Archive for month: February 2018

Techstars Startup Weekend

Our cofounders, President Michael Frentress and VP Kody Frazier, participated in a Techstars Startup Weekend event. Kody recaps their experience here:

This past weekend Michael and I had a great time participating in a Techstars Startup Weekend. These events take you through a crash-course in business development over a single jam-packed weekend, with opportunities to learn from mentors and to work with a team of people you would have otherwise likely never even met. For us, it was an opportunity to meet new people, step away from EIN for just a moment, and stretch our minds a little bit in new and exciting ways. We took a brand-new idea from concept to pitching it in front of business leaders in just 54 hours!

From the Techstars website:

At Techstars Startup Weekend, you’ll be immersed in the ideal environment for startup magic to happen. Surrounded by smart, passionate people and with the best tools and approaches at your disposal, you’ll take giant leaps toward creating a business, becoming a founder, and connecting with the right people and resources.

In just 54 hours, you will experience the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup. As you learn how to create a real company, you’ll meet the very best mentors, investors, cofounders, and sponsors who are ready to help you get started. Your community is here to help you — find an event today!

Visit the Techstars Website to learn more about their program.

The event was hosted by the Ozarks Small Business Incubator (OzSBI) located in beautiful downtown West Plains, right in the heart of the Ozarks, and the home to our Operations and Billing departments. OzSBI provides essential startup and business development services to the region.

EIN is proud to be a Business Level member of OzSBI, and to help support business development and entrepreneurship in West Plains and the surrounding region. If you’re an entrepreneur, or even if you’re not sure about starting a business yet, I highly recommend looking into any incubators, accelerators, or small business development organizations in your local community. Being a business owner is difficult, especially when you’re first starting out, so take advantage of every opportunity you can find.

Visit the OzSBI Website to learn more.

For the competition, we brainstormed an idea about providing better access for citizens to interact with their local government in a way that lets all parties be aware of exactly with whom they’re interacting. Citizens know that everyone else remotely viewing a City Council meeting, or any other government function for that matter, are also local citizens in their community and not a random “troll” looking to disrupt citizen engagement. The concept could be built as a neutral platform that let municipalities sign up for the service for a small recurring monthly fee, which then allowed local citizens to register to be notified of any upcoming meetings and to submit documentation to the municipality to confirm their identity. The citizen could then remotely view the meeting, interact live with the city representatives, and instantly be more engaged. We called the idea Citizen Live.

I pitched the idea to the crowd of entrepreneurs and business mentors that had gathered for the event. In total 19 ideas were pitched this evening, but only four would go on to be developed over the weekend. Everyone participating in the weekend voted for their favorite ideas and the top ones were selected, and Citizen Live made the cut! After being selected as an idea that would be pitched to business leaders at the end of the weekend we set out to recruit our team from the other participants. We were lucky enough to snag Jim, a young developer still in college, and Nancy, a local artisan that we knew could provide the non-technical insight that we were desperately missing.

Starting Friday night we began developing the basic framework for how the concept could work in the real world. We tried to just dump out all of the ideas we could muster and see which ones really “stuck” before calling it a night. The tight focus of our ideas was really promising at this point.

By Saturday we had a better understanding of what the platform could really be, and that’s when we started making mistakes. To be clear we didn’t know we were making the mistakes at the moment, but a big part of this experience is realizing in retrospect where you could have focused better to have a more concise final product. First, we went too far down the road of trying to build a Minimum-Viable-Product (MVP) from a technical perspective. We should have been focusing more on the feasibility of the business and working on customer validation. Second, we started branching our ideas off into all the various implementations of the concept and found ourselves really excited about the prospect of for-profit and non-profit business applications. This was a problem because we had already hitched our wagon, so to speak, to the municipal government concept. We never really came all the way back to our original focus, and it showed at the end.

When it came time to make the pitch on Sunday evening I once again stepped up to the front of the room and explained to the judges why Citizen Live was such a great idea. Or at least, that was the plan. In reality, I went over our allotted time and wasn’t able to completely explain the concept, in particular, the financial projections that really made it a viable product. If we had completely removed the secondary and tertiary markets from the pitch we probably would have had better timing and a more polished presentation overall.  But, I think we showed that we were an excellent team that came together in just a few short days to develop something really interesting.

In the end, we came in 3rd, and I’m really proud of our performance. I was glad to have the experience and the opportunity to be a part of such a cool program right in my hometown. I’d like to thank OzSBI for hosting the event, Nathan Gregg for being our facilitator, and the judges and mentors for giving up their weekend.

Team Citizen Live was amazing because of the people involved, and I especially want to thank our teammates for making the experience so great! We ate a ton of sugary snacks, drank too much coffee, watched Jim show us some close-up card magic, and built something together. That’s awesome!

