DTE Insight v3 Review: A Big Step Back

Like many power companies, our local company rolled out smart meters a few years ago.  These smart meters are in constant communication with the power company.  Benefits for this include real-time monitoring capabilities and the elimination of meter reads.  Drawbacks are, according to some, increased exposure to RF radiation as the communication takes place.  Like it or not, they are here to stay. Our company, DTE Energy, made it really cool. They came up with a device called an Energy Bridge and an app called DTE Insight that allowed real time monitoring of your usage. They recently rolled out DTE Insight v3.  Here’s my review.

Energy Bridge and DTE Insight

The Energy Bridge and the DTE Insight app went hand in hand.  With the app, any electric customer could monitor their usage.  It provided breakdowns by day, week, and month.  You typically had access to your statistics after a day or two.  With the Energy Bridge device, it moved this up to real-time.  This device had a data connection that you plugged into your home router. It paired with your electric meter, and you could view your usage in real time.

It’s a really cool bit of technology.  On many occasions, I would pull up the app, and literally go around the house, turning things on or off, or plugging or unplugging devices to see how much energy it used.

It was wicked cool

And, because I signed up when it first came out, it was free!

Widespread Rollout

After a couple of years, they announced that they would be making this available to everybody.  Apparently once they ran out of the initial devices, that was it.

Existing customers received notice that a brand new device would be coming our way, replacing the first device.  The new devices were wi-fi capable, which was a definite plus.  So far as I can tell, that was about the only improvement.

Still, the device came, and after getting it configured, it was back to business as usual.

Trouble On The Horizon

One of the things their rollout e-mail promised was that we would soon have an updated app to use.  I was curious so I went on the Google Play Store to see what I could find.

It wasn’t good.

The reviews of the updated app were lukewarm at best.  One common complaint was that the newer version of the app took away a lot of features.

I guess I was skeptical of this, because why would any developer take away features?

Well, turns out that they were right.

The New DTE Insight v3 Sucks

The old version of the app (v2.3.7) will no longer be supported.  Customers who want to use their Energy Bridge have to upgrade or it won’t work.

I have automatic updates turned on for my apps, so one recent morning I saw that I’d received the newer version of the app.  How did I know? Well, the icon was missing from my front page but I found it in my Apps folder, and the icon was different than before.

I had a feeling that the fact that it didn’t put the icon back wasn’t a good sign.

Turns out, I was right.

First, the new app made me log in again.  I can’t stand when apps do this.  Unless it’s a financial app or app that can be used to compromise my identity, I want to set it and forget it.  But, no big deal, I soon supplied my username and password and I was in.  It kept the connection to my Energy Bridge device, which I guess was good.

But, then I started noticing how awful this app is.  I realized after about two minutes that none of the reviews were exaggerating.

Pretty much every feature I’d found helpful in the old app was gone.

Missing Features

  • Current Day Access to Real Time Data – In the old app, you could press and hold a circle and move it around and it would show you your usage for any point in the day.  Now, that was gone.  I could see my real time data, but trying to go back a few hours was a no-go.
  • Historical Data – The old app showed pretty much every bit of historical data you could think of.   I could compare any month to the last twelve months, or even go back over a year.  The new app has no historical data whatsoever.
  • Budget and Usage Goals – In the old app, you could set your goals based on historical data.  I always set that I wanted to keep my usage at the same level as the same month a year ago.  But, since they got rid of the historical data, the ability to goal set is gone as well.  How lame.
  • Challenges – The old app had some different challenges, and when you made them you were awarded points.  For example, if you checked your usage on three different days, you’d often get a couple hundred points.  If you kept your usage under a certain amount for the week, that was good for a few hundred points.  The challenges changed weekly.  They were cool.  You didn’t really get anything for them, but it was still something to shoot for.  These have all vanished.

Adding Insult to Injury: They Are Charging For This

All of the above is bad, but to top it off, they’re now charging for anyone that wants an Energy Bridge device.  They will start charging 99 cents per month.  Now, since I was a user of the old device, I get six months for free.  Which is good, because otherwise I’d be sending that thing back today.

I find it really amazing to think that they would strip away so many features, and then turn around and call it an upgrade.  My guess is that this is probably a brand new app, so technically they’re starting from scratch.  But you know what?  That’s no excuse for rolling out something so terrible.

Because of the fact that I’m getting this for six months, I guess I’ll hold onto it for now.  But simply put, DTE Insight v3 is awful.  Hopefully by December they are on a newer version that brings back the features I found handy.  If not, I have a feeling they’ll be getting a lot of these things sent back.  Mine would be one of them.

