Review of the Google OnHub From TP Link

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Update (1/13/2017): The OnHub has been replaced by Google WiFi. One of the dangers of being an early adopter is that sometimes you spend money on products that turn out to be little more than prototypes. Looks like I’ll be upgrading.

Update (5/2/2016): The OnHub now works with IFTTT (If This Than That). Looks like I’m going to be making a lot of updates to this post.

Update (4/25/2016): The OnHub now has support for guest networks. (I’m back to only having to use one router again.) You can even allow your guest network to have access to streaming devices like the Chromecast and Chromecast Audio. Thanks, Google!

Whenever Google dabbles in hardware, I pay attention. And whenever anyone claims to be rethinking not only an ubiquitous consumer electronic, but an entire customer experience, my curiosity is piqued. Google’s OnHub project is both.

I went with the model from TP Link since it was the only one available at the time I was buying, but the model from ASUS looks similar enough that I wouldn’t expect major differences. Here’s a breakdown of my experience with the OnHub so far.

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The 2015 Moto G: Why the “worst” smartphone I own is also the best

moto_g

As I write this, I am surrounded by phones. I could justify it by saying that I’m a software developer, or a science fiction author, or some of them are from work, but the reality is that I have a phone fetish. I switch between iOS and Android devices on a regular basis purely for the novelty of it, and as part of an ongoing experiment to see if and how the most recent mobile innovations fit into my life. With several phones charged up, configured, and ready to use at any given time, I find it endlessly fascinating to see which one I’m compelled to reach for every day, and which end up neglected or sold.

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Logitech MX Master Review

logitech_mx_master_1

Despite multi-touch screens, voice interaction, and science fiction’s promise of gestural operating environments, the primary ways we interact with computers are still through the firmly established keyboard and mouse. I’ve tested dozens of keyboards to finally find a couple I can claim to truly love, but the same level of passion has always eluded me when it came to mice. So when Logitech boldly proclaimed that they revolutionized the nearly fifty-year-old peripheral with the MX Master, I was in.

Let’s start with some highlights:

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Nexus 6 Impressions

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I’m intentionally avoiding the term “review” because there are already plenty of exhaustive analyses of the Nexus 6 out there (for my two favorites, see MKBHD and The Verge). Instead, I’m just going to cover a handful of elements — both good and bad — that really stood out for me as someone who has owned and actively used every single Nexus and iOS device to date.

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Review of the 2013 BMW R 1200 GS

A few months ago, I finally bought a bike that I’ve had my eye on for years: the BMW R 1200 GS. My initial plan was to upgrade from an older Ducati Hypermotard (fun street bike) to the new Ducati Hyperstrada (even more fun street bike, and better suited for longer distances). But as I sometimes have a tenancy to do when shopping for things I’m passionate about, I got a little carried away.

Once I decided I wanted a “big-bore” 1200cc adventure motorcycle, I had to choose from the following:

Here’s why I ultimately decided to go with the BMW:

  • Ducati Multistrada: Beautiful, amazing, super fast bike with a new semi-active suspension system (the Skyhook feature available on the S Touring model), but it has a chain final drive rather than a shaft. A chain isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but I’ve never had a bike with a shaft before, so I wanted to try something new. (And my last bike was a Ducati.)
  • Triumph Tiger Explorer. Also beautiful (though in a very different way), extremely fast, and has a very good shaft drive, but no semi-active suspension, and the nearest dealership is really far away from my house.
  • Yamaha Super Ténéré. Shaft drive and good value (by far the cheapest of the lot), but not very fast (I demoed one and was pretty disappointed), no semi-active suspension, and worst of all, not good for tall riders. My knees overlapped the front fairing by a couple of inches which drove me crazy after only about thirty minutes of riding.
  • 2013 BMW R 1200 GS. Everything I wanted: ABS, automatic stability control (ASC), semi-active suspension (Electronic Suspension Adjustment, or ESA), shaft drive, heated hand grips, cruise control, quick, comfortable, beautiful, and plenty of accessories available both from BMW, and from third parties.

