec 2016
Unfortunately Coin was bought and subsequently shutdown before even Coin 2.0 was released. It was a nice idea, but I suspect the market is too saturated with competing and incompatible payment methods at the moment. At least Apple Pay is being accepted in more places.

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Recently I have been using the Coin credit card device https://onlycoin.com/. This credit card sized device can contain the details of many credit cards at once. There is a great video on their website showing how it works. When you go to buy something you simply push a button on the card to select the credit card details you want to swipe with. No more bulky wallet for multiple credit cards!

It uses Bluetooth to communicate with your iPhone or Android to unlock – so even if you left your Coin behind accidentally it will be locked out for anyone else to use. It also records the last location it was used at so you can go back and retrieve it if you left it.

There is a tap tap code you can use to unlock it without your phone, but I haven’t found that to be very easy yet. Out of all the places I have tried to use it only one place was not able to read the card, so I always card 1 back up card just in case.

The fun part is when you hand it to someone to swipe and they are looking at it and always ask me what it is – and then what a cool idea it is. I concur! The Coin 2.0 will be out soon which will work with chip enabled cards I will be interested to see how they implement this for multiple cards.

When you purchase the Coin it comes with a card swipe you plug into the headphone socket on your phone. Like how the Square payment method works. Using this you can swipe each card and save it to the Coin app and take a photo of the card. These details are then synced across Bluetooth to your Coin.

I will be very happy when I receive my Coin 2.0 for one major feature – the ability to give each card a nickname! The Coin screen just shows the card type (VISA, DISC) and the last 4 digits of the card number – so much easier to give each card a nickname.

Overall I am very happy with Coin and have found my wallet is nice and slim now – just got my Coin, debit card and driver license. Until Apply Pay becomes widespread this is a great alternative that works the majority of the time.

Mota G2 Lite Smartwatch review

In my email last week I saw a Groupon offer for the Mota G2 smartwatch (sold out now) reduced to $49.99 for the original or $59.99 for the newer model. Of course, I liked the snazzy silver/red version which only comes in the newer model. I read the reviews for it on Amazon and it sounded like it would be fun to try out.

Mota G2 Lite

Mota G2 Lite

 

Shipping was fast – even though the tracking said estimated receive date was a week after when I actually received it. The box itself has been shipped in a lightly padded envelope and had got slightly damaged – just cosmetic, but still. The watch came almost fully charged which was a pleasant surprise – I don’t like to have to wait to play. Pairing the watch to my iPhone 5S was easy and after I read the manual I did set the correct time.

I will pause at this point to say I think this watch is more of a dumb smartwatch than a smart smartwatch! Really, I am waiting very impatiently for the long rumored Apple iWatch and this experience just reinforced my feeling that Apple is more likely to make something ‘smart’. For instance, why couldn’t the G2 get the time from the phone???

FEATURES

If you go to the Mota website and read about the features of the G2 it seems to do everything you would want in a low entry point device:

  • It has Bluetooth connectivity to both Android and Apple;
  • Vibrates with caller ID so you can decide to accept or ignore call;
  • Can be used as hands free speakerphone with built in speakers and microphone;
  • Can stream your music through the built in speakers;
  • Alerts when you go more than 10ft away from your phone;
  • Can be used to connect to Siri or Google Now for voice commands;
  • Looks stylish in a Star Trek communicator way.

This all sounds great – I was excited to get this device. The big thing for me was to get one button access to Siri without having to dig my phone out of my pocket or purse. I am still waiting to get this – no combination of button pushes could get this to work – unless I activated it from the phone first which defeats the purpose completely! The manual says to press button B which will change the display to speak and press button A to confirm. Nope, couldn’t get this to work and spent half the time turning the watch off by accident pressing button B for various lengths of time.

The watch did actually not look too bad on my wrist and the fit was comfortable – not too loose and not too tight. The display was clear enough, but a bit boring and small – no color. It was annoying to have to turn the screen on to display the time – some sort of motion sense or something should kick that off. It is a lot wider than my Jawbone Up band and I don’t think I would wear this out if I was dressed up.

