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I had to write something. A majority of my articles are about tech, but every once in a while I need to focus on the other part of my brand name – “dad.” I have 3 daughters. They all live at home. Two of them go to schools in the community, one in high school and one in middle school. These past few days have been hard. I cannot fathom the pain, the suffering, the confusion, and the heartbreak facing all of the parents, friends, teachers and faculty, the first-responders, and the community surrounding Marjorie Stoneman Douglas high school. Having to bury your child at such a young age, without that child being able to realize their dreams and ambitions, is something no parent should ever face. It’s devastating.

Yet, all that politicians do is offer “thoughts and prayers.” It’s a broken record. And there is no action. Again and again.

When babies were murdered in Sandy Hook, we all thought (or hoped) that something would happen. But as the media is all reminding us now, there have been many fatal school shootings since that tragedy. Politicians seem paralyzed to do anything. They talk but do not act.

Are they afraid of what their constituents will think? Are they worried about losing votes or funding? Do Special Interest groups have such a strong hold that it is causing paralysis? Do they simply think this is a battle they cannot win?

Or is it because the problem is simply too massive. That is stretches deep into all corners of our society. Or that people are afraid of changing this too dramatically or drastically.

Change is hard. Really, really hard. But simply ignoring a problem won’t make it go away. If anything, it festers and grows and becomes even more difficult to overcome. And when action (any type) is taken, it is often too late. This week, we lost 17 beautiful lives before their prime (children and adults, students and those who teach and nurture).

Is this the tipping point? We have asked this each and every time our society is affected by violent acts similar to these. But…well, you know the answer.

Small Steps & An Example

Let’s think about this another way. Let’s say there is a busy road. People speed on the road all of the time. There have been near misses, accidents, and injuries on the road. The road is documented as being dangerous and people continue to get hurt.

Using the current state of action (or in-action), people are saying “Yep, that road sure is dangerous” and “I hope people will slow down.”

People blame the road, or that cars are too fast, or say that we must have the right to drive and that people should be more careful.

Lots of words, but no action.

As children, we learned not to bite off more than we can chew. This concept is an important one. You could choke on too much. And perhaps, we should look a bit closer at this.

One school of thought would be to just close that road down completely. Ban all traffic on it. Heck, “build a wall” to block any passage on it. But guess what? That traffic will just find another route to get from point A to point B, and, I would guess the same problems would be present on that new route.

But, I’d like to offer a different school of thought – let’s take smaller steps to reach that end goal.

Using the road metaphor, you could start by reducing the speed limit. That simple action would have an impact on some of the travelers. Some would, indeed, slow down. Others would not. That’s just how humans work – not all obey the rules. But it would be a start.

Next, you could put in a speed bump. While not a complete barrier, it would slow down traffic. Again, some people would still speed over those bumps, but more people would be affected. So, of the initial traffic pool, some would be slowing down from the new speed limit, and of those who were not slowing down, some of those may now reduce speed because of the physical limitations on the road.

Then, speed traps set up by law enforcement could be used to catch the outliers. Or those residents or businesses who live on the street could be empowered to report those who still speed. Through community and governmental cooperation and communication, the outliers – those few who continued to speed – could be identified and an intervention could take place.

Yes, I realize this is over-simplifying things. But sometimes simple examples are a bit easier to understand and digest.

Doing Nothing Helps No-one

Again, it’s soul-wrenching to watch these tragic events unfold, to hear the stories of loss, and to know how fragile life truly can be. We do hear stories of heroes in these tragedies, how some individuals sacrificed their own lives to save others. But honestly, I don’t WANT to hear about the heroes – there shouldn’t need to be heroes in the first place because these acts of violence simply should not be occurring.

But, if we, as a society and community, continue on this path of in-action, there will be more fallen angels.

To go back to the road example, instead of in-action, let’s start by doing small things. (And, I realize that some of the things I mention below might not be “small” but when you add them up, they would be huge.)

Just some “small” actionable ideas here on our current crisis:

  • Raise the age of buying weapons to 21.
  • Impose extended waiting periods.
  • To drive a car, you must have a license that is renewed regularly. You have to take a test (write and physical). You have to pay registration for your vehicle every year. You have to carry insurance. If you want to drive, you must do this. Make this the same for buying and owning a gun.
  • Background checks, in general, must be expanded. And, the databases of counties, states, and federal levels should all be linked.
  • If you have a history of mental health issues, this should be a prohibiting factor in the ability to purchase a weapon.
  • If you have a history of violence or domestic abuse, this should also be a prohibiting factor.
  • While weapons for protection or hunting maybe should be allowed depending on the circumstances, “assault” type weapons should be highly regulated if not banned.
  • Items that convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic ones or ones that cause mass-casualties should be banned (e.g., “bump stocks” and high-capacity magazines).
  • Affected families of victims of gun-violence should be allow to sue the gun manufacturers freely (even though we are a highly-litigious society).
  • Schools and communities should be trained to watch for society outliers – to know the signs of someone who needs help – prior to an individual doing something tragic.
  • Local governments should fill in where the federal government is slacking or immobile. They can move faster and potentially be more effective locally.
  • Contact your government representatives.

Easier said than done, right? Yes, I know, these aren’t “small” but it’s definitely different than banning all firearms (which would be impossible), and better than standing by and doing absolutely nothing.

After the tragedy in Las Vegas in October, 2017, VICE wrote an article about gun laws America should pass but won’t. It’s a sobering look at how some legislators have been trying to do smaller things, but cannot due to a lack of majority.

And, I typically stay away from politics, but unfortunately, this current administration is rolling back any possible progress, according to Margaret Hartmann of New York Mag.

Lastly, Adam Gopnik so poignantly writes in his New Yorker article, “building small barriers to gun violence reduces all gun violence.”

This is exactly the point I’m trying to make. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start slowly. Build those smaller barriers or speed bumps one at a time, and one after another. The changes are smaller, and small changes are more easily embraced than massive ones. People get used to smaller changes and when the next one comes, are potentially more inclined to accept them.

I know my words won’t be seen by many. I also realize that some readers may not agree with my opinions or views here. That is your right and I respect that. For me, this was important to simply get out and express. However, I do hope and pray that action by legislators will ramp up and get out of the stagnant sludge of politics. We pride ourselves on how great we are as a nation. I fully embrace and believe in this. However, there are so many other nations that are much better role models than us when it comes to gun violence. I’m truly ashamed by our lack of progress, or action at all for that matter. I do hope we can be leaders again.

Until then, hug your family. Relish in your friendships. And try to make a difference in bettering the world. The small things count, especially when you add them all up together.

HTD says: Tragedy has been striking our society a bit too frequently these days. This violence, compared to natural disasters, CAN be controlled and reduced over time. But only through actions, even small ones, can we make any type of progress.

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There is an important distinction to make within the realm of smart homes and what truly defines “smart.” You can now easily get a “smart” plug or a “smart” switch or a “smart” lightbulb. My home, in fact, has many of different manufacturers. They are all controlled via a “smart” hub or some sort of a “smart” voice controller. I’ll be honest. I love the “smartness” of it all. But when you take a step back and really think about it, is it really “smart?” Or is it just connected and remotely controlled? Does that define what is “smart?” (Ok enough with the quotes around “smart” – you get the idea.) Noon Home has a different idea of what makes up a smart home. And yes, while they do make switches, these are not like any other smart switch that I have encountered. They don’t focus on the switch itself (although their switches are exquisitely designed). Instead, their goal is to create lighting scenes that fit the environment, all programmed and controlled by their intelligent switches (notice I upped it a level from smart?) Let me explain. (*Disclosure below.)

First, I need to step back a few months. I attended a local tech show for media that had various consumer electronics companies pitching their gadgets. After an hour or so, I had visited the 30 or so companies and pretty much talked to everyone. The last table was that of Noon Home (who I am going to just refer to as Noon). It was towards the end of the night and many folks had moved on. However, about an hour later, I realized that I had been geeking out with the folks at Noon, diving into the details of wiring switches, how different controllers work, the differences in lightbulb types, how some dimmers don’t play well with CFLs or LEDs, and how light truly should be thought about carefully. It turns out that Noon had come out of stealth mode that day, I believe, and had just announced their new products. Needless to say, I was captivated by what they were pitching.

