Tech Spotlight

Tech Spotlight

It’s that time again—time for another Tech Spotlight! I’m on the watch for cool, fun, and helpful technology you can buy right now. Each week, I’m writing about three of the items I’ve found.

This week, I’m shining the spotlight on a 360-degree camera, a light for indoor plants, and a stress management device. Take a closer look at each item, then add it to your cart on Amazon!

Giroptic IO2-2K iO Pop HD 360 camera

This camera from Giroptic makes it easier to take 360-degree photos and videos with your smartphone. It’s available for Android and iOS, so whether you have a Galaxy or an iPhone, you can capture in 360 degrees.

iO Pop is pretty straightforward when it comes to setting up. You use the iO360 app to manage the device, and you simply plug the device into your phone using one of the included connectors. After you plug in the device, the app will open.

Photos are in 4K, while videos are in 2K. Photos and videos are stored on your device, and using the app, it’s easy to share them all on the social media platforms you use. You can also livestream—your 360-degree video can stream straight to Facebook, YouTube, or Periscope.

Though it is possible to create 360-degree content in less expensive ways, it can often be tricky, and the results aren’t always great. The iO Pop promises to be easy and provide good quality photos and videos. Check out more about the iO Pop on Amazon!

SimLife LED Plant Grow Light Kit

This pretty flower pot is a smart way to take care of your houseplants inside by providing them with all the “sunlight” they need.

The light kit from SimLife is an attractive white or pink basket-shaped flowerpot with an LED light. It’s meant to mimic sunlight so plants can get the light they need to survive and flourish. The light has 3 settings so you can choose what’s best for your environment. When the flowerpot is turned on, the light stays on at all times. When it’s set to auto, the sensor in the front of the flowerpot detects whether there’s enough light for the plant and turns the LED light on and off as needed. Off, of course, turns off the light.

This grow light kit is designed to be convenient. It plugs in to any USB port, even with low power. You can also use a DC adapter if you don’t want to stick with USB. You’re also able to take the soil pot out of the grow light pot, which makes it easier to remove, add to, or work with your plant. And the item even comes with a little watering pot for keeping plants hydrated.

If you like to keep indoor plants but have trouble keeping them in the sun, try out this grow light kit from SimLife!

Spire Stone: Stress Management and Activity Tracker

The Spire Stone is meant to help you stay aware of your stress and work to manage it.

This wearable device is attached to specific areas of your clothing and keeps track of your breathing and other activity. The device is always working to monitor your breathing and make sure your breathing patterns don’t suddenly change. When the Spire Stone detects stress indicated by a specific change in breathing, it gives a “gentle notification” so you can address the issue. It also keeps up with things like your steps and other activity.

Using the accompanying app, you can pause during times of stress and follow along with a guided meditation or with visual exercises. You can also look at your “breath-wave,” which shows you your breathing in real-time.

Spire Stone is designed to be as convenient as possible. Its battery can last up to 10 days, and when it needs to be charged, it’s placed on the wireless charging pad that comes included. It’s also “washer-proof,” meaning if you accidentally keep it attached to your clothing when you wash your laundry, it won’t be ruined.

If you’re dealing with stress and want to learn more about the Spire Stone, check it out on Amazon!

BlackBerry Motion Information Revealed

BlackBerry Motion Information Revealed

BlackBerry is in the news right now with announcement as interesting as anything coming from Apple or Samsung. BlackBerry has been around a long time, and in recent years, it’s been mostly overshadowed by iPhones and Galaxies. Its upcoming phone, though, should make it a real competitor again and give some people a reason to go back to BlackBerry when they’re shopping for a new phone. BlackBerry’s upcoming BlackBerry Motion will not have a keyboard like other BlackBerry phones have—it will actually be a completely touchscreen phone.

Images have been leaked of the phone, and it looks pretty different from what you might think of as a BlackBerry, but it looks pretty much like you’d expect a current smartphone to look. A typical older BlackBerry, of course, often had large keyboards that took up a large part of the device. They were often what we might consider clunky by today’s standards, and they had heavily rounded edges. At some points in the past, the name “BlackBerry” was often synonymous with “cellphone.” They were so popular and widespread that they seemed to be everywhere. After Android and iOS phones really took the stage, BlackBerry phones pretty much faded into the background, no longer leading the world with its smartphones. The BlackBerry Motion could be a chance for BlackBerry phones to seem truly relevant again.