Kody

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Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight

Welcome back to another installment of Tech Spotlight! Each week, I’m talking about cool and useful tech you should know about. This week, I’m putting a lifestyle tracker, soundbar, and wireless charger in the spotlight. Check them out, then make your purchases on Amazon!

Moov Now

This device is a visually pleasing and useful fitness tracker you wear on your wrist or ankle. Moov Now can help keep up with running, cycling, gym workouts, boxing, swimming—any exercise you might do.

With Moov Now, you get audio coaching as you make your way through your workout. It provides motivation and tells you the progress you’re making in real-time. It monitors activity and sleep, and it keeps track of a variety of types of exercises. It can go everywhere with you—it’s light, waterproof, and can last 6 months on its battery.

Your workouts are broken down with different statistics and pieces of information. Runners, cyclists, and swimmers can check out analytics from their workouts and learn how to improve. When running and walking, you can learn about your pace, technique, and more. When swimming, you can find out more about your lap times and turns. You can also follow along with boxing and body weight training tutorials.

There are many different fitness trackers on the market, but Moov Now looks great (especially with its various different colors), does a wide variety of things, and is incredibly affordable (at a little more than $50). Check it out on Amazon and purchase it for your exercise needs!

Anker PowerPort Wireless 5 Pad

Anker’s PowerPort wireless charger is a great choice for charging your iPhone, Galaxy, or other smartphone without plugging it in with a cord. The PowerPort Wireless 5 Pad is designed to make charging easier while maintaining safety.

This wireless charger works on a variety of phones. It’s primarily targeted at newer iPhones—like the iPhone 8 and iPhone X—but it works on other devices, like newer Galaxy models, Google Nexus 6, and others. When compared with standard chargers, this wireless charger can make charging a little bit quicker. It doesn’t compromise its safety standards when charging, either. It’s designed to meet safety standards, and it has temperature control that keeps it from overheating.

Anker’s wireless charger is also particularly nice because you can charge your phone without taking your phone case off. Unless you use a very thick (or metal) case, the charger will work fine. With some wireless chargers, you have to go through the sometimes tedious task of removing your case every time you want to charge, so this feature can save some time and hassle.

Having to plug and unplug your phone from a charging cord can be annoying. With a wireless charger, it becomes completely unnecessary. Take a closer look at Anker’s wireless charger and add it to your cart!

Samsung HW-M360 Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer

This soundbar from Samsung is a great way to improve your home audio experience without breaking the bank. With high ratings and a comparatively low price, the Samsung HW-M360 Soundbar is a budget entertainment option.

The HW-M360 offers Dolby Digital sound with 2.1 Channel surround sound audio. It also comes with a wireless subwoofer. Many systems use wired subwoofers—being wireless means you can experience great bass after placing the subwoofer wherever works best for your home.

This soundbar also can connect to your devices and allows for easy control. If you have a Samsung TV, this soundbar can connect to it easily. It has Bluetooth, which offers a couple nice features: you can turn the soundbar on from your smartphone (or other Bluetooth-capable device), and you can stream music from those devices straight to the soundbar. You can also use Samsung’s app to control the soundbar further from a device. You can use the app to turn up the volume, customize your sound settings, and more.

Whether you have a Samsung TV or not, Samsung’s HW-M360 is a reasonably priced and well-reviewed home theater choice. If you’re in the market to improve your audio experience, learn more about the soundbar on Amazon before making your purchase!

Want to Keep Up With Your Fitness? Try an App

Want to Keep Up With Your Fitness? Try an App

If you’re like a lot of people, you might have made a new year’s resolution to work out more. And like many of those people, you might have already stopped, or you might be on your way to slowly phasing out exercise. (I mean, it’s close to March. That’s a lot of exercising.)

Instead of dropping the workout, it might help to find an app that can keep you on track. Using an app can often make things easier and add a sense of being rewarded for progress. It can also just make things more interesting so you don’t give up on that additional exercise yet.

If you’re looking to improve your workout, stay on track, or just get started, here are some apps you can check out!

Official 7 Minute Workout (Android & iOS)
The 7 Minute Workout is pretty popular, and this app, from Johnson & Johnson, is the original. You take part in, you guessed it, a 7-minute workout. This encourages exercise because it’s so easy to find 7 minutes to spare. There are almost two dozen workouts to choose from, some longer than 7 minutes, the longest being just over half an hour. Exercises can range in difficulty, giving you a chance to set up a routine that works at your level. There are also video tutorials, reminders, and more.

Charity Miles (Android, iOS)
This app can keep you motivated to stay on top of your walking, running, and biking schedule. As soon as you start your session, the app keeps track of how far you’ve gone on foot or on your bike. The further you travel, the more money you raise for the charity you’ve chosen. There are more than 40 charities, including Habitat for Humanity, ALS Association, and World Wildlife Fund. Knowing you’re raising money for a cause you care about can help make sure you actually keep moving.

