Microsoft Band 2 Review – How it’s changed my day

I used a Fitbug Orb for a while. It did a good job of reporting steps & sleep back to an iPhone app but I got annoyed that it had a CR battery to replace (non-rechargeable) and the rubber wrist strap was annoying (it would come off in the night while sleeping). I was tempted to get a Fitbit purely to have a silent alarm, but I never went and bought one.

Microsoft’s first attempt at a wearable almost tempted me too, but it was clear that version 1.0 needed some refinement first. When a trip to the USA coincided with the release of the Microsoft Band 2, I had run out of excuses. Keen to make my very first visit to a physical Microsoft store, I walked out with a Small and their last Medium.

The Small was just a bit too snug on the biggest setting, so I changed to the Medium instead, which gave me much more room. I like the flexibility of clicking the secure metal clasp nice and tight when I want to ensure a more accurate heart rate reading, or loosening it off to be a bit more comfortable when the temperature and humidity rise. The screen is beautiful and responsive and curves comfortably across my wrist. The rubber strap is comfortable but wide. Information displays well in such a small space. My only hesitation in the design is the fact I’d never take it to the beach or on a rainy emergency services callout. I can see a grain of sand would be a nightmare for the metal clasp.

The first question I’m asked is usually “What phone do you use with it?” and my answer is “It’s irrelevant.” I use a Windows Phone. Hubby uses an iPhone. We both use the same Microsoft Health app for managing our Band settings & reading our health info (or via the online dashboard https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-health/en-us) It also integrates with partners like MapMyRun, Strava, Gold with TaylorMade and My Fitness Pal https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-band/en-us/partners-and-apps

My Band 2 gives me the following features on my wrist:
• New email alerts, including scroll read the first few lines.
• New SMS messages, including pre-canned replies or a teeny tiny keyboard
• Incoming call alerts
• Calendar reminders
• UV readings & alerts
• Steps, floors, calories burned
• Heart rate
• VO2 Max, for runners and cyclists (ie not me). I don’t know of any other fitness tracker that does this.
• The time! Rotating my wrist briefly shows the time on the display, saving the battery.

I’ve specifically excluded social media notifications. As much as I love to tweet, I don’t need my life interrupting because someone replied to me. I’ll check that on my phone when I want to.

The latest software update has also included controlling your phone volume from your wrist and an activity reminder prompt (the snail icon is cute).

So, it’s all pretty cool for a device that isn’t an Apple Watch. I’m glad now that I didn’t buy a Fitbit, because I’m really enjoying having the other notifications too.

The best part about the Band though is how it has changed my life.

I don’t walk around with my phone in my hand anymore.  – Throwing it in my handbag, I used to miss calls & messages because I couldn’t hear it ring. Now the Band buzzes to alert me. You realise how useful this is when you text your husband and his phone is on silent .. but his Band still buzzes him. I can put my phone in my pocket and know that I don’t have to check it to see if I’ve missed anything important. I can choose to ignore the write buzz or glance at the email flash on screen to see if it’s something that immediately needs my attention. I can also tell the Band to not disturb me, because I really don’t want to see work emails on the weekend.

I’m more aware of my sleep quality. – I was shocked by how little deep sleep I actually get. It’s not unusual for me to get less than 30mins of deep sleep in a 9 hour period. No wonder I still feel tired! With that data being tracked, I can make lifestyle changes to improve that and see if they work. The average heart rate at night shows an increase of 10 beats per minute if I’ve been drinking. This formed part of my decision to not drink any alcohol this year (mostly).

Sleep

I don’t leave the garden hose on too long anymore. – The Band has a reminder, timer & stopwatch which are all things that my phone can do, but the convenience of these on my wrist has made me more likely to use them on the weekends.  I don’t have to go and get my phone to set a reminder and then ensure my phone is always in earshot.

My alarm doesn’t wake up my husband anymore. – Despite what my sleep tracking says, I’m hard to wake up in the morning. That requires my phone alarm to be at a volume level that also wakes up my husband. Hooray, Band 2 silent alarm!

I’m still getting used to the habit of charging it, seeing as I want to wear it at night too. It doesn’t quite last 48hrs and will die part way through night two, depending on how busy it’s been chirping away (please send me less emails, thanks). My best tip is charge it when you’re at your desk, working.

Does this all mean that you should go and buy one?
I have no idea. I’m not you.