Fast forward a month or so, I had the pleasure of having the Noon folks over to my house to install and demonstrate their intelligent switches. I had recently both had the electrical of my house replaced from knob and tube to Romex, a new circuit breaker, and new recessed lighting, and I had swapped out all of my incandescent bulbs for LEDs. I had become pretty well versed in things electrical and had also installed a few connected switches and light bulbs. But what Noon brought to my main living space was not just the ability to turn on or off the lights (or even control them remotely). They brought new lighting scenes that were custom-designed to activities, time of day, and comfort.

Here’s a quick video walkthrough:

Noon Home Creates Intelligent Lighting Scenes - Review - YouTube

Let’s talk about the intelligence of the Noon offering. This is important because it is pervasive from design to install to usage. For starters, the concept behind their switches is relatively simple. There are two types of switches, a Room Director and Extension Switches. The Room Director is the intelligent one as it has a display, is what communicates with your WiFi, and connects and controls the Extension Switches. The Switches and the Director talk to each other using a special communication protocol. And you need to have one Director per room that you want to have lighting control over. So, if you are looking to get Noon in your home, find a room that has lots of different lighting options (overhead, accent, chandeliers, recessed, etc.) as you will get the biggest benefit from Noon in those types of environments (which I will go into shortly).

In terms of the design of the Noon products, there is incredible attention to detail – even for the installer. For example, if your switches are anything like mine, the electrical box that houses the switch is typically crammed tight with wires. One thing that I encountered installing other smart light switches is that the “brains” tend to take up a lot of space so getting them to fit into the box can be tricky. The Noon designers thought about this common occurrence and designed their brains to have the smallest form factor as possible. This was a big thing for me, even if you only encounter this once during installation.

Another really nice design thought was how the Noon Director and Switches actually temporarily hook onto the wall plate while you are connecting the wires. So, instead of having your switches hanging at all sorts of angles, you can methodically hang and organize all of the wires prior to screwing them in. Another win in the installer category!

Our Home Environment

Since I’m talking about the installation here, let’s go into some details about where I had my Noon installed. Our house is not big. But we do have one room that has a dining room and living room in the space. When we had our electrical fixed, we installed recessed lighting above the dining area and table on one switch, and recessed lighting in the living room area above the sofa and TV viewing area, on a different switch. We also have a skylight box that has accent lighting inside the box on another switch. And lastly, one of the switches we have controls the front porch and walkway lights.

In total, however, we needed to swap out 5 light switches with one Noon Director and four Extension Switches. And, because we had a 2-pole switch for the living room area, we had to be sure that was part of the equation. Simply explained, a 2-pole switch means that the lights are controlled by two switches (actually there is more to it than that as the switch itself is slightly different). So, with our design, two switches would control the same lighting.

But I need to step back here for a second. I don’t want to get hung up on the idea of switches because, in fact, you don’t really use the Extension switches much (only to control the specific lights if you need to). You actually mainly use the Director to control your lighting scenes, which, in turn, will control the Extension Switches automatically to create the lighting scene you desire.

Our Noon Installation Process

Let’s get back to the install process. (And, while I’m sure I could have easily done the install myself, I wanted to watch and learn and document the process.) I want to show some pictures now as they will better illustrate the process than my words.

There are 5 main steps to the installation:

  1. Remove the old switches
  2. Identify and label the wires
  3. Install the Noon Mounting Plate
  4. Install the Noon Base (which is what houses the Switches)
  5. Install the Noon Switches

I won’t go into all of the details here, as there are many steps and things to consider as you go through the main steps above. However, I do have to commend Noon for their Support site. I highly recommend that you read through the Guided Installation section as it is extremely well done and clearly illustrates the process with videos and animations. Even before you make a purchase, get familiar with what the install consists of.

Before you do any installation, turn off the power at the circuit breaker and then use a voltage detector to ensure there is no power going through any of the power cables connected to the switches.

Now, on to my install. Here are my old switches. Pretty right? (And we still haven’t painted the walls since we had our electrical upgraded previously so things look a bit unfinished…because they are.)

A wall liner was added to prevent damaging the wall during the install (didn’t really matter to us because ours was unpainted).

Labels were put above each switch to identify which was which and to clearly indicate which switches were the multi-way ones.

Once the old switches were removed from the wall, the wires were labeled with labels that come with the Noon.

The next step was to remove the old wall plate and replace it with a Noon wall plate. Note: if you want, you can use your own wall plate but make sure it is compatible ahead of time. Remember, with the Noon wall plate, you can hang the switches off of them so that your hands are free to do the wiring!

Next, you start wiring up all of the Noon Bases. There are actually two parts to a Noon switch: the Base which is what is wired in, and the Switch itself which is actually easily detachable from the base (no tools required).

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For the past few months, I have been using the Apple Watch Series 3. But I have been a bit lazy. I have kept it tethered to my iPhone so I haven’t really been using it to its full capabilities. I have the cellular version which has its own number which is magically hidden and mirrored to the actual number of my iPhone. So, if I get a call on my iPhone, it magically rings on my Apple Watch, even if the Watch is not directly connected to my iPhone. I just don’t seem to go anywhere without my iPhone. (But, I may try turning off Bluetooth on my iPhone and have the Watch still be physically next to me.) Regardless, as I spent more time testing out the Apple Watch Series 3, I started to uncover a bunch of features I didn’t even know about. And some of these features work on the earlier models of Apple Watches (while some are specific to the Series 3). Those who use their Watch all of the time will probably simply say – yep, knew about that feature – but for the rest of you who may have received one as a gift over the holidays, or just picked one up, some of these Apple Watch Series 3 tips might be completely new to you.

I do have to say, having used the Series 1 for a couple of years, the Series 3 is quite a jump. There are two huge things that truly stood out to me. For starters, the battery is so much better. With my Series 1 (and granted, it is a bit old now), by the end of the day, my Series 1 was gasping for a charge and so every night, I took it off to get it charged back up. With the Series 3, with the same amount of usage, I still had enough battery to keep wearing it through the night and into the next day. The battery is that much better!

The second thing that I really like about the Series 3 is the fact that it is truly much more water resistant. You can swim with it or wear it in the shower. There is even a way to lock the touch screen when doing water activity and then push out any water from the speakers or mics using audio tones when you are finished.

Those two main observations aside, the more I play around with the Apple Watch S3, the more things I am discovering and actually starting to use. So, for those who are new to the Apple Watch, or for those who have been just using the most basic functions, I would like to offer up some Tips & Tricks that you may not (or may) know about. And, if you have any other Tips/Tricks that you have discovered, be sure to leave a comment to share with others.

Here’s the high-level list:

  1. Unlock your Apple Watch by Unlocking your iPhone
  2. Use your Apple Watch to automatically unlock your Mac
  3. Play music from your Watch to Apple AirPods
  4. Pair multiple Apple Watches with a single iPhone
  5. Take Apple Watch screenshots (or not)
  6. Take photos with the Apple Watch (err…your iPhone)
  7. Dismiss notifications from Watch without removing them from your iPhone
  8. Use your palm to dismiss notifications or calls
  9. “Peak” at your Watch screen
  10. Siri now talks on the Series 3
  11. Sometimes you need to Force-Restart your Watch
  12. Make Mickey or Minnie say the time
  13. Use Theater Mode
  14. Stream Music via cellular

And now, on to the details!

14 Apple Watch Tips & Tricks

First of all, these aren’t in any type of order other than as I thought of them. Some are very minor. Some are merely recommendations based on my personal preference. And others are things that I personally didn’t even know about. Take your pick! And I do hope they help you get more out of your Apple smartwatch investment. You really should use your tech to its fullest capability.

#1 – Unlock Your Apple Watch by Unlocking Your iPhone

Buried down in the settings of your Apple Watch is a toggle that, when active, will allow you to automatically unlock your Apple Watch when you unlock your iPhone. Best security practices are that you have passcodes on everything. Your data, financial, and personal information should be protected. (I would recommend you enable 2-factor authentication on your Apple account as well but that’s another story.) So, assuming you have a passcode on your Apple Watch, you probably are a bit sick and tired of having to always tap in that passcode when you put your Apple Watch on.

Well, if you enable this setting on your Apple Watch (which you can do within the Apple Watch app on your iPhone), if you put on your Apple Watch and you see it isn’t authenticated, just unlocking your iPhone (via a passcode, TouchID, or FaceID) will automagically unlock your Apple Watch. This also assumes your Apple Watch is paired and connected to your iPhone. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s also one less set of passcodes you need to type in. And yes, you can also go into your Apple Watch settings on the Watch itself to enable this.

