MePHOTO makes the perfect road trip companion

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.

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Osmo STEAM experience helps kids learn coding and music

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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Hotel apps gain favor with guests

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.

Sports Wireless headphones from JVC hit the sweet spot

JVC appeals to the competitive athlete with a new streamlined sports headphones

While a lot of headphone manufacturers jumped on the Bluetooth wireless bandwagon after Apple revealed its iPhone 7 headphone-jack-less design, JVC went for a more niche audience of serious sportsters who had their own specialized needs for high performance headphones with its series of sports wireless headphones.

For starters, serious athletes would obviously only wear in-ear headphones, so JVC came up with a number of styles that are geared for this audience with anti-slip, water resistant materials. Their latest headset, the HA-ET50BT-A ($79.95), has a pivot motion fit, which is basically is an inch-long elbow-shaped rubber fin that can be rotated to nestle into the curve of the ear. The benefit of this fit is that it helps keep the headphone in the ear, of course, but also it allows the user to wear sunglasses over the ear or helmets and hats without any interference.

This headset also features an open type earbud with notches cut into the earpiece to allow ambient sound for safety when running or cycling along the roadside or other activity in an environment where you need to hear your surroundings. The open earpieces can be switched out for more dynamic sound as desired. The earphones come with a standard size earpiece and then five other sizes to choose from in the open and regular styles.

The USB-cable rechargeable 9-hour battery, which also doubles as the control center and microphone, is compact and lightweight, about two inches long, a quarter inch wide and about as thick as a flattened pencil. The control fob features raised buttons so the user can feel them rather than having to look at them to control them. The ear phones themselves contain magnets, so when draped around the neck the ear phones cling to each other to hold them together like a necklace, so they will not fall off when worn around the neck when they are not in use. For those fashion-conscious athletes, the headphones are available in a choice of purple, yellow or black.

Bedsides all the fit features, these headphones deliver JVC’s renowned awesome robust and rich audio quality.

The concept behind these headphones is that serious athletes need stress-free headphones that stay in place so they can enjoy and be motivated by music while concentrating on their training.  JVC smartly appeals to serious athletes with this line of headphones, because as we all know, competitive athletes always want an edge, and these headphones are clearly designed to give that.

 

 

Nanit baby video monitor evaluates baby’s sleep

nanitFirst comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the Internet of Things in the baby carriage.

After Baby Gigl, the smart baby bottle that notified caregivers via an app of the quantity of nutrition babies received and detected bubbles that could cause colic, now there’s Nanit, the “Tesla” of baby monitors and the first video monitor which can measure sleep and evaluate how well the baby is sleeping— without a wearable device.

Going beyond mere surveillance, Nanit provides comprehensive reports that measure a baby’s sleep behavior throughout the night. Since it launched, Nanit has been featured in Forbes, Fortune, BabyCenter, and The Today Show. In December 2016, Business Insider included Nanit in its “Best startups to launch in 2016” list.

The creators say Nanit is the most advanced baby monitor ever created, using cutting-edge computer vision technology to deliver scientifically-backed insights designed to help babies and entire families sleep better.

Nanit features a mobile app experience that allows parents and caregivers to share important information with each other via Nanit’s private social feed. Other key features include an easy set-up floor stand, a night light, a “white noise” maker, six nature soundtracks, a fully integrated cable management system, sound/motion notifications, and HD surveillance of the nursery.

Nanit is designed to help new mothers (and fathers) for whom baby’s sleep is as elusive as those sheep jumping over the fence.  It might even help those weary parents get a few extra winks too.

Check out the video here: https://youtu.be/qASwMefxodM

 

Nanit costs $279, not including an additional monthly subscription fee for analytics.
 

Serius heated gloves – the smartest gloves you’ll ever wear

DSC_1377Serius thermal gloves are the first gloves for which I’ve had to read a instruction manual. That said, the instructions were pretty simple. Charge the batteries for about three hours, insert the batteries into the wrist cuff and press the button to the desired heat level. Oh yeah, and don’t forget, you can swipe away on your smart phone screen while wearing these gloves.

Within 30 seconds, the gloves were toasty inside, and on cold mountain tops these are a hand saver. After all, cold hands is a major reason that I have to head back to the lodge earlier than I wanted to.

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The gloves are attractive, and of course they will work with or without the batteries to stay warm, but the battery-powered system is what makes these gloves truly unique.

The gloves come with an interior liner, which could work alone and may be an option for less frigid days. When you truly need the extra warmth, the liner gloves slip into the exterior glove, which has a metallic like lining inside.

When put together, it is rather snug fit, and you must be careful when tucking in the cables that are used to charge the batteries and to connect them to the heating mechanism with in the glove, because if the cables are not tucked in correctly on the outer side of the battery, you will feel the hard plastic connectors, about the size of a small AC adapter connector, pressing into your wrist, which could be uncomfortable.