Couch to 5K (Android, iOS)
The Couch to 5K app does what it sounds like—it helps anyone, including those who aren’t particularly fit yet, get to a point where they can complete a 5K. By following the app’s plan and suggestions, people can become ready for a 5K in nine weeks. You get help from virtual trainers, log your exercise, track progress, listen to music, and more.

JEFIT (Android, iOS)
JEFIT is an app for anyone who likes to work out and wants to keep up with their training, progress, and goals. You can watch HD videos to learn from experts, set and meet goals, log your training, and more. You can also add friends who are also working out with JEFIT, and you can take part in challenges for a chance to win money.

Map My Fitness (Android, iOS)
Under Armour offers this workout app, which offers many free features as well as paid ones. For free, you can keep track of all kinds of different workouts, plan routes and workouts, and sync all your info with other apps and devices, including your Fitbit. There are also challenges that offer prizes to the winners. If you want to pay a little, you can add features like a personal training plan and no ads.

Nike Training Club (Android, iOS)
This app offers a range of features that help you stay on track, learn new techniques, and keep up with how you’re doing. You get your own personalized training plan, and you get suggestions based on what you typically do. You can keep track of your exercise, watch videos to learn new exercises, and even learn workouts from names you know (like Michael Jordan and Cristiano Ronaldo).

Strava (Android, iOS)
With Strava, you can keep track of your running and cycling progress. This app has a number of free and paid features. With the free version, you can track activity, join challenges, connect with friends to view each others’ activity, battle to reach the top of the leaderboards, and connect with other technology you use (like Android Wear). For a cost, you can also get coaching and feedback, as well as deeper analysis of your workout.

Yoga Studio (Android, iOS)
Yoga Studio is a highly rated app for yoga enthusiasts of any proficiency level. For a reasonably small fee, you can access many different video classes and hundreds of yoga poses. There are different lengths of classes available, so you can find one that fits your schedule. You can also track your progress, personalize your own video classes, keep a schedule, customize what your class looks and sounds like, and more.

Snapchat in the News

Snapchat in the News

Snapchat has been in the news for a number of different reasons this past week. Some news seems fun, while other news isn’t so great. Here’s what you might have missed from Snap!

Snaps can now include GIPHY gifs

Animated stickers can now be placed on your snaps, thanks to the new GIPHY feature. This feature is similar to the Instagram update I wrote about a little over a month ago.

Now when you’re posting a snap, you can tap on the stickers icon and search through animated stickers with a feature powered by popular GIF provider GIPHY. There are plenty of cute, fun, and interesting animated stickers to add, so you should be able to find something that adds a little flair to your snaps.

Snapchat redesign won’t be leaving, despite complaints

Snapchat’s recent redesign (which rolled out to some countries weeks ago and recently reached the US) is continuing to frustrate users. The redesign included mixing Stories in with peoples’ Snap messages, along with other changes, and people have not been happy about it. Unfortunately, no amount of negative feedback seems to be of use—Snap will not be reverting back to its previous design.

Snapchat users have vented their frustration in many ways. Conversation about the redesign on Twitter has revolved around how to avoid receiving the update and how to potentially switch back to an old version. A Change.org petition has been making the rounds, asking Snap to get rid of the new update. And too many jokes to count have been made at the expensive of Snap’s redesign; many Facebook news feeds have been peppered with sarcastic, funny memes about the frustrating new design.

Snap has now responded officially to the signers of the petition (and other annoyed users). Their response, unfortunately, is to tell users the update is here to stay. They do also mention that they’ll be releasing a new update that introduces tabs that make things a little more organized. However, the overall redesign won’t be going anywhere, no matter how irritated Snap users may be.

Did Kylie Jenner’s negative tweet cause Snap’s stock to drop?

Late in the afternoon on Wednesday, Kylie Jenner tweeted about Snapchat. On Thursday, Snap’s shares fell. Now people are questioning whether Jenner’s tweet led to the drop.

Kylie Jenner tweeted, “sooo does anyone else not open Snapchat anymore? Or is it just me… ugh this is so sad.” As of Friday morning, the tweet had over 60,000 retweets, hundreds of thousands of likes, and thousands of comments. Jenner has over 24 million followers on Twitter, and they quickly responded to her tweet.

Though Jenner soon wrote another tweet, saying, “still love you tho snap … my first love,” many news sites are speculating that her tweet led to Snap’s stock dropping. Business Insider reports that shares dropped by as much as 8.5%. Though there doesn’t seem to be confirmation that the tweet led to the drop, it does raise the question of how much of an effect a simple tweet can have.