#2 – Use Your Apple Watch to Automatically Unlock your Mac

I have to say, I absolutely love this feature. You don’t have to have a Series 3 to do this. It works with older Apple Watches as well. But again, this works to the authentication circle that Apple has set up. The big caveat here is that you must be logged in and authenticated with your Apple iCloud account on your devices. In this case, your Apple Watch and your Mac must all be authenticated and logged in with the same iCloud account. And, most importantly, you MUST have 2-Factor Authentication set up on your iCloud account, otherwise, this won’t work.

To set this up, be sure you are logged in to iCloud on these devices. Then, on your Mac, go to System Preferences > Security & Privacy, and then in the first tab (General), look in the section “Allow Apple Watch to unlock your Mac”.

The nice thing is, if you have multiple Watches, you can have each of those used for authentication. And, you can do this on multiple Macs. A thing to note, the authentication doesn’t always work. I would say though, 9 times out of 10, it does. So that is a set of keystrokes you can avoid typing on your Mac when you have that enabled.

#3 – Play Music from your Watch to Apple AirPods

One of the nice things about the Apple Watch is that you can store some of your music on it. And, with the Watch Series 3, you have increased capacity to store music. The Series 1 has 8 GB of storage available. And the Series 3 has 16 GB of storage (for the Cellular/GPS version) and 8 GB (GPS-only version). So, while it is not a huge amount of storage, it is enough for a few hours of music, even enabling you to leave your iPhone at home. (As an added bonus, if you have the Cellular version, you definitely can leave your iPhone at home since you don’t have the need to tether.)

So great! You have music on your Apple Watch. But how can you listen to it? Simple enough, you can connect compatible Bluetooth headsets to your Apple Watch and listen directly from it. What’s even nicer is if you have Apple AirPods since they will automatically appear in your Bluetooth devices on your Apple gadgets that are sharing the same iCloud account. It’s almost magical. If you have some AirPods, just connect them to one Apple device, and they will show up on all your other Apple devices, including the Apple Watch.

#4 – Pair Multiple Apple Watches with a Single iPhone

Have two Apple Watches? With previous versions of iOS and watchOS, you couldn’t pair two of them simultaneously. Let’s say perhaps you have a fancy Apple Watch for during the day and evening and an Apple Watch Nike+ for when you do all of your workouts. Now, you have the ability to have both of them paired with your iPhone. This is nice because you can easily manage the settings and interfaces directly from your iPhone. And, if you have health data being tracked on your Watches, that data is combined in the Health app!

To make things even nicer, if you turn on the “Auto Switch” function, your iPhone will automatically detect which Watch you are actively using. It’s just one last thing to worry about. You can also manually switch to the Watch of your choosing within the Apple Watch app on your iPhone.

#5 – Take Apple Watch Screenshots (or Not)

Ever since early on, you can take screenshots on your Watch by clicking the Digital Crown and the button directly below it simultaneously. This is a great feature to have, especially for people who do reviews or articles like this. Once you do a screenshot, it magically appears in your Camera Roll on your paired iPhone.

I left this setting enabled for the longest time. But I started noticing a lot of random screenshots filling up my Camera Roll feed. As it turned out, I was accidentally triggering screenshots when I was putting on my backpack. The two buttons kept getting pressed. So to save my camera roll, I actually have turned off this setting and only enable it when I need to do articles or reviews. My recommendation is to turn it off and only turn on when you really have a need.

#6 – Take Photos with the Apple Watch (err…your iPhone)

The Watch has a Camera app. But, there is no actual camera built into the Watch. But through some connectivity magic, you can not only control your paired iPhone’s camera and actually use the Watch to trigger a photo, you can also see what your camera is displaying. For example, I had my iPhone in its charger and launched the Camera app on my watch and took this selfie.

The initial view when I launched the Camera app was the wrong camera, but if you Force Touch the app, there are some additional options you can use, so I flipped the camera.

The Camera app acts pretty much like a remote shutter and viewfinder. Very nice feature to have.

#7 – Dismiss Notifications from Watch without Removing them from your iPhone

This is a very subtle little tip. Based on how you configure your notifications (I have many of my iPhone notifications mirrored on my Watch), when you dismiss a notification on your Watch, the notification is dismissed on your iPhone as well.

This is great if you simply don’t want to see repeated notifications across your devices. However, what if you want to just dismiss the notification on your Watch, and still have it appear on your iPhone, all that you need to do is press the Digital Crown instead of pressing the Dismiss or Dismiss All action.

#8 Use Your Palm to Dismiss Notifications or Calls

One of the worst things is getting disturbed by a phone call or a notification when you are in an environment where that would be bad. A prime example is if you are in a theater where it is dark. If you get a call or a notification, one of the most intuitive actions you might do is cover your Watch. In fact, if you have this exact setting enabled on your Watch, it will mute notifications that are coming through. Turn this setting on, and then when you get a notification, just hold your palm over or on top of your watch and it will become silent. (Also be sure to read tip #13 below!)

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We all know about the childhood stories of Jack and the Beanstalk and David and Goliath. In both tales, a “smaller” hero is faced with a challenge or an obstacle to overcome in order to be successful, and, must do so on their own without the help from others. The “larger” adversary is often one that is more powerful and has the advantage of their size. Though luck, cunning, or careful planning, the hero is able to conquer the titan and the resulting, unpredicted victory surprises all. However, modern-day tales have become much more complex. In order for the “smaller heroes” to compete and prosper against mega titans of today, they must form a powerful team of allies.  In its new short film, “A Giant Story,” Intuit, weaves this modern tale of the smaller hero teaming up with a giant in order to conquer mega titans of commerce. Let me explain.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and I have received compensation to prepare to research it as well as write it. All opinions within this article, unless otherwise noted, are my own. More information can be found on my About page.

Intuit’s short film, “A Giant Story,” takes a modern-day look at the Fortune 500 “giants” versus the small guy battle. In fact, it’s a story we all know pretty well in this day and age. With megastores and big-box retailers growing in size and weight, it’s always a challenge for those mom-and-pop stores or small business firms to even compete. How can they combat the wealth and abundant resources at the disposal of the megastore “giants”?

“A Giant Story”

Intuit has a simple answer. Get a giant on the side of the smaller guy to allow them to compete head-to-head.

In the Intuit short film, Pari, the young protagonist, a self-employed lady who is an inventor, starts seeing other local small business struggling – her friends and neighbors. Their finances are a mess and to make matters worse, a megastore has opened just down the street, all with huge industrial robots and drones. One particular small-business owner, Pete, who owns a flower shop, is simply not able to compete as he frantically tries to manage his orders and finances. He is quickly becoming disillusioned, over-worked, and depressed.

As Pari watches the growth of the megastore and the subsequent deterioration of Pete’s business and general happiness, she realizes that all the small business owners and self-employed in her neighborhood could benefit from a giant of their own – the Intuit Giant.

Intuit | A Giant Story - YouTube

The Intuit Giant gives the smaller heroes the ability to become more powerful and productive. By combining the powers of QuickBooks, TurboTax, and Mint, the Intuit Giant enables small businesses to compete with confidence in an arena where traditionally, large corporations dominate. With QuickBooks, Pari and Pete can gain control over their day-to-day finances while getting insights into their inflow and outflow of money. TurboTax provides easy end-of-year tax preparation. And Mint turbocharges the everyday notifications and status of various financial accounts.

In fact, the Intuit Giant allows Pari, Pete, and the other small local stores to be nimble and productive in their businesses. And more importantly, allows the Intuit Giant allows Pari, Pete, and others to focus on their business itself, not on being bogged down managing the financial side. People go to small businesses because they are quaint and treat customers as individuals. Megastores, on the other hand, lack personalities and are often not very personal. By offloading financial management to the protective care of the Intuit Giant, Pari and Pete can compete with confidence, knowing the Intuit Giant is watching out for them.

This short film champions the success of the little guy, but contrary to the “big versus small” battles of older tales, it’s actually the teaming of the giant WITH the small guys that wins the battle.

HTD says: The Intuit Giant gives small businesses the ability to focus on creating the products and services they love, allowing them to compete with confidence knowing that the Giant has their back.

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Back in 2012, I wrote a how-to article for those Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac users who wanted to have what is called a “Work” menu available within Microsoft Word. The “Work” menu was a customizable drop-down menu where you could hold documents you frequently worked on. This was functionality previously available in Word 2004 and 2008 for Mac versions. And while I never personally used that functionality, there were (and are) plenty of people who did (and still do). Well, we are now at Microsoft Office version 2016 (which is more affectionately known as Office 365 – NOT the online version, but the actual downloadable software version), and my trick mentioned in the 2012 article no longer works. But, from my understanding, this is still functionality that people want and would use if they could. So, how do you get a similar type of menu or functionality with the latest, software version of Microsoft Word for Mac? This article shows you how.