The Yamaha Super Ténéré is the only one of the bikes I tested/considered that I don’t think I would have been happy with due to the fact that it doesn’t have a sport bike feel to it at all, and the fact that I just didn’t fit on it. I think I would have been perfectly happy with the Ducati or the Triumph, and still hope to own both of them at some point in the future (probably wishful thinking). In the meantime, I’ve put a couple thousand miles on the BMW over the course of a few months, and other than wanted to get slightly larger mirrors, I really have no complaints as of yet. To learn more about the 2013 R 1200 GS, and the accessories I’ve put on it so far, check out my video review above.

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About to leave for the beach with wave boards strapped to the back.

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On Chincoteague Island.

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The first lookout on Skyline Drive.

Review of Google Glass

wearing_google_glassThere are plenty of reviews and op-eds out there on Google Glass by now — even plenty from people who have never even worn them — so I’ll make this succinct, and try to cover observations that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

In general, I really like Google Glass. Once you get used to wearing it — once you’ve found a workflow that makes sense for you, and once you’ve come to rely on some of the functionality Google Glass provides — you don’t like being without it. You even become gradually more willing to endure the ogling, inquisitions, and the embarrassment that inevitably comes of wearing them outside the house.

Those who criticize the form factor, battery life, etc. need to keep in mind that the Explorer Edition of Google Glass is a prototype. It’s designed to introduce the concept of wearing a computer on your face, and to help developers, content creators, and consumers learn about wearable computing. Limitations aside (and there are plenty), I think the concept that Google Glass introduces is solid. I don’t know how successful the first consumer version of Glass will be, but I now believe that there are real benefits to accessing information almost effortlessly, and I think the world is probably very close to being ready for the next wave of personal and portable technology beyond the mobile phone.

Some specific thoughts and observations (in no particular order):

  • Navigation is probably my favorite feature. In fact, it might be what made me realize that wearable computing had to become a reality. Glass’s implementation isn’t perfect (it drains the battery quickly and there are still plenty of bugs), but being able to simply glance up and see turn-by-directions in the corner of your vision is extremely effective.
  • The camera button should deactivate when you remove Glass from your face. The camera button is on the top and the USB port is on the bottom which means when you turn Glass over to charge it or to connect it to your computer, you frequently take unintentional upside down pictures (which subsequently get uploaded to Google+). Because of where I usually charge Glass, many of these pictures end up being of my crotch. The photos aren’t actually posted publicly, but you still have to go into your photo stream and clean it up from time to time (and if someone is looking over your shoulder, you might have some uncomfortable explaining to do).
  • Kids absolutely love Glass. I frequently give new technology to my children — or do my best to get feedback from teenagers — since kids usually approach new concepts without the preconceptions of adults. While I had friends who were quick to laugh at and dismiss Google Glass, my experience is that kids think the concept is amazing, and aren’t remotely ashamed or embarrassed to wear them. My older daughter wore Glass for an entire afternoon at an art festival and got significant use out of them. When she wore them out to dinner the other night, our waitress confessed that she couldn’t wait to get a pair herself. If you think that Glass is too nerdy to be successful, consider early perceptions around things like personal computers in general, mobile phones, and Bluetooth headsets. Even wristwatches were once widely thought to be a threat to masculinity. It wasn’t until soldiers started strapping their pocket watches to their wrists because it was much more practical than having to remove them from a pocket that wristwatches started to gain acceptance beyond frivolous feminine accessories.
  • While kids love Glass, the thirty degree activation feature does not work well for them. You can activate Glass by tilting your head up thirty degrees so that you don’t have to reach up and touch the touchpad. It turns out that kids are almost always looking up at roughly thirty degrees which means Glass is constantly activating. I find that when I wear Glass, it activates more frequently than I would like, as well (despite the fact that I’m six feet tall). For instance, they activate during movies, and during the all-important motion of drinking a beer. Rather than lifting your heard thirty degrees to activate Glass, I think a more useful gesture would be to look up with just your eyes — something we do less frequently and that is more deliberate than just lifting your head.
  • One of the most frequent criticisms I’ve read about Glass is that you still need your phone. (I’ve heard this about the latest generation of smart watches, as well.) I have no idea where this complaint comes from. I don’t think the goal of wearable computing — whether it be on your face or your wrist — should be to replace other technologies, just like I don’t think phones or tablets replace personal computers. Technology more frequently adds and augments rather than displaces or replaces. The goal of wearable computing is to create new opportunities and interactions rather than render older ones obsolete. Sometimes new technologies are so obviously superior that the old ones are rapidly abandoned, but it’s more common for us to add additional devices and capabilities to our lives — at least during an initial period of transition.
  • I’m probably stating the obvious here, but future versions of glass will need to be water resistant. Once you get used to having Glass, you don’t want to take them off just because the forecast calls for showers.
  • Glass has a built-in guest mode which is a brilliant idea. Like your phone, Glass becomes a very personal device which you will likely be reluctant to share with everyone who asks to take a peek — especially because it’s so easy to post content publicly. Glass also takes some getting used to so you probably don’t want your friends and family familiarizing themselves with the interaction models while connected to your Google+, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.
  • The one big complaint I have about Glass is the viral messaging that gets appended to texts and emails. All messages have the text “Sent through Glass” appended to them, and as far as I can tell, there’s nothing you can do about it. If Glass were free, I wouldn’t complain. But at $1,500 (actually, well over $1,600 with tax), I don’t feel like I should be forced to do viral marketing on Google’s behalf. The ironic thing is that given the option, I would probably still append some kind of a message as I do on my other devices in order to provide some context for brevity, auto-correct errors, etc. However, I really hate not being given the option to at the very least customize the message.