Mota G2

Mota G2 Lite

Mota G2 Lite

I will say the streaming music and speakerphone for phone calls did work very well. Again, not sure how much I would really want to speak to my wrist and have everyone hear the caller. It was a novelty feature – I did want to access Siri this way and add calendar events quickly.

As for notifications, they only work for phone calls – I wanted to at least be able to see if there were any texts or messages I was missing. This is why I say the phone was more dumb than smart – there is no logic in this, it is purely a Bluetooth repeater.  I don’t want to have to turn my phone to silent before a meeting and then turn it back off when I come out of it. I watch my smart watch to figure out when I am in a meeting and silence my phone and vibrate notifications to me. At least vibrate to remind me I left the phone in silent mode!

Finally, the proximity alert for when you are more than 10ft from the phone seemed like a nice idea – except I now realize I purposely leave my phone quite often and I don’t need an alert about it. I do not take my phone the the bathroom, nor do I take it with me to pick up lunch at the cafe downstairs and I definitely don’t have it with me at all times in the house. If I am expecting a call I might have it with me more often, but this alarm thing was just too annoying. Then when you come back in range of the Bluetooth it beeps quite loudly. How about understanding my routine and only alerting me when I leave the phone outside of my normal locations?

Conclusion

I guess this foray into smart/dumb watches has more clearly defined in my head what I am really looking for in a smartwatch – hopefully the iWatch meets these desires:

  • Smart silences phone and vibrate watch when in meetings;
  • Smartly figure out if I am forgetting my phone or purposely leaving it;
  • One button access to Siri and display the results on the screen as well as talk them;
  • Access to phone contacts to initiate text message or voice call easily;
  • Have Bluetooth priority options – in the car always connect to the car first, etc
  • Always display the time or at least make it display when movement is detected;
  • Remind me of events/meetings or appointments I have coming up;
  • Importantly: look cool and stylish on either male or female wrists!

The Mota G2 has been repackaged and the return label printed off to send it back to its masters. Santa is however ready to order an iWatch so roll on Sept 9th Apple event – I am waiting!!!

 

My app suggestions

‘Tis the time of year when everyone is making lists – top good things to happen in 2011, top bad things, top resolutions for 2012, top predictions for technology/social media/the world in 2012. I have decided to humbly provide a list of iPad apps I have been using and find useful, fun or ideally both.

Scrabble iTunes Link
This one just popped up on my radar a few days ago when I read it was on sale from $4.99 to 99c. I like when apps go on sale AND already have good reviews. I am already addicted to the darn game now – how often can you play a single word and get 99 points!

It has some sharing features like friends on Facebook and local network, but I haven’t really had time to figure out if they work well. I did play with a friend using the play and pass feature and that was fine. Play against the computer and lose chunks of your life!!!

Zite iTunes link
This is your online magazine that is customizable to your interests. You can hook in your Twitter news-feed, Google Reader, Delicious or Read It Later accounts and then choose subject areas from a list that will interest you. The great thing about this app is each time you open an article to read you can rate whether you liked it and it will use this to give you more stories like it in the future. Bit like Netflix recommendation engine, but in the background.

Stories are sharable on social media, email the article or even save it to your favorite offline reading service like Evernote, Instapaper or one of the accounts you already linked. As the iPad is an ideal content consuming gadget, these kind of apps are going to become more popular as everyone tries to find more ways to deal with social media overload.

Pulse iTunes link
I like to stay up to date on what the current happenings are in tech, social media, politics, news in general and some entertainment fun. Pulse is the app that helps me with this. Create pages with different feeds from the content areas you like best. You can choose feeds individually or pick a generic bundle for a general category – like sport.

You can arrange the feeds how you want and have as many or as few on a page as you want. Slide along a feed to see picture and headline, tap on the story that interests you and you get the details. Depending on the origin of the feed you will get the entire story or a link to the original article.

Stories can be favorited and saved in your account. Again you can link in your social media accounts so you can share stories with 1 click or email them. Great source for content curation for your own Twitter feed too.

Solar Walk iTunes link
This was one of those apps that was featured in an Apple commercial – how often can you say you actually pay enough attention to a commercial these days to remember to look for something online featured in it? I am no Apple fangirl, but credit due to them for really clear, informative and useful commercials!