Readers, do you have any devices or systems that allow you real time monitoring of your utility usage? Would you pay for such a thing?  

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

10 Things I Loved About Our Disney World Trip (And 2 I Didn’t)

We recently went down to Disney World.  This was the second time for our family. It was a great time.  We actually spent a few days in Florida at the beach, so it was like two trips in one!  It was a fantastic trip, for the most part.  Disney World can definitely be the most magical place on Earth, though magic means that you’re tired, that’s for sure.

Here are ten things I loved and two I didn’t.

Things We Loved

Our Hotel

We stayed at the Port Orleans French Quarter hotel.  This was our first time staying at a moderate.  We loved it.  Compared to just about every other resort, it’s very small.  The rooms aren’t decorated with Disney themed decor, but more New Orleans decor.  At first my 6-year old daughter was not impressed.  However, by the end of the trip, we were all in love.  It was a very peaceful and relaxing place to stay.  We took a stroll along the riverside, which was practically right outside our door.

We even got to save money here.  They offered us $10 in gift card credits if we would decline housekeeping.  We were glad to do this, and got a $40 gift card as a result.  Bonus!

Our Meal Plan

When we booked the trip, we were just going to pay as you go.  But, a few weeks ago we booked the meal plan.  This gives each person the following per day:

  • One table service meal
  • One quick service meal
  • Two snack credits

My wife did a lot of research and we definitely got good value for our plan. She booked us at some places that would have cost quite a bit out of pocket.  Plus, we got to try some amazing side dishes and deserts that would have cost quite a bit.  But, in the end, we had no regrets at all about this cost.

YouTube Videos

There are bloggers and vloggers that make a living dispensing Disney related advice.  I’m not lying.  And it’s good advice!  My wife spent the weeks leading up to the trip watching videos while on the treadmill each morning.  We learned a lot of fantastic things as result.  From places to eat (and to avoid) to travel tips, we learned a lot from different videos.  And best of all, it’s all free!

Travel Agent

On both of our trips, we used a travel agent, but this was a much better experience.  Our last agent really didn’t seem all that helpful.  She worked with us but never really seemed to got to know us.  The whole ‘blah’ experience was exemplified when she never followed up during the trip or afterward to see how things went.

For this trip, we found someone different, and she was, in a word, incredible!  Her name was Kelly from Simply Enchanted Travel.  (I get nothing back from referrals).  She was in constant touch with us before, during, and even after the trip.  She sent us this goodie bag before the trip, complete with a customized, bound itinerary handbook.  Booking through a travel agent doesn’t cost you any more than if you book things yourself.  So the cost savings is good to begin with, but it’s especially awesome when you find a great agent!

Great Wait Staff

One of the knocks on Disney World is that their dining experiences are often iffy.  Wait staff can be a big knock here.  But, for several of our ‘signature’ meals in the places we were looking forward to the most, the staff was awesome. This turned several really good sit-down meals into absolutely awesome meals.

Alcohol

The dining plan has recently been modified so that table service and quick service meals include an adult beverage.  After a long day at the park, this definitely was a nice little touch.  On our last trip, we often purchased a drink anyway, so this worked out very nicelly.

Fun Characters

Our kids are of the age (8 and 6) where meeting characters was still a big draw.  There were a few really fun characters that they’ll remember for a long time.  Olaf (from Frozen) acted scared of my son’s Darth Vader shirt.  Sadness (from Inside Out) was just perfect, making you want to do nothing more than give her hug after hug.  It’s really cool to see the characters that we all know ‘come to life’.

The Nighttime Castle Show

I can’t remember what’s it’s called, but they do a show at the Cinderella castle that’s amazing.  I grumbled at having to stake out our spot over an hour in advance, but it’s awesome.  The castle is transformed over and over again to capture moments from many Disney and Pixar movies.  There’s fireworks and music and it’s truly amazing.

The Love For Mickey & Minnie

On our last day, each kid got a stuffed character toy.  My son got Mickey Mouse and my daughter got Minnie.  After they got them, there were so many cast members (Disney workers) that would acknowledge them, waving or saying hello to Mickey and Minnie.  It always brought a smile to the kids faces.  It’s great to see the special love for the characters that got the whole thing started.

Flight of Passage

The hot ride across all four parks right now is Pandora: Flight of Passage.  It just opened last year and the wait times are always high, and the longest of any ride.  We got a Fast Pass for it so we got right on.  Both my wife and I agreed that we didn’t want to know anything about it.  As such, we avoided reading about it or having others tell us anything about it.

With that in mind, I won’t spoil any details, either, but I will say this: It. Was. Awesome.  I’ve been on a lot of different rides at different parks and this was definitely like no other.  It was absolutely breathtaking.

