I don't really follow the goings-on of Oprah Winfrey but of course, I am aware of who she is. I have also heard that she has a list of "favorite things" every year. I looked at her list. None of her items appealed to me. So I decided to write about some of my own favorite things of 2015.Read More
Pebble, the smart watch born from a successful Kickstarter campaign, launched their long-awaited Pebble App Store this week. Apps are not new to the Pebble, there have already been some great apps since the watch was first introduced (mattbeckwith.com/2013/09/02/pebble-watch/), now there's even more, and a nice new interface for finding and installing them.
The original Pebble app had limited options for watch faces (much more were available via third party sites) and was very clunky. Watch faces were listed by their names with easy way to identify which was which.
The new Pebble app is completely different and much more of a polished product. There are hundreds of watch faces, with more coming I'm sure. Also, I can finally see what faces are loaded on my watch, which makes adding and deleting new ones a lot easier!
The Pebble App Store is not about the watch faces (although, I really like the new ones that add the current temperature) it's about the apps!
The new user interface is slick and makes browsing for new apps a breeze. Since only 8 apps and/or watch faces can be loaded on a watch, the Pebble app stores your deleted apps and watch faces in a "locker" for simple re-loading later.
What kind of apps would one want to load on their watch? Well, there are hundreds to choose from. The day that the app store was launched, I was in San Diego giving a presentation. I am actually in southern California all week delivering the same 45 minute presentation nine times. To help me stay on time, I downloaded a stop watch (of which there are too many different ones to count).
How about apps that let you pay for your Starbucks? Control the camera on your smart phone, learn how to play chords on the guitar, plus lots of other things.
Interestingly, all of the apps and watch faces on the Pebble App Store are free. They currently don't have a way to charge people for downloads from the app store. Pebble has no concern with developers charging for a companion app on the smart phone, but it doesn't look like they'll be turning the Pebble App Store in to a place to sell apps.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with the new offerings and the new interface is great. Still holding out for the rumored iWatch, but until then, I'm still loving my Pebble.
Yes, this post is about shaving. And shaving razors, and shave lotion. Normally, pretty boring stuff. Not with Harry's. My friend Tom Moccia posted a link to Harry's recently and I decided to take a look. I wasn't in the market for new razors, had no plans that day to change the shaving ritual I have honed for more than 20 years, but something about their website piqued my interest so I made a purchase.
I decided on The Winston Set which came with a Winston handle, three blades, and a tube of shave cream for $25. I have been using the same name brand, disposable razors for about 10 years but the idea of handling something that felt more permanent appealed to me (given my very small pen collection, this makes complete sense).
Before I received my order I had some questions and e-mailed their customer service e-mail address. I was pleasantly surprised when I received a response within a day.
I opted for the free shipping and within a week I received my new shaving implements.
The product was packaged very well and included shaving instructions and a thank you card, always a nice touch.
The proof is in the shave.
And the shave is the best shave I have ever had.
So, you may be asking about the price. As if you can put a price on a great shaving experience. But I get it, I don't want to pay more even if it means it'll be a better shave.
The razors I have been using are about $12 for 8, or $1.50 each, just a tad less expensive than what I am about to pay to Harry's ($1.56 - $2.00 per blade, depending on quantity ordered).
My first razor from Harry's has lasted 4 shaves and is still doing great! With my old name brand razors, I only kept one for two shaves, after that it would destroy my face. Sometimes I could get three, but I would never attempt four! I am hopeful that I can get at least five. From a price perspective, that makes Harry's razors less expensive!
It did take a few shaves with the Harry's shave lotion for me to get used to shaving with it. I've been using the same name brand shaving gel for many years but now that I am used to the Harry's lotion, I really prefer it over the gel. At $8 per tube, it is more expensive than what I normally buy but given the savings from the razors, I am still coming out ahead (or at least not coming out negative).
Harry's offers a customized auto-refill schedule to get regular shipments of blades and lotion. If I run out between regular shipments, I can even text my order to them.
Back to the shave.