I received an email from one of my readers (thanks, Bill A. for submitting a Contact request) directly asking how to do a “Work” menu within Word 2016. After digging around in my version of Word (currently version 16.9), I quickly realized that there wasn’t a way to actually create a new menu with the ability to save (or “pin”) certain document to that “Work” menu. This is what it looked like in the Word 2011.

Microsoft seems to have decided to lock things down a bit and remove that functionality. But there is actually a way to get similar functionality, and it is not just limited to Word. You can also do it in Excel and PowerPoint. Here’s the new way to get a “Work” menu in Office 2016/Office 365 for Mac.

How To Create “Work” Menu Functionality in Office 2016/Office 365

Actually, I alluded to this functionality (explained in this article) back in my 2012 article as a feature that was available on Windows version of Office, but not on Mac. Since that time, Word for Windows and for Mac have become much more similar in look, feel, and functionality. In Word 2010 for Windows, you could “pin” documents within the Recent Document menu.

Guess what? In Office 2016 (and specifically in the screenshots below, Word 2016 for Mac), you now have that same functionality of pinning recently-opened documents. So, at an extremely high level, if you want to add a document to your “Work” menu (remember, it’s really not the “Work” menu anymore), all that you have to do is pin it within your recently opened documents. So, how do you do that? It’s really easy.

First, go to the File menu and choose “Open Recent”.

From that open menu, click on the “More…” item at the bottom of the list. (Or, if you are into shortcuts, just click SHIFT-COMMAND-O, that’s the letter “O”).

That will open a larger list (up to 50 documents I believe), of documents you opened recently. From that list, all that you have to do is go to the far right side of the list and click the little pin button that appears. The pin button is not obvious initially (unless something is pinned). While in the graphic below, I suggest that you click on a document line and then click the pin, you really don’t have to. Just hover over the right-hand side and the pin will appear (not colored). Click on it, and that document will be pinned.

Once you start pinning documents, you are effectively creating that “Work” menu. And, those pinned document will appear at the top of your Recent Documents list, even if they are a bit older.

But, if you just want to see those pinned documents, essentially your new “Work” menu, you can select the “Pinned” button at the top of the Recent Documents list, and there you will ONLY see your pinned documents.

If your document doesn’t appear initially in that Recent Documents list, you will have to find it and open it. It should then appear in the Recent Documents and you can then pin it from there.

While the old “Work” menu only worked in Microsoft Word, this pinning functionality now works across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. And it works on both Windows and Mac versions of Microsoft Office 2016/Office 365 (software version).

However, and I checked this, if you use the online/cloud-based versions of Office 365 for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, while you DO have a Recent Documents menu, you DO NOT have the ability to pin any of those documents within that cloud-based menu.

There you have it. Pretty easy, right? While not exactly the same, this functionality is similar enough.

Oh, and one more little plug for Microsoft (and no, this is NOT a sponsored article or anything), I highly recommend getting an Office 365 subscription, especially for the family. For a fairly reasonable price, you get a lot of great benefits. There are multiple plans: a 5-User plan for $99.99/year, a 1-user plan for $69.99/year, and a basic plan for 1-user with fewer apps/services for a one-time price of $169.99. With these subscriptions, you get downloadable versions of Office for either the Mac or PC. And with some, you get 1TB cloud storage with OneDrive PER USER. (I actually have 2 family subscriptions because of the amount of computers we have.). Anyway, with those plans, you can keep your software-version of Office up to date, as well as use the tip I mentioned in this article!

HTD says: As software evolves, many times you lose functionality you have become accustomed to which is never fun. However, with some digging around and asking of questions, there may be solutions that bring back the same or similar functionality.

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I have said it before, I’ve done a lot of Bluetooth portable speaker reviews during my 10+ years of writing reviews on HighTechDad. But I have to say, the JBL Boombox Bluetooth speaker blows away all of those other speakers…literally. That being said, this is not a little speaker you can just clip to your backpack or belt loop and just go. The Boombox is a beast in many different ways. But, it lives up to the high standards that JBL has set for audio. From crisp highs to a bass that moves the beat and the air, again literally, the JBL Boombox is a force to be reckoned with. (*Disclosure below.)

JBL and I have a long history. In fact, back in the 1980’s, the first pair of speakers that I ever purchased were some JBL L20T’s. These were marketed as small yet powerful “studio speakers” and believe it or not, I still have them. These speakers were powerful and moved the air in much the same way the JBL Boombox does. Technology has evolved from the corded L20T’s I used in my dorm room and later in my apartments and homes. But the sound quality has gotten better and now, with advances in technology, this sound can be transmitted wirelessly via Bluetooth.

As I mentioned, the JBL Boombox is a beast, and not only just from a sound perspective. It feels quite rugged and sturdy, and it weighs a whopping 11.57 pounds! So, while it is portable with the attached handle, it is a bit of a lug. But no matter, that is part of the package when you want a Bluetooth speaker that throws around some serious sound. Let’s take a look at some of the specs since I’m talking about weight.

Specs (as provided by JBL) on the JBL Boombox include:

  • Frequency response – 50Hz to 20kHz
  • Signal-to-noise ratio – 80dB
  • Output power – 2 x 30W (when plugged into power) and 2 x 20W (when running on battery)
  • Music play time – up to 24 hours!!! (but this does depend on the volume level and type of music)
  • Charge time – <6.5 hours
  • Battery type – 74Wh (Lithium-ion Polymer)
  • Weight – 11.57 lbs (as I mentioned)
  • Dimensions (H x W x D) – 10” x 19.5” x 7.7”
  • Bluetooth version – 4.2
  • Waterproof rating – IPX7

The JBL Boombox chassis itself houses two 4-inch woofers and two 20mm tweeters. The woofers are mounted on the sides and are not covered by a grill. This is actually kind of neat, especially when I cranked up the volume of a bass-heavy song. You see the woofers flexing back and forth, moving the air. My daughters were actually amazed by this. Since the woofers are exposed (but recessed into the chassis), they won’t touch items around it. If they do touch, you will get some kind of vibration so be sure they are free to flex back and forth to provide that thunderous bass.

Here’s a quick video that showcases some of the JBL Boombox’s highlights:

JBL Boombox Portable Bluetooth Speaker Review in 60 Seconds - YouTube

On to the setup and usage of the JBL Boombox.

Setting Up and Using the JBL Boombox

The JBL Boombox comes securely packaged in a large box. There are only three items in the box, the Boombox itself, a power adapter, and a cable which attaches to the power adapter. Mine arrived with a partial charge so I was able to jump right in and use it. When you turn it on, you hear a series of startup sounds. And, if this is the first time turning it on, it automatically goes into Bluetooth-pairing mode. From there, just grab your smartphone (or whatever device you want to pair) and choose the “JBL Boombox” device. Pairing should only take a few seconds and you are ready to blast some music.

Once paired, you can control the volume directly on your smartphone (which is what I’m assuming you will pair first). Just choose the sound source and start streaming tunes or audio directly to the JBL Boombox. It’s that simple.

So there you have it! Well, actually, there is a bit more to the JBL Boombox than just that.

For starters, the Boombox has a waterproof rating of IPX7. What that means is that is it protected against short durations of immersions into water. A “short duration” means that it should be less than 30 minutes and at a depth of less than 1 meter. So, for parties around my pool, I feel pretty confident that the Boombox will survive the encounter fairly well, provided my kids don’t take it actually into the water.

Honestly, it’s truly hard to see how the Boombox can actually be water-resistant. But, if you look at the design, you will see the careful attention to preventing holes for data, audio, or power ports to be exposed. In fact, in the back, where you charge the Boombox, there is a rubberized flap that when pried open, shows all of the ports. A quick note: if there is water around, keep the flap closed (meaning don’t charge other devices or charge the Boombox itself.) Let’s talk about those for a second.

When you flip open the flap, you will see several ports. You have an Audio AUX port to physically connect the Boombox to an audio device using a mini-audio cable. There is the power plug for charging. There is a micro-USB port for “Service.” And there are two regular USB ports. So what are those two USB ports for?

Another great feature of the JBL Boombox is that you can actually use it to chart your smart devices. There is a built-in 20,000 mAh battery which allows you to charge your devices even while you are playing back music or audio. (Yes, charging and playing music will reduce the estimated 24 hour playback time but I think that is a great problem to have – hook up your phones to charge, play music all day, then grab your full-charged phone at the end of the day!)