Anyway, Solar Walk is just a fun app that shows the solar system and the planets (and moon’s and asteroids and space junk) and you can timeline where everything was or will be. The graphics really show of the iPad display and it gets kinda mesmerizing! The really cool things are the included movies that educate on how the tides are influenced by the sun and moon, or how the seasons work depending on your location to the equator. All things you probably vaguely remember from school, but this app makes it much more visually fun!

Planetary iTunes link
If Solar Walk has you hooked then how about an app that visualizes your music collection as a solar system? Sounds a bit strange, but the visuals and uniqueness make it worth playing with.

BikeBrain – iPhone app – iTunes link
So with it being New Year and all, that means the resolutions come out and get dusted of once again. Yes, exercise more. My long time mantra since moving to America over 10 years ago! I need some motivation for this kind of thing and if there is app for that then all the better.

BikeBrain, naturally enough, is marketed to the cyclist, but I have found it is equally suitable for the dog walker or jogger. Start the app at the beginning of your outing and it will keep track of your route, speed, distance and calories. When done you hit the finish button and it lets you name your outing and save details so you can see how well-intentioned everything started out!

The downside is you suddenly realize the walk you have been taking the dog on was not a mile long, more like a 1/3 of that – oops! No wonder the little brat is still so full of beanz all evening.

Heart Rate – iPhone app – iTunes link
Now that you are busy walking the dog, or heaven forbid jogging, wouldn’t it be nice to know if you are giving your heart a workout too? Heart Rate is an app that uses your iPhone camera to sense your heart beat. No idea if it is really accurate, but it is kinda fun to show your friends how light through your finger can be used to detect a pulse!

Those are a run down of the apps I have been playing with lately. I haven’t covered any of the ones I talked about in earlier blogs – like Evernote, Flipboard and Dropbox because, well, I already talked about them.

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year

Fiona

QR Codes: What they are and what they mean…

My current fascination is with all things QR code related. I think they are such a great mobile tool and let’s face it, mobile is where we are all going! When I am busy showing someone a new trick I just found out can be done with a code, I am always surprised by 2 things:

  • They don’t really understand that much about what a QR code can do and
  • I always get this “WOW” from them when I show them!

So this blog is my dedication to the QR code and what, so far, I have seen it do.

What is a QR Code?

QR stands for Quick Response and the square two-dimensional code can be decoded by using a QR code reader on your smartphone. Simple answer is they are those square barcode looking things you see around, however they can hold more information and hence do more than a simple barcode.

How does it work?

To be able to process a QR code you will need a smartphone with a camera , internet access and a QR code reader. Many smartphones come preloaded with a reader app.  Wayne Sutton has a great blog posting covering reader apps for all different phones: QR Readers

Once you have a reader on your phone, start it up and take a picture of a QR code. Try to keep your hand steady! Depending on both the software and the QR code contents, after scanning it can take up to 30 seconds to decode the code.

This is one of my QR codes that takes you to my social aggregator site ItsMyURLs.com

QR Code for Fiona

QR Code for Fiona

What can QR codes do?

Unlike a simple barcode, the QR code is able to contain far more information. This means that there are all sorts of ways to use a code and make it do more for you. For instance, you can have a QR code that takes you to a website, creates contact information, open a YouTube video and more. It seems like every week there is another service or option added for the codes. Here is a list I have seen for a few now:

  • Calendar event,
  • Contact information,
  • Email address,
  • Geo location,
  • Phone number,
  • SMS,
  • Text,
  • URL,
  • WiFi network.

Did you notice that last one – WiFi? I hadn’t come across this before and tried it out – I was able to create a QR code that when scanned with connect you to my secure WiFi network – without me having to share the password with anyone! So maybe you have a store and want people to have internet access – secure internet access: Create a QR code for your network that people can scan to connect to your WiFi.

You want your own QR code now?

Come on, stop pretending you don’t want to have your very own QR code! Great thing is, they are free to read and free to create! There a heaps of sites out there offering all sorts of free QR codes. These sites can generate codes that will open a map of your restaurant location, send an SMS or set up a predefined tweet.

