Ho, Ho, Ho, It’s Reviews Not News This Christmas

For much of Holiday 2014, I will shift from tech news and analysis to product reviews, which will be a relaxing change. I also am prepping new ebook How I Beat Diabetes, preparing to start an investigative storytelling project, and strongly considering a Kickstarter to gauge interest in a site that calls out irresponsible news reporting (of which there is too much) and praises the best journalism, too.

On the reviews front, now would be a good time to knock on my virtual door, if you’ve got something worth my attention, whether cloud service, gear, mobile app, or software. No promises what I can get to during the holidays, when everyone wants to sell something, but, hey, we can try. Reviews will run on BetaNews,  and I will cross-post some here, despite any search penalty Google might impose for the practice. I care about readers, not pageviews. With the holidays in mind, I may shift to a shorter reviews format, focusing almost completely on benefits. Frak features. 

First up, is the $35-to-$50 question. Which streaming stick is right for you? Google kicked the category into gear with $35 Chromecast 18 months ago, and the device gets better with age. I set up Roku Streaming Stick ($49.99) yesterday, and will begin serious Amazon Fire TV Stick testing today; that one is $39. Quickly now, but much more coming in the review: Fire TV Stick’s big benefit is the Amazon ecosystem. If you sit with smartphone or tablet while watching TV and are comfortable with either as remote, Chromecast is easiest to use. The Roku offers broadest selection of streaming channels.

If you are considering buying any streaming stick on Black Friday, and so before my review posts, check the HDMI placement on your television. My 32-inch Vizio M322i-B1 has three HDMI slots, one on the side next to the USB port. Problem: None of the three streaming sticks fits into the two back slots with power cord connected. That means I can only use one dongle. You’ve been warned.

As companion to the streaming stick review, or even part of it, I will update my cord-cutting series. The Wilcox household cancelled AT&T U-verse in July, switching to Cox for Internet-only. The cable provider doubled my bandwidth last month. Speedtest.net typically records 115-120Mbps downstream, over WiFi. I pay $59.99 per month even; there is no tax or surcharges. Cox has contacted me several times to add local channels and HBO for another $9.99 per month. AT&T wants my business, too, but offers much less for much more money.

Also on deck: Grado Labs RS1e open-ear headphones, which I purchased about four months ago. They are pricey, offer no nose-cancellation, don’t amp the bass, and connect to a humongous cord. Yeah, and those are all benefits. Honestly! These cans will change how you listen to music. There’s an adjustment period, while breaking them in—the Grados and my ears needed about 10 hours of listening. Now I flatline, using no equalizer. Sound is pure and satisfying, even from compressed AAC or MP3 tracks.

Last week, I added the Fujifilm X100T to my gear. The third-generation in the series should be on at least some Santa lists this year. Having used the original, but not successor X100s, T is a worthwhile upgrade, for which reasons my review will explain. This is a superb shooter for street photography, for example.

Motorola PR unexpectedly contacted me late yesterday about reviewing Moto 360, so now there’s a smartwatch on the list. Delivery is today. Woot! What I really need though, is a newer Android phone running Lollipop to test with it. Motorola is fresh out of loaners, and I am looking for one. Having just maxed the credit line for the X100T, I’m not able to buy another Android just to test the watch.

Amazon’s newest Fire HDX 8.9 tablet is in the house. I reviewed the previous model just a few months back. Benefits are marginal for upgraders, but they are exceptional for newcomers, particularly anyone living the Amazon lifestyle. The newest Fire OS update allows the sharing of apps, books, and other content between two primary Amazon accounts. The benefit is huge. I really need to post separately about how big this is for getting beyond oppressive rights management and making “fair use” a word worthy of ebooks.

In the odd category is leeo, which the company calls a “smart alert nightlight” controlled by your smartphone. This fits into the “Why would anyone create that?” category.

What else? We shall see. Again, expect my holiday reviews to be shorter than my typical tomes, so that I can do more of them. Again, emphasis will be benefits.