If the shoe fits, wear it; if it doesn’t click on another pair and order up the styles your kids want
EasyKicks is not a video game, but it’s not going to the mall. Most kids (and parents) with a choice of going shoe shopping at a store or sitting in front of a screen for a few minutes to choose shoes, will opt to lean in to get their kicks, and that’s what this ingenious online retail start up is counting on.
EasyKicks is a monthly service where subscribers pay a $20 monthly fee and get to pick and have shipped a new pair of Nike or Converse shoes, as they need them.
One of the most interesting elements of this subscription service is that the shoes come delivered to your door in a personalized box, decorated with kid-friendly graphics to boot, and when you take out the new pair of shoes, you put in an old pair of shoes and ship them back In a prepaid envelope for donation or recycling.
You can even put a couple pairs or more in the box, to go to a good cause. Either way, if your gently used shoes find their way to foster kids in need or if they are recycled through Nike grind, they go to a good cause and are kept out of landfills. They may even become materials to make playground surfaces.
The program allows you to swap out your “kicks,” as they call shoes, as often as you need to, at no extra cost. They send along a guide for measuring feet, with instructions, so you’re sure you get the right size. They even include a shoe-print shaped magnet that resembles those old-fashioned measuring devices in shoe stores, so you can slap it on the fridge and always have it handy.
The on-demand subscription concept came about as a way to end the stress of shopping for kids shoes, and the frustration of buying new shoes for kids to only have them wear them out or outgrow them in a month.
Once you ship off a pair of shoes to swap, you can go to your online account and order a new pair. Your membership allows you to keep one pair at a time, but you can order a new pair before you send your old pair back. But if you try to order another pair, a note on the website will let you know you need to first swap out a pair to get a new pair. You can swap out shoes as often as you need to, but measure often, as pediatricians recommend measuring kids feet for resizing every 90 days. Sure enough, at the third month of my membership, my son had already gone up a half size.
If you ever decide to end your membership, they ask that you send back your old EasyKicks, unless you’ve had them for at least 90 days, in which case they are yours to keep.
The shoes selections are a little limited, with only Nike and Converse brands, but considering those are pretty much the only brands my son wears, it was a good match for us. When I last checked the selection, for my son size, there were more than 40 styles from which to choose.
My son loves to look through the styles himself, and he much prefers to tap on a picture online then for me to drag him to a shoe store to try on the shoes.
For families with many kids, you can set up a profile for each child, which includes the child’s name, age and shoe size. They don’t have a discount for multiple kids in a family at this time, but they do often have promotions to save money, like $5 off the first month of membership with a three-month commitment; and they have a gift membership for a year that is $200.
It figures it took busy parents to come up with this idea of a kids show club, and ironically the founders are shoe industry veterans who happened to notice how quickly their own kids outgrew shoes, and they decided to do something to give busy parents a break and to give worn-out shoes a second life.
EasyKicks is backed by Nike, which is why the service get access to the latest sneaker styles and gets the best deals in the market. When I did the math, not only did the cost come out to be a steal, the time and energy I saved was priceless.
Voice-commanded devices and their apps are turning up the volume in the market, but who will get your ear?
When Apple finally entered the wireless speaker market with HomePod, which can be voice-controlled by Siri, its competitor Sonos, which now responds to voice commands via Amazon’s Alexa, took a swipe at the launch with a tongue-in-cheek playlist on Spotify, a service that the HomePod cannot access except through a workaround using other devices. While gags like this make the rivalry of these manufacturers sound like fun and games, the truth is that they are in a ruthless race to gain market share among literally dozens of new players in the space, from some you may have not yet heard of, like the TCL Xess video home hub ($499), to spin offs to the most popular devices, in different sizes and colors.
Some of these speaker systems and their attendant voice-commanded assistants are better than others, and some are simply clones. Here’s a short list of the ones we like, and why.
HomePod is a powerful speaker and sounds amazing, but Siri has a lot of catching up to do in order to hold a candle to Alexa, and at the sticker price of $349 and its inability to work with streaming music services besides Apple Music, there’s better bets out there, unless you are simply an Apple fanatic and will have nothing else.
Sonos remains a favorite, with its first-to-market Hi-Fi Wi-Fi streaming abilities and pairing with speakers in the Sonos family, including the new single speaker silo, Sonos One ($199), with Alexa built in.
