Tekoia introduces new control for your home automation

Tekoia_logo_final_nobg-04-150x69Home automation may be the wave of the future, but it’s also becoming more standard for many people, thanks to popular items like the Philips Hue bulbs and more. As cool as it can seem, all of these new items need to be controlled by something. An Android app is the perfect fit for this, and thankfully there’s a new option for enthusiasts.

Tekoia’s SureMote is designed to let customers use a phone or tablet to control and monitor the home. It also covers media devices, accomplishing all of this through a combination of WiFi and an IR blaster.

“Currently, the app  covers all digital media appliance controlled by IR, as well as smart TV’s and security cameras controlled and monitored with WiFi”, the company states in its announcement. This includes smart TVs and media streamers including Samsung, LG, Roku, Google Chromecast and Apple TV.

The company plans support for Nest and various other home automation protocols. Availabilty details were not included in the announcement.

Face Recognition Comes To Simplicam

Simplicam Logo

Back in 2014 when ArcSoft launched the simplicam home monitoring system based around a high-definition webcam, it borrowed face detection technology from digital cameras. With this tool, the monitoring system was able to differentiate between persons and pets, ensuring that only important alerts were sent through to the owner who would otherwise be swamped with notifications when their cat or dog took a wander round the house.

SimplicamArcSoft has now announced at CES that the face detection feature in simplicam powered by Closeli can be upgraded to (beta) face recognition, meaning that not only does the system recognise people vs pets, it can now tell who has walked into the house. Those expected to be at home can be ignored with strangers immediately flagged.

The new Face Recognition Manager in the Closeli app allows users to register and store up to ten people. After a short setup, home owners can configure privacy settings for each individual and customise notifications, choosing to receive alerts when a specific registered person or an unrecognised person is in the house. The app can be set to automatically save or delete footage based on who is home.

ArcSoft is a pioneer in Face Detection and Face Recognition technology, and we are excited to bring this expertise to the connected home. When we released simplicam powered by Closeli earlier this year, we got invaluable feedback from customers and press. Now, new and current users can provide us with feedback directly from within the Closeli app that may be incorporated into the product,” said Caroline Tien-Spalding, Senior Director of Marketing, ArcSoft.

The standalone simplicam is $149 and a year’s worth of Closeli’s 1-Day Recording Services brings the price to $199. The Closeli service is needed for the face detection and recognition.

I think this is a great step forward as when I previously reviewed a home monitoring kit from another manufacturer, one of my concerns was that I felt I was spying on my family.  All activity in the house, whether my business or not, was being detected, recorded and forwarded to my smartphone. I think this goes a long way towards addressing those concerns.

Hexoskin Smart Shirt Now Comes In Small

Hexoskin LogoCanadian outfit Hexoskin has been in the wearables market longer than most, starting out in 2006 and now has a range of smart shirts with a built-in body metric system to measure heart rate, breathing, activity and sleeping using sensors woven into the fabric of the shirt.

Hexoskin, with the support of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, created sensors made of textile, leaving almost no hardware in the shirt – there’s no watch or tight fitting chest band required. There is a small recording unit that slips into a side pocket on the shirt and communicates with a smartphone via Bluetooth. Both iOS (Apple) and Android phones are supported, and a downloaded app keeps track of all the data. With over 42,000 data points recorded every minute, there’s a fair amount of data.

In addition to the usual metrics, the Hexoskin system also measures heart rate recovery, heart rate variability, breathing rate, breathing volume, activity level, acceleration and cadence, all in real time. These metrics give users the information they need to plan their training programmes and surpass their fitness and athletic goals. Essentially a wearable precision lab, Hexoskin provides its users with high quality metrics in real time – these are tools for people serious about their performance.

Today, Hexoskin announced child and youth sizes for the Hexoskin shirt, making it the world’s first biometric smart shirt tailor-made for kids and teens. Adapted to fit all the same sensors of the adult shirts into the smaller shirt size, the Hexoskin Junior will be available in sizes XXS to XL.

