A review of the Fitbit Flex and Aria scale

I recently had the opportunity to become familiar with the Fitbit product line through a work project and decided to take advantage and give the product a try.

The Fitbit product

The basis of the Fitbit product is a pedometer that tracks steps and other functions such as counting the amount of stairs climbed, vibrating alarms, and sleep tracking.

Fitbit comparisons

The first Fitbit that I used was the Fitbit Zip. This is their least expensive model and sells for about $60. The Zip tracks steps and some other items like the time, calories burned, etc. From the reviews that I read on Amazon, it seemed that many people liked the Fitbit One and Flex models which are newer and offer some new features including sleep tracking.

flexI did some research on the One and the Flex and they both have comparable features. I decided to purchase the Flex because it is waterproof, it goes on your wrist like a watch, and has a silent alarm. I was worried that I would lose the One which many people complained about in the reviews that I read on Amazon. The largest complaint about the Flex was that it was not as accurate as the One or Zip and it does not count stairs climbed like the One.

I have since compared the Flex with the Zip to gauge the accuracy of the Flex. Over the course of three days I found that out of an average of over 10,000 steps in a single day that the Flex was only 284 steps short of the count of the Zip. I will take the difference of 2.84% for the ability to hopefully not lose the Flex and the ability for it to get wet. The alarm is a nice feature for a bonus.

Aria Scale

The next item that I decided to purchase from Fitbit was their Aria product which is a weight scale that syncs with the Fitbit.com site through your Wi-Fi connection. Not only does it capture the weight of its users, it can also gather BMI information. The Aria is not limited to a single user, it is intelligent enough to recognize up to eight different people.

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Here is and example of the weight graph in the Fitbit.com site. It supplies more detail and is nice to have for reference. The first spike on the left was the result of a week at the cabin in the summer 🙂

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The combination of the Flex and Aria scale

With both the Flex and Aria, the Fitbit.com site becomes very informative. I can track my weight history, my activity, calorie counts, calorie burn, water intake, and food intake. Fitbit has opened up an API layer to allow other products and services to be synced with Fitbit.com. I can use the large food database of MyFitnessPal and the tracking of bike rides with Endomondo to input into my calories consumed and burned. The Fitbit.com site then becomes a nice ‘hub’ for all of your activities and inputs.

The positive effect of using a Fitbit

Being more aware of my activity levels has been motivating. When I am close to 10,000 steps I want to meet or exceed my goal. When I am really light on step counts, I want to get something logged for the day. When I take a walk to get the full 10,000 steps I will go out of my way to make sure that I will have reached my goal by the time I am home. When I travel, I am on the treadmill until my goal is hit.

Stepping on the Aria scale every morning has been rewarding to see the progress of my weight loss. It also allows me to watch my weight. If I am trending up then I know that I need to take it easy for a couple of days.

I have been working on losing weight since late 2012 and was generally aware of where I was but had no record or reference. Recently, I asked my doctor to provide some weight history and he was able to print a graph. Now I can produce this information myself as shown above.

The social aspect

friendsrankingPart of the benefit of having others with Fitbit products around you is the benefit of the social integration of the Fitbit.com site. On the site, I can check my progress compared to my friends over the last seven days and I get a weekly email with my personal progress of many metrics along with where I stand with my friends. As you can see below, I am not doing very well in the winter time…

 

Conclusion

Being a geek I was drawn to the technology behind the Fitbit product. The integration that they offer with other sites and services is a good indication to me that they are going down the right path with a somewhat ‘open’ platform that recognizes the strength of other services.

Carolyn and I have both use the Flex model and have seen an explosion of usage at work and with friends over the last nine months. The Fitbit product line has been a positive influence on our lives by encouragement and awareness of activity and other health related metrics. I am a big fan!

How to: Remote backup between two D-Link DNS-325 NAS devices

I recently picked up a second DNS-325 device to have installed at a family member’s house so that I can perform remote backups of our files between the two 325 devices. My goal was that I was tired of paying ~$60 for Carbonite every year and I wanted to find a less expensive solution. So, I picked up an extra NAS for about $100 on sale and used some smaller drives that I already owned in the new NAS. The configuration was pretty simple and will save us money over the coming years. Follow these instructions to get setup.

Important Notes:

  • Both of my DNS-325 units are running the 1.02 firmware version.
  • Before starting this process it is assumed that there is data with directories on the NAS to be backed up and that there are directories created on the remote NAS where the backups will reside.
  • There is a bug in 1.02 that I have found where if I restart or have a power outage, I have to re-enter my “Remote Server” password. The summary of backup jobs will show a “failed” status if either of these events occur and the password is not re-entered.