808 XL-V smart speaker is a new entrant to the Alexa-enabled speaker systems, with a design closely resembling the original Amazon Echo, though the 808 has a bit more style than the original with its fabric-like wrap, resembling a traditional Wi-Fi speaker. Using the 808 audio app, you can use voice commands to control all the smart devices in your home, like thermostat and lightbulbs, and you can access your Amazon music and book library as well as premium accounts on Spotify and other music streaming services; or you can always use the Bluetooth connection to stream audio from other Bluetooth enabled devices or hook it up devices to the aux-in jack. The 808 XL-V also has the ability to stream the same music simultaneously from another 808 XL-V, you can play the same music in every room where you have a speaker.
Of course, you can’t talk about Alexa, without talking about the Poindexter stepsister-from-another-mother, Google Assistant, originally developed for Google Home and now expanding into a number of devices, including the adorable Google Home Mini ($49).
The TicHome and TicHome Mini are two great entrants into the Google Home voice command family. These speakers have great audio quality, especially for their size, and they also come in a variety of attractive colors to spruce up your countertop, desk or wherever they sit with their compact footprint. Like Google Home, they access the massive knowledge base of Google search, so by comparison to Alexa-enabled devices, The Google Assistant-enabled devices are far superior. The one big downside is that Google Assistant is not able to access your Amazon Music account at this time, obviously because their competitor controls the behemoth Amazon enterprise, but if you subscribe to premium services on Pandora and other listening services, you won’t miss a beat.
Amazon has had to up their game with more exciting speakers to compete with all the other Alexa-enabled systems now on the market. Amazon has met the demand for variety by adding not only an assortment of devices, such as the Dot ($49), Tap ($129), featuring both wi-fi and Bluetooth capabilities, and the tablet-like Show ($229), they’ve also added colors to the scheme. Now you can choose from hues like a teal and orange to liven up your table top and blend in with your decor.
As the creator of Echo ($129), of the first-to-market voice command speaker, Amazon Alexa is still king, or queen as it were, when it comes to audio quality and responsiveness, with its Dolby-powered omni-directional seven speakers that detect voice from multiple directions around it. And because Amazon’s signature Alexa-enabled speakers were build to work with the Alexa app, they are the most seamless in performance with Alexa and experience much lower rates of error than the other systems built by third parties.
With all of these systems, there is still work to be done to perfect their interactions with voice command. Expect that for no reason at all sometimes these speakers drop off Wi-Fi, requiring a reset or other intervention, and no matter how clearly and loudly you command them, sometimes you have to repeat yourself and yell at them like they are a petulant child to get them to do something or stop doing what they’re doing. But just like our kids, once we have them, we wonder how we ever lived without them.
Eight smart gifts of gadgets, toys and accessories for electronics lovers
Plug into fun this holiday season with these awesome devices and tech toys that will make the holidays electric.
We will, we will Roku
Binge watchers will love the ultimate top-of-the-line streaming device, Roku Ultra, that streams high-quality HD and even 4K video with a slim design that neatly tucks into TV cabinets or looks sleek on a shelf. For those who want to lie in bed and turn up the volume on their favorite action series and not wake up their partner with every explosion or gun battle, Roku offers private listening, which allows an individual to listen with headphones connected to a jack on the Roku remote or on a smart phone using the latest Roku app. Another great feature on the Roku remote is the ability to control volume and power up and turn off a connect TV. Like other models in Roku‘s lineup, the Ultra also offers dedicated buttons to popular networks, like Netflix and Hulu. New this year to Roku is the brand’s own free channel, chock full of premium movies and shows. Roku Ultra is available for $99 at retailers nationwide.
Thinking in a vacuum
Neat freaks can take a break from constant cleaning with iRobot’s Roomba, a vaccum robot that will do the work for them so their home can have that just-vacuumed look all the time. The original and most tech-forward of the automatic vacuum brands, Roomba has developed an army of round robots designed for a variety of carpet and floor surfaces, with its most advanced units, like the wi-fi connected Roomba 980 ($899), featuring smart technology that allows Roomba to be operated and programmed using an app or with voice- command devices like Echo or Google Home. While Roomba doesn’t do windows, it’s a great helper around the house that won’t complain about chores, and with its endearing Jetson-esque robotic voice, Roomba may just become your next pet, that picks up fur instead of shedding it.
Click tap, my phone was taking a bath
For the tech enthusiastic who has everything, give them the peace of mind of a bacteria-free cell phone with phone soap ($59.95). This sanitizing unit that looks like a mini sunbed, uses UV lights to kill germs on your phone in 10 minutes. The unit features an opening to thread through a phone cable, so the phone can charge while it’s in use. Available at www.phonesoap.com.