Hexoskin Kids

Youth athletics are popular all over the world,” said Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, Co-Founder and CEO of Hexoskin.  “Whether it’s hockey, baseball, football, soccer, volleyball or track & field, kids are part of intense training programs that are training them to become champions and Olympians.  With the addition of Hexoskin Junior, we’ve set out to provide coaches, parents and kids the invaluable tools our adult shirts provide.

By reviewing the data before, during and after workout sessions, users can exert maximum training effort, while still avoiding fatigue, overtraining and injuries.  This is particularly important with young athletes, especially since they are still growing and can be at a greater risk for injury than adult athletes.

Hexoskin Junior is available for pre-order in sizes XXS to XL and will retail for $149 for the shirt alone. A full starter pack with monitoring devices is $379. Not cheap but if you are going for gold, it’s probably money well spent. For more information, visit www.hexoskin.com.

Zetally unveils Avy, an Android speaker with video

zetally-avy

Bluetooth and WiFi speakers are commonplace today, so manufacturers have to go to great lengths to distance themselves from competition. That’s the case this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where all sorts of new and innovative products are on display.

Zetally is unveiling its Avy, a WiFi Android-powered speaker with a unique twist. It may not be the first of this kind of speaker with video, but it is certainly a rarity to find such an item.

The company terms it “an Internet-connected smart speaker powered by Android, with access to millions of songs, movies, shows and apps that billions of consumers already love and enjoy”.

The speaker packs a seven inch display and promises it “delivers professional Hi-Fi sound in a surprisingly compact package”.

The product isn’t out just yet, but on display this week if you are lucky enough to be there. The company promises availability in May and that pre-orders will begin in February. Retail price is set at $169.

Free Beer from Alcohoot at CES!

Alcohoot Logo

Alcohoot are offering free beer for visitors to their stand at CES (booth 74549). On the surface, it’s a cheap trick but as they sell breathalyzers there’s a certain relevance to it. No doubt the merit of personal breathalyzers will continue to be debated for years to come but focussing on the technology, Alcohoot have produced a portable breathalyzer that plugs into the headphone jack of both Android and Apple smartphones. The Alcohoot uses an FDA-registered fuel cell sensor built into a hand-sized pocket device to record the owner’s alcohol level as he or she breathes into the unit.

Alcohoot and Phone

The complementary app is available on both the Android and iOS platforms and lets the owner track his or her consumption. Handily, it can provide contact details for taxis when over the legal limit for driving.

App Screens

The Alcohoot was a winner of the Red Dot Design Award, 2014, which puts it in good company along with Apple, Beats By Dre, Bose, BMW, Nest, Nespresso, Blackberry, Lenovo, Nike+ FuelBand, LG and many more.

Available in three colours – black, white and red – the Alcohoot can be bought from their store for $99.99 along with extra mouthpieces.

If you want to learn more, pop into Alcohoot’s CES booth 74549 at the Sands Expo Center for a few beers. Cheers!

The Curve Continues at CES with the LG G Flex2

LG LogoLG today announced at CES the second iteration of its curved smartphone, the G Flex2. Building on the innovation and success of the first generation G Flex, the Flex2 arrives with a more advanced design, faster performance and most importantly, greater convenience.

The G Flex2 goes beyond its predecessor’s ground-breaking curved profile. The new smartphone incorporates a range of curves from a radius of 400mm to 700mm across the front, back, sides and top-to-bottom edges. The curved layers deliver a sleeker and more dynamic appearance to the G Flex2. It does look good.

LG G Flex2
Spec-wise, the LG G Flex 2 sports a 5.5″ full HD curved P-OLED screen at 1080 x 1920 pixels (403 ppi) driven by a Qualcomm Adreno 430 GPU. The phone itself is powered by a 2.0 GHz octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 with 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB RAM, running Android Lollipop out of the box. Usefully, there’s a micro SD slot to expand the storage if needed.

