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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A night light with a sensor style

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The OxyLED OxySense T–03S Wall Sconce night light is the perfect solution for lighting spaces such as hallways, balconies, stairs, attics, basements, closets and other places where it’s not feasible to install a permanent light fixture, or where you need the convenience of lighting that comes on and goes off only when the room is occupied.

This nightlight, which gets its bright, white light from 14 energy-saving LEDs, is larger than a typical plug-in nightlight, measuring approximately 6 inches wide, and 4 inches tall. It does not require an outlet nearby, because it is charged using a USB micro plug cable or four AA batteries. The light can be mounted with the included adhesive strip or using the supplied screws.

The unique design features a translucent disc that is illuminated behind a brushed silver-look band that features a jewel-cut globe in its center for decoration. The small globe also lights red while the unit is charging and changes to green when it is ready for use.

The fact that this light can be recharged with a USB is a selling point for me, because I hate to be constantly replacing batteries, and because this light uses so little energy, it only has to be recharged approximately every six months. Because of its wireless design and its modern styling, the light can be placed just about anywhere, whereas some nightlights have an industrial look more suitable only for garages or hidden spaces like closets.

I have used other light sensor fixtures, but this by far is the most sensitive, lighting up automatically when it senses human motion within approximately 10 feet, and it turns off 15 seconds after you walk away out of its sensing range.

While it can be moved around as needed to light dark spaces, my OxyLED is permanently affixed above the door in my basement, where now when I enter the room my path is lit so that I can find the light switch, which has always been an irksome task, because the builder decided to hide the light switch behind the door.

If you need a small space lit for convenience or safety, this is the best-looking and easiest night light of its type that I have found.

A day without devices, March 3 is National Day of Unplugging

teens-cellphonesParents of teens and even elementary school age kids are often complaining of them being addicted to their smartphones and social media, and the sad reality is that these habits start early and follow them into adulthood.  In fact, many of them are modeling the behavior of their phone-addicted parents.

March 3 is a day to unplug and look around at all else the world has to offer, off of our phones, tablets, laptops and other devices. For many, it will be a day of reckoning, when they realize just how often they turn to their phones instead of human interaction.

According to a NationalToday.com survey, 77% of women and 68% of men spend 3 hours or more per day on their computer, phone, or tablet. Half of women and 41% of men spend 5 hours or more per day looking at a screen.

To conduct the NationalToday.com Day of Unplugging Survey, conducted Feb. 14, 2017, the pollsters at National Today [www.nationaltoday.com]—an online destination dedicated to quirky and fun holidays—asked 1,000 Americans to dish on their digital dependence.

TOP 3 MOST INTERESTING INSIGHTS ABOUT OUR DEVICES
#1: When I have down time, I spend it on my phone, computer, or tablet (35%)
#2: I spend more time interacting with people online than I do in person (13%)
#3: I feel like I’m addicted to my phone (13%)

MOST AMERICANS SPEND 3+ HOURS A DAY ON THEIR DEVICES
75% of Americans spend 3+ hours per day on their computer, phone, or tablet. 48% spend 5 hours or more per day looking at a screen, while 13% spend 10 hours or more.

TOP 5 PLACES AMERICANS SPEND THE MOST TIME LOOKING AT THEIR PHONES
#1: When I wake up (32%)
#2: When I’m in bed going to sleep (26%)
#3: On work breaks (20%)
#4: In the bathroom (10%)
#5: On my morning commute (4%)

BED ISN’T JUST FOR SLEEPING ANYMORE
For 58% of Americans, bed is the most popular place to check their phone, be it when waking up (32%) or when going to sleep (26%).

RANKING OF THE TOP 3 DEVICES AMERICANS SPEND THE MOST TIME ON
#1: Smartphone (76%)
#2: Computer (17%)
#3: Tablet (7%)

MEN CARE SLIGHTLY MORE THAN WOMEN ABOUT THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE
5% of women say they closely monitor how many “likes” they get on social media, compared to 7% of men who say the same.

If you are looking for ways to unplug in life and stop and smell the real versus virtual roses, check out a great book that really made a difference in my life, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!

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And have a happy National Day of Unplugging!