I’m all for not reinventing the wheel if I don’t have to, so I am going to direct you to some sites I have found useful:

Why QR code popularity?

Or why is the QR code market expanding so rapidly?

  • More and more people are equipped with a smartphone
  • More people are accessing the web from their mobile devices
  • Marketers are discovering it is a simple tool that can be tracked easily
  • Consumers like the ease of mobile surfing via the QR code – take me to your website!
  • Put it on your business card and share contact details easily at networking events

I was at Home Depot last week and noticed they have QR codes on the plastic tags on each planter. I, being excited by such things, whipped out my phone and did the scan dance. Up popped a website that told me all about the growing needs and habitat of the plant I was looking at! How many times do you throw the little tabbies away when you plant everything and then don’t know if you should cut it back in Spring or Fall? Now I could use the QR code to go to the website, email that link and hey presto, best gardener EVER!

Some of the things people are doing with QR codes are really exciting. There is a restaurant in Boston that is using squid ink to make QR codes that go on the dinner plates. When you scan it you will go to a website with recipes and ingredients. Some can even source the boat the fish you are eating was caught by!

Mobile website considerations

An important point to remember about QR codes is that any URL you  point to is likely going to be accessed via a mobile device – make sure the site is mobile optimized!

This became apparent to me after I had added a QR code to my business cards. I was using an aggregator site to link to all my social media accounts. Site is very pretty, but was a hog to load on my smartphone and way too small to read without a lot of pinch and zooming! Not exactly that first impression you want to give people.

At one of my visits to Mass Innovations nights I saw the real deal: ItsMyURLs

A social media aggregator site that doesn’t do just social media accounts, but any URL you want – and it is optimized for mobile use! It is free to create an advertising supported account or a small yearly fee for an ad free site. For any sites you add, you can see how many times someone clicked on the link. Oh, and did I mention, they will generate a QR code for you!!!

Dynamic QR codes and analytics

Most of the sites I have been talking about to generate a QR code will make a static code: if your website changes, so to will your QR code need to be updated. Bit inconvenient if you have taken the time to print up or advertise specific codes all over your literature! The solution to this is using a dynamic QR code.

There is a free site out there called BWscan.com that allows you to generate QR codes and then assign websites to them. Which means you can keep the same QR code, but change where it will take people –  on the fly. What they really excel at though is for campaign management. For each QR code you set up , you can assign campaign start and end dates and get real time stats on how often the code is scanned, how many unique users and map their location. Their website has a very good page on case studies highlighting some examples of the different ways QR codes can be used.

Custom QR codes

So for you now experienced and seasoned QR coders, the next step is to create a custom QR code. Once you see one, you want it too! Here is my new custom QR code:

Custom QR Code

Fiona’s custom QR code

Snazzy huh?

How much did this puppy cost me? $0

Yup, you can even get these for free! Here is the magic website:

BeQRrius

Click on the tab Graphical and you can upload an image to be added to your QR code.

While you are on the site though, take a look at what else you can do – create a QR code to map to an address, send a text message, etc.

Summary

Got a feeling this is one of my longer posting, but that is because there are so many little things to get in there and show you. I am able to use my dynamic QR codes to switch between a website about me, downloading contact information or joining my WiFi network – all depending on where I am going to be.

You could be using a QR code with a coupon for discounts on your products or services – then track how many times that code is being scanned. Or you could use it like Best Buy and Home Depot to provide consumers instant access to more detailed product information and reviews in store.

I have a feeling that the QR code function is only going to grow as more genius people come up with ever greater ways to apply them to the world around us. Have you seen any other examples of QR code magic around?

Got a QR code reader/generator you want to talk up – put it in the comments…

Backing up contacts to the cloud

I just bought a new Ipod Touch and ran into an issue with contacts. I have a lot on my old Touch and my Ipad, but how to get them onto my new Touch? I was impatient to get going with my new one and my Itunes was at work – I was at home. I suppose I could have backed up the old Touch to Itunes and restored to the new one. Too late for that!