On the front of the JBL Boombox are a series of buttons. Starting from left-to-right, there is a Bluetooth button – just press and hold that to enter pairing mode and connect other devices. There is the volume-down button, a minus sign, for lowering the volume (which you can do on the connected device as well). Then there is the Power button. Next to that is the JBL Connect+ button. With JBL Connect+, you can wirelessly link about 100 JBL Connect+ speakers together to share audio (note: I haven’t tested that out as I only have one JBL speaker). Moving right, you have the volume-up button, a plus sign. And lastly, you have the Play button which can answer calls as well as play and pause the audio.

On the back, there is the port area which I already discussed. There is also a button to slightly tweak the audio output for indoor or outdoor playback.

A quick note about the speakerphone function, this isn’t really called out in the product specs or on the website, but you can use the JBL Boombox for calls.

There is, via the JBL Connect app for iOS and Android, a way to transform the Play button into the activation key for Siri or Google Now. You can only use the app when it is paired and connected to the JBL Boombox. You also use this JBL Connect app to doing firmware updates as well as to rename your speaker.

There are several LEDs on the Boombox which serve different purposes. The Power button, for example, will glow white when it is one, flash white when on standby, flash blue when in Bluetooth pairing mode, and be solid blue when connected to Bluetooth. The Connect+ will be solid white when in broadcast mode. There are also five LEDs at the bottom that show how much charge is left in the battery.

You can set up the JBL Boombox in stereo mode if you have two of them. One will act as a left speaker and the other as a right one. Once you add one more speaker into the mix, it simply links them all in “party mode.”

So what about the sound? It’s clear and crisp for the highs while booming and strong for the lows. And, even when I maxed out the volume levels with music with heavy bass, I could barely hear distortion, if any at all. I have tested with more modern (teen-approved) music and different songs/artists/styles seem to be handled quick elegantly and clearly. However, I’m truly waiting for the weather to warm up and pool-season to begin to really test the JBL Boombox out (or have my kids just use it and abuse it around the pool). I do want to see how it handles “teen usage” and how well the 24-hour battery truly measures out.

The JBL Boombox does come with a hefty price tag though, unfortunately. But you are paying for the JBL quality of sound, something that I can attest to truly. The Boombox retails for $449.95 and is available on Amazon for $449.95 (as well but I expect the price to drop over time). If you want to pair the Boombox using the JBL Connect+ feature, there are some slightly less expensive models available, specifically the JBL Xtreme (for $229 on Amazon) and the JBL Charge 3 (for $119.90 on Amazon).

Disclosure: I have a material connection because I received a sample of a product, in preparing to review the product and write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. All opinions within this article are my own and are typically not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. Also, some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate” or “advertising” links. These may be automatically created or placed by me manually. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item (sometimes but not necessarily the product or service being reviewed), I will receive a small affiliate or advertising commission. More information can be found on my About page.

HTD says: If you want a booming portable speaker that will last for hours of playback and can handle the elements or a pool environment, the JBL Boombox is that speaker. And while your neighbors probably won’t be happy having the party continue from day and into the night, you can be sure that your friends and family will!

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It’s the start of a new year and probably like many of you, I have a long list of New Year’s Resolutions. Most of them are informal and many of them will be forgotten about after a few weeks. But it’s always good to set goals and at least make an effort to stick to them. Two of mine will hopefully be met by using a single device – a Western Digital My Passport external hard drive. Let me explain. (*Disclosure below.)

The two goals specifically are to teach myself Final Cut Pro (FCP) and to make sure I do regular backups of my laptop. While the My Passport won’t actually teach me FCP, it will get me down that path a bit more easily. And in terms of developing a backup strategy, the My Passport actually gets me a lot closer.

This article is less of a review and more of a couple of use cases. Along my journey towards achieving my resolutions, I learned some interesting tidbits of information and tips so I will be sure to share them along the way.

Resolution #1: Regularly Backup My Hard Drive

Let’s start out with the easy one: setting up a backup strategy. First, the My Passport I received in order to write this article was the 4 TB version. So the high capacity would allow me to hopefully achieve both goals. Since FCP files are notoriously large, I wanted to be sure I had space for them. And the more space you have for backups, particularly and specifically for Time Machine, the further back in history you can go with your Time Machine backup.

Now this particular WD My Passport came formatted and ready to go for Windows. It even has Windows backup software at your beck and call. But I was looking at this for my Mac so I decided that right out of the box, I would reformat the entire drive for my Mac. That way too, I could use it as a Time Machine drive.

This is where my first lesson (and tip for you) comes in to play. I’m running High Sierra, the latest MacOS, and there is a subtle change that I didn’t know about that was done to the Disk Utility. Here’s what happened.

I went to erase (and later partition) the My Passport by attaching the My Passport via its USB 2.0/3.0 connector. It mounted as a Windows-formatted drive just fine so in Disk Utility I went to just format it. I clicked “Erase” and the process failed. I tried it again and it failed again. I ran First Aid and that couldn’t correct the issue. During the process, it became unmounted and I couldn’t remount it. So I disconnected it and tried again. The same thing happened. I tried attaching it to my wife’s PC and it mounted just fine or at least said that it attached.

At that point, I was ready to just give up on resolution #1 (and possibly #2). Then I figured it out.

Within the new High Sierra version of Disk Utility, there is now a drop-down to select either Show Only Volumes or Show All Devices. I was doing all of the actions using the Show Only Volumes which basically meant that I was not at the “highest” level. I needed to be going to the device level. Once I did that, erasing and formatting went fine.

Once I had formatted to a Mac OS Extended volume, I decided to partition the drive, one for Time Machine backups and one for FCP. Once you have a Mac OS Extended volume created for Time Machine, you just select it in the Time Machine system panel. To complete your backup strategy, just leave the hard drive plugged in overnight with your computer on and it will backup automatically.

Another tip that I learned as part of this process, if you format your drive in the new Apple File System (APFS) format and try to create a partition, you will be asked if you want to create a new volume. There are some differences here. These APFS volumes are dynamic (you don’t partition them with a specific size). Also, it doesn’t look like these new volume types work with Time Machine…yet.

Resolution #2: Start Learning Final Cut Pro

So let’s move to my next resolution, teaching myself Final Cut Pro. Again, the WD My Passport doesn’t actually teach me, but it does enable me to learn a bit easier. And if will help once I start working on FCP projects in the long run. FCP projects are pretty much self-contained if you want them to me which means you can share them with others or put them on external hard drives for portability as well.

This is what I did for my training. I downloaded the source files for the training into the WD My Passport and then simply plugged in the My Passport to my computers that had FCP installed. No need to drag around different computers, just the tiny My Passport.

Here is another off-topic tip related to learning FCP. There are lots of free and pretty good video courses available online. I would recommend trying those out initially. There are plenty of paid video courses as well, which probably are of better quality and caliber.

You may also want to check out Lynda.com which was purchased a while back by LinkedIn. It’s a great site full of training videos and courses. It is a premium site meaning you pay a monthly subscription fee to access the content. There are two plans available: Basic (starts at $19.99/month) and Premium (starts at $29.99/mo). The Premium plan adds project files for practicing and offline viewing of the courses.

But here is another little tip on how you might be able to get a plan for free! First, check with your work to see if they might have corporate access to Lynda. In one of my previous jobs, this was one of the perks (and there are a lot of good business courses in the Lynda catalog). If you don’t have access through work, you might want to see if your local public library has access. To check if your work or your school or your local library has access, head over to the Sign In page and click on the “Sign in with your organization portal” and put in the URL of your work, school, or local library (take off the HTTP/S).

I did this with my local library (it was listed on their site as well) and all that I had to do was apply (online) for a library card account. I did this in minutes and was given full access to Lynda. So, how does this relate to the WD My Passport hard drive? Well, with my access to Lynda, I was able to download all of the project files in order to follow along with a 9+ hour course, AND, I stored these practice files on the My Passport so that I could learn at home and at work on different computers. The practice files are over 9 GB so it’s nice to NOT have them stored locally.

Once I have mastered the FCP basics, I can then use the My Passport for all of my FCP projects moving forward, all in a small, portable external storage device that I carry with me.

A Bit More About the Western Digital My Passport

Of course, you probably want to know a bit more about the My Passport.