Setup NAT entries

This step is only needed if backups will be performed over the Internet.

On your router forward ports 22, 873, and 62057 to your internal IP address of the DNS-325. My router looks like the following as an example.

 Configure the Remote Server

To enable the remote backup service, the remote server needs to be enabled on the destination NAS. The destination NAS is where the backup will reside.

Login to the web interface on the remote backup NAS.

Click on “Applications”

Click on “Remote Backups”

Check the box labeled “Enable remote backup service” and enter a password of your choice. Click “Save Settings”

Configure Remote Backups

Now it is time to identify the directories that will be backed up to the remote NAS. These steps are to be performed on the NAS that contains the data that is desired to be backed up.

Login to the web interface on the NAS with the data that needs to be backed up.

Click on “Applications”

Click on “Remote Backups”

Click on “Remote Backups” on the left side of the screen, then click “Create”, and finally “Next” on the welcome screen.

Select “NAS to NAS” in the Service Type selection and “Local to Remote” in the Backup direction selection.

Enter a backup name in the “Task” input, then browse for a folder path of the directory that is desired for backup, and click “Next”.

Enter an IP (not a hostname) in the “Remote IP” entry (this IP must be the Internet IP for remote backups or your local network IP for local backups), enter the password that was entered above in the “Configuring the Remote Server” section, check the “Enable encryption” checkbox, and click “Next”.

A “Testing” message will first show up and if the IP, NAT entries (for Internet backups), and password are correct the following screen should appear with a “Remote Path” dropdown”. Select the destination directory on the remote NAS and click “Next”.

Select any “Schedule Mode” that is desired and whether or not to run the backup job now.

**Keep in mind that if the job is run and contains a lot of data a remote connection will take a long time to complete. I recommend performing these backups initially over a local network by simply changing the “Remote IP” entry above to the local network IP and then later modify the job for a remote IP. Also, if many jobs are going to be created one after another it is wise to NOT run the backups because running backups will prevent subsequent jobs from being created until they are completed.

Click “Next”

Complete this step by reviewing the summary and click “Finish”. The backups can be run manually in the “Remote Backups” screen by clicking the “Backup Now” icon.

I hope this tutorial helps some people. Enjoy!

Review of Verizon’s Galaxy Nexus

I picked up a Galaxy Nexus (GN) a few weeks ago after finding that Verizon had my account upgrade eligible. I figured that I might as well take advantage of this upgrade and get the phone that will have the latest and greatest that Android can offer over the next couple of years.

Main Features:

  •  Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) OS
  • Super OMLED 720p Screen
  • Near Field Communication (NFC)
  • Zero lag camera
  • 4G LTE

The Nexus line of devices are considered to be developer phones. These “Google” devices and are not supposed to have bloat (Verizon!?) that the carriers typically add to their devices and are ‘pure’ Android and do not have modified software such as HTC Sense or Moto Blur for example. The results of not having this extra bloat is a fast and smooth experience. The Nexus line is also supposed to be the first to get OS updates from Google versus having to wait until the OEM or carrier to get around to updating a device.

Build Quality

The build quality of this device is on par with other Samsung phones that I have played with. This is my first Samsung Android device so I do not have much to compare. The device is light in weight and feels of plastic as that is what the phone is constructed with. I would say that my HTC Rezound and EVO’s before it have had a more solid feel. I  am not worried about the construction of the phone and its ability to hold up over time.

I do not usually get caught up in how a phone looks but I will say that I do admire the look of this device and the deep black front of the phone and screen that blend together very well.

Performance

This phone is fast! The browsers run very smoothly, especially when using the new Chrome Beta browser. While Android in its current state will never be as smooth as iOS, the GN performs very well. Transitions are smooth and I find the rotation of the screen to be pleasant. Movies and games all play very well and multitasking is never a problem.

The signal reception is weaker than other Verizon devices that I have experience with. The phone, for talking (who does that anymore?) is not the loudest phone that I have used. Also, the speaker quality could be better.

Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0)

I really like the polished look of ICS. When I switch back to my Rezound, I instantly notice the difference. All of the Google based applications look very nice and the navigation is much better with less hidden navigation. The colors and fonts are very clean. Unlike previous Android versions, the applications are not bland with dull buttons and instead have nice icon buttons that can be long pressed for labels. The calendar even provide pinch to zoom for the single day view.