I found a great free tool that let’s me backup the Ipad contacts and restore them to my new Touch. Now I have my contacts on all devices AND backed up to the cloud in case of emergencies! IDriveLite is the free app that does all this. IDrive also gives you free storage for files and photos, but I don’t really need that.

I like easy and free solutions! Now if only there was an app for my Google bookmarks we would all be set!
www.idrivelite.com

Technology Tool – Ooma

I’m on vacation this week and so we are having the worst weather of the summer! Oh well, gives me more time to write this blog. I like to write about tools I am actually using because I feel confident in my recommendations of them. This week I want to introduce you to VoIP tool Ooma.

I came across this almost by accident, one of those emails from Amazon recommending new electronics. I was initially about to delete it, but since I had never heard of Ooma I decided to investigate.

What Is Ooma?
Ooma uses your Internet connection to make phone calls. This means you can get rid of that nasty expensive land line that you don’t use much!

How Does It Work?
The really great thing about Ooma over alternatives you might have heard about, like MagicJack or Vonage, is that it let’s you use the current phones. The actual Ooma box sits between your Internet line and your router. Then you can plug in your current phone and you can use it just like you had plugged the phone into your land line jack. If you have a wireless setup with multiple handsets connected they will work just the same.

How Is Call Quality?
I have been using Ooma at home for over a year now and can say the call quality is great. Since the Ooma box sits between the Internet and router, it is able to monitor line activity and maintain call quality even if there are movies being streamed on your Internet line. When you pick up the phone there is a little jingle noise that let’s you know you are using Ooma.

How Much Does It Cost?
All US and Canada calls are free! The actual Ooma box varies in cost, currently about $200 – $250 depending on where you purchase it and coupons available. Since I bought the package last year, I pay no monthly fee. Now there is a monthly fee to cover the taxes and federal fee – think it is $3.50 a month. For international calls you can purchase a plan which is a good deal if you are making lots of calls. I, however, just use the prepaid option which still gives me calls to UK for 3.2c per minute – on par with calling cards I used to use.

Can I Keep My Current Number?
When you sign up for service you can also purchase the number porting service which allows you to port your current number to you Ooma phone service. Otherwise, you will be assigned a new number. What would be smart to do would be port your number to your Google Voice account and then have it forward your calls to your Ooma and cell numbers!

What Services Do I Get?
Ooma has a Premier monthly package you can subscribe to for $9.99. This gives you the ability to forward calls to another number, add more lines, etc. The basic service I have gives me caller ID and the Ooma answer machine. This does me fine and I have had no reason to upgrade to the other package.

When you buy Ooma in the box you get the main box and what they call a scout box. The scout let’s you use Ooma from any other room. As I have wireless handsets around the house I didn’t need it for this. I do have satellite TV service though which requires a constant phone line connection. I hooked up Ooma main set in my electronics cabinet (where I hide the modem, router, wireless router and big bulky electrical strip) and then put the scout box in the TV room and also use it as the answer machine. Honest, it wasn’t that complicated, but I like to have everything gadgetized in my house!

Answer Machine?
Yes, you get the answer machine, but even better it the Ooma Lounge which is the online account management piece. Here you can set up your email address and when someone leaves you a message on the answering machine you will get an email! You can either dial your phone number and prompt through to listen to the message of go to the Lounge online and listen to it there. Nothing worse than getting home and hearing a message to call someone, but now it’s too late. This way you can get immediate notification to check your messages.

Where Can I Buy Ooma?
Best Buy locations now carry Ooma packages, or you can get them from Amazon. Current Ooma users usually have refer a friend coupons that you can use to get a discount too.

I would highly recommend Ooma to anyone and can’t believe it is not more popular – probably because they don’t invest in advertising quite like Vonage and MagicJack. Well I am quite happy to give them a free plug here: http://www.ooma.com

Oh, I almost forgot, they have an Ipad add that let’s you make calls anywhere using your Ooma account from your Ipad – with the built in speakers and microphone!

Technology Tool – Music Streaming

This week I thought I would take a look at some music services I like to use. There are 2 categories of service – those that stream music you own and services you subscribe to that stream music.

Streaming Music You Own
There are some rumors that Apple is planning an iTunes streaming service after they bought the streaming service LaLa, this might be interesting as a future option too.