Here are some specs:

  • It comes in multiple size options: 1TB, 2TB, 3TB, and 4TB
  • it comes in multiple colors: Black, Blue, Red, Orange, Yellow, and White
  • It is USB 3.0 (and USB 2.0 compatible) and comes with a short cable
  • It measures 3.21” wide by 4.33” long
  • Depending on the capacity, it is either 0.64” thick (for 1TB version) or 0.85” thick (for 2, 3, or 4TB versions)
  • Comes formatted for Windows (10, 8, or 7)
  • Comes with auto-backup software for Windows (but if you follow my steps above, you will reformat it for the Mac)
  • It is self-powered (through the USB connection)

The pricing depends on the capacity you choose, any of which is quite reasonable. (Current Amazon pricing is listed in parenthesis and may vary by color choice.)

That is pretty inexpensive when you think about it, especially if it helps you knock off a few New Year’s Resolutions!

Summary of Tips Learned from Using the My Passport Hard Drive

As this article wove in some tips that I discovered while using the My Passport, I thought I would quickly summarize them.

Tip #1 – MacOS High Sierra has some subtle changes to the Disk Utility. Be sure you choose “Show All Devices” when you go to Erase and Format.

Tip #2 – If you format the My Passport with APFS, you won’t be able to use Apple Time Machine.

Tip #3 – If you use APFS, you can set up containers instead of partitions which is faster.

Tip #4 – There are many good Final Cut Pro training videos available for free on YouTube and other places.

Tip #5 – You can possibly get a FREE Lynda.com through your work, school, or local public library (see info above)

Hope those tips helped! All of them were driven by my usage of the Western Digital My Passport external hard drive. So far, it’s really getting me down the path towards a very productive 2018!

Disclosure: I have a material connection because I received a sample of a product for consideration in preparing to review the product and write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. All opinions within this article are my own and are typically not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. Also, some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate” or “advertising” links. These may be automatically created or placed by me manually. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item (sometimes but not necessarily the product or service being reviewed), I will receive a small affiliate or advertising commission. More information can be found on my About page.

HTD says: It’s always good to have goals when you start a new year. And it’s even better when a little gadget like the WD My Passport external hard drive can help you accomplish those goals more productively and learn something in the process.

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If you know someone who gives a lot of presentations, you are probably going to want to read this review of the Logitech Spotlight cordless presenter. I saw it in action on a recent trip overseas during all-day meetings and presentations and realized that I not only had to get one, I needed to write a quick review of it. (*Disclosure below.)

You need to think about the Logitech Spotlight as the laser pointer evolved. Sure a bright red dot jittering across a presentation screen works, somewhat. But that is tech of the 90’s if you ask me. And what happens if you point at a large HD screen or a small monitor? That dancing red dot disappeared and your “point” gets lost, literally.

Luckily Logitech has a solution to move your presentations to the next level, essentially the modern age. With the Logitech Spotlight, you not only can captivate viewers and get them focused on the specific content you want, you also have additional presenter capabilities built right into your magical presenter’s wand. Let’s take a look at the setup and features of the Logitech Spotlight.

Setting Up the Logitech Spotlight

First, let’s talk about what you get in the box. It’s nicely packaged and presented like many Logitech devices.

In there box, you get:

  • Presentation remote
  • Proprietary receiver (USB)
  • Documentation
  • Charging cable
  • Carrying pouch
 One nice design element is the USB receiver which cleverly plugs into the base of the Presentation Remote when it’s not plugged into a USB port of a computer. A quick side note here. The USB plug is NOT type C so if you have a new Mac or PC, you will need to get an adapter. Or you can simply pair the Presentation Remote via Bluetooth for the same functionality.

While the Remote does come charged, to charge it up, you need to remove the USB receiver from inside the remote and plug in the charging cable (which happens to be a USB type C connector inside the remote). Is your presentation starting in just a few minutes? With just a 1-minute charge, you will have 3 hours of presenting power, and in about an hour, you will have fully charged the Logitech Spotlight. A full charge is supposed to last about 3 months so if you want to just throw it in a bag for a while, you still should be good to go later.

To set up the Logitech Spotlight, you need to plug in the USB dongle (although you could also simply pair via Bluetooth). To get the most out of the Spotlight, you really should install the software. The companion software allows you to set up your preferences for how you want the Spotlight to work (obviously). When you plug in the dongle and install the software (which works on Macs and PCs), you need to connect the Spotlight to your system.

After having it charge briefly, you need to connect it. You do this by pressing the main button on the controller. On my Mac, I also got a prompt to install a keyboard. You can simply ignore that and use the Spotlight software to continue your setup.

Once connected, you have the ability to set up a variety of features which is quite easy to do. Things like configuring a presentation timer which buzzes the remote at specific times, or choosing how you want the pointer to display, or setting if and how you want the additional buttons to work for Next and Back.

With the Timer setting, you can set if you want a clock or timer to display. This is helpful if you have a limited time to present and ensures you (hopefully) stay on track with your slides. This is obviously optional.

The Pointer setting is one that you will want to configure as this is how you can focus the attention on particular items on the screen. And remember, the Spotlight doesn’t need to be just used for presentations and big screens. For the purposes of this review, I simply chose to “highlight” or spotlight my website on my computer. The first option is Highlight. When using this option, a circle appears (you can customize the size of it) and the surrounding area is dimmed out. (You can see examples of this later on in this review.)

Next is the Magnify option. If you want to essentially zoom-in on the area that you want to highlight, choose this option. Like the Highlight option, you can specify the size of the magnifier.

Lastly, you can use the Circle option which simply circles your cursor. Again, you can adjust the size as well as the color of the circle.

In the Hold Next and Hold Back settings, you can configure what happens if you press and hold either the Next or Back buttons (each one is slightly customized based on which button you are holding). You can do things like Fast Forward (e.g., in a video), bringing up a blank screen, scrolling through a document or page, adjusting the volume, or assigning a custom keystroke.

There are some other advanced settings you can tweak as well, and from the settings screen, you can see the status of the Spotlight’s battery (assuming it is on and connected).

That is pretty much all of the options available. I believe Logitech kept the settings for the Spotlight simple and straightforward in order for you to quickly configure and get to presenting. Let’s take a look at how it works.

Using the Logitech Spotlight Presenter

As I mentioned, you are not confined to just using the Logitech Spotlight with a presentation. You can use it to showcase designs, documents, websites, whatever you want. It will simply work on the screen much the same way a mouse does (which makes sense since Logitech is an industry-leader in mouse technology and probably took many of their learnings to apply it to the Spotlight).

Once the dongle is inserted into your computer, you need to connect the Spotlight. You can do that by just pressing and holding the main button. If you are connecting via Bluetooth, the process is the same (except you obviously don’t need to insert the dongle). Remember, you get more functionality with the companion software installed and running. However, you can have limited functionality by not having the software installed, although I wouldn’t recommend that approach. The best thing about the Logitech Spotlight is the enhanced features it provides when presenting.

So, for this review, I simply fired up a browser showing my website and took some screen grabs of the Spotlight doing its thing. This first one shows how the Highlight function works. It focuses the user’s attention on the items within the circle. And you can use the top (spotlight) button as a mouse as well. Press and hold the top button to activate the spotlight function and then you can position your mouse over something and then click that top button again to “click” it.

Next is the Magnify option. If you have that set in the settings when you press the top button, whatever you are pointing at is magnified. Here you can see how I essentially zoomed in on a photo. It’s helpful for showcasing smaller text or details in whatever you are presenting.

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I got my hands on Apple’s latest flagship iPhone about two weeks ago and I haven’t looked back much. Well, to write this article, I guess I kind of have to. The iPhone X is enough of a shift forward that comparisons are inevitable.

I received my iPhone X literally two days before heading on a 14+ hour plane flight to Singapore. I thought this would be a perfect way to do some testing – being away from the comforts of my “home” tech and relying pretty much only on the iPhone X as my virtual tour guide.

Source: Apple.com

A quick side note here: if you are traveling overseas, do some research on various international calling, texting, and data plans. Depending on where you are going, you might be pleasantly surprised with your options. I found out, for example, that AT&T has a plan called International Day Pass which for $10/day gives you full access to roam on partner networks in selected countries and that you simply use the data from your existing US data plan (my family has an unlimited plan). So, I was able to FaceTime my family from the streets of Singapore and not worry about crazy data charges.

But I digress slightly. So yes, in Singapore I could take full advantage of the iPhone X and planned to test a variety of real-world scenarios.

After using the iPhone X for a week overseas and a week with my regular routine at home, I have come up with the following X…er…TEN…observations.