Gmail inbox and single day view in calendar

People application and Gmail composing

Camera

Other than the radio performance I would say this is the only other big weakness of this device. When compared to the Rezound or iPhone camera, the GN is lacking. The features in the camera software are a lot of fun, there is a new panorama mode which I do like to use along with a built in stop motion mode which I plan to use this summer at the cabin. At the same time, I can download third party apps to perform these tasks for my non ICS devices but it is nice to have the native functionality.

Screen

The screen on this phone is gorgeous. The vivid colors and contrast is top notch. The display does use pentile technology which has had some bad press from the Motorola line of phones that use it with little success. I will say that Samsung has figured out this technology and it is a non-issue on the GN.

NFC

Near field communication technology is in its infancy in smart phones. There is an issue with the Verizon GN phone and using Google Wallet. Verizon does not want people to use Google Wallet because of their partnership with Isis. Isis will launch the Verizon solution later this year offering options for mobile payments. I have installed the Google Wallet application which is kind of fun. No wallet to pull out of your pocket, just tap your phone on the payment device. This will be very handy with vending machines, gas stations, and restaurants. Other uses can include sharing links and other content when ‘bumping’ a phone with beam technology that is built into ICS. PayPal already has functionality to allow for ‘bump’ payments to another person which could be VERY helpful for many types of transactions.

Battery Life

The stock battery will get a person through a day with little usage and 4G enabled. There is an OEM extended battery with a 13% increase in capacity available. As usual, I went with Seidio for their 3800 mAh extended battery which now also has an NFC option (the antenna is built into the battery on the CDMA/LTE device). The extended battery from Seidio has no problem getting me through a day of use.

Conclusion

Having the latest release of Android is a fun benefit of the Galaxy Nexus. Add in the wonderful screen and nice look of the device and this phone is a legitimate contender for one of the top devices in Verizon’s lineup right now. I have been running a leaked patch version (4.0.4) which has helped with the signal performance, overall performance of the device, and some bug fixes. I was not confident enough to take the GN over the Rezound when I first moved to Verizon. This device upgrade ‘error’ that allowed me to have both devices has been a nice bonus 🙂

***Update 6/7/12 – I have primarily been using my Rezound due to Galaxy Nexus reception issues and a known “muting” during calls issue. I wanted badly for this phone to be my primary device but it fails to deliver when I need it most.

Versus the HTC Rezound

While I find myself leaning towards the GN more and more for regular daily use, I still come back to the Rezound when I know that I have a long day and need reliability of signal and voice quality/volume. I consider the Rezound to be my workhorse. I am very curious how the GN performs when I go to the cabin this summer. The benefit of the Rezound having simultanious 3G voice and data is very beneficial for having to work when I am at the lake without LTE coverage. Because of this, I may end up using the Rezound often when at the lake.

My first Google Plus Hangout

Today I noticed that Mashable was holding a hangout so I joined with my Galaxy Nexus smartphone and was very impressed with how smooth everything was. As different people traded thoughts on a subject, the current speaker would come into view. The video and audio quality was very impressive on my LTE connection.

I think this technology could be a lot of fun for disconnected sports fans who want to hangout (ha ha).

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Making payments with my phone

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I used my Galaxy Nexus phone and Google Wallet application the other day to pay for my meal at McDonald’s. The technology that makes this possible is near field communication (NFC). It was not a perfect experience as the first attempt failed but the second attempt went through. The guy at the counter was a little confused to what i was doing and was even more surprised when my meal was suddenly paid for 🙂

I know that some people have reservations about this technology worrying that bumping into someone can cause a charge against their credit card. The good news is that a pin is required to make payments and in the case of Google Wallet and MasterCard, they have consumer protection to address these concerns.

I look forward to using this technology which already exists at Best Buy, BP Stations, CVS, Home Depot, and McDonald’s among others. There is a good chance that technology will be included in the next iPhone which will really blow up this market. It will be interesting to see how phone manufacturers and carriers handle this technology and try to capture revenue from these technologies.

Gunnar Glasses Review

I visited my optometrist before the end of the year to burn up my remaining flex dollars. After my eye exam and the good news that my vision is still good with no real reason to get prescription glasses, I explained that I have been suffering from headaches at work. Starring at my screen for a good part of the day and having florescent bulbs overhead tweaks my eyes out and I would go home with headaches a few times a week. The doctor told me to ‘hear her out’ and began to explain that there are glasses that were developed for ‘gamers’ who play games for many hours at a time and that they have had good results with professionals with eye strain related to computer use.