Signal, Maker of Signal Messenger, Receives $50 Million

Signal, Maker of Signal Messenger, Receives $50 Million

Signal seems to be doing well at the moment, as it’s now being reported that they’ve received $50 million from the co-founder of WhatsApp.

Brian Acton, who co-founded WhatsApp and who previously worked for Facebook, is now aligned with Signal and providing them with millions of dollars. Acton is no longer with Facebook or WhatsApp, and he will be the executive chairman for the Signal Foundation, a new organization.

According to a blog on Signal’s website, the Signal Foundation is a just-launched 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that will further Signal’s mission. Acton also provides a message on Signal’s blog, explaining Signal’s mission, which is “to develop open source privacy technology that protects free expression and enables secure global communication.” Signal (and Acton) believe it’s important to offer secure communication to everyone across the world, and they hope to do this with the Foundation.

Signal has become fairly popular with their Signal Messenger, a service that encrypts messages (offering end to end encryption) and provides more security than typical messaging services. It’s meant to make people feel more certain that their messages aren’t being compromised. It offers security for those who might be concerned about government spying or their texts being intercepted for nefarious purposes.

The Signal Protocol, which is from Open Whisper Systems and used for Signal Messenger, is also used in services like WhatsApp, Skype, and Facebook Messenger. Specifically, Facebook Messenger uses Signal to offer Secret Conversations. These locked-down messages can be sent by opening a conversation with someone, clicking the information button in the corner of the conversation, and choosing to “Go to Secret Conversation.” The conversation will then use Signal Protocol to encrypt the messages sent and received.

While Signal has been frowned upon by some government agencies like the FBI (according to Newsweek), for many it’s simply a way to feel more secure and private. With the money the Signal Foundation has received, Signal will be able to increase the size of its staff and do more with their service.

(Featured image: Signal website)

Say Goodbye to Swype Keyboard

Say Goodbye to Swype Keyboard

Swype, the enormously popular swipe keyboard, is no more. As of right now, Swype is not available to download from Google Play or the App Store.

The Swype keyboard has now been discontinued, bringing to an end one of the most popular keyboard apps—and one of the earliest swipe keyboards, the one that helped popularize swiping to text in the first place.

Swype came onto the scene back in the 2000s, and it eventually introduced a lot of people to the swipe keyboard. It allowed people to do something they’d possibly never done before—swipe their fingers across the keys to write words quickly and easily. It eventually grew to offer more than just its predictive text. It could learn your writing style, it let you customize its appearance (including its layout) and features, and it offered voice to text.

Since Swype launched and became wildly popular, more and more keyboard apps have been released with similar features. And if you’re using a recent smartphone, you very likely can swipe to text on the default keyboard, meaning you might not even think to try out a third-party keyboard app. This may not necessarily be a reason for Swype’s end, but it does mean that there was already a great deal of competition, and another keyboard app can likely take its place.

The reason Swype is being discontinued, according to a statement given to XDA Developers, is because Nuance, the developers, plan to focus more on other areas in the tech world. Particularly, they mention “AI-powered solutions” for other markets. They also note that the tech used for Swype will still be used elsewhere.

Though users who have already downloaded Swype can keep using it, it can’t be downloaded from Google Play or the App Store. It also won’t be updated or supported further in the future, meaning it’s now in its final incarnation.

Just last week, I wrote an article describing some of the most popular keyboard apps available now. While Swype may be going away, there are still quite a few other keyboard apps that can make typing better. If you use Swype and want to see what other good alternatives there are, check out my article, then say a fond farewell to the soon-to-be-missed Swype.

(Featured image: Swype website)

Virtual Reality in 2018

Virtual Reality in 2018

Over the past several years, it’s unlikely that you’ve missed all the buzz over virtual reality headsets. Virtual reality (VR) headsets became highly sought after and hugely popular. Over time, some headsets became affordable for more people, while more VR content was released.

In recent months, a lot of the fuss over VR has died down. It seems as though people simply aren’t talking about it as much as they once were. It feels a bit like the novelty has worn off for some.

But even if VR isn’t hyped as often as it was not too long ago, it’s still making advancements, and it has a lot to offer. Less than a week ago, Qualcomm announced their newest VR headset. And near the end of last year, Oculus Go was announced, a different kind of headset that could be coming very soon.

Since we’re still early in the new year, now is a good time to take a look at what you can find in the world of VR in 2018. Read on for some basics, some tech options, and plenty of fun suggestions!

What is VR?

When I talk about VR in this article, I’m talking about the current VR technology accessed through the use of a VR headset. While wearing a headset, wearers are given the impression they are in another world. Users can turn around and see content in every direction, including above and below them.

Some people find the difference between VR (virtual reality) and AR (augmented reality) a little confusing. With virtual reality, you’re immersed in a completely separate world. You interact with content that is not connected to your own real-world visuals.