Update (5/26/2013): After receiving a great deal of feedback and several questions, I decided to add a few additional points:

  • In my opinion, the camera is not the killer feature. Photos are difficult to compose with Glass, you can’t edit them like you can on a phone, and sharing is much more difficult and limited. (This final point could partially be addressed in software, but it still wouldn’t be as easy as a mobile phone.) The one advantage Glass has over a camera in a phone is that it is more available and accessible. However, that is also perhaps one of Glass’s biggest barriers to adoption. Having a camera constantly pointed at the world prompts all kinds of privacy concerns which bloggers, journalists, and even Congress will not tire of debating anytime soon. Like most things in life, technology is a tradeoff: You measure the good against the bad, and in the end, decide if something is a net gain or a net loss. At least right now, I believe that the camera in Glass is a net loss. The ability to take a picture a few seconds faster than you could with your phone is nice, but it’s probably not worth the accompanying privacy issues (it’s only a matter of time before Glass is banned from my gym, for instance), the additional bulk and weight of the device, and the fact that most pictures simply aren’t all that good. Having gained some experience with Glass now, if I had the option of buying a smaller, lighter, and less threatening version without a camera, I think I probably would.
  • Another issue that Glass has brought to the forefront is the matter of distraction. Distraction is no worse with Glass than any other device. Glass never displays notifications unexpectedly (with the exception of the display activating when you tilt your head up, but that can be disabled) and therefore it is no more distracting than a mobile phone. In fact, because you can glance at a map or a message even faster, I would argue that Glass is possibly less distracting than a phone. That is not to say Glass is distraction-free, however. Not even close. I don’t believe that technologies like heads-up displays or hands-free calls eliminate or even reduce distraction since the lack of attention is far more dangerous than the simple mechanics and logistics of interacting with a device. That said, when used responsibly, Glass should not be any more dangerous than your phone. (Note that I am not dismissing the dangers of phones — I’m just claiming that Glass is no worse.)
  • Related to distraction is the question of presence. I’ve noticed that a significant number of people are offended by Glass because they feel like it represents just one more device to come between people, to distract us from the current time and place, and to devalue human interaction. I’m undecided on this point. I personally choose to be discreet with my devices; unless I’m specifically monitoring something (usually work-related), I rarely pull out my phone in social situations, and I always give someone standing in front of me priority over whatever might be happening on my phone, watch, or Google Glass. That said, I don’t feel the need to impose my personal philosophies on others. I think it remains to be seen exactly what the repercussions are of integrating all these data streams into our consciousness. I know there are studies which are not optimistic, but devices like phones and Glass remind me a great deal of video games. When I was a kid, the conventional wisdom was that video games would “melt your brain” (and there are myriad studies that claim to back that up). I’m sure I’ve heard that phrase — or some variation thereof — dozens of times throughout my life. However, I’ve been gaming pretty consistently from the time I got my first hand-held LED football game, my first PC, and my first console (Intellivision), and I believe that video games have enriched my life in a number of ways. I believe that responsible and conscientious integration of technology into one’s life can be very positive and empowering. However, I also acknowledge that it can have detrimental effects on relationships and quality of life when not moderated. For the most part, I don’t find discussions of whether certain technologies are “good” or “bad” to be productive. I think it’s up to us individually to find where and how technology fits into our lives — to embrace it where it works, and reject or modify it where it does not. I see technology as a massive, never-ending human experiment, and we shouldn’t be afraid to try new things, and to make plenty of mistakes and adjustments along the way. And at least in instances where people’s lives are not at stake, I think we should be patient with those around us who are trying to figure it out for themselves.