In the meantime I have been playing with a couple of services, mSpot and mp3tunes. At first I liked the idea of being able to access my iTunes library anywhere, but now I find that most of the time I am not so interested in listening to that music. If you have a very large library of music the initial sync of either service is going to take a long, long time!

mSpot: www.mspot.com This service requires a sync tool to install on the PC with iTunes and syncs this up to your online mSpot account. First sync will be long if you have many songs. Free account gives you 2gig storage, about 1800 songs. Then you can purchase more storage with monthly plans: 10gig more for $2.99 a month, etc.

MP3tunes: www.mp3tunes.com On the computer where you have iTunes installed, you install a sync program. This goes to the different folders and iTunes storage areas to hunt out music you own. Create an account online and the sync program will upload all your music to your locker. The sync program also monitors your drive for more music that you add and will prompt an new sync to be run. The other nice option offered by this service is a channel on your Roku box that let’s you play all your tunes through your TV and home theatre system.

There are desktop, android, Apple and webpage options (and Roku) for accessing the service. You get 2 gig storage with a free account or 50 gig for $5 a month. I am not going premium on this service though, there are some negative comments on the Apple app because this was the same company that had another service that ran into legal issues and was shut down. People seem to be of the opinion this might happen again.

Subscription Streaming Music Services
This is now my preferred option for obtaining music. I don’t own the song, but I have access to a massive library. And both services also have then option to find similar music you might enjoy. This music discovery is becoming the feature people want so that you can discover and appreciate new artists or just new to you artists.

Pandora: www.pandora.com This free service is a must have for anyone these days who likes on the go music. You create stations like a radio using artists or songs and Pandora streams music of a similar nature. They do this via a special project they undertook called the Music Genome Project. A group of music-analysts listened to thousands of songs picking out all the different components that they have – harmony, lyrics, tempo, etc and applied these characteristics to all the songs. So when you create a Pandora station based on a song, they are accessing this library of characteristics to stream more songs like it.

So you are listening to a station you created and a song comes on you don’t like – what do you do? Well, you can give the sing a thumbs down or skips it. However, free Pandora accounts only get 6 skips a day. Free accounts also have a limit of 40hrs of music a month, but if you exceed this you have 2 options: pay 99c to have unlimited hours until the end of the calendar month, or sign up for a premium account. A yearly subscription, which includes unlimited hours ad free music and unlimited skips, costs a whopping $36!

Pandora is available on your desktop, smartphone, Apple iTunes stores and on it’s webpage. I am quite happy with the free version and usually stream it to my car stereo, via Bluetooth, from my Android phone to keep me entertained on the hourly ride home at night!

GrooveShark: www.grooveshark.com This is by far my favorite streaming service – so much so, that I just went premium on it! Never heard of GrooveShark? It is similar to Pandora except it let’s you search it’s massive user uploaded library for any song or artist to play. As you find those lost 80’s hits you can create playlists and save these for future sad parties!

GrooveShark even has widgets that you can use to embed your playlist in a website so that anyone can listen to your cool DJing experiment! Up until recently, Apple had denied the app from iTunes and you had to have a jail broken iPad/iPhone/Touch to use the app. Hah, the gods shone a light down and the app is now in the app store!!! Android has an app too, so you can keep your tunes with you all the time.

The GrooveShark website gives you free listening anytime, but the apps only give you a free trial and then you need to spring for the premium (VIP) account. At $3 a month or $30 a year I figured this was well worth it – cheaper than buying the occasional iTunes song. I have been very impressed with the sheer number of songs and artists in the library – rarely not finding what I am looking for. From Shirley Basset to Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga and Michael Buble, oh and throw in some Pavarotti for good measure! The content is user uploaded so there is a vast array of disparate taste available.

There is now an option called ‘radio’ which plays on the Pandora idea of finding similar songs/artists to the last track played – for when the searching for those songs has just overwhelmed you!  The service seems to always be improving and adding new features – now if they would just get a Roku station I would be almost too happy!

As you might have gathered GrooveShark is my preferred option now.

  • Have you come across other services you like?
  • Do you prefer to purchase and stream or subscribe and stream?