The razor has the perfect weight and balance. It actually feels like it is on auto-pilot. As corny as that sounds, it does feel like the weight, shape and design of the razor create a great shave without the dreaded cuts.
Since I've been shaving with my Harry's razor, I actually look forward to shaving... for the first time since I was a teenager.
Great customer service.
So far, Harry's has won me over with the quality of their product. Their service will turn me into a raving fan. The brief e-mail encounter after placing my order demonstrated that the company cared about the small details of delighting customers.
A couple of days after receiving my kit, I received a wonderful e-mail from an employee at Harry's. It came from Katie, an actual person. She e-mailed me to thank me for supporting Harry's and offered to help in any way she could. "Please don't hesitate to reach out with any thoughts or questions about our products (or shaving or life in general.)"
I can already hear you bemoaning, "Ooooh, you received an e-mail. Big deal."
You don't understand. I received an actual e-mail from an actual person at the company. A person with a first AND last name, and a phone number, and an e-mail address. An actual e-mail address, not one of those don't-even-think-about-contacting-us, do-not-reply e-mail addresses, but a real e-mail address to Katie. Now that is impressive.
Want to try Harry's for yourself? Use this link (harrys.com/?ref=75fe99db30) and I'll get some free blades... you won't be sorry.
The Pebble watch has landed. Finally. Well, it landed for me on July 15. So now, after more than a month with the Pebble, here's my review.
I was going to do the good, the bad, and the ugly, but there's really only the good and the bad.
First, what is the Pebble Watch?
The Pebble Watch is a digital watch that interacts with iPhone and Android smartphones. In May 2012, Pebble successfully funded their Kickstarter project with over $10,000,000 from over 68,000 backers. Kickstarter is a website where companies and individuals can get funding for their projects from all over the world, normally by giving incentives to those that "back" them. (side note: I had the honor of making the Kickstarter video for the successful "Amazing Fist" project, a comic book written by my friend Adam Messinger, illustrated by Matthew Farnsworth, and inked by Frank Stone.)
First, the bad.
I missed backing the campaign by just weeks and ended up pre-ordering instead. I pre-ordered in June 2012. At the time, they estimated a late 2012 launch. The company hadn't officially been launched and they had only built prototypes before the massively successful Kickstarter campaign. They still hadn't determined who would manufacture the watch, or how it would be manufactured.
The updates started to come in. With each of them came a later launch date. First 2012 was a no-go, then early 2013, then Spring 2013. While the early updates seemed to have some details, time eroded not only my hopes, but also any concrete date when my wrist would actually meet my Pebble.
I was finally charged for my Pebble in January 2013 and was promised that my watch would soon be ready.
Then nearly all communications ceased. No responses to my Facebook messages or e-mails for months. They had originally promised that they would send regular updates via e-mail so it was disappointing that after I paid I heard nothing from them.
Then, in late May 2013 I received the message that I had been waiting for: my Pebble would be shipping SOON!
Pebble then announced that they would be selling black Pebbles in Best Buy stores across the country. They assured backers and pre-order customers that this was in the best interest of everyone, and that this move would mean we would get our Pebbles sooner - easing the stress off the supply chain or something like that. My pre-order was for a grey watch, but I was invited to request a refund from the company and then could go buy a black one in a Best Buy.
The salt in the wound came from the CEO and founder, Eric Migicovsky. On July 4, 2013, Forbes.com featured a piece titled , "Deconstructing Pebble's Mainstream Push", where the CEO said he was unfazed by complaints.
"Migicovsky is unfazed with the complaints. Because Pebble charges a customer’s credit card only after their watch is ready to ship, he says that those who pre-ordered Pebble have not paid in advance. Availability of Pebble at a local Best Buy, thus, makes it quicker and easier for such customers to buy the watch, he adds."
Unfazed with the complaints. That is something no company should ever aspire to be.
Clearly, the second sentence was factually incorrect; I had paid for my watch six months before.
And what did "shipping soon" mean? Six weeks. On July 12, my Pebble shipped. I received it just a few days later.