Other features include a rear 13 MP camera that has optical image stabilisation (OIS+) and uniquely in smartphones, a laser auto-focus. The front camera is 2.1 MP cameras which is less than some other smartphones but I think that’s fine for a selfie or video call. As expected, it’s a 4G / LTE unit with Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Apt-X capable Bluetooth. Best of all, the battery doesn’t skimp at a sizeable 3,000 mAh. There’s also a fast charge feature that will boost the battery up to 50 percent in under 40 minutes.

Seasoned GNC readers may remember the original G Flex came with a self-healing back, which keeps the phone looking new even through the nicks and scratches from normal everyday use. This has also been improved with significantly faster healing time, reducing the time from about three minutes to around ten seconds at room temperature.

The original G Flex demonstrated LG’s pioneering spirit and with the G Flex2 we have refined the curved form factor, staying true to our philosophy of innovation for a better life,” said Juno Cho, president and CEO of the LG Electronics Mobile Communications Company. “The G Flex2 not only has the stunning looks, it also has the powerful guts to be at the cutting edge of current smartphone technology. Simply put, it’s a true head-turner in every sense of the word.

The LG G Flex2 will be available starting at the end of the month in Korea to be followed by additional global markets, including the UK at the end of February. Price was not disclosed.

Visitors to LG’s booth at CES 2015 (Las Vegas Convention Center, Central Hall #8204) can experience LG’s newest mobile devices, including the G Flex2.

TrackR Bravo Goes to CES

Trackr LogoIndigogo darling TrackR is at CES 2015 to show off the latest incarnation of its mini trackers, the TrackR bravo. If you aren’t familiar with TrackR products, they’re small, coin-sized devices which easily attach to valuable items that you want to track, from keys to laptops and pets. And if you do misplace something precious, the TrackR app for both iOS and Android, can locate any lost item in seconds by ringing your missing item or point the way using TrackR’s Distance Indicator. If it’s really lost, you can use Crowd GPS to track it down.

Trackr Bravo

The latest version, the TrackR bravo, raised over $1 000 000 in funding at Indigogo and is in the closing stages of development with full production expected in February 2015. It’s only 3.5 mm thick and 31 mm across, making it easy to attach and there are accessories such as a pet collar attachment and a waterproof housing. The TrackR bravo can be pre-ordered for $29.

TrackR received a batch of the latest development samples just in time for the CES and they’ll be at the Sands Expo Booth #74335. Pop round and see the TrackR bravo in person.

Archos Boosts Entry-Level 4G Smartphones for CES

Archos LogoArchos today announced the new Archos 50 Diamond 4G smartphone as the new top-of-the-line model in Archos’ sub-$200 4G smartphone range. French company Archos has a long history with Android tablets and smartphones and 50 Diamond takes over from the Helium 50 as the Archos’ flagship devices. Revealed at “Paris CES Unveiled”, the new phone will run Android 4.4 KitKat out the box and presumably an upgrade to Lollipop is in the offing, though it’s not confirmed.

Archos 50 DiamondSpec-wise, the phone is powered by a 1.5 GHz octa core Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 with 2 GB of RAM. The 50 Diamond sports a 5″ full HD IPS screen and 16 GB RAM. Usefully, there’s a micro SD slot to expand the storage if needed. Other features are as expected in this price range with 16 MP and 8 MP cameras. In terms of 4G and LTE, the radios support 800 / 1800 / 2100 / 2600 MHz frequencies with LTE cat 4 150 Mbps / 50 Mbps. Interestingly, the 50 Diamond can take dual micro SIMs, which could be handy for frequently travellers or those who have to juggle personal and business phones.

In 2014, consumers don’t have access to high performance handsets from traditional smartphone vendors below $500” says Loïc Poirier, General Director of Archos. “With the Archos 50 Diamond, we are pushing forward the same advanced technology but we make it accessible to all consumers.

In related news, Archos also announced the refresh of Helium smartphone line plus new tablets: the 80b Helium 4G, an “over-equipped” Android tablet (their words, not mine!) will retail for $150. It’s an 8″ tablet and joins 7″ and 10″ siblings in the Helium tablet line-up.