Things We Didn’t Love

There were a few things we could have lived without.  None of this took away from our overall experience, as we realize no trip is ever perfect.  Still, maybe this will help others in future planning.

Mission: Space

I’ve been on this ride before.  It’s where you get buckled into a simulated space ship and go for a training mission around Earth. It’s a pretty cool ride and was shaping up to be this time as well, when it abruptly stopped.  Something malfunctioned and we stopped moving.  Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal but you’re in a very, very enclosed space.  Like, you sit down, the shoulder harness comes down, and then the pod closes right on top of that.  Once we stopped, you quickly realize how you are trapped.

Luckily, we were only trapped for about ten minutes, but both my son and wife started getting upset, and we were extremely glad to get out. Disney did give us an extra fast pass to use for the trouble.  Still, all four of us agreed that we’ll definitely skip this one in the future.

Busy Season Is All The Time

Many people try to plan trips around how busy it gets.  A piece of advice: Don’t bother.  It’s busy all the time.  Disney is spending a lot of money on park upgrades and really focusing on revenue growth in this area.  They just opened Pandora last year.  Toy Story land will open this year.  Star Wars land will open next year.  These are all projects where they are spending hundreds of millions of dollars apiece.

With that in mind, they are working hard and succeeding at keeping the parks full.  Simply put, there is no time where things aren’t busy.  You will have to wait in line.  You’re going to be among crowds of people most of the time.  It’s unavoidable.  But, if you go in knowing what to expect, you’ll be fine.

That, and a great travel agent helps!

Have you been to a Disney park lately? Any plans?  Let me know in the comments below.

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Five Star Books I Read In 2017

I love to read.  I track my books read on Goodreads.  My goal is to read 52 books per year.  So far, for the last two years, I’ve exceeded this goal.  One thing I love about Goodreads is that I can track the books I read.  I can also track how I rated them.  This is great because I can look back at books I loved.  I can track authors that I’ve enjoyed reading and find their latest books.  Here are my five star books from last year.  These were the best of the best from my perspective.

Revelation – Carter Wilson

This was one of the first books I read on my Kindle during vacation, and I loved it.  Wilson is not a well known author.  The book only has 255 ratings on Goodreads.  Still, it’s a great book if you love dark reads.  A man wakes up trapped in a room with a typewriter, and instructions to write a story.  He knows his kidnapper, but he has to figure out how to write what the kidnapper is looking for.  It bounces back between the kidnapping and the prior couple of years.  It’s a very creepy and disturbing read but very intense and well written.

Setting Free The Kites – Alex George

This book was set in the 1970’s and tells the tale of two teenage boys who become friends among shared tragedy.  You really feel like you get to know both of them, and the events and experiences that bond them together are written so that you feel you’re really there.  Being able to visualize myself watching the story is a sign of a well written book.  I couldn’t stop reading this book once I started.  I think it only took me a couple of days.

A Thousand Acres – Jane Smiley

I had written a previous review on The Last Hundred Years trilogy.  While the final book in that series disappointed, I loved the first two.  This is one of her older books, that got her on the map, and I loved it.  It’s again set in the Iowa cornfields, but from the perspective of three sisters who are turned against each other when their father reveals his intention to his 1,000 acre farm to them.  It isn’t a peaceful transition by any means, and it’s fascinating to watch things unfold.  Smiley has a way of making you root both for and against characters at the same time.  I love this and loved reading this book.

Beartown – Fredrik Backman

This is a book about a hockey team.  This is a book about the players and coaches of the hockey team.  Also, this is a book about the town where the team plays.  Honestly, this book is about so many things but it’s just wonderfully written.  Characters are unfolded in layers.  You start hearing the story of any character, and you form a first impression.  As the stories are told throughout the book, your perspective will shift slightly.  Then it will change again and again.  This effect happens with a whole bunch of characters, and it’s done almost flawlessly.  This was probably my favorite book that I read all year.

Image courtesy of morguefile via beanworks

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

As you can tell, I love books about characters, and this is a book that fits the bill perfectly.  It touches on a family and the dynamics that build and break bonds.  Understanding of how parents become who they are and how it impacts who their children become are major themes.  This isn’t a book full of twists and turns.  You see much of what’s coming.  But, how everybody gets there and the stories that go into that are what make this book great.