Thankfully, once I received the Pebble watch, the story began to improve. That is, after I unpacked the watch from the box. No aesthetically pleasing packaging here. Just a watch stuck in a box. Stuck to a box that was also the shipping container to be more precise.
Within a couple of minutes of getting the watch out of the box it was on my wrist and working. It didn't require much setup other than discovering it as a bluetooth device from my iPhone.
Text notifications work great. I have always preferred getting no alerts for e-mail, no buzz, no sound, no dancing paper-clip or other animation on my computer, nothing. I have, though, used the built-in VIP feature within iOS to get notified when I receive e-mail from certain people. That works great because my family and close friends don't often e-mail me, but when they do, I can get a notification on my watch.
I don't carry my iPhone with my all day long. I usually throw it on my desk when I get to work (well, more like slide it on the desk) and only rarely look at it. Now, if I am within bluetooth range of my phone I'll get my text and e-mail alerts to my Pebble. I like that it gives a short vibration, but somedays I turn that off.
I really like having caller ID on my watch. My phone doesn't ring when I get a call (or make any noise for anything) and only sometimes do I have it vibrate when I get a call. That means I actually miss a lot of calls. Well, I miss a lot fewer calls now that my Pebble tells me I am getting a call. Although it is supposed to work with the latest version of the Pebble OS, it doesn't always give me the name of the caller (from my contact list), but the number is fine.
I really wanted the watch because I like the changeable watch faces, and those are great! Pebble doesn't offer many watch faces, but a third party site, mypebblefaces.com, has a lot. I rotate through several throughout the week depending on what I'm doing.
There are apps, but it is still pretty limited. The RunKeeper app is great and works flawlessly. I hope someday they'll let me change the display to show current split pace rather than entire workout pace, but for a free app it works great. Plus, it convinced me to move from Strava to RunKeeper.
FreeCaddie is a great free golf app that I recently downloaded. I have never used my iPhone to get the distances while playing golf, but having it sent to my Pebble is nice.
I also really like being able to control my music from the Pebble. Works perfectly when I'm out on a bike ride, especially since I no longer have to ask Siri, "who sings this song?". The small added bonus of seeing the album name is cool, too.
Overall? Awesome first generation product! The lack of display colors is fine... but I'm sure that will evolve, if not by Pebble than likely by Apple or Google. I really, really, like having a watch that I can wear to work, as well as on a run, or a bike ride, or a swim (did I mention that it is waterproof - up to 5 ATM, which is great for wearing it while I swim or water the lawn, or get hit with an errant water balloon). The battery life is great, only having to charge it every few days or so.
For the price, $150, I have been very pleased with it. Every once in a while someone will compliment the watch, and then when I show them all the stuff it can do they usually have a very surprised reaction. I'm happy to have been an original pre-order customer.
I still can't seem to get the foul taste completely out of my mouth about how they treated me as a customer. They surely didn't treat me in a way that would cause me to be loyal to them. The Pebble watch is a great product but I'd feel a lot better about owning it if the company seemed to care about its customers.
Did you get one? What do you think? What do you think is next in the "wearable" market"
Check out GetPebble.com for more details on the watch.
I am an Apple fanatic. That is no secret. We bought our first iPod back in 2005 and then eMacs, iMacs, Powerbooks, iPhones, iPads and more iPods than you could shake a stick at. Aside from being an Apple fanatic, I am a technology fanatic. I love gadgets. I also really love seeing how people use their gadgets.
What I don't love, however, are the brand snobs. I'm an iPhone guy. So, you're an Android guy... that doesn't mean we can't get along. We can still be friends. We can still play Draw Something and no one has to know we don't have the same phone.
If you're in the Android camp, or even the Blackberry camp and roll your eyes every time someone says iPhone, you are probably a snob. And if you're in the iPhone camp the same thing applies to you. Instead of bashing the other person, ask them to show you their favorite apps. You might just learn something new! And you won't come across as a snob.
Can we all just get along?
