All posts in “Technology”

Essential Phone gets a $200 price drop, existing customers get credit


Essential has an offer that’s honestly very hard to refuse: The price of the Essential Phone (PH-1, going by technical model number), is now $200 cheaper, so $499 off-contract and unlocked. That’s an amazing price for their debut smartphone, which remains my favorite in terms of straight up industrial design (and it has one of the best color-tuned displays in devices right now in my opinion).

The Essential Phone went on sale just a few months ago, but the company believes that as a young startup just getting out therein a market where incumbents like Apple and Samsung basically take up all the available space, there’s a lot of value in word of mouth and perceived value. That’s why it’s making this price change, Essential tells me – though you have to also wonder whether the company’s not seeing the numbers it was hoping for in terms of initial sales, which is what some early third-party sales estimates have suggested.

Regardless of the reason, the price drop makes Essential arguably the best value smartphone on the market, and definitely the best Android device in that range. It’s one major failing has been its camera, which launched as a slow and buggy feature compared to most out there, but the subsequent camera software updates have improved its speed and reliability a lot, and more updates are promised in the future, too.

Lest Essential’s earliest customers feel slighted, it has a deal for early buyers, too – they’ll receive a $200 ‘friends and family’ credit they can use to further discount (valid through December 15, 2017) a device for a loved one (or another for themselves, if they maybe also want the just-released white Essential Phone, for instance), or to buy the 360-camera attachment. Customers will be able to sign up to redeem the $200 credit on the Essential page, using their phone’s IMEI and serial numbers, along with the email address they used to purchase.

In a time when the price of flagship smartphones in both iOS and Android worlds are ballooning, this is a very welcome nod to affordability. Without question, if you want an amazing phone at a killer price, the now $499 Essential Phone is the one to get.

Also, this is U.S. only for now – details on a program for Canadian device followers will follow, per Essential.

Featured Image: Darrell Etherington

Will Ferrell stars in PSA campaign to remind you to put your phone away

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Will Ferrell is here to remind you that technology can be terrible.  

A new PSA campaign, produced by Common Sense Media, features the Emmy-winning comedic actor being unable to put down his phone and making his family’s attempt at “device-free dinner” incredibly awkward. 

The campaign was released in tandem with the San-Francisco-based nonprofit’s most recent media use census

The report found that that children 8 years old and under spend a whopping 48 minutes a day staring at a mobile screen. It also found that 42 percent of children now own their own tablets. 

Both of these figures show a stark increase from previous years. These hilarious yet somber ads show us that maybe we should be, uh, doing something about this. 

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Common Sense Media hopes these ads will encourage families to have device-free dinners of their own. 

The organization’s website contains tips to plan a successful device-free dinner. For example: Establish consequences if your kids are using their phones too much. And maybe don’t invite Will Ferrell over. 

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The slip ‘n’ slide of solar panels are easier to transport and may save lives

Renovagen is a company based out of the UK that specializes in solar energy. They have created a new system of solar panels that is portable and easy to use called ‘Rapid Roll’. The panels are easy to roll out of a truck or trailer. The island, Flat Holm in Great Britain, is currently being powered by these roll-out panels. The goal of the company is to be able to make Rapid Roll accessible to areas in need of power quickly, specifically those damaged by a natural disaster.

Jaybird’s Run totally wireless earbuds are wire-free wonders for everyone


The market for totally wireless earbuds is really maturing fast, with many entries from both new and established companies. Jaybird recently joined the crowd, with its own Run earbuds. The Logitech-owned company has long been a really solid competitor when it comes to Bluetooth headphones, and its Freedom and X-line, and in fact made some of the very first wireless sport earbuds that proved you could also get good sound with Bluetooth.

Now, the Run proves that Jaybird can play well in the totally wire-free market, too. It’s the company’s first attempt at the category popularized by Apple’s AirPods, but it’s a strong first effort: The Run come with sound that’s on par with Jaybird’s other headsets, and they also benefit from the company’s ample experience helping to provide the right fit for a variety of ear shapes and sizes.

Jaybird also gave the Run four hours of battery life under normal conditions, along with and additional 8 hours of charge built into the battery case they ship with. The header’s also sweat-proof and water-resistant for workouts in all conditions, and you can alter the sound with the companion Jaybird app for mobile devices, or use the ‘Find My Buds’ feature to locate them if you happen to misplace one or both (this comes in very handy, I can tell you from personal experience).