Those features might be extremely useful. Or you might want a ton of third party apps on your wrist too (though Uber is coming to the Band 2). Or you might not even care about email notifications or steps.

But I can tell you that it is a purchase I have not regretted. It has actually improved the quality of my life.

After all, it’s not the technology that counts .. It’s what you do with it.

-SCuffy.

P.S. I’m prone to a little contact dermatitis from silver & stainless steel, including the back of my regular watch. No issues so far with the Band 2.

P.P.S You can now control your Volvo with your voice from your Band 2 http://www.theverge.com/2016/1/5/10710362/volvo-microsoft-band-on-call-app-ces-2016

KoalaSafe Internet Filter – Review

KoalaSafe

Having a rather complicated home network, I’ve struggled to find an Internet filtering product that lets me work like I need to AND doesn’t need to be ‘installed’ on the devices that my kids use. I was excited to hear about the KoalaSafe kickstarter campaign then, that promised a safe WiFi network of its own.

KoalaSafe

Remember, this works by providing a filtered Wi-Fi network, so if your teens have smartphones or tablets with SIM cards, they will still have unrestricted Internet access via the mobile network. It is great for kids using Wi-Fi only devices or if mum & dad have turned off mobile data (and they aren’t old enough to figure out how to turn it back on again).

The box itself is CUTE and measures only 5.5cm (2.5 inches) square. Though my parcel had sustained some damage, the dense foam inside meant my unit was completely protected, at least from this corner impact. It comes with a Cat6 networking cable (that’s flat – which is a nice little design touch) and a power cable. The instructions in the box are an extremely basic one page diagram, showing you how to plug it into your network and telling you to install an app (Android and iOS).

Koalasafe Side WP_20151003_006 Koalasafe packaging KoalaSafe Instructions

The app is key to everything. It connects to your device, sets up time schedules and allows or blocks websites & apps. Once your KoalaSafe is plugged in and the app is installed, you pair the device with your app, set up a WiFi password and start configuring the profiles.

You can set up profiles for people individually, add which devices are theirs and also set a profile that applies to ‘Everybody else’.

KoalaSafe Create Profile

Create a new profile then set schedules for when the Internet will be on or off each day. More than one time schedule per day is allowed. If you want to extend the Internet ‘ON’ time during a scheduled time, the app allows you to have the internet on for another 5, 10, 30 mins, 1, 2, 4 hours, the rest of today or forever.  You can also turn the internet off during a normal ‘on’ time schedule, so if the kids normally have an hour now, you can override that and only give them 30 more minutes from now, for example.

KoalaSafe Profile KoalaSafe Schedule

Then take a look at App and Site Blocking. The list of categories lets you drill down into specifics (eg Minecraft, Facebook, YouTube with SafeSearch etc) and you can manually add a website to allow or to block.

KoalaSafe Blocking KoalaSafe Blocking KoalaSafe Game Blocking

Grab the device you want to filter and connect it to the KoalaSafe WiFi network. You’ll need to make sure you ‘forget’ any other other WiFi networks they’d previously connected to at home. It’s also a good idea to change those WiFi passwords so the kids don’t try and reconnect to them manually.

Once the device is connected, you can go into the profile you created and add the device to it. There’s no authentication via profile names –  KoalaSafe just matches the device’s MAC address to the profile it has been added to.

All restrictions on a connected device can be overridden by using the app to put that profile\device into ‘Parent Mode’ for 5, 10, 30 mins, 1, 2, 4 hours, the rest of today or forever. This is really handy when you share an iPad with your kids, but you’ll need your iOS or Android device handy to toggle it.

Support is mainly via an online forum, which the KoalaSafe team are quick to respond to. The app has a diagnostics test and communicates with the KoalaSafe server, so the support team aren’t flying blind if you do have a hiccup. They’re also keen to hear your suggestions for improvements including other sites to add to the category lists.

If I had to be picky, there are only 3 things I’d improve:
Error messages: Because behind the scenes there’s DNS redirection happening, a failure to connect to a website looks like just that – a ‘page cannot be displayed’ error. There’d no redirect to a branded error page telling you KoalaSafe is blocking it. This isn’t a show stopper though.

Different blocking rules per time schedule: Ideally I’d like to be able to allow Google SafeSearch and homework type websites during ‘homework hours’ and not allow social media. Then another time schedule (say after 5pm on weekends) would allow the fun stuff too. This might get pretty complicated to display & configure though, given the limitations of an app interface.