I love the Mac environment. Since we purchased our first Mac several years ago, we have slowly turned into a Mac-only household. With iPhones, iPads and Macs, I love how simple the syncing works. We each have a seamless experience no matter which device we're using. We can easily keep our contact list up-to-date, as well as our calendars. The four of us tend to stay pretty busy, it's awesome how simple calendar syncing and sharing are in the Mac / iOS environment. Then, there's iDisk. My own personal thumb-drive in the sky. Or, as has become popular lately, in the "cloud". iDisk, which came with our mobileMe (formerly known as Dot-Mac) account has always been one of my favorite features of the service. I kept all of my important files there and had no problem accessing it from any computer or iPhone. I liked that I didn't need to carry a thumb-drive.
But, with iCloud, iDisk's days are numbered. After June 2012, I won't be able to use iDisk.
Oh no. What will I do?
Those that know me well know that the only technology I love as much as my Apple gear is Evernote.
Evernote is so much more than a place to keep notes. It's where I keep everything! Given it's powerful indexing and searching (text in images is searchable!), it is a far superior place to store documents. You no longer need a premium account ($45 per year) to store all types of files, but the free account does have lower usage limits. There is a 50MB max per note (25MB for free users) so I won't store my video projects on Evernote, but 99.44% of my files will work just fine.
So, goodbye iDisk. You've been a good friend for many years. And thanks for the one-year notice on your shut-down. That will give me plenty of time to move my files over.
Another post about Evernote... Use Evernote to Track Your Accomplishments
There are many ways to keep this vital task simple. One great way to do it is to use Evernote, the note taking application. With desktop versions of the software available for iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry, and Droid, desktop versions for Mac and Windows, and available on Evernote.com, there is no excuse to not use Evernote. The free account offers plenty of features and online storage space for most consumers.
Set up a new notebook and give it a catchy name like, ‘Master Resume’ or ‘Accomplishments for Resume’. Every time you have an accomplishment, add it to that Evernote notebook. To make it even easier, create an e-mail address to send notes directly to Evernote.
Next time you get an e-mail from your boss complimenting you on your awesome client presentation or when you get the monthly report that shows 50% sales growth in your territory, send it to Evernote. When you call us to have your resume updated, you’ll have a bucket full of accomplishments.
Flipboard for iPad was released earlier this year. Billed as the “world's first social magazine”, its interface is meant to replicate a magazine - the kind you flip through. It is designed to gather all of your social feeds and present it in a magazine style app with full web and video functionality. Its layout is simple and very clean with not overly fancy. With its first release, it only had the ability to display Facebook and Twitter feeds, along with select RSS and Flickr feeds.
With Facebook and Twitter, your friends’ posts are displayed with their avatar. If they posted a link, the text of that page is displayed beautifully in Flipboard.
The most recent update finally gave me what I had been waiting for: Google Reader and Flickr login access. Now, the app truly is amazing! One stop shopping to check in on Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and, most importantly for me, Google Reader.
Logging in with your Flickr username and password will attractively display your friends’ pictures. The best part of Flipboard is its integration with Google Reader. Log in to your Reader account from the app and it becomes thebest interface for keeping up-to-date with your RSS feeds!
Flipboard has quickly become one of my all time favorite iOS apps. At the low, low price of FREE it is a must-have for any iPad user.
The Apple TV is awesome! I considered leaving this blog post as just that one short sentence but, alas, I’ll elaborate.
I was never excited about the previous version of the Apple TV. First, until recently, we only owned a very old (and pretty small) standard definition television for almost 18 years. Second, I was always turned off by the on-board storage. We have a couple of computers in the house, and plenty of external storage. I didn’t care to fuss with syncing yet another device. When I first heard that the new incarnation of Steve Job’s pet project would be streaming only, I had to have one.
We picked one up from the Apple Store in Modesto a couple days after they hit store shelves and after a little help from my friend Manny, we were good to go. For the record, it couldn’t be more simple to connect. Just takes an HDMI cable between the device and the TV. My audio setup was a little wonky between the cable box, TV and surround sound receiver.