With augmented reality, on the other hand, objects are placed in your actual surroundings. You can look at something that is actually right in front of you, and augmented reality will work within those visuals to add content into what you’re really seeing. (Pokemon Go is an example of AR—when you used your camera to capture what you were really seeing while catching Pokemon, you were using AR.)

Since virtual reality doesn’t include visuals from your real surroundings, it offers something much more clearly separated from your real life.

VR headsets

VR headsets let wearers enter a different world. After placing a device in the headset (or plugging a tethered headset into a computer or gaming console), the headset is worn to fill a person’s vision with whatever content they choose.

Many headsets were very expensive when VR was first popular. They were sometimes fairly basic, as well. Over time, more headsets came out that were inexpensive, and other headsets added more features.

Keep in mind that if you buy a cheaper headset, you’re likely not getting as nice of features as you might with a pricier option. Cheaper options also might not be as comfortable or durable.

Here are just a few of the headsets you can consider when deciding whether to enjoy VR.

Budget headsets:

Popular (pricier) headsets:

What can VR be used for?

VR isn’t just for playing games (though VR gaming is great)! VR can be fun in a lot of different ways. Here are some ways to use VR, including for education and entertainment (and yes, that includes gaming).

Education
With VR, there are opportunities for learning. There are plenty of apps that offer educational experiences. Depending on which device you’re using, you might be able to learn a wide variety of things!

Practice public speakingVirtualSpeech lets you work on your communication skills in private. You can learn how to become a better communicator, plus you can practice by being placed in different surroundings. For instance, you can give a presentation standing on a stage in front of a virtual crowd.

Look through the human brain or look around StonehengeUnimersiv offers many different educational apps, including more than just a tour of the brain or Stonehenge. You can also do things like check out ancient Rome and the International Space Station.

Learn a new language—With an app like House of Languages, you can learn another language in a different way. You can learn English, German, or Spanish while actually looking at the objects that correspond to the words you’re learning and playing minigames.

Go inside the human bodyThe Body VR is one app that lets you learn about what goes on in the human body. You can learn about things like blood cells and viruses.

Make your way through the solar systemTitans of Space is just one app that teaches about the solar system. You can move through space, checking out planets and certain stars, all while learning facts about what you’re seeing.

Surround yourself with Discovery content—You can view VR content from Discovery, which lets you see places all across the world, check out different cultures, and experience special events.

Entertainment
There’s more entertainment to be found than just VR games. There are a lot of fun things to do in VR!

Watch 360-degree videos—If you access YouTube through your VR headset, you can search for tons of 360-degree videos. You can find videos that let you experience what it’s like to swim with dolphins, jump out of a plane, or follow along with a fictional story.

Binge Netflix in a quiet, stylish homeNetflix’s VR app lets you appear to watch your shows and movies on a huge screen. You’re set in a comfortable-looking home with the large TV in front of you.

Watch a movie on the big screen—Many devices offer their own apps for movie-watching. With some devices, you can use Virtual Desktop to use your own computer in VR. This means you can watch all your movies from your computer.

Surf the web—Whichever device you’re using, you can likely access a web browser. This means you can fill your vision with a browser and check out all of your usual sites. For instance, Samsung Internet is available on some devices.

Play around on Facebook—With Facebook 360, you can check out tons of VR content on Facebook.

Virtual tourism
VR has made it possible for people to travel places they might never have been able to go otherwise. With VR, people who have limited mobility or who just can’t afford to take a trip can get a sense of what some locations look like in person. Depending on which device you have, you might have different options for your virtual tourism needs. Search for VR experiences that offer high-quality video tours or look for apps that make use of Google’s Street View.

Visit some amazing placesJaunt VR offers VR videos of some specific locations. These videos are often documentary-style, and you’re given a chance to learn and walk through some interesting places.

Go anywhere you want and walk the streets—Some apps, like Viso Places, give you a chance to go basically anywhere and look around. Viso Places uses Google Street View, so you can search for a location and magically transport yourself there. You can even use this app to go inside some museums.

(Check out my article with the 7 places you should check out as a virtual tourist!)

Gaming
Though gaming isn’t all VR is good for, it is just a lot of fun in virtual reality. Here are just a few of the well-received or newer games you might try!

Chronos—An RPG that takes users on a hero’s quest to fight evil. ($39.99)
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR—Players can enjoy Skyrim’s huge world in virtual reality. ($41.99 to $59.99)
Fallout 4 VR—The hugely popular Fallout 4 is available in virtual reality, so you can explore the post-apocalyptic world like you’re really there. ($59.99)
Job Simulator—A popular, lighthearted game that has players “job” like humans used to do before robots took over for them. ($19.99)
KIN—A puzzle platformer set on another planet. ($9.99)
Minecraft—Everyone’s favorite sandbox game, but in virtual reality. (Free to $6.99)
The Playroom VR—This game is free for PS VR users, and it’s a fun, bright collection of multiplayer games. (Free)
Rez Infinite—A VR version of this popular game that lets users experience the fast-moving and visually appealing action game in a new way. ($24.99)
Smash Hit—Smash objects as you move through a different dimension. ($2.99)
Vacation Simulator—An upcoming game from the people who created Job Simulator!

Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight

Hello, and welcome to the newest Tech Spotlight! This week, I’m continuing to highlight some of the tech that’s caught my eye and raised my interest. Like every week, the items I’ve found are cool, fun, incredibly useful, or all of the above.

The items I’ve found this week are an Echo Dot accessory, a TV touchscreen projector, and a solar light. Take a look at what I’ve found, then head on over to Amazon to take a closer look and add them to your cart!

The Spot by Dot Genie

The Spot is an accessory you’ll want if you have an Echo Dot or one of more than half a dozen other small speakers. This accessory allows you to keep your speaker at the ready while mounting it out of the way.

The Spot is a speaker holder that mounts your speaker using your outlet. You place your speaker in the holder, which holds it in with small tabs, then plug it into a wall outlet through the mount’s designated spot. This allows you to have your speaker mounted on the wall instead of taking up space on the countertop or desk. They’ve also designed the mount to prevent sound from being muffled.

This accessory also helps eliminate some clutter. You use your speaker’s plug, but the Spot comes with its own shorter cord that connects to the plug and makes things less messy. This accessory can plug into vertical or horizontal plugs. It’s also designed to avoid blocking the outlet above it, so it only takes up one space.

Speakers like the Echo Dot are small and convenient, but they can be even more convenient with an accessory like the Spot. It comes in five different colors, so check it out and choose the colors you need for each room!

Touchjet WAVE Android Tablet Virtual Touchscreen TV System Projector

This is a product you’ll want if you work with others in meetings, run a classroom, or want to use a smart device with the whole family. The Touchjet WAVE can turn your flat screen TV or monitor into a giant touchscreen device.

The WAVE attaches to the top of any flat screen TV or monitor (up to 65”) and projects a touchscreen down onto it. It uses the Android operating system, and it comes preinstalled with some apps already, including some games and a Chrome browser. You can then add more apps that you want.

This device works well in many different situations. It allows people to work together—everyone can easily touch the screen, unlike using a regular tablet. Using the accompanying app, everyone can share what they’re looking at on their devices. And it can be fun for a family, because you can all play games together on the large touchscreen. It also makes it easier to stream your shows, because you can add your favorite streaming apps to the WAVE instead of having to use a separate device.

Whether it’s at home, at the office, or in a classroom, the WAVE can be a fun or incredibly useful addition. Learn more about how it works, then add it to your cart!

Sun King Pico Portable Solar Lantern

This small lamp makes it possible to stay well-lit in the outdoors or at home without any plugs or batteries. The Portable Solar Lantern is a small solar-powered lantern with a sturdy stand.

The lantern is a small, round, yellow lamp that comes with a detachable base. It’s solar-powered, with its charging area located on the back of the lamp. You can leave the lamp on the base to charge it, or you can detach the lamp and easily set it in any windowsill to let it charge while you’re not using it.

The lamp is convenient in many ways. You can get up to 70 hours of use from the lamp with a full charge. It also has three brightness settings—low, normal, and turbo. It’s light, weighing only 150 grams (which, for comparison, is just slightly heavier than a baseball). And it’s water resistant and durable, so you don’t have to worry about breaking it during a camping trip.

Even if you’re not on-the-go or in the great outdoors, this solar lantern is a small battery- and cord-free way to add some light to your home. Head over to Amazon to take a closer look!

The Battle of the Smart Speakers

The Battle of the Smart Speakers

Over the past few years, you’ve likely heard more and more about smart assistants and smart speakers. Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot have been particularly heavily advertised. This is no surprise, since the Echo is what really launched this current boom of smart speakers.

You might be thinking the Echo is the only real contender in the smart speaker race. If that’s the case, you might be surprised to learn there are actually quite a few smart speakers on the market. If you’re interested in buying your own smart assistant-enabled speaker, keep reading for the info you need to narrow down your options.

What I mean by ‘smart speaker’

You might be wondering what a smart speaker actually is. Technically, there are many different kinds of speakers that could be considered smart speakers. There are plenty of speakers out there that do more than the typical old-school speaker.

However, when I talk about smart speakers in this article, I’m referring to a specific type of smart speaker. This is a speaker that has a built-in virtual assistant. These smart speakers can usually be controlled by voice and by app. You can ask them questions, have them perform virtual tasks, and of course, play music through them.

Who are the smart assistants?