The doctor handed me off to a sales person who lead me to a case with a variety of glasses with a yellow tint to them. He began to explain to me a coating that blocks some of the light and how the yellow helps to soften the colors on my computer screen. I decided to pickup a pair figuring that anything was worth a try. I tried on a few pairs of these glasses and settled on the Emissary model. By default I was told that these glasses have half of the power of the lowest reading ‘cheaters’ but that they are also available via prescription as well.

After two weeks of use, I am happy to report that I have not went home with a headache! In fact, I felt a headache coming on during an all day meeting in a room with florescent lighting, I put my new glasses on and avoided it. I now find it interesting that when I take my Gunnars off at work, my screen seems very LOUD to my eyes.

While at the office, I do get plenty of questions about my yellow tinted glasses. Hopefully at least one person that I educate about Gunnars can help themselves avoid headaches.

A review of Verizon’s HTC Rezound

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When I recently switched to Verizon I wanted the yet to be released and long delayed Samsung Galaxy Nexus to be my end state phone but started with the HTC Rezound and a 30 day exchange policy that offered flexibility for acquiring the Nexus at a later time. My two previous devices had been HTC phones, I was very happy with both my EVO and EVO 3D but had always wanted the very vibrant Samsung AMOLED screen technology. After having the Rezound and being very satisfied with it for two weeks, the Nexus finally launched and I was at Best Buy on release day to exchange for my Rezound. The lure of the new Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS, the screen, NFC technology, and speed of the Nexus were very nice but I was experiencing horrible battery life and the signal quality did not seem to be on par with the Rezound. So, I went back to the Rezound after only two days and have not looked back.

Build Quality
The Rezound is a solid phone as I would expect from HTC. It feels very good in my hand and is weighted nicely.

HTC Beats
I looked at the Beats headphones as a bonus item just like I did with the 3D feature on my EVO 3D. After trying them a few times, I have really grown to enjoy having them for listening to music and for conference calls. I was very impressed a few weeks ago in the airport as I was able to walk around a loud and busy concourse without having problems hearing the call because of the way that they act as ear plugs and block out the other noise. The earplug design works well on the airplane and are much more portable than my Panasonic noise cancelling headphones. I would say that the only downfall here is that the Beats equalizer only works on the default HTC music app and not third party music players such as Google Music, Pandora, or Slacker.

Performance
This phone has performed very well. I am not a big gamer but I do watch movies when traveling and this phone never misses a beat no matter what I am doing in the background. I hope that the Rezound performs well once upgraded to Android 4.0. A bonus feature on the Rezound is simultaneous 3G voice and data which will come in handy up at the lake when I need to work. From what I understand, this functionality is pretty limited on Verizon to only the Thunderbolt and Rezound.

HTC Sense
While I am not the biggest HTC Sense launcher fan and favor Launcher Pro and Go Launcher, I do like the contact linking, camera software, and overall integration that HTC Sense offers. The gallery software includes my Flickr account and I can easily browse Facebook albums. The music player has some added functionality of importing album art and offers some music shopping capabilities.

For some reason, Verizon crippled the themes and scenes downloads offered on the EVO 3D. It was fun mixing it up a bit once in a while.

Camera
The 8MP camera on the Rezound is the best that I have used on a phone and was another reason that I went back to the Rezound over the Nexus. The pictures from this device are crisp and the customization that HTC put in their camera software is great. There is a timer mode, panorama shots, full 1080P video recording, and fun effects that can be added to photographs. There is also a feature that allows auto uploading to Facebook or Flickr (for some this will be a duplicate effort when using Google+). The Galaxy Nexus does have zero lag picture taking and the Rezound is not far behind. The pictures snap much faster than either of my EVO’s.

Screen
The screen is full 720P and looks beautiful. Compared to the Nexus, the colors look very natural and do not have the blue hue of the AMOLED screens. The screen can be seen in the sunlight but like any LCD screen, the brightness has to be turned up. Reading text on this device is awesome and there is no problems with pentile technology that plagues the Bionic and RAZR.

Battery Life
As I have done for all of my Android devices, I went out and purchased the extended battery for this phone. This battery is offered by Verizon at 2750 Mah which is not quite double the capacity of the original battery. It does add some bulk to the Rezound but it is a small price to pay to get me through a work day with email, SMS, phone calls, and 4G on full time.