The adorable portable battery that grows on you

This adorable portable battery will grow on you
With the dismal life of today’s smart phone batteries, everyone’s getting on board with portable batteries to charge up on the go. Some may last a little longer, some are sleeker, but Cheero FLOWERS Power Plus portable battery is so far the most differentiated power block that I’ve seen.
The brightly colored 10050 mAh mobile battery has a unique design of a cartoon face, with two round circles for eyes, and a triangle nose. Available in seven flower inspired colors, Cheero is ready to charge Apple and Android phones and tablets. The battery features two ports so it can charge more than one device at a time, and it is equipped with an AUTO-IC function, allowing the external battery to automatically recognize if a device is connected. The external battery optimizes the supplied power best suited for each device.

The most obvious appeal of this battery is its cute design is attractive to children and those who like cutesy things. It may encourage children to take a long their battery packs, so there’s no excuse for their phone dying when mom and dad are trying to call them coordinate a pick up at school.

Another advantage of its different look is that you won’t get it confused with everyone else’s black square of a battery pack, unless of course they also have Cheero.

The battery comes with a cute canvas carry bag, so you can keep the little fellow from getting scratched. It also comes with a short micro-USB to USB cable. Cheero is available at select Nordstrom and at Amazon Prime for $39.99 at Amazon.com.

 

US cities with highest malware infection rates reported

Tampa, Orlando, and St. Louis had the Highest 2016 Malware Infection Rates in the United States

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Computers in Tampa, Orlando, and St. Louis are more likely than computers in any other city to be infected with malware. That’s according to data released today by ESG, makers of the SpyHunter anti-spyware program. The ESG research team compiled their latest data based on malware detection data from SpyHunter in the 100 largest cities in the United States in all of 2016. Tampa, Florida; Orlando, Florida; and St. Louis, Missouri each had malware infection rates more than five times the national average. Denver and Atlanta rounded out the top five.

The same three cities topped the list of highest infection rates in 2015 as well.

“There could be a number of factors including the demographics of the area, how widespread PC usage is (versus Mac or mobile devices), we’ve even seen weather play a role in infections from time to time,” said ESG spokesperson Ryan Gerding. “The important thing is that people in these cities, and everywhere else for that matter, need to always remain vigilant against malware, spyware, and other nefarious online activity.”

Malware gets on computers in a number of different ways. Sometimes it comes bundled with other legitimate software that users download from websites. Many times malware is installed when computer users click on bogus links in spam emails or hacked social media messages. Still, others get tricked into downloading malware by adult websites and illegal video streaming sites.

“Malware makers are always looking for ways to trick you into clicking on a link that will deliver their payload,” Gerding says. “Unfortunately, computers in Tampa, Orlando, and St. Louis seem to be more susceptible to these scammers.”

Infections can range from the annoying to the downright criminal. Some infections cause more pop-up ads to show up when users are browsing the web. Other malware infections can secretly change your default homepage and search engine. However, others create bogus messages claiming there is a different kind of malware infection on a user’s computer, and then ask the user to pay to remove the malware infections. One of the most insidious malware infections is called ransomware. Those infections lock up valuable files on your computer (photos, Word documents, movies) and refuse to unlock them unless you pay a ransom.

ESG offers three key ways for consumers to protect themselves against malware infections.

  • Make sure your operating system is up-to-date and change the settings so that updates are automatically installed.
  • Use a trusted anti-spyware program. We obviously recommend SpyHunter. But whatever program you use, make sure it is set to regularly and automatically scan your computer and install updates.
  • “Think about that link”. If you are asked to click on a link in an email message or a social media post, think twice. Ask yourself whether the link seems legitimate and if it’s something you were expecting to receive. If you have any doubt, leave it alone.

Top US Cities with the Highest Per Capita Malware Infection Rates in 2016

  1. Tampa 540% higher than the national average
  2. Orlando 525% higher than the national average
  3. St. Louis 520% higher
  4. Denver 407% higher
  5. Atlanta 370% higher
  6. Newark 322% higher
  7. Madison, Wisconsin 272% higher
  8. Washington, DC 242% higher
  9. Cleveland 213% higher
  10. Cincinnati 194% higher
  11. Minneapolis 129% higher
  12. Raleigh 125% higher
  13. Irvine, CA 121% higher
  14. Miami 109% higher
  15. Buffalo 99% higher
  16. Las Vegas 90% higher
  17. Pittsburgh 83% higher
  18. Boise 81.26% higher
  19. Greensboro 67% higher
  20. Seattle 61% higher
  21. Boston 58% higher
  22. Dallas 47% higher
  23. Columbus 46% higher
  24. Milwaukee 38% higher
  25. Norfolk, VA 36% higher
  26. Phoenix 32% higher
  27. Portland 28% higher
  28. Austin, TX 19% higher
  29. Honolulu 19% higher
  30. Baltimore 18% higher
  31. Birmingham, AL 13% higher
  32. Baton Rouge 11% higher
  33. Sacramento 10% higher
  34. Colorado Springs 7% higher
  35. San Jose, CA 4% higher

Powering up with the myCharge HubPlus portable charger

mychargehubplusWith the dismal battery life of iPhones these days, and fear sparked into the hearts of smartphone owners everywhere by the Samsung 7 battery explosions debacle, portable battery chargers have been the answer, at least temporarily, to stave off dead phone woes.