Not everything is known about the Motion yet, but there are some bits and pieces. As mentioned, it will be fully touchscreen, losing the typical BlackBerry keyboard. According to AndroidCentral, it’ll have a decent amount of storage space (32 GB), a battery with a long life (4000mAh), water resistance, and a fingerprint sensor, among other interesting specs.

It’s hard to know for sure whether the BlackBerry Motion will truly make BlackBerry a competitor for Android and iOS phones again, but it’s an interesting step to take. Unfortunately, it will be a while before we can see where this development goes. Some markets will get the phone pretty soon, but it’ll be a while longer before it’s available in the US. Once it hits most of the major markets, it will be interesting to see how it fares.

(Featured image: BlackBerry Mobile)

Spotify Voice Commands Coming for Google Assistant

Spotify Voice Commands Coming for Google Assistant

Spotify is making itself even more easily accessible by allowing voice commands through Google Assistant. Spotify, the popular music streaming service, has been in the news recently for other good reasons, including its recently added Spotify Student Hulu Bundle. Spotify is now upping its game with additional voice control features. Previously, Spotify could be controlled through certain devices, like Google Home and Amazon Echo. With Google Home, users could link their Spotify account through Google home and use the “OK Google” command to play music, change the volume, ask what was being played, and more. With Amazon Echo, users could add their Spotify account in the Alexa app and ask Alexa to play certain songs or playlists, control the volume, and more. Without these devices, it was less simple to access Spotify with just a voice.

Spotify’s recent announcement is exciting for everyone who likes to listen to music hands-free. Now that Spotify will be controlled through Google Assistant, its voice features will be accessible to more people than ever. The feature will be coming out over the next couple of weeks and will work through Google Assistant on any Android device that supports it. Google Assistant on Android devices uses the same kind of commands as Google Home. You’ll be able to link your Spotify account through Google Assistant and make it the default music service, then start your commands with “OK Google” to get the music playing. You’ll be able to ask for music, start playlists, change the volume, and more. Best of all, this is available to both Free and Premium Spotify members, so you don’t even have to sign up for a paid plan to use it.

The expansion of their voice control ability is great news for people who want to multi-task or aren’t able to keep their device handy while listening to music. For instance, someone using a Bluetooth speaker will be able to leave their device on the coffee table while they clean, changing songs without having to turn off the vacuum or stop washing dishes. It will add an extra bit of convenience for those who don’t want to have to keep their phone nearby while they rock out. Keep an eye out for Spotify voice control to hit your Google Assistant soon.

iPhone X’s Camera Incorporates Face Tech

iPhone X’s Camera Incorporates Face Tech

There’s been a lot of hype about the upcoming new iPhone X, and with all the hype has come plenty of news tidbits. One major piece of information has been the discussion about Apple’s Face ID technology. Face ID will, among other things, allow iPhone users to unlock their phones simply by using their face. Face ID can recognize a face and use it as a security measure, sort of like unlocking with a fingerprint or a PIN. It will also let you do things like make payments by verifying your face. Face ID is implemented using the iPhone X’s TrueDepth Camera. The TrueDepth Camera incorporates a number of technologies in order to “accurately map and recognize a face,” says Apple. While Face ID sounds exciting, another interesting and fun application of the TrueDepth Camera will be the new iPhone’s Animojis. You heard that right—Animojis.

Using the TrueDepth camera on the iPhone X, you will be able to send customized and animated emojis to your friends. Right now, of course, texters are usually limited to the typical pre-chosen emojis. These emojis have a limited range of emotions, to some peoples’ frustration. I myself have often found myself irritated when I couldn’t really find the right emoji to accurately express what I was feeling (because of my ability to send texts with unbelievable typos, I really need an emoji to better display my embarrassment). And considering how often people replace full-blown sentences with simple emojis, having more options could be great fun.

Animojis will allow you to use your TrueDepth Camera to choose from a set of different Animoji styles, like perhaps a panda. You will then be able to make different faces—Apple says there are “over 50 different facial muscle movements”—and display that emotion on your chosen style. You will be able to send these Animojis to your friends as short, looping animations. This should let you feel more like you have properly expressed your true emotion, though of course, you’ll probably be doing so as a unicorn or a fox. Still, Animojis should bring some fun to the world of emojis for owners of the iPhone X.

Internet 101: The Internet of Things

Internet 101: The Internet of Things

By now you may have heard someone talking about the Internet of Things (or IoT). This term has been popping up more and more in recent years, becoming part of many peoples’ everyday vocabulary. But for many people, the name has appeared so suddenly that it’s caused some puzzled looks. What is the IoT, and how can you start taking part in the phenomena…or are you already?