Conclusion
All around, the Rezound it is a great phone that gets me through a day of heavy work and travel, it is reliable, and fun to use. The Beats earbuds are a bonus that I have enjoyed very much. The camera is great for capturing memories and the multimedia performance is wonderful. I really like this phone and think that it is a keeper (until the next great thing comes along). 🙂

My recent switch to Verizon Wireless

After over ten years of being a Sprint customer I have switched to Verizon. I started to sway a couple of months ago I tried out a demo line of a Motorola Droid Bionic and was very impressed with the 4G LTE coverage and speeds. Everywhere that I went that had Verizon coverage in town, I had 4G coverage. Coming from the 2.5Ghz spectrum that Sprint uses for their Wi-Max coverage and lack of building penetration, this was quite a treat.

A few weeks later, I met my brother Stan for some drinks and ran a speed test on his phone and pulled over 25Mbps down which is pretty amazing! I was struggling with the cost increase that a switch from Sprint but was very tempted with the network. Another example is at our family cabin, I have fought with poor coverage for years while this last summer I saw our neighbors making calls and streaming Slacker music on 3G without issue.

Verizon has been extremely agressive in their rollout of their LTE network and says that they will have their existing 3G coverage map completely covered with 4G LTE by the end of 2013. There is speculation that Verizon will then aggressively push for voice over LTE at that time and repurpose the 3G spectrum over time for additional LTE capacity.

This article written over a year ago shows the difference between Verizon’s 4G coverage at that time versus Sprint’s which has not grown much in the Twin Cities over the past year.

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Shown below is the coverage growth over the last few months from early November 2011 through mid December 2011

Most of 2011…

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November 17th growth

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December growth – new markets in Duluth and Rochester

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Verizon is not shy about showing off their coverage difference with Sprint as they have the following sign in stores

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Sprint is working on their Network Vision roll out which is a great plan that leverages partners to help them build out their network. This deployment is supposed to be completed around the end of 2013. The re-purposing of the iDen spectrum will prove to be a great asset to Sprint’s 4G expansion. I am very excited to see what they have to offer at that time because I love their open model and pricing. This post is to no way rip on Sprint. I feel that they are still a great carrier with a very strong pricing advantage and because of that, I will continue to recommend Sprint to people. I have multiple family members on Sprint and I would not try to convince them to switch. For a power user like myself, I found the current 4G footprint too limiting and am paying for it every month with Verizon.

SiriusXM TTR1 Internet Tabletop Radio Review

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For Christmas I recieved the SiriusXM TTR1 Tabletop Internet radio. This radio can play all of SiriusXM’s online content which includes music, talk, comedy, sports, play by play, etc.

Cost
We purchased the TTR1 radio on the SiriusXM site for about $75 on sale which is the lowest that I had seen this model which usually sells for around $119-149.

Sound Quality
Sound quality on this little radio is pretty good for the cost. Since I most often listen to talk radio the sound quality is not always a concern but it is nice to know that it can pump out some quality sounding tunes when I listen to music. I really enjoyed this radio in the living room with Christmas music on and more recently in the bathroom so that I can listen to Opie and Anthony and sports radio in the morning while getting ready for work instead of listening on my phone like I have for the last few years.

Setup and Features
I started setup by entering in our WPA passphrase which was not exactly fun with having to dial through the alphabet. Once I had the wireless connection configured, I was able to enter my SiriusXM credentials and all of the available channels populated in the menus. There is an option for wired Ethernet connections, a line out, and an AUX connection for when you want to use another source for audio. There are also alarm clock capabilities in the TTR1 if someone were to use this device in their bedroom.

Interface
There is a main menu that is driven through a dial that pushes in for confirmation. The dial can be a little clumsy when making choices but then again, it’s not too often that I use the menu because there are ten preset buttons. The present buttons allow for quick access to ten of your favorite channels. When I power on the TTR1 powers on, connects to my wireless, and begins playing my last channel in about 10-12 seconds. The volume button is nice a big and there is a snooze button for the alarm on the top of the radio.

Online Capabilities
One really nice thing about SiriusXM online is now they offer NFL games to be streamed over the Internet and this radio can take advantage of this feature. I hope that as other sports contracts are renewed that they continue this trend as it would have been nice to listen to the Wolves this winter with Rubio and DWill creating some excitement. My Internet streaming on my phone and computer have a short timeout of about 90 minutes and the TTR1 has a much longer timeout value of a few hours (I left it on one day and it did time out after quite some time).

Summary
Overall, this is a solid product that should have a long life as it has software on the device is upgradable and SiriusXM continues to expand on its Internet radio lineup like the SportsCenter channel among others due to capacity issues through their satellite services. I look forward to using the TTR1 at home and when camping while using my new Verizon phone as a hotspot 🙂