But not all phone chargers are alike, and before you buy one you should check out some important features that might make a difference in your charger being a lifesaver or a dud.

The myCharge HubPlus portable charger ($79.99) is one of the better chargers I have used, for many reasons. One feature that is rare in portable chargers is that it features a USB port, in addition to a built-in lightning and micro USB cables. The built-in USB and lightning cables can be sleekly tucked away on the side of the hub, so that they don’t tangle up with other items in your bag.

Of course, with the size and power needed to accommodate a USB port, the myChare HubPlus is a bit larger and heavier than many chargers; it would have to be, until the technology improves, to provide the juice needed to power up larger devices.

This means it’s a little less portable, and a little more weight and bulk in your pocket or bag. The flipside is that this device will keep your smaller devices running longer, lasting up to four times your device’s battery.

This extra power can come in handy on the subway, on a camping trip, or other places where you can’t plug-in for hours. Also an added feature of the HubPlus is it has a built-in wall prong for plugging directly into an electrical outlet. This is convenient because you don’t have to carry along a charger cord and charging block to re-charge your portable charger.

The bummer is that in this day and age, most household electrical outlets are spoken for, so often you will have to unplug something in order to accommodate it.

The charger features four lights on the side which show when the battery is charged up and ready to go. It also features a safe cell technology to limit the charge to give you the highest level of charge without overdoing it. It also has smart sense technology which ensures device compatibility.

Overall this is an excellent power bank for emergencies and peace of mind, if you don’t mind toying around a little extra heft.

B8ta offers the brick-and-mortar experience to tech buyers

b8ta“What’s old is new again” is a philosophy that one would never imagine apply to technology, but B8ta proves it does.  The world is migrating to online commerce, but nostalgic consumers once again crave the brick-and-mortar store experience. Clicking to buy is convenient, but the missing link is a sales person to explain the benefits and features of a product, and the opportunity to see, feel, and test an item before you purchase it.

Today many items consumers would have never dreamed of buying online, such as furniture or prepared meals, are shipped door to door in days; but sometimes there is a disconnect between the consumer and the seller. The savviest of the new commerce entrepreneurs are bridging the old school and the new way of doing business, such as online mattress seller Luxi, which is now developing a complementary program where customers can try out their product in a retail store and then purchase it either in-store or online for the same price.

B8ta has ingeniously harnessed the best the best of both worlds with their pop-up like retail stores where they consign traditionally online only products, such as eero Wi-Fi extenders, Pearl RearVision rearview automobile camera, or Muse brain-sensing mediation headband.  The cleanly designed storefronts resemble single-brand showplace stores, such as Apple, Sony or Microsoft store, but of course B8ta sells unlimited brands.

So far the stores are only on the West Coast, naturally having outlets in tech hubs in Northern and Southern California, with outposts in Santa Monica’s “Silcon Beach,” Seattle, Palo Alto, Burbank, Aliso Viejo and Livermore.

Having an actual retail store where consumers can go to handle the merchandise and speak to a knowledgeable sales person can make the difference between browsing and buying. When I recently went into the store in need of a portable battery charger, I was sold on the Flux, which was displayed at B8ta along with approximately 100 other devices, when I was able to see in person how thin the device was, and I was able to hold it in my hand to feel how lightweight it was. No number of YouTube unboxing videos can demo this experience.

B8ta has combined the tactile with the virtual experience of modern shopping with each of the items displayed near a video tablet on which a prospective customer can watch explainer videos. Enthusiastic black-shirted tech geeks stroll the isles eagerly awaiting the opportunity to answer questions about the merchandise.

The customer can also check on specs and other information from the video screen, including a countdown of the number of the product left in inventory.

So whereas some experiences don’t require a personal interaction to make them fulfilling, such as was the case when consumers were able to pump their own gas and never look back at the days of gas station attendants, buying tecnical products has not achieved this status, and signs are it will not, as the success of B8ta is proof positive that a hands-on shopping still has a place in the tech age. 

 

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