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One other design issue is that once the temperature selection is made on the inner glove, and the outer glove is slipped on over it, it’s possible if you’re not careful to hit the button on the outside and change the setting unintentionally. Also, because once the outer glove is on you cannot see the setting, you would have to remove the outer glove to check it.

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Lastly, the care and laundering of these gloves is a bit different from others, whereas you can toss most gloves into the dryer you cannot do that with these, which should be wiped off if dirty and let dry naturally if wet. If you have any other questions, there’s always the manual, which you can access on your smartphone, wearing your gloves of course.

Xess giveaway! Own the newest Alexa enabled smart home hub

The next generation of smart devices is here, to make your life easier, and more fun!

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The joke among tech geeks at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the annual massive showcase of new gadgets, was “Does it work with Alexa?”

Indeed, Alexa will soon be commanding the market – or rather we will be commanding Alexa – and the innovators at the helm are the ones finding new and exciting ways to incorporate the voice controlled app into our homes and lives.

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One of the most anticipated incarnations of this technology is TCL’s Xess, pronounced “excess,” the next generation of Amazon Alexa enabled devices, in the form of a tablet. Similar to Amazon’s Echo and its offshoots Dot and Tap, and Google Home, the device uses the Alexa wake word, or it can be programmed with the user’s chosen word, to turn respond to voice commands. In addition to following voice commands, the Xess 17.3-inch touch screen responds to hand gestures, which can control functions like scrolling, taking pictures and other tasks.

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Xess also comes with a home security camera that can remotely monitor a room on 1/3 of the screen or on the full-screen, to keep an eye on kids, pets, or an area of a home.  Tapping on the camera icon can activate a video recording or capture still photos.

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Using Alexa app on Xess I am able to turn lights on and off and dim them, and I can also raise or lower the room temperature of my Honeywell Lyric thermostat.  I can also listen to my New York Times or NPR news briefs, get the weather or traffic report, find my phone with a tracker, ask Alexa to tell me a joke, and even be inspired by a daily motivational quote or guided in meditation or lulled to sleep by various skills I have enabled for those purposes.

My favorite companion for Alexa is the Lutron app, which works with Lutron’s Caseta wireless lamp plug-ins and remote controls as well as other peripherals, such as Sonos.  At this time Xess and Echo and its offshoots are not Alexa-enabled to use voice commands to control Sonos, but using the Lutron app I can play music on Sonos using scenes.

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Using programmed scenes on the Lutron app, which I can assign custom names and icons on the Lutron app, I can set lighting and music to match a desired mood or activity, such as dimmed lamps and mellow music for nighttime, or pop music and bright lights for my workout, which I can activate with the commands, “Alexa, turn on Sonos Chill-Out,” or “Alexa, turn on Sonos for Workout.”

Another terrific aspect of using the Lutron Caseta wireless platform is that the plug-in lamp dimmer acts as a range extender, which relays the wireless signal between smart devices, giving me an extra 30 feet for spacing devices.

At this time Xess is not integrated to use voice commands to play music from Amazon Music or read Audible books from Amazon and the like, but you can use these services on Xess just as you would on any tablet by selecting their apps on the screen and using the tablet interface.

One big difference between Xess and Echo/Tap/Dot and Google Home is that Xess can be controlled by hand gestures, such as an open hand to stop playback, a swipe motion to move screens or turn pages, a countdown with fingers for photos, and a shushing finger-in-front-of-the-mouth gesture to mute Xess.

Whereas the speaker-style Alexa enable devices are designed to be discreet, tucked away on a shelf or residing unnoticed on a countertop, the Xess is made to see-and-be-seen.

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The Xess is basically a portable mini flat screen TV. It features a retractable carry handle and an adjustable stand, so it can be set down on any flat surface and set a variety of angles. It comes loaded with a couple very useful apps, such as Kitchen Stories, a step-by-step cooking demo app loaded with recipes, making it a great chef’s assistant.  It also has a pop out hub for connecting USB devices, headphones and inserting memory cards.

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As an Alexa addict, I love having two dimensions in which to interact with the Alexa app. I still love my Echo, for its awesome seven-speaker sound capabilities, but Xess offers another dimension with its visual capabilities, plus it features JBL built-in audio for decent sound; and besides, when I am not using it to control my smart home, it’s a carry-anywhere oversized tablet, for homework, online shopping, or streaming video, like this great video series of Xess how-to videos:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnby6EE00VpVsaAP8pPR39Kgvddasgers.

If you would like a chance to own a Xess, compliments of TCL, valued at $499, please follow these easy steps to be entered into a random drawing, to be held April 6, 2017.

  • Like TCL’s Facebook page and follow on Twitter using the hashtag: #TCLXess.
  • Like this blog’s Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter
  • Post a comment on this post stating what feature(s) of the TCL Xess would get the most use in your home.

The recipient of the Xess giveaway will be notified by Twitter and Facebook. Good luck!

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