What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things refers to the smart products that connect to the internet or to each other. You bring the Internet of Things into your home when you buy certain smart products. For instance, your version of the IoT might come from your smart fridge and your Amazon Echo. These smart products use the internet to complete their services. Because of the internet connectivity, smart products that are part of the Internet of Things are able to offer more highly technological solutions to older, less advanced household items.

What are the privacy concerns?

There is an ongoing and lively debate about the Internet of Things, and it mostly centers on privacy. Many people feel perfectly safe using smart products that connect to the internet, stating that the manufacturers can’t use these products to gather or use their data in unwanted ways. Others argue that, terms or service or not, the internet of things can be used to compile data on individuals and be used in negative ways. Some also worry about government reach and whether their data or recordings could be compiled by government agencies. There are some cases of the government attempting to seize data in instances of criminal cases, like when Amazon was pressured to turn over recordings captured by a murder suspect’s Echo device. (After Amazon held out, the suspect eventually allowed Amazon to turn over the data.) But opinions still differ on how big of a concern privacy is with internet-connected devices. How private and protected your data will be is difficult to fully know, though the Terms of Service (TOS) for each device you connect might give you a better idea of what to expect. Whatever you decide, just be sure to read the TOS carefully for each product, making sure your data won’t be passed on or stored by anyone who could misuse it.

What are the pros and cons?

Privacy isn’t the only discussion to be had about the Internet of Things. Here are some other things to consider when deciding whether to jump on board with the IoT:

Pros

  • You have access to new and exciting tech
    Smart devices are everywhere, and there are new and interesting items being added to the Internet of Things on a regular basis. So many different products are becoming part of the IoT that it’s often hard to even keep track of what’s available.
  • You’re given the ability to perform tasks more quickly
    After setting up a device, having internet-connected devices often makes it easier to complete tasks. You can shut off an appliance that’s in the other room while you’re running out the door, for instance, instead of taking the time to go back and flip a switch.
  • You can use hands-free abilities
    Many devices are voice-controlled, like certain remotes and Amazon products, meaning you can often get something done just by using your voice. If you’re a multi-tasker (who isn’t these days?), you could be checking an email with one hand, pouring your coffee with the other, and adding an event to your calendar just with your voice.
  • It’s possible to create a hub for numerous items
    With the Internet of Things, more and more of your home products can be connected with each other, and in some cases, they can even be accessed through the same app. One way you might do this is by having several different light bulbs all able to be controlled in the same app, which makes it possible to turn all your lights off or on at the same time.
  • There’s a growing base of apps and abilities
    Some devices, like the Amazon Echo, include different skills that can be enabled, and these skills are consistently being improved and added to. Other smart products are regularly updated to work more smoothly and add more convenient features. Knowing that people get tired of the same old same old, most companies are working to make their products better and more convenient.

Cons

  • You become dependent on an internet connection
    Devices that are part of the Internet of Things rely on, well, the internet, so capabilities are reduced (or even entirely shut down) during internet outages. It’s already frustrating enough when you’re not able to watch Netflix on your computer during internet down time, so losing the ability to talk to your Echo is like salt in the wound. (Speaking of internet reliability, don’t forget about Easy Internet Now’s reliable, no-contract service!)
  • The price can be a problem
    Some smart devices can be expensive during initial release, which means you may have to wait until prices drop. For instance, some smart appliances can cost over a thousand dollars, when its internet-less counterpart might be only a couple hundred dollars. There are exceptions to this, of course, but price is still a major consideration.
  • The lifespan may not be desirable
    Some smart products may become obsolete more quickly than older products, as the technology continues growing. Like smartphones, devices that are part of the Internet of Things are getting better and better, and some companies will obviously choose to release brand new products that make their former versions less usable over time. Typically (though not always), older devices are updated less often, making the newer (and often more expensive) products more enjoyable to use.
  • Smart products are still in development
    Some items may have fewer options and capabilities at first, since many devices are so new and somewhat experimental. If you opt to purchase smart devices when they’re still brand new, you run the risk of purchasing a product that might end up being less useful than you expected.

What can you get?

Many more products are becoming part of the IoT as the months pass. Here are some types of products you can find, along with one or two products available now (or soon!) in each category:

Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list, but you can see that there’s a wide range of products that can connect to the internet and expand the Internet of Things. Now that you know what the IoT is, it might be easier to keep an eye on the next new smart device.