Access to local network resources: The DNS redirection applies to ALL traffic. This means that when a device is connected to KoalaSafe, it can’t connect to anything on your local network (eg other computers at home, your printer and in our case, my local Minecraft server). This is currently being discussed in the support forms.

Usage reporting is coming soon, showing you a graph of usage by time throughout the week (eek) and how that was broken down into each of the categories (by percentage). Fortunately I won’t be connecting my work computer so my husband won’t see just how much of my day is spent on social media.

KoalaSafe Usage

Overall, after a little bit of setup, the KoalaSafe works well for keeping my kids from unexpectedly seeing things on the Internet that they shouldn’t see and from creating Facebook accounts without me knowing (well, at home anyway). I like knowing that their devices aren’t running the extra overhead of filtering software and the KoalaSafe is a one-off purchase price, not an annual subscription.

You can purchase a KoalaSafe at http://koalasafe.com/ for USD$90

-SCuffy

NB:This review was independent and NOT sponsored. But hey, if you’re reading this and ever want to send me some stuff for free to review, go right ahead! I promise I’ll disclose it. 🙂

Review: Tile (bluetooth tag)

Tile was the first crowd funding campaign that I supported. My money would actually result in the finished physical product being shipped to my door and this seemed like a gadget I would use. I had to be patient though – still being in the design stage, it would be over 12 months before I’d hold a Tile in my hand.

Tile packaging
The Tile packaging – simple, effective

The concept is straightforward – the Tile gives anything a Bluetooth transmitter to help you find it if it gets lost. Perfect for keys, wallets, your dog, maybe your car. The device is small, stylish, water resistant and tough and is designed to last for 12 months before expiring. Bluetooth devices need power and the internal battery cannot be replaced or recharged.

So after registering a Tile using the app (Android or iOS with Bluetooth 4 https://www.thetileapp.com/compatibility), your phone or tablet enables you to play a sort of ‘Hot or Cold’ game (http://www.grandparents.com/grandkids/activities-games-and-crafts/hot-and-cold) until you locate your device. But you’re going to need to get within 100 feet (30.5 metres) of the lost thing for the Bluetooth signal to be in range. The Tile also has a little musical chime which can be activated when it gets into range, helping you zone in on your item.

Tile app registered tiles
Registered Tiles shown in the app.

The really cool part of this app has a couple of downsides though. If you tell the app that a Tile-carrying thing is lost, anyone’s Tile app will generate a notification to you if they come within range of the lost thing, telling you where it was spotted. Crowd sourcing for lost stuff with no extra effort! But now for the downside … they need to have the Tile app running. And it’s not the sort of app I’d start on my phone every morning and leave on … unless you’re the sort of person who never closes apps. The other downside is the effectiveness of this is purely dependant on how many other Tile users roam around in places where you might leave stuff. Even in a big shopping mall, I’m not sure how many Tile users I’d actually find running their app in my Australian suburb. You can invite people to download the free app without them needing a Tile though, so you might have to it up your family, friends and workmates to help expand the Tile community.

In reality, I’ve found that the size of the Tile limits where I’d use it. It’s actually a bit too big on my small dog’s collar. And the 5.6mm thickness makes it too obtrusive to stick to my TV remotes. I’ve placed one in my car, on my keyring and in my wallet but it would be too bulky in my husband’s wallet (that’s already full of cards & gets carried in his back pocket). The thought of a Tiled umbrella is pretty cool though (https://www.bluntumbrellas.com/)but with the Blunt version only shipping to the USA & Canada, I might just stick a keyring hooked Tile onto my cheap brolly. When travelling, I’d certainly throw one in my passport holder and luggage. Imagine standing at the airport luggage carousel with your Tile app! It would also be great for rental cars, especially when you are used to searching a packed carpark for your own black SUV when you’ve actually rented a white sedan.

Tile size
A Tile with an Australian $2 coin

A Tile with an Australian $2 coin

The registration steps are pretty easy to follow, so you don’t have to be an IT whiz to make your Tiles useful:

Add a tile Tile Recognized Name your tile Add an item photo Activating Tile

To get Tiling, visit https://www.thetileapp.com/

-SCuffy

NB: Sadly, this was not a sponsored post. 🙂