The best thing about the Jaybird Run, however, is how quickly you’ll forget you’re wearing them. They’re incredibly comfortable (especially if you spring for the Comply foam tips that are available as an aftermarket add-on), and they produce a pleasing, full sound that’s suited both to music and to spoken work playback including podcasts and audiobooks. And Jaybird also does what the company does best, engineer these for use in sweat-heavy conditions including outdoor runs, which is how I used them for the bulk of my testing.

Jaybird also put button controls on the Run, with each earbuds’s primary surface acting as a pressable physical control. You can use the left bud to activate either Siri or Google Assistant with a single press, and you can also play and pause music or podcasts with a button press of the right. This will also allow you to accept a call, and you can double press to skip to the next track on the right bud.

If there’s one thing I would’ve liked to see Jaybird add, it’s volume control via some means of additional button presses. You can tweak settings for the buttons in the companion app to change a single press on the right to be volume up, and a single post on the left to be volume down, but that means sacrificing the play/pause and Siri/Assistant features, which isn’t ideal.

Otherwise, these are a great offering in the totally wireless earbud category. They’re flexible, produce good sound, are as durable as the rest of Jaybird’s lineup and maintain a good solid connection with your Bluetooth smartphone or other device. And at $179, they’re not all that expensive when compared to other headphones in this segment. Jaybird definitely isn’t first in with this emerging space, but they took the time and made a good product that you’ll almost certainly enjoy using.

Garmin’s new Vivosport is an ideal lightweight smart activity tracker


If you’re looking to get pretty much all the benefits of a smartwatch without a watch, and to track your activity and sport performance with tools that are more than up to the task, Garmin’s Vivosport is a strong option, with a price tag that comes in well under that of most dedicated smartwatches. It works well with both Android and iOS devices, has a built-in heart rate tracker and GPS, and provides access to all kinds of preset activity types for a range of workout options.

The Vivosport is the first Garmin wearable I’ve used for any significant length of time, and it proved a capable companion both in a smartwatch capacity, and as an activity tracker. The lightweight band is mostly polymer and silicone, with a specially strengthened glass protecting the transflective touchscreen display. It’s waterproof for wear while swimming, too, and it can last up to a week while operating in smartwatch mode, or eight hours of dedicated GPUS use – figures which were backed up by my tests, and generally resulted in around four or five days of use between charges along with daily run tracking.

Vivosport’s small screen is only 72 x 144 pixels in terms of resolution, but it’s perfectly readable in both bright sunlight and in the dark thanks to backlighting. It’s also touch sensitive, and the UI is designed with maximizing information and readability while minimizing input required in mind. I found it occasionally frustrating to get it to move forward or back, with the input resulting in the wrong action, but mostly interacting with the device on my wrist was easy enough overall.

What I really enjoyed about the Vivosport was that it offered just the right amount of smart features, with a low-profile and comfortable design ideal for all-day use. The Vivosport is the perfect wearable companion for some who isn’t a watch wearer generally, in fact, or for anyone who wants to wear one while also still wearing a traditional wristwatch on their other arm (I fall into this latter category).

The flexible silicone used in the integrated band is also a strength of this device vs. other similar products. It’s stretchy enough that you can get a good, secure fit using the smartly designed clasp (which also has a great catcher for keeping the excess band in control). You can easily find a fit that seems tight enough that you’ll get good readings from the optical heart rate monitor on the Vivosport’s underside, while also not being so tight or inflexible that it feels uncomfortable to wear.

Vivosport also doesn’t really need you to be near your phone to work – it won’t get smart notifications if you aren’t around your device, but it can track runs and other activities independently, and store up to 7 total timed activities or 14 days worth of activity tracking data between syncing. It connects to your device using Bluetooth Smart, and it’s dead simple to set up and activate, too.

Additional features include the ability to provide basic weather info, as well as find my phone features and remote controls for Garmin VIRB action cams just add to the overall value, but you don’t need to really use any of those things to make the most of the Vivosport, which at heart is a great, learning activity monitor that can track sleep, automatically increment your step goal based on your fitness level, and even automatically pause workouts while in progress. I especially enjoyed the Move IQ feature that autodetects activity even if you forget to start one manually, which

In summary, Garmin’s Vivosport is something that offers all the smartwatch features most users need, along with key health and fitness elements that could inspire better habits and improve existing routines for those with active lifestyles. If I could change anything, I’d replace the proprietary charing cable (since it means you’ll have to buy a new one if you lose it), but the Vivosport’s $199.99 asking price is a good bargain for everything you get, from the color touchscreen display to the week-long battery life and connected smartphone features.