For more information about Archos and its entire selection of smartphones and tablets, visit Archos during CES 2015 at Sands Expo Hall A-C, Booth 70437 or at www.archos.com

Amazon Fire TV Review

Amazon Fire TVAmazon has been building the Fire brand over the past few years, starting with tablets, moving to media players and streaming sticks, before most recently producing a smartphone. The Fire TV media player has been on-sale in the US for some time, but only came to the UK back in October. I’ve been playing with Fire…..TV for the past couple of weeks. Let’s take a look.

Amazon FireTV Top

The Fire TV unit is an exercise in minimalism, not straying far from the sharp black box look, apart from the Amazon logo on the top and a white LED on the front fascia. Round the back there are five ports for power, HDMI, optical audio, ethernet and USB. Only the PSU is supplied in the box with the Fire TV and an HDMI cable will need to be bought if needed. Although not needing a port, the Fire TV has built-in 802.11n wireless to connect up when ethernet isn’t available.

Amazon Fire TV Rear

To control the Fire TV there is a stick-style remote control in the box along with batteries. The minimalist aesthetic continues with an Apple-esque control wheel and a small number of buttons, all in black with white labels. The picture makes the remote look longer than it is, which is only 5″ or 12.5 cm. The remote uses Bluetooth to connect to the FireTV and comes pre-paired.

Amazon Fire TV remote

Getting going is straightforward – connect the Fire TV to the HDTV via (not supplied) HDMI, insert power, turn on and follow the prompts. To make it as easy as possible, the Fire TV is preprogrammed with the Amazon account of the purchaser but if connected wirelessly, the main setup step is to choose the wifi SSID and enter the password. There’s a short introductory slideshow which introduces the features of the Fire TV include the voice search, which will be covered later.

There’s no easy way of taking screenshots on the Fire TV, so I’m afraid that the pictures below are taken from the TV itself. Sorry.

The overall view is of key areas listed down the left with content on the right. Home, Prime Video, Movies, TV, Watchlist, Music Library, Games, Apps, Photos and so on. On the whole it’s easy to navigate; select the main content area from the left and then move down through subsections on the right until the desired content or app is visible. The interface is lovely and smooth, especially when scrolling and I never saw any stuttering or glitches. I guess that’s the quad-core processor earning its keep.

Not entirely unexpectedly, the content is heavily Amazon-media centric focussing on Amazon Prime and Instant Video, though it’s not a closed shop, with Netflix and Spotify available for other subscription services, and catch up TV is provided by UK-centric apps for iPlayer and Demand 5, though 4oD and ITV Player are noticeable in their absence. Strangely, STV Player is available which caters for the Scottish part of ITV, so with a Scottish post code much of ITV’s most popular programming can be viewed. There’s a Flixster app for those with UltraViolet DVDs and Blurays.

Home Screen

Video playback was good and clear, especially in HD, whether from Amazon or other apps, such as Netflix or iPlayer. However, the Fire TV does have a trick up its sleeve where it starts to download the video stream in anticipation of playback so the programme starts much faster with far less initial buffering. It only works with Amazon Prime and Instant Video but it’s a neat feature and makes the Fire TV experience more like switching channels on a TV.

Music-wise, the Fire TV offers all the albums and tracks purchased via Amazon, sorted by artist, album, genre etc. The album art is visually attractive and the optical audio out can be used to keep the sound quality as high as possible when connecting to an audio amplifier.

Disappointingly, the Spotify app only offers Spotify Connect functionality which means that a tablet or smartphone is needed to choose what music is to be played. Opinions may differ but I think that’s a bit rubbish and I’d rather see a proper Spotify player which works with the Fire TV on its own.

I tried plugging in a USB stick with some MP3s but I couldn’t figure out how play them so I’ve no idea if it’s possible to play from physical media. There is a Plex client available for those wanting to stream from a PC or NAS, though I didn’t try it out as I don’t have a Plex server.

