How We Are Integrating New Or Updated Technology

The past couple of months have seen some big changes in the technology in our house.  I’m not sure how it all happened but there have been some new devices and some changes.  I wish I could say that I was on the cutting edge with all of it, but it’s been more of a slow go.

Still, I’m very excited, and I thought by putting it out there, maybe I could get some tips and tricks for any readers who have any of the devices or similar type items:

  • Samsung S4 Galaxy – My former employer had provided us with cell phones.  My new employer elected not to do that so I had to get a new phone.  We already have a Sprint family plan, and although the Sprint coverage is pretty bad, it would have been an out of pocket cost of two times more to go with another carrier.  I decided to bite the bullet and go on the family plan, and was able to snag a new S4 at Best Buy for no cost a few days before Christmas.  My old phone was an S3 so I already knew the Samsung, the OS, and was very impressed.  It was a pretty seamless transition, though not without hiccups. I had my two phones and attempted to transport all of my settings, application configuration information, and files to the new device.  Although everything transferred OK, the phone itself seemed a bit buggy.  The Android versions were different, so I felt maybe something got messed up along the way.  A couple of weeks after getting it, I ended up wiping it to factory reset and starting from scratch, this time setting everything up manually.  It took about two hours from start to finish, but I have noted that it does perform better.
  • Google Nexus tablet – My wife surprised me with a new Google Nexus tablet for Christmas.  I love it.  The tablet is Google so it has the very latest version of Android.  The tablet is great, but I’ve been without one for so long that I tend to forget to use it.  Around the house, it’s great for web browsing, playing music, and playing games.  I just need to remember to grab it when I need to do those things.  I still usually reach for my phone out of habit.
  • Old tablet made ‘new’ – I bought an HP Touchpad several years ago at a pretty dirtmb-201402tablet500 cheap price.  I realized pretty quickly why I didn’t really use it that much, as it was based on the HP/Palm WebOS platform, which has since been abandoned.  Very few apps meant that it was a shiny gadget without much purpose.  Well, after seeing the new tablet and how cool it was, I pulled the HP out of the drawer and set to do something that I’ve been talking about for two years: Root the device and install Android.  I did so, and it’s actually pretty cool.  The thing is pretty heavy compared to today’s tablets, though it does have a bigger screen.  I’d like to get Netflix and I’m thinking that this would be a good tablet for watching Netflix on the go, and probably not much else.
  • New TV – We bought a new 50″ LED TV a year ago.  Imagine my disappointment when I found that it had been cracked.  I think my kids were the culprit.  Our daughter went through a phase where she was chucking toys around just because, and I’m pretty sure an errant minion (from Despicable Me) gave the TV a non-repairable crack.  The TV is still watchable, but as a primary TV, it was not something I wanted long term.  I found a deal on an off brand TV that got great reviews, and so far it works great.  My wife did have to adjust the colors on it, and I have to say she did a great job.
  • Chromecast – I got a Chromecast for Christmas.  With the stash of Android devices I noted above, we have plenty of means to control the device.  And I love it.  As of now, I primarily use it to stream stuff from YouTube.  My 4-year old son loves anything to do with dinosaurs, so we are able to find various cartoons and educational episodes that keep him delighted.  As mentioned above, I’d like to get Netflix, which is integrated into the Chromecast.  I’ve also heard that Google will be releasing the API so that third party developers can start writing streaming apps, opening up the door for more apps such as found on the Roku.  Speaking of…
  • Roku – I purchased a Roku 3, which is pretty snazzy.  After some technical difficulties getting the remote control paired with the device, I was able to start using it.  Basically, it looks pretty slick and I’ve found a list of apps that seem to have access to good free content and cheap paid content.  Part of this will be the learning curve and just figuring out how to use it.  This will just take some time.

That’s quite a bit of technology being introduced to our household in a relatively short period of time.  So far, it’s been pretty slow go as far as getting familiar with the products and maximizing their usage.  I think two things will over come this.   The first is time.  I just need time to sit down and get used to them.  The second is familiarity.  Having never had devices that stream media to a TV, you don’t have that integrated into your activities or have it click in your head to check that when looking for something to watch.  Same with tablets.  I’ve never really had one, so now that they’re there, I just don’t think of them reflexively.  That will change simply by using them and discovering what they can do.

What type of technology have you added recently and how is it going?  Any tips on any of the devices above?

A Rare Impulse Buy: I Ordered A Roku!