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

Since Beartown was such a great book, I wanted to read another Backman book.  And, it did not disappoint at all.  This is a book that is about an old man who hates the world.  Or does he?  As the book unfolds, he gets ripped out of his routine.  He isn’t happy about this and isn’t afraid to let everyone around him know about it.  Even so, it happens anyways, and his acceptance of change is the story here.  You want to pull your hair out as you read about Ove.  At the same time, you nod along as he describes some of his many frustrations.  This book has a lot of laugh out loud moments, many involving a character simply known as ‘the cat’.

That’s it.  Those are the books that stood out in 2017.  I’ll definitely be checking out more from these authors, both older books and future releases.

Readers, what books did you read that stuck with you recently?

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Are Our Amazon Kids Tablets Holding Up?

Our kids have had Amazon Kids Tablets for awhile.  They’re great for long car rides or when they need some down time.  We limit their time on them.  Now the Kids Tablet isn’t the official name.  They’re actually the Amazon Fire tablet.  But we bought them both with the kids bundle.  This include a kid friendly carrying case, a warranty, and a subscription to Free Time.

I’ll start off by saying that my wife doesn’t like them. She’s used to her iPad and we even use her old one for the kids as a secondary option.  So, she makes me deal with the Amazon tablets, and I have a slightly different approach.  Overall, I don’t really care for them too much, but for the value, I like them.

Here are some thoughts on various aspects.

Hardware

The hardware has actually held up pretty well.  My daughter’s buttons for volume and power are a bit harder to manage.  Overall, though, everything else has held up well.

Battery

I will admit, you get what you pay for on battery life.  By and large, it isn’t very good.  They can use them for around three hours before having to re-charge.  What I really don’t like is that when they’re not used, they still drain battery.  Both my wife’s iPad and my Google Nexus basically stop draining battery when the screen is off.  The Amazon tablets will drain about 25% or more battery in a day, even when off.  This has made for a few frustrating occasions when the kids want to use them, but have no power.

Free Time Unlimited

Each tablet we bought gave us a year subscription to Free Time Unlimited.  This gives access to a ton of kids games and books.  This was good and bad.  The problem is that it presented every single option available.  Our kids would try to check out a whole bunch.  We ended up with storage problems many times as a result.  Plus it was hard for our kids to scroll through with so many options.

After two years the free subscriptions ran out.  Then they wanted $5 or $6 per month to continue.  No thanks.  I cancelled the subscription and the apps went away from the main screen.  However, it appeared that any app data they had was still on the device.  Not so cool.

Other Apps

It took me a while but I figured out how to get the kids set up with different apps and books.  I can actually do it all from my desktop.  I browse through the Amazon App Store, find free games or books, and ‘buy’ them.  Then I can assign them to either or both tablets.  Then I go to the app setting and grant access to who I want to have the app.  Within an hour it or so it shows up on their tablet.

There aren’t as many games as are in the Google or Apple stores, but there’s still a decent amount.  They also have a fairly decent selection of eBooks.

Storage

We have the basic tablets that have 8GB of storage.  We also bought an external SD card for more storage. This works out pretty well, except the problem is that most apps put all or most application data on the internal storage.  Even if you ‘move’ an app to external storage, it seems very little actually gets transferred.

As a result we often run out of space.  Now, Amazon integrates the ‘Cloud’ where it archives apps that haven’t been used in awhile.  This sounds great but can be very frustrating.  Essentially what happens is that each app that’s actually on the device has a checkmark.  Any app that’s been archived (or never downloaded) does not have a checkmark.

This seems pretty straightforward except that there are times when an app that they use regularly suddenly disappears.  This can be especially frustrating if we’ve taken the tablet in the car and there’s no wi-fi.  This does seem to happen when the device starts running low on storage space, which is quite regularly.

Resetting

Luckily, I’ve figured out that dealing with the storage issue is pretty simple.  All you have to do is reset the device.  Since everything is associated with my Amazon account and the individual profiles, it’s no big deal to reset the device to factory defaults and start over.  This wipes the internal storage (but not the SD card) and starts over.  As soon as I enter my Amazon credentials, it downloads the kids profile info.  Then, they can just download the apps again.  Much of the app data is stored on the cloud, so they don’t lose their progress in every game.

I’ve found that resetting the device is often the quickest method to fixing problems when it starts getting slow.  I had originally downloaded a couple of programs that were supposed to clean unused files, and while it worked to some degree, it seemed a stopgap solution.

Sticking With Them For Now

As you can tell, the Amazon Fire tablet is not as straightforward as other devices.  I know my wife would disagree, but I still think it’s good for the kids.  For a bundle that cost under $100 each, it’s been worth the trade offs.  I think as they get older, the limited content might end up being an issue.  But by that point, I’d probably trust them with a more expensive piece of equipment, where I really don’t today.

 

Copyright 2017 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.