Fire TV Albums

For folk who upload pictures and photos to Amazon’s Cloud Drive service, naturally the Fire TV can show the snaps on the HDTV and it can also handle personal videos. There’s a nice screensaver that kicks in when the FireTV isn’t in busy and it’s easy to set the screensaver to show photos from the collection.

So far the Fire TV ticks all the boxes for a streaming media player. Movies – check, music – check, photos – check. Where the Fire TV goes to the next level is with apps and games, especially games. The Fire TV can download apps as if it was a smartphone or tablet, but the apps have to be specially prepared by the author for the Fire TV as the user interface is different without a touchscreen. At time of writing, there are over 850 apps for the Fire TV and these can be reviewed on Amazon. There’s approx 8 GB of storage available for apps, though some is already used up by the Fire OS.

Apps and Games

For games, the Fire TV has its own Fire Game Controller for serious gaming action which is purchased separately for a penny under £35. It’s comparably priced to wireless controllers for the PS4 or Xbox but it feels a little overpriced: something closer to £25 would be more in-line with expectations. Purchasers do get a free game, Sev Zero, which is worth £4.99 to sweeten the deal.

Fire TV Games Controller

The Fire Game Controller has the expected collection of analogue sticks, D-pads and shoulder buttons in the standard configuration, with a few extra Fire TV specific buttons. The controller needs to be paired with the Fire TV on first use but after that the game controller can be used alongside the normal remote to control the Fire TV user interface as well as games.

The games selection includes thinking games such as Quell and Machinarium, arcade games like Asphalt 8: Airborne and Sonic the Hedgehog and first person action games like GTA and flagship title Sev Zero, which is given free to purchasers of the game controller. Here’s a long-term favourite, Quell, and this can be played with the standard FireTV remote.

Quell

For arcade racers, there’s Asphalt 8: Airborne. It’s fun but the Fire Game Controller is required.

Asphalt 8

Finally, the Fire TV has one innovation that isn’t usually seen on on media players and that’s Voice Search. Simply press the microphone button on the remote, say what you are looking for, confirm the recognition and the Fire TV will look for content. Here I look for “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. Kids, ask your parents.

Voice Search

It’s both brilliant yet flawed. It’s brilliant because the voice recognition works surprisingly well but it’s flawed because the search only indexes Amazon’s content. Press the Voice Search button and say, “Despicable Me” and it’ll show me all the variants of the film – the original, the sequel, theatrical shorts – all available on Amazon Prime and Instant Video. But what it won’t show me is the Ultraviolet copy I have in Flixster. It would be truly brilliant if all loaded apps could contribute into the search, even the catchup TV services like iPlayer and Demand 5.

That’s it. Overall the Amazon Fire TV compares well with the competition and if you are into Amazon’s ecosystem, then the Fire TV is a no-brainer buy at the current price of £64 giving easy access to familiar photos, music, movies and games. Even if you aren’t a fully paid-up member of the Amazon fan club, there’s still plenty to recommend with the current selection of apps and games which will undoubtedly grow over time as more broadcasters and app developers get on-board.

Thanks to Amazon for the review Fire TV and Game Controller.

Fitbit Flex Review

Fitbit LogoOver the past year, I’ve noticed more and more people wearing activity tracking devices and here in Northern Ireland I tend to see Fitbits rather than anything else.  Fitbit has been advertising on TV lately too with “It’s All Fit” and I’m sure that there will be a good number of Zips, Flexes and Charges under the Christmas tree come 25th December. I’ve worn a Zip for nearly two years as part of my efforts to keep my weight down and on review today I have the next model up, the Fitbit Flex. Let’s take a look.

FItbit Flex Package

The Fitbit Flex comes in a neat transparent package that shows off the coloured wristband and opening the packaging reveals the fitness tracker itself, large and small wrist bands, a USB sync dongle and a USB charging dock.