The Mobvoi TicHome Mini ($99) is a great new entrant into the works-with-Google-Assistant family. This speaker has rich audio quality, especially for its size, and this portable, compact unit comes in a variety of attractive colors to spruce up your countertop, desk, bathroom vanity (it’s splash resistant) or wherever it sits, ready to respond to your commands. Using the Google Assistant app, it can access the massive knowledge base of Google search, and can play music from a number of streaming services like Pandora. Also, the TicHome Mini can untether from its USB charging cable and run on its internal battery, either operating as truly wireless Wi-Fi streaming speaker or a Bluetooth speaker.
Own your stuff
While you cozy up in front of the TV this holiday season, save some money for your family with a TP-Link Archer CR700 Wireless Dual Band DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem Router ($159), a modem-router combination that can replace the unit that the cable service provider makes you pay to lease each month. Owning your own equipment is not only more convenient and less expensive in the long run, you will own the most advanced technology that often can perform better and faster than the no-frills devices the cable companies buy in bulk and rent to subscribers. The Archer CR7000 also features Parental and Access Control using a web management page that allows you to safeguard your network, restricting who can join and what content users may access while on it. Check compatibly with your cable service provider.
Spark the engineering spirit in young builders with the Hearthsong Hydraulic Arm Edge ($49.98, ages 10 and up), a working arm that kids assemble and then learn to maneuver using sequences that move its six water-powered levers to make the arm turn, lift, lower, and move blocks and other items to create structures using the arm’s grippers and its super-strong suction cup. As a feel-good bonus, when consumers purchase a STEM toy from HearthSong before December 11, 2017, and Bayer will donate the full value of that toy to Toys for Tots to buy STEM toys from HearthSong at a discount and donate up to $250,000.
Fast and curious
Kids can ramp up on the latest augmented reality technology with Osmo’s latest fun, mind-challenging game, Hot Wheels MindRacer ($59.99 on Amazon, ages 5 and up). This interactive game expands the boundaries of play with the classic play experience of Hotwheels cars with the power of mobile computing. Using tokens for a boost and real Hot Wheels cars – each with their own unique skills and personality quirks, players rev up and launch the toys into a fantastical computer-generated racetrack where winning takes both speed and smarts. A special note: this game is the first-ever Hot Wheels product marketed on the package, “For boys and girls!” (iPad sold separately)
Give the gift of peace of mind to yourself or love ones with the Honeywell Lyric C2 Wi-Fi Security Camera ($169.99), an easy-to-install and use security system that keeps on eye on your home while you’re away, or inside. Using the Lyric app on a phone or tablet, the C2 streams live video and records using free secure cloud storage (up to 1 GB) and 8GB SD-card storage for back-up, so that you can download surveillance clips from the past 24 hours. The system features voice control capability using the Alexa app, sound detection, night vision, and an HD 145-degree wide-angle view that captures video in sharp 1080p high definition.
The latest in compact tripods comes loaded with features, including a selfie stick
The MeFOTO Road Trip Air tripod with built-in selfie stick is a great option for serious photographers that want a steady shot but need portability and options for a full on SLR camera or a smart phone camera, to adapt to the shooting situation.
The tripod features a convenient click-and-lock system for the legs and center column. It took a few minutes to figure it out, but with a firm twist each leg section locks in place.
The ball head and pan head can also be locked or loosen to be fluid. A full-size SLR camera or other small or medium camera with a bottom screw hole can be easily mounted on and removed from the platform using the universal quick release plate.
For mobile shooting, with a twist of the collar and a knob at the bottom of the telescoping center pole, the selfie stick slides out and can be used as a mount for a smart phone with a digital remote.
The center column is also reversible using a retractable weight hook at the bottom of the center column, so that the tripod can be placed ideally for close-up photography and shooting difficult-to-reach objects.
The tripod is available in a variety of chic colors and it also comes with a super nifty and sturdy carry bag with heavy-duty dual straps and a impressively large slide lock.
For a compact Tripod system, the Road Trip Air is a kit with a lot of versatility and features. While it folds up relatively small, it is still a bit weighty at 2 1/2 pounds, so it will fit in a backpack, but it may be more weight than you want to carry if you’re climbing Everest.
The MePhoto Road Trip Air is available on Amazon or at http://www.mefoto.com/ for $175.
Coding Jam is the video game-like system that teaches kids to code while they play
The other day my son commanded Google Home to play a custom playlist he had created on a Pandora. Two things occurred to me about this. First, wow. The digitally connected future vision of the The Jetsons was coming true; and then, my more mundane thought was, “That music is awful. My 10-year-old child could write better arrangements,” and thanks to Osmo, he can.