Smart speakers come with smart assistants (or virtual assistants) ready to respond to your requests. Here are the smart assistants I’ll mention again later in this article:

  • Alexa—This assistant comes from Amazon. Alexa comes ready to do all sorts of things, including answer questions, make jokes, play music, give a weather forecast, make calls, and more. She can then be personalized by enabling additional skills that let her do a wide variety of other things.
  • Cortana—Microsoft developed this assistant. You might have heard Cortana on your Windows 10 computer or a Windows phone. Cortana can do all the basic things like answer questions (using Bing search results), create reminders, and give the current weather. She also now has third-party skills available to expand her capabilities.
  • Google Assistant—Naturally, Google offers this assistant. You can access Google Assistant through many different devices, including quite a few Google and Android phones. The Assistant can answer questions, create alarms, make purchases, change settings, and more. You can also enable third-party apps that expand your Assistant’s possibilities.
  • Siri—You likely already knew the name of Apple’s smart assistant. Siri has been available for quite some time through devices like the iPhone. Siri can do all the basics, like answer questions, set reminders, change settings, and more. She can also send messages and make calls. You can also enable some apps to work with Siri.

What options are there?

There are a few main smart speakers that are typically considered the frontrunners—the best of the best. However, some others are coming up against the competition to give consumers more options.

This is not a full, completely definitive list of smart speakers. But the 9 smart speakers listed below are some of the most popular, recent, and talked about options. Keep in mind there are many more features available on each speaker, not just the handful I mention!

Amazon Echo

Ratings: 8.1/10 CNET, 4.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: A smart speaker with Alexa—from the people who created Alexa.
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa, a well-received and popular assistant
  • Good sound quality from the 2.5” woofer & 0.6” tweeter with Dolby
  • 7 microphones that help the Echo hear and understand from a distance and in noisy places
  • Multiple wake words to choose from (“Alexa,” “Computer,” or “Echo”)
  • Style options, with 6 colors to pick from
  • Connects to Bluetooth and has an audio output
  • 4 buttons on top: action, volume up, volume down, microphone off
  • Also works through the Alexa app (for Android & iOS)

Price: $99.99

Amazon Echo Dot

Ratings: 9.5/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: The smaller version of Amazon’s Alexa-enabled smart speaker.
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa, a well-received and popular assistant
  • Small and easy to place anywhere without taking up much space
  • 7 microphones that help the Echo hear and understand from a distance and in noisy places
  • Multiple wake words to choose from (“Alexa,” “Computer,” or “Echo”)
  • Connects to Bluetooth and has an audio output, so you can improve sound quality by connecting to another Bluetooth speaker
  • 4 buttons on top: action, volume up, volume down, microphone off
  • Also works through the Alexa app (for Android & iOS)

Price: $49.99

Apple HomePod

Ratings: 8/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: Apple’s smart speaker with their popular voice assistant Siri integrated. This smart speaker is set up by using an iOS device like an iPhone or iPad.
Some key features:

  • Built in Siri, Apple’s well-known smart assistant
  • Good sound quality from its high-excursion woofer and 7 tweeters
  • Visually stylish, with a mesh exterior
  • Intelligent sound, with the ability to hear from across a room and through noises, as well as change its sound based on where you are at the time
  • 6 available controls on top of the device: play/pause, next track, previous track, volume up, volume down, Siri

Price: $349

Google Home

Ratings: 8.3/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: Google’s smart speaker with their Google Assistant built in.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Connects with Chromecast
  • Uses Voice Match to recognize who’s speaking and perform tasks appropriately
  • Works like a Bluetooth speaker, so you can connect other devices
  • Multi-colored lights on top indicate what the Home is doing
  • Responds to touch: mute, wake the Assistant, play/pause, change volume

Price: $99

Google Home Mini

Ratings: 8.2/10 CNET, 3.5/5 PC Mag
What it is: The smaller version of Google’s smart speaker with Google Assistant.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Style options, with 3 different colors
  • Small and easy to place anywhere
  • Connects with Chromecast
  • Uses Voice Match to recognize who’s speaking and perform tasks appropriately
  • Works like a Bluetooth speaker, so you can connect other devices
  • Dots on top indicate what the Home Mini is doing
  • Responds to taps: change volume, start/stop, mute

Price: $39

Harman Kardon Invoke

Ratings: 7.3/10 CNET, 2/5 PC Mag
What it is: The first smart speaker with Microsoft’s Cortana built in.
Some key features:

  • Built in Cortana
  • 360° sound from its 3 woofers, 3 tweeters, and 2 passive radiators
  • Connected Skype for voice calling
  • 7 microphones and multiple technologies to hear commands from all directions and in noisy environments
  • Touchpad on top for touch controls
  • Lights indicate when Cortana is responding