Fitbit Flex Contents

The fitness tracker itself is the small black rectangular unit and it’s slipped inside a small pocket in the wristband to be worn both during the day and asleep at night. The wristbands are made of a soft plastic and are available in ten different colours with additional coloured bands on sale from Fitbit’s online store. The large size fitted me well and the smaller one will suit women and children. It’s not obvious in the pictures, but the Flex uses a push-through buckle to keep the band on. It’s a little tricky to get clicked in sometimes, but it keeps the wristband on and in the two weeks of testing I’ve not had any problems with the Flex falling off accidentally. The Flex is supposed to be water resistant to 10m (30ft) and while I didn’t go that deep, it did survive 1000m of surface swimming.

The tracker has a set of LEDs which show through the transparent plastic window on the wrist band. The user interface is simple with five round LEDs used to communicate with the owner and at a basic level, each dot represents a fifth of the way towards the daily target. For example, if the target is 10,000 steps, one LED is worth 2,000 steps. The picture below shows the tracker has measured 6,000 steps, give or take. Normally none of the lights are on but tap on the band at the tracker and the lights come on.

Fitbit Flex

The Flex has an internal rechargeable battery which lasts about 5 days between charges. To charge the Flex up, the tracker unit is taken out of the wristband and placed in the USB charging cradle which in turn is plugged into any available USB port. Charging is relatively quick, typically taking less than an hour.

Getting the activity data off the Flex is easy too, with syncing available between the Flex and both PCs and smartphones. Fitbit is agnostic with clients available for Windows, Macs, Android and iOS, though check compatibility to be sure as the phone or tablet has to support the Low Energy (LE) version of Bluetooth. Syncing with a desktop or laptop is a case of downloading and installing the app, sticking the USB dongle in and getting going. The dongle and Flex are pre-paired so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sync to a phone is similar – download the app from the relevant store and run it. The app will automatically search for the Flex and connect up. A Fitbit login is needed from fitbit.com and signing up for that is free. There’s a full lifestyle portal online which gives access to fitness stats from any web browser.

Personally I used my Flex almost exclusively with my Android phone (Nexus 4) and tablet (Nexus 9). The app shows daily activity, sleep patterns and can record exercise, weight, food and water if the information is added in conscientiously.

Flex Summary  Flex Summar

Different views of the data can be shown – on the left below is a weekly view. Contrary to indications, I didn’t spend Saturday lounging in front of the TV, but forgot to put the Flex on! The Flex can also track sleep patterns, though it can’t automatically detect sleep and needs the wearer to indicate the approximate time of going to bed and getting up.

Weekly Flex Summary  Flex Sleep Tracking

The Flex unit can vibrate too and vibration is used to give feedback to the wearer on attaining goals. It can be used as an alarm as well and although I wasn’t really keen on wearing the Flex in bed, the wake-up alarm worked well for me, prodding me to stir when I’d turned my other alarm off. I don’t normally wear a watch in bed so I did find wearing the Flex at night a little odd but that’s very much a personal feeling.

In the two weeks I used the Flex, I didn’t come across any other problems bar one time that the unit needed reset. I’m not sure what happened: I think I might have tried to sync with the Flex from both phone and the tablet at the same time but resetting the Flex was simple using the normal paperclip-in-reset-hole and no activity data was lost.

I came to this review as a Fitbit Zip wearer and to start with, I did think that the Flex was a little bit of a backward step as I couldn’t see the number of paces that I’d taken – the Zip shows this information on a small LCD screen.  However, over the course of the trial, I’ve got used to it and if I really want to know, I can do a quick sync with my phone to get the data. The Flex is much better than the Zip when it comes to wearing during activity and doesn’t get accidentally pulled off or left in the locker on trousers. The water resistance of the Flex is a bonus too. One downside is that the Flex doesn’t tell the time, so it can’t replace a wristwatch. For many people this isn’t an issue as they don’t wear a watch but for those who do, the Fitbit Charge is perhaps the answer.

The Fitbit Flex is priced at £79.99 RRP but can be found a little cheaper on-line.

Thanks to Fitbit for providing the Flex for review.