Ok, that’s enough back story.
Music - this was the primary reason I wanted an Apple TV. We’ve had the iTunes Express for years but lack of TV interface meant we hardly ever used it. On Apple TV, there’s an awesome interface to browse and listen to music from our primary computer in the house.
Podcasts - I listen to a lot of podcasts. The Apple TV allows browsing to the iTunes podcast directory. And what’s even better, I can mark one as favorite and listen just as soon as a new show is released. Having podcasts play on the TV make me wish Stump the Chef would come back; that video podcast is perfectly suited for this device!
iTunes Store content - In addition to streaming all of the content in my iTunes, I can also rent movies and TV shows directly from the Apple TV. I probably won’t be doing that at all, more on that later.
YouTube - Videos, especially those available in HD, look amazing from the Apple TV. Being able to login to my YouTube account is great for keeping up with my subscriptions.
Flickr - Photo slide shows look great using the Apple TV. The only downside is that I cannot sign-in to Flickr from the Apple TV like I can with YouTube. Still great for catching up on my Flickr friends.
Netflix - Lastly, the hidden gem inside the Apple TV! We waited years before getting cable (2005) and we might be the last family in America to get a flat screen television (2010). We don’t watch a lot of television and never saw the appeal of Netflix. Well, not until now. The same day we brought home the Apple TV we signed up for the free 30-day trial of Netflix. I don’t care much about getting a disc mailed to us but for 9 dollars per month, we can stream as much of their content as we want. I know this technology is not new but I am still amazed that we can stream TV shows and movies, in amazing quality, to our TV. Since we usually rent a few movies from On Demand each month, the Netflix option will save us some money.
For all the Apple critics that complain because Apple “forces” consumers to buy content through iTunes, strange how the Apple TV comes Netflix ready. And Netflix is far more valuable than any iTunes offering. Doesn’t seem to bother the Cupertino crew.
As an added bonus, to watch Netflix content from any computer, iPad or iPhone.
The Apple TV comes with a power cable and a very thin remote. Besides turning on the Apple TV, we typically use our iPhones as remotes, using the Remote app. This comes in handy when searching since you can use a real keyboard rather than hunting for each individual letter on screen.
The Apple TV is one of the coolest tech toys we own. If you rent 2 movies (or more) a month, adding an unlimited streaming Netflix account makes it even better! It has worked better than expected and we are getting a lot of use out of it.
I am still in awe that the Apple TV sells for only $99. For that price, I would have bought it just for music and podcast listening. The rest is gravy, and there is A LOT of gravy!
Last week, Apple announced Ping, calling it “a social network for music”. Like a lot of comments I read online, I thought, “great, do I really need another social network?”. After downloading iTunes 10 and setting up my Ping, I realized I do need (or should I say, want) another social network.
I like Ping. Here’s why.
- It lives within iTunes. I care most about what music my friends are buying, listening to, recommending, when I am in iTunes
- It’s focus is narrow. Very narrow. I am interested in music and learning about other styles of music. I can see Ping helping me discover music I would’ve not otherwise discovered
- I actually enjoy reading reviews, they may not sway me, but I like them nonetheless. When the reviewer is also a friend of mine it helps put the review in better context for me. Being able to easily read friends’ reviews is a big plus
As a first generation social network, Ping has promise. Some improvements I hope Apple makes are:
- Greater delineation of genres. This goes for iTunes as a whole. Rock and Pop are pretty wide. And there is no category for Bluegrass. I don’t consider Sam Bush country
- Should have custom URL that will forward to iTunes app (rather than telling people to go to iTunes and search for... )
- The ability to “Like” and “Post” about podcasts and audio books
- Re-activate the Facebook friend finder. I saw it there when I first signed up but it seems it might’ve since been removed
- Allow me to change my user name to be different than my billing name; “Matthew” is too formal for me
Interested in what music I am buying or recommending? Look for me on Ping, as Matthew Beckwith.