Although I really love Google Glass, I don’t love it because it’s perfect, or because I think Google got it exactly right. I love Glass because it is an early attempt at practical wearable computing, and I think it proves that wearable computing is going to happen. Whether it happens now or in the future is hard to say. The world was not ready for digital books on a large scale until Amazon introduced the Kindle, or tablet computers until Apple introduced the iPad, so it’s hard to say whether Google is ahead of its time, or whether the Glass team is successfully creating the environment they need to drive mainstream adoption. Whether it happens now or in the near future, there’s little doubt in my mind that it will eventually happen.

Whenever I question whether a new technology will be successful, I think back to a conversation I had with a friend of mine after the original iPhone was introduced. By any definition, he was and still is an Apple fanboy, but he had no interested in the iPhone because it wasn’t very suitable to single-handed use. He was too focused on the drawbacks, and not focused enough on how the positives would outweigh the negatives. Today, he’s a big iPhone fan, and I’m sure couldn’t imagine his life — or probably even a single day, for that matter — without an iPhone in his pocket.

So to all the nonbelievers, get your jeering and finger pointing out of the way now because it may not be very long before you will be wearing something like Google Glass yourself.

Video Review of the Google Nexus 7 Tablet

I’ve spent about a week with the Nexus 7 tablet now so I thought I’d do a quick video to capture my impressions:

If you’d rather read than watch, here are the highlights:

  • I really like the 7-inch form factor. Since I have an 11″ MacBook Air, 10-inch tablets don’t feel all that portable to me. 7-inch tablets are very portable, very light, allow me to easily type with my thumbs, and are much easier to hold for long periods of time while reading.
  • The performance is excellent. The combination of the hardware and Android 4.1 (Jelly Bean) make the Nexus 7 as smooth and polished as any iOS device.
  • The battery life seems very good. I didn’t explicitly test it, but I’ve only had to charge the Nexus 7 a few times since I started using it. It may not be as good as something like the iPad, but I found the battery to be more than sufficient.
  • I’m not crazy about the emphasis on the Google Play store by default. Since it competes with the Kindle Fire, the Nexus 7 is designed primarily as a content consumption device (which also justifies the very aggressive pricing — Google wants to make money on the ecosystem rather than hardware). Fortunately all the conduits into the the Google Play store are implemented as widgets which you can just delete in order to get a more traditional tablet experience. I should point out that I actually like the Google Play store and have used it several times already — I just don’t want it to be the central experience of my tablet.
  • My only complaint/request is that I want to be able to buy a higher-end version. I like this device enough that I’d happily pay more for a rear-facing HD camera and 4G wireless support. That said, I know Google is competing with the Kindle Fire, and the price is extremely aggressive for such a capable device. I think Google is doing the right thing for now, however I hope they release versions with more features in the future.

To summarize: great device which is absolutely worth the $199/$249 price.