Price: $99.95

JBL Link 20

Ratings: 8.2/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: A Google Assistant-enabled smart speaker from speaker and electronics company JBL.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • Recognizes commands from across the room with its far-field voice recognition
  • Connects with Bluetooth so you can play audio from other devices
  • Battery powered and portable—its battery can last up to 10 hours
  • Waterproof and durable
  • Built in Chromecast connection so you can cast to the Link 20

Price: $149.95

Sonos One

Ratings: 8.7/10 CNET, 4/5 PC Mag
What it is: A smart assistant from electronics company Sonos, with Alexa built in (and Google Assistant coming soon).
Some key features:

  • Built in Alexa
  • Wide variety of music services available to connect (including Amazon Music and Pandora)
  • 6 microphones that help the One hear commands from a distance and over noise
  • Built for good sound quality using Class-D amplifiers
  • Touch controls on top: volume up, volume down, skip, mute
  • Moisture resistant
  • LEDs on top to indicate the One’s status

Price: $199 or two for $349

Sony LF-S50G

Ratings: Not available on CNET or PC Mag
What it is: Sony’s smart speaker with built-in Google Assistant.
Some key features:

  • Built in Google Assistant
  • 360° sound and a speaker with a two-stage diffuser & bass reflex duct
  • Bluetooth connectivity so you can listen to music from other devices
  • Responds to touchless gestures—wave to change the volume
  • Volume adjustment that automatically changes volume based on sound in the room
  • Splash-proof
  • Digital clock on the side of the speaker
  • LEDs to display what the speaker is doing

Price: $199.99

Don’t forget…

This article gave some of the basics you need to know when choosing your smart speaker. Take a closer look at the speakers you’re most interested in to see even more about their features!

Switch Things Up with a Keyboard App

Switch Things Up with a Keyboard App

If you’re using a smartphone, chances are you’re using the keyboard that came pre-installed. And depending on the phone, you might like it just fine.

But if you don’t like your keyboard, or if you think it could be better, you have options. Here are just some of the most popular and well-received keyboard apps you can try!

ai.type Keyboard

This keyboard is designed to offer lots of fun functions. You can change the layout of the keyboard, as well as its color, font, and more. It offers hundreds of emojis. It also has things like swipe capability, text prediction, autocorrect, voice narration, and even autosuggested emojis.
Cost: Free (with ads)
Available for: Android & iOS

Chrooma

This keyboard is meant to be smart and quick instead of bogging down your phone. You can change the color and personalize it in other ways, as well. It has predictive text, swipe capabilities, one hand mode, night mode, and more. It also has fun features, like a GIF search and emoji suggestion.
Cost: Free (with ads)
Available for: Android

Fleksy

This keyboard is a fun and colorful option. It proclaims itself the “fastest keyboard in the world.” It offers a customizable keyboard, easy gesture control, text prediction, and more. It lets you add extensions, like the GIF, Number Row, and Stickers extensions, and there are three keyboard sizes to choose from.
Cost: Free (premium features at a cost)
Available for: Android & iOS

Gboard

This keyboard from Google is a clean and fast keyboard choice. You can text using your voice, swipe (using their “glide typing”), share content from Google searches, translate, and use gestures. It also lets you search and use emojis and GIFs.
Cost: Free
Available for: Android & iOS

Minuum

This keyboard calls itself “the little keyboard for big fingers.” It’s designed to be a small keyboard that takes up less space without being difficult to use. It offers what it refers to as “sloppy typing,” meaning you can type quickly while it figures out what you’re trying to write. You can change the keyboard layout, get word predictions, search for definitions, gesture, get suggested emojis, use voice typing, and more.
Cost: $3.99 (free version offers limited features)
Available for: Android & iOS

SwiftKey

This keyboard focuses on its ability to learn your patterns and give better suggestions the longer you use it. It has autocorrect, predicted words, themes and customizable keyboards, swipe capabilities, an emoji keyboard, suggested emojis, and more. It can even learn your style better by accessing your previous texts and accounts.
Cost: Free
Available for: Android & iOS 

Swype

This keyboard is one of the most popular swipe-based keyboards. Swype gets better at understanding how you communicate the more you use it, and using your account, you don’t have to start over again if you switch to a new device. You can customize the keyboard, including its layout and design. The keyboard also offers swipe capabilities, predictive text, voice to text, gestures, and more.
Cost: $.99
Available for: Android & iOS

Typany

This keyboard is your brightly colored and fun keyboard alternative. You can create your own themes, make your own emojis, share drawings, use themes, and more. It has features like autocorrect and keyboard personalization, as well as voice to text. They also have what they call “text bang,” which lets you easily edit what you’ve typed. There’s even an emoji keyboard, including text-based emoticons.
Cost: Free (with ads)
Available for: Android & iOS