Like many other kids who love video games, my son craves leveling up and learning how to improve his skills, and Osmo has harnessed this excitement in a new technology experience, Coding Jam, that allows kids to create music through basic coding. Using colored building blocks and a system that interacts with an iPad or iPhone, kids can arrange and play musical notes in strings and sequences to write…
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Mobile apps are becoming as central to the hotel guest experience as soft pillows, extra towels and a competitive price, according to J.D. Power
The new mantra from front desk clerks is at savvy hotels is, “Enjoy Your Stay—and Have You Downloaded Our App?”
According to the J.D. Power 2017 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study,SM released today, incorporating mobile apps and functionality into a hotel stay is associated with higher guest satisfaction. Integrating this technology also makes guests more willing to share their positive hotel experiences on social media.
The risk for hotels is that greater use of mobile devices for booking means some guests might secure a room with an online travel agency (OTA), which is associated with lower satisfaction. The industry is currently emphasizing direct booking, where a hotel guest rents a room directly through the hotel rather than another way. Pushing for more guests to become rewards members will likely enhance this effort. While OTAs remain popular among many guests, there are some disadvantages to their use, such as the need to deal with a third party if problems arise with a reservation.
“As mobile usage becomes increasingly ubiquitous for guests, the challenge for hotels becomes twofold: First, they must persuade guests to book directly with them, and second, they must encourage easy utilization of this technology,” said Rick Garlick, practice lead, travel and hospitality at J.D. Power. “By forging direct relationships, hotels can become guardians of the guest experience, but at the center of these relationships is an establishment’s mobile strategy.”
The study, now in its 21st year, measures overall guest satisfaction across eight hotel segments: luxury; upper upscale; upscale; upper midscale; midscale; economy; upper extended stay; and extended stay. Seven key factors are examined in each segment to determine overall satisfaction: reservation; check-in/check-out; guest room; food & beverage; hotel services; hotel facilities; and cost & fees. Satisfaction is calculated on a 1,000-point scale.
Following are key findings of the 2017 study:
Direct booking: When guests book through an independent travel website or mobile app (e.g., Expedia, Travelocity) instead of directly with the hotel, they are more likely to experience a problem and to be less satisfied with their stay.
Membership matters: Hotel rewards members are far more likely to book directly with a hotel or on a loyalty member site than those who are not members (75% vs. 47%, respectively), and their satisfaction is higher. The number of those who book through OTAs is increasing (19% in 2017 vs. 16% in 2013), despite the concerns some guests have ranging from earning hotel rewards to strict cancellation policies.
Mobile mania: In 2014, 14% of online reservations were made using mobile means (smartphone or tablet), and now that percentage is 25%. Those utilizing mobile reservations are more likely to be younger or business travelers.
Not so mobile mania: Among guests who have a hotel’s app on their mobile device, 38% don’t use it during their stay. Only a tiny percentage of check-ins (4%) and check-outs (1%) occurs through mobile apps, but when it is used, it is associated with higher guest satisfaction.
Get ’em to try the app: Guests who download and use a hotel’s mobile app are more satisfied and have greater loyalty to that brand. While only 19% of all guests have downloaded a hotel app, 70% of rewards members have done so.
Social media surprise: Despite the perception that people posting to social media only do so to complain, guests describing their experience via these channels appear to be more satisfied overall. At the same time, those who do experience a problem are extremely likely to post to social media (86%).
Reading is fundamental: Slightly more than half (52%) of guests have read a review of a hotel, industry news or an online forum in the past month, and 46% of those guests wrote a review in the past six months. Review readers and writers are also more likely to have higher guest satisfaction.
Hotel Segment Rankings
“While The Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott rank highest in the luxury segment, both of these Marriott-affiliated brands appeal to different types of customers,” Garlick said. “It’s important to remember that this study measures guest satisfaction among a hotel brand’s own customers and doesn’t directly compare hotel brands to one another. Often, the type of guest becomes an important element in determining satisfaction rankings.”
The following hotel brands rank highest in guest satisfaction in their respective segments:
Luxury: JW Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton1 (tie)
Upper Upscale: Hyatt
Upscale: Hilton Garden Inn (for a second consecutive year)
Upper Midscale: Drury Hotels (for a 12th consecutive year2)
Midscale: Wingate by Wyndham (for a third consecutive year)
Economy: Americas Best Value Inn
Upper Extended Stay: Staybridge Suites
Extended Stay: Candlewood Suites
The 2017 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study is based on responses gathered between June 2016 and May 2017 from more than 63,000 guests in Canada and the United States who stayed at a hotel in North America between May 2016 and May 2017.