  1. The iPhone X is Fast!
  2. The iPhone X is Refined
  3. Face ID is (Almost) Perfect
  4. New Gestures Take Time to Learn
  5. The Camera is Amazing!
  6. I like the “In-Between” Size
  7. The Screen Is Beautiful
  8. The “Notch”…Well…
  9. It’s Evolving…X is a Stepping Stone
  10. It’s Fun!

Read on to get my observations and commentary on the Apple iPhone X. And if you have your own observations, be sure to leave a comment!

1 – The iPhone X is Fast!

Actually, there is really nothing that new here. With every new iteration of the iPhone, Apple improves the processor. The iPhone X has the A11 Bionic which has a 6-core CPU (there is also a 3-core GPU for graphics). So it would only be logical that the latest and greatest flagship smartphone would be faster.

I didn’t do any benchmarks or scientific tests. I simply migrated all of my data, apps, and settings from an iPhone 7 Plus. And installed some new versions of iOS. So new hardware and software contributed to that “faster feel.”

Also, you can definitely tell (and see) that iOS has been tailored to and optimized for the iPhone X. Apps as well are being refactored for the unique screen (and probably under the hood as well). But like any bright and shiny smartphone, over time there will probably be a perceived or actual slowdown as more apps are loaded up. Time will tell.

For me, however, app launches are snappy and quite responsive. While I don’t game much on my iPhone, a good test of the CPU (processor) and graphics (GPU) is to install and play a game or two. I played a couple of levels of Galaxy on Fire 3 (which I had never played before) and found the responsiveness and display to be simply amazing.

2 – The iPhone X is Refined

I have pretty much every ancient iPhone still in my possession. The evolution of the design is truly impressive. From physical home buttons to soft-touch/Touch ID buttons to no button at all in the iPhone X, the physical evolution is clearly evident.

But there are subtle changes as well. Things like bevels & bezels, hard lines, metal, plastic, and the materials and design have been refined over the iPhone generations. What remains now is almost a bezel-free, edge-to-edge screen, with a highly polished glass back.

Source: Apple.com

One thing about the glass back. Unless you have a grip equal to Spiderman’s, you may want to consider a nice, grippy case, if not just for holding but also for protection. It’s beautiful “naked” no doubt, but it is also one of the most expensive iPhones to repair. Personally, I’m using the low-profile Apple leather case (which does work with wireless charging by the way).

Bottom line, protect that glorious, refined design!

3 – Face ID is (Almost) Perfect

One of the biggest new features of the iPhone X is Face ID. A magical marrying of hardware and software, I absolutely love Face ID. While Touch ID was a giant leap forward, with the removal of the home button, it obviously won’t work without that button…for now. I’m sure future versions of the iPhone will have the ability to have fingerprint recognition through the touchscreen. And if you couple that with Face ID, you’ll have a pretty darn secure smartphone.

For now, Face ID gracefully fills the security hole left vacant after the departure of Touch ID. And it does it quite well, with one exception that I encountered. It simply doesn’t like it when I wear my sunglasses, a known issue for some sunglasses. When wearing them, I have taken to flipping them up to log in.

Other than that, Face ID truly seems much more “secure.” To log in to your iPhone, you simply flick up on the screen. The facial recognition is so fast, you simply don’t need to wait or “pose” for the camera. And if your face isn’t recognized, you can use a passcode to log in (the old fashioned way).

Source: Apple.com

But there is a little nuance that I want to mention. Once you log in, you still have an added layer of security. This really stands out if you have saved passwords in Safari for example. In my iPhone 7 Plus, the user and password fields would automatically populate, no Touch ID required. But with Face ID, prior to populating those secure fields, your face is scanned and only if it is recognized will the fields become pre-populated. I really like that extra layer.

Also, when notifications appear on your lock screen and you aren’t authenticated, you just hold the iPhone X up and once your face is recognized, previews of those notifications will show (if you enable that functionality). It’s a nice privacy feature that prevents others from picking up your phone and reading those notifications.

There are some other things to get used to though. For example, if you purchase something from iTunes or the App Store, you do have to press the button on the right side as well as do face recognition. The old way with Touch ID seems a little bit quicker and more intuitive.

Regardless Face ID IS more secure than Touch ID and much more secure than just a passcode. Oh, and it works in complete darkness too (I guess, just like your fingerprint does)!

4 – New Gestures Take Time to Learn

“Flick” has become my new word to describe gesturing in the iPhone X. Everything has become a flick. To log in, you flick up on the lock screen. To “press the home button” you also flick up from the app or screen you are in. To search, that hasn’t really changed, you flick (or pull) down from the home screen. To get to the Control Center, you flick down from the upper right-hand corner that has battery and signal strength. To get to notifications, you flick down from the upper left-hand corner that has the time. And, the hardest one to achieve, to use Reachability (assuming you have it enabled), you flick up from the very bottom of the screen…slightly. I really haven’t mastered that one yet.

So enough flicking. What about switching apps. After a day or so, this was fairly easy to master. You slide up and HOLD your finger until the apps appear. Once you do that enough, it’s quite easy to do. And then you can flip through all of the open apps on the screen. And what if you want to kill/close an app? Once you are in the open app screen, you press and hold any app until a red circle with a minus sign appears in the upper left-hand corner. You can then either press that little red icon or you can, yes, flick the app you want to close, up, and it closes it. Again, once you do it a few times, it’s pretty darn quick and easy to remember.

And there are some other things you need to get used to that involve the physical buttons. For example, to turn off the iPhone X, you press and hold the right side button in conjunction with either volume buttons. Then, you can slide to power your iPhone off. To get to Apple Pay, you just double-click the right side button. To activate Siri (if you aren’t using the “Hey Siri” voice command), you just press and hold the right side button. One of my favorite things, taking a screenshot, is done by pressing the right side button with the Volume Up button. To Force Restart, another thing I used to use a lot, requires a bit more interaction: quickly press and release the Volume Up button, then the Volume Down button, and then press and hold the right side button until your iPhone restarts. Again, after a few times doing this, your muscle memory will kick in.

But, like anything else, after doing it often enough, you begin to learning. And then, be prepared to be confused with you pick up other people’s older devices. I tried using some of the iPhone X’s gestures on my wife’s iPhone 8 Plus and immediate was paralyzed.

5 – The Camera is Amazing!

I could go on and on about the upgraded camera. It’s got dual 12-megapixel back cameras. While these aren’t the highest MPs in the industry currently, they are pretty darn advanced with dual optical stabilization. I tested out the image stabilization last week, specifically related to video. One of my daughters was in a concert and I wanted to video record the songs she was singing. I actually zoomed in all the way using the digital zoom (which is up to 6x for video). To my surprise, when I played back there video later, there was no noticeable shake or tremor.

And let’s talk about photos. With the iPhone 7 Plus, I pretty much gave up using my DSLR, and just used my iPhone as my primary capture device. In fact, I found that Portrait mode really works quite well for product shots.

I thought my trip to Singapore would be perfect to test out the camera and I was not let down. Throughout the week, I tested a variety of lighting and shooting scenarios (day, night, close-ups, distance, panorama). You can see a few of those examples above and below.

One thing I haven’t gone that deeply into are the various portrait shooting modes like Natural, Studio, Contour, and the two Stagelights. I believe these are still in beta and I’m going to let them become a bit more baked before I comment on them.

However, I must say that nighttime shots are much better because of the wider aperture and larger sensors. And the level of detail of daytime photos is quite vivid as well. There iPhone’s camera just continues to get better.

6 – I Like the “In-between” Size

There has been a lot of discussion on the new form factor and screen size of the iPhone X. If you compare the physical sizes of the recent iPhones, you will see that the X lands right in between the regular and plus sizes.

If, however, you look at the viewable screen areas, you can see the differences. For starters, the length of viewable area is equal to the Plus version. However, the width is a bit narrower. But, if you look at the visible area, you can see the high-density differences.

Ever since the Plus size was available, I tended to prefer it. It was a bit easier on my aging eyes and I also appreciated the larger viewing area as well as the ability to work better with larger hands. Sometimes, however, the larger size made putting into pockets a bit of a challenge as it was “bulky.” The iPhone X now seems to hit that sweet spot of being slightly smaller than the Plus size, but still providing a lot of screen real estate.

The screen is a 5.8” (diagonally measured) Super Retina HD display and it’s the first time Apple has used an OLED panel in the design. It has a 1,000,000 to 1 contrast ratio and is a true HDR display. Since the display goes right to the edges of the iPhone, pretty much all of the pixels are utilized (with the exception of the “notch” which I will go into shortly). To geek out on the specs slightly, the iPhone X has 2436×1125 pixel resolution at 458 PPI. In comparison, the iPhone 8 Plus has 5.5” (diagonally measured) screen with 1920×1080 pixel resolution at 401 PPI and a 1200:1 contrast ratio. As you can see from those two specs alone, there is a bit of a difference.