My Current Keyboard Configuration

my_keyboard_configurationThe picture above is one of my home workstations where I think I’ve finally gotten the right keyboard/pointer configuration. Here’s what you’re looking at:

  • The black keyboard on the bottom is a Filco Majestouch mechanical keyboard with MX Cherry Brown switches (review with video here). This is what I use for most of my typing. The Alt and Windows keys have been swapped and Alt and Command remapped in software to make it more Mac friendly.
  • The keyboard above it is an Apple bluetooth keyboard. I use it for typing when I’m in virtual meetings in order to keep the noise down (it’s very quiet while the mechanical keyboard is way too loud for meetings), and for its media keys (volume up, volume down, and mute). (If you want media keys on your non-Apple keyboard, see this post by Grant Skinner.)
  • The mouse is an Apple Magic Mouse. Mice are very personal objects which people feel strongly about, so I’m not going to claim that it’s the best. In fact, I have a few Logitech mice which are equally good if not better. But I enjoy the accuracy and the gestures of the Magic Mouse enough that I’ve stuck with it. (In my opinion, this is the first mouse Apple has ever made that’s usable.)
  • The trackpad beside the top keyboard is the Apple Magic Trackpad. I use it for gestures and sometimes for scrolling. I also sometimes connect the bluetooth keyboard and trackpad or mouse to my phone.
  • The phone is a Galaxy Nexus. I usually have my iPhone 4S beside it, but I used it to take the photo. I rely on them for notifications. Rather than having alerts pop up on my monitor all the time and distract me, I use my phones for email, calendar, and text notifications. (I have two phones because I do mobile development — and because I love them both.)
  • I have an Energizer family sized battery charger off to the side to keep the keyboard and pointing devices powered. I find I’m swapping out batteries about every two weeks.

I have two other workstations: one for Windows, and one at the office. They’re both different just to mix things up a bit, so maybe I’ll get pictures of them at some point, as well.

Mechanical Keyboard Roundup

mx_keyswitchesUpdate (2/11/2013): Added a review of the Realforce 87U with Topre switches.

Update (1/14/2013): Added a review of the Filco Majestouch-2 with Cherry MX Red switches.

Update (2/1/2012): Filcos (my favorite mechanical keyboards at this point) are now available on Amazon!

Update (1/27/2012): Added a review of the Leopold Tactile Touch.

After sensing something profoundly lacking from the modern typing experience, I decided to delve into the world of mechanical keyboards. As is the case with most fetishes, I discovered that there are entire online communities, cultures, and movements surrounding the magic of the mechanical keyswitch. I could have easily spent many months and several thousands of dollars acquiring, experimenting with, and reviewing all of the mechanical options out there, but with both time and money in short supply, I decided to focus on five specific models: the Das Keyboard Model S Professional, Filco Majestouch-2, DSI Modular, Matias Tactile Pro 3, and the Unicomp SpaceSaver M.

There is a lot of personal preference involved in picking a mechanical keyboard. Factors like key travel, clickiness, tactile feedback, weight, force, build quality and more all contribute to the typing experience, and all of these things mean different things to different people. Keep in mind that the reviews below represent my own opinions, and I tried to differentiate between things that personally appeal to me (clickiness, for example), and more objective characteristics (like build quality). The upshot is that there is no clear winner, and you will probably just need to try a few of these out to see which ones inspire you to get out of bed in the mornings and begin your day of typing.

If you know you want a mechanical keyboard and you’re just here to see and hear about some different models, skip on down to the video reviews. But if you’re wondering why in the world someone would buy a relative expensive mechanical keyboard when you can get a membrane or scissor-switch keyboard for far less (and sometimes for free), read on.

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Review of the BUILT Kindle Sleeve

built_kindle_caseI was a big fan of Amazon’s Lighted Leather Kindle Cover, but whenever I took my Kindle out of the case, I was always amazed by how light the device is, and how much weight the lighted case adds to it. One of the advantages of reading on a Kindle (as opposed to a tablet) is that the Kindle is far lighter than either my Xoom or my iPad. So I finally decided to ditch the cover and go with a sleeve, instead.

I’ve had dozens of neoprene gadget cases in the past, so I decided to try the BUILT Neoprene Kindle Sleeve. It’s extremely lightweight, very well cushioned, and shaped perfectly. Now my Kindle is well protected when I’m not using it (I’ve already dropped it while in the case on a hardwood floor, and it was perfectly fine), but I can pull it out and enjoy the lightness and form-factor of the Kindle the way it is was designed to be enjoyed.

The only problem is that the case is a little pricey. At $29.99, I was hesitant, but although I would have liked a cheaper alternative, I’ve been very happy with it.