I recently wrote about how we’re looking into whether we can potentially cut cable TV this year.  In addition to doing research on what we can access and how we can access it in the event we ‘cut the cord’, one of the things I want to understand is the technology.

Well, you can only do so much reading about the devices, so it’s time to get hands on!  I have a few different updates, first tied into our ‘soon to arrive’ Roku.

Part I: Roku

Last week, there was a Woot Off, and I happened to log in when they were offering a Roku 3 for $65.  This is the current premium device, and it was selling for $65, a 35% discount from the $100 suggested price.

With Woot Offs, you only have a limited amount of time to buy one before they end and they move to the next item.  It’s dependent on inventory.  So, I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, and I limited my research to seeing what people were saying in the item comment section. The view was that this was a great device, much better than with older Roku’s in terms of technology and content, and that the $65 was a great price.

So I jumped.

I ended up getting one about a minute before they ran out, and it should hopefully arrive soon.

I’m excited because I’ve heard that Roku has access to many channels of streaming content, everything from the weather to news to kids programming, and it’s all available as soon as you get it plugged in and connected to the Internet.  In addition, you can access subscription content from things like Netflix or Hulu Plus.

We don’t subscribe to either of these…yet.

I’m thinking that at the very least I will sign up for Netflix.  I know you get a month free for activating (or re-activating in our case, though it’s been a few years since we’ve subscribed), and I definitely want to check it out.  I’ve heard mixed reviews about Netflix.  I’ve heard that their movie content is so-so, that their current TV content is pretty bad (though everybody says Hulu Plus is where you go for this), but that TV content over a season old is where you can hit the jackpot.  I’m fine with seeing what’s available.

When I last subscribed to Netflix, they were just getting streaming content off the ground.  In fact, it was still part of the regular subscription price as they had so few people using it.  My, how things have changed.

Part II: Chromecast

The Roku isn’t the only device that we have to use for streaming content.  I also have a Chromecast which I received as a Christmas gift.  This is branded as a more affordable streaming content device that’s easier to use.  In terms of ease, I couldn’t agree more.  I had that unboxed and hooked up within 5 minutes, and was streaming content from YouTube via my tablet to the TV.

It was pretty cool.  There aren’t a lot of providers that are yet able to work with it.  Initially it was pretty much YouTube and Netflix.  Now, I know they’ve added content from at least half a dozen other providers, and I’ve heard they plan on releasing the API so that third party providers can write their own apps, which should really open things up.

Part III: Availability and Stability

mb-201401tvLast week, I caved in and bought something that my wife has been bugging me about for a long time, a wireless repeater.  The way our cable and wireless is situated, it’s located on one side of the house, on the main level.  The coverage is fine for the entire first floor and about 75% of the second floor, but there’s about 25% of the second floor that gets very spotty service.  That spot is, of course, our master bedroom.  So, since one of these devices will be used on the TV in our room, not to mention that we use our tablets and smartphones throughout the house, this will provide some much needed coverage.  I could have done some re-wiring and such, but the price of the repeater is $30, and I think it will provide a much more reliable solution in the long run.

I’m still waiting on that.  It’s Amazon’s number one seller in the category, and they usually run out regularly, so hopefully that will be here soon.  It sounds pretty easy to configure.  You plug it in, browse to it on the network, confirm the wireless network you want to repeat, provide the security codes, and it takes it from there.

Part IV: More Research

I know that some of the apps for the Roku and Chromecast have the capability to stream content from media servers and such.  Honestly, I have no idea how to do any of this.  I know my dad has something set up in his house, as he streams music from a PC that runs media services.  Some off-the-cuff conversations have led me to believe that you could use something like this to act as a DVR, if you could add a tuner device which could grab TV signals from the air, and save it.  I have no idea if any of this would work and what it would involve, but I definitely want to see.

The Goal: Simulation

My goal through the devices I have is to start looking at ways to simulate in parallel accessing the same content that I do today with our cable box.  If I find that I can get everything and it’s easy, maybe the cord really can be cut.  Of course, I’ll have to work with my wife, who I think will put up the biggest fight if I were to suggest it.  There’s also the logistics that readers have pointed out, with things as  simple as ‘How do you know what time TV shows are on?’ or ‘How do you know about new shows?’ as you won’t have commercials or promos built into the content that you receive that you would see on a TV, even if you used a DVR.

Either way, it’s a lot of fun and I feel like, as a former techie, I need to get caught back up to the current technology age a bit.