So what does that translate to? You still get a high-resolution display and pretty much the same area being displayed. Here’s a quick comparison of my site (mobile version) on both the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X.

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For a couple of years now, ever since the original NETGEAR Arlo cordless security camera launched, I’ve had particular areas of my home covered with video security. (You can read my original Arlo review here.) Now I got my hands on the latest and greatest Arlo cordless security camera, the Arlo Pro 2, and I was really curious to see how it stacked up against the original Arlo in terms of installation and usage. To cut to the chase, there are a lot of new and upgraded features I really like! (*Disclosure below.)

My old Arlo system consisted of four outdoor (cord-free) cameras and one wired indoor camera, each connected to an Arlo base station via a secure WiFi connection. I had the free cloud storage plan since I had only 5 cameras on my account but that was the limit. I could look back at recorded video up to seven days before as well as view live streaming video on demand (with the outdoor cameras) and the indoor camera acted in the same way based on how I configured it, recording video based on activity or motion (like the outdoor cameras). The only thing I had to do was replace the (expensive) batteries every month or so. Battery replacement really depends on how much activity the camera has – more activity means faster battery drain. But overall, my old Arlos have been quite reliable.

The new Arlo Pro 2’s builds on the original features and reliability in quite a few ways. I received a pack of two Arlo Pro 2 cameras and a new base station (which was also upgraded). It is important to note that if you have an earlier Arlo base station, the Arlo Pro 2 cameras are compatible with it so if you just want to add new cameras to an existing setup, you can really really do that.

But I wanted to use the latest and greatest so I elected to replace my old base with the new one. This adds a little extra work though. For starters, you will need to remove your old base station from your account. This also means that your existing cameras will become orphaned and you will need to reattach then like new cameras. I was fine starting from scratch so I could essentially go through a new setup. The one thing I didn’t have to do was create a new Arlo account.

Setting up the Arlo Pro 2

So I removed the old base station and added the new one easily. All you need to do is just plug it into your network and launch the Arlo app.

Just choose add base station and watch the lights on the base station go green.

Once the device is discovered, you will be prompted to add each of the cameras. So I had to (re)add my cameras.

You can actually crank through this process fairly quickly. I’d recommend renaming each camera as you go so that you know which one will go where.

When you place the base station, you need to treat it the same way you would a WiFi router because it is exactly that. So place it up high and away from obstacles or interference-causing items. Also, try to position if in the center of where the cameras will be.

Once you have set up all of the cameras, you need to go mount or place them. This is where the Arlo Pro 2’s begin to shine. This version allows you to either power it via the rechargeable battery or to plug into the wall directly. The camera 2-pack with base station comes with just one plug though. In the box, you get:

  • Two Arlo Pro 2 cameras
  • Two rechargeable batteries (one for each camera)
  • One base station (with siren)
  • One indoor power cable
  • One indoor power adapter
  • One Ethernet cable (to connect the base station to your network)
  • Two wall mounts for the camera
  • Screws
  • Manual
  • Security sticker 

One advantage of plugging the Arlo Pro 2 camera directly into power instead of using the battery is that you can use non-stop video recording as an option (you can’t do this on battery power). Personally, I like placing the Arlo in areas that are often hard to reach with electrical or hidden away.

But to that point of remote placement and power, NETGEAR also has an accessory specifically designed to solve that challenge. It’s a mounted solar panel. While the NETGEAR site says that the Solar Panel (VMA4600) works with the Arlo Pro (original Pro) and the Arlo Go cameras, I do believe they are compatible with the Arlo Pro 2 cameras as well. (Actually confirmed on the Arlo Support Community.)

Using the Arlo Pro 2 Cameras

Unless you use the plugged-in method that I mentioned above, the Arlo Pro’s wait patiently until motion is detected and when it is, it sends out alerts and begins recording. You can then either view the recording (and listen to the audio – something new for me since there original Arlos didn’t have that capability), or you can click to watch the live stream view. It’s important to remember that the video quality and responsiveness truly depends on a couple of factors: the strength of WiFi signal between camera and base station and your mobile device’s signal strength. This holds true with the 2-way audio as well. If you have a bad connection, the audio responsiveness may not be immediate. But from my testing, the 2-way audio performed fairly well. Your mileage may vary (same with the video) based on the strength of the WiFi signal (which you can check in the Arlo app).

If you have the Arlo plugged into power, you have the ability to continuously capture video, or capture activity-triggered events as well. The difference here is a feature called the 3-Second Look Back. With this active, the Arlo will record 3 seconds prior to an activity being detected so that you understand what was going on before an event happened.

Another big difference between the Arlo Pro 2 and my original Arlo is the video resolution and the angle of the viewing area. The Arlo Pro 2 has 1080p HD quality video as well as a 130-degree viewing angle. The original Arlo is 720p and 110-degree viewing angle. You can see there difference below.

This is the original Arlo:

Original Arlo resolution and field of view

And this is the Arlo Pro 2:

Arlo Pro 2 resolution and field of view

Since I’m comparing the two versions, I should note that the Arlo Pro 2’s are slightly bigger and fatter that there original ones. But, the innovative magnetic dome used for mounting and positioning the camera is the same size. I actually simply demoted my older Arlos to areas having less traffic and promoted the Arlo Pro 2’s to important positions. The higher resolution, 2-way audio, and rechargeable batteries were three deciding factors for placing the Pro 2’s in high-traffic areas.

Once you have the Arlo Pro 2’s set up to your liking, you can connect your Arlo service to other Smart Home services. I have mine integrated with my Wink Hub 2. One “robot” that I set up within my Wink configuration was to watch for activity in the front of my house which would then trigger some lights to go on inside my house. This gives the appearance that when activity is detected, someone is reacting and turning on the lights. You can do similar configurations using IFTTT. There are some interesting IFTTT Applets that have been created using the Arlo. You can see some of them here. Things like calling your phone when motion is detected, or geofencing that turns off the Arlo security when you enter a pre-defined location.

Oh, one more thing about the new Arlo Pro 2 base station…it has a 100+ decibel alarm that can be remotely triggered using the app.

I’ve been using the Arlo Pro 2’s for about a month now and really like the ability to charge the rechargeable batteries instead of having to have batteries on hand to replace those “tired” batteries of the original Arlo. In fact, I just charged one of the Pro 2’s last night as I received the “tired” warning. The camera had about 15% left on the battery so I took it off the mount, plugged it into the USB cord/charger, and an hour or so later, it was fully charged and back in action. I realize I should have timed the charging process after the fact, but from what I informally measured, it only took an hour or so to fully charge.

Another nice thing about these weather-proof security cameras is that with the new Arlo Pro 2 base station, you can optionally plug in a USB drive to store your recordings locally instead of having to rely on the Arlo cloud storage. I haven’t tested this out yet, but it’s an intriguing option to have. Speaking about storage, as I mentioned before, there are a couple of options for storing your security videos, specifically:

  • Basic Plan – FREE option for 7-days of recording storage up to 5 cameras (limited 3-month support)
  • Premier Plan – $99/year or $9.99/month for 30-days of recording storage up to 10 cameras (unlimited support)
  • Elite Plan – $149/year or $14.99/month for 60-days of recording and up to 15 cameras (unlimited support)
  • CVR (Continuous Video Recording) Plan Add-on – if you have a plugged-in camera (does not work with battery-powered camera), you have two plans available – $99/year ($9.99/mo) for 14-days continuous recording, or $199/year ($19.99/mo) for 30 days – these are per-camera prices

Since I’m talking about pricing here, it would be good to outline the costs of the Arlo Pro 2’s. If you are setting up a new system, you probably will want to get a package (camera plus base station). A 2-camera plus base station setup retails for $479.99 (and you can get it on Amazon for $479.99 as well since it is a new product – but the price WILL drop). If you want a larger setup, you can get the 4-camera plus base station for $799.99. If you have an existing Arlo setup, you can buy the cameras on their own for $219.99 (or $219.99 on Amazon, again, the price will drop over time). There is also a bundle on Amazon that includes the base station, two Pro 2 cameras, AND a Solar Panel for $554.90.

So, yes, the systems are pricey, but if you want to put a price on your home (or business) security and peace of mind, you need to weigh those options. Most people, I would think, would be fine with just using the Free (Basic) cloud storage plan so you..

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