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App Reviews

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Sen.se Peanuts review: The coolest way to monitor your fridge, rooms, cookie jars... as long as you can rely on Bluetooth

Sen.se is a relatively new entrant in the connected home and IoT space. The company's most prominent product is the Mother, an oddly shaped humanoid-like hub that connects to small "Cookies" you can intersperse everywhere to monitor motion, temperature, presence/absence. The concept is interesting: Sen.se bills it as a way to keep an eye on different things and people around your home, including how often someone brushes their teeth or when the cookie jar is opened. But the price is on the very exorbitant side of the equation: Sen.se sells the Mother for €242 on its store and it retails for about $200 on Amazon in the US.

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Wink Hub 2 review: Powerful home automation made approachable and fun

I bought an apartment in October. You can imagine the joy at the thought that it'd be my future family's home, terror at the sight of the mortgage value on the signed contract, and all the excitement about getting to set up a house from scratch. I could pick everything that I loved from design to materials to colors to organization, and yes, also automation.

I wanted lights that turn on when the doors open, A/C units that cool the place when I'm coming home and the outside heat is too much to bear, cameras that catch intruders the moment they are detected, a washing machine that notifies me when the load is done, colored lights that coordinate with whatever I'm watching on TV, blinds that open and close with the sunset and sunrise, and much more.

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Fitbit Flex 2 review: Fitbit jumps in the pool for the first time and doesn't drown

For the past 4 years, I've been wearing a Fitbit device of some sort. I started with the One, which stuck with me for the better part of 3 years, then I tried the Blaze, the Alta, and the Charge 2. My main complaint with each of these trackers was the lack of water-resistance, which meant that I couldn't wear them in the pool or track my swims with them. I've tried several swim trackers including the Misfit Shine 2 Swim Edition and Amiigo, looking for something that could replace Fitbit, but the best that I found was the Garmin vivoactive, which has excellent swim tracking and can send the main stats to Fitbit through MyFitnessPal.

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Blink home security camera review: An interesting proposition that falters in execution

When I first heard about the Blink security cameras, I was immediately impressed and intrigued. Having tried both the Piper and Canary in my pharmacy, to more or less mitigated results, the Blink seemed like the perfect solution.

Piper (full review) suffers from one major flaw: the camera doesn't turn itself back on after a power failure if the back-up battery is empty (and since we have lots of blackouts here in Lebanon, I got tired of buying new batteries every two or three weeks). It also doesn't have a native scheduled arm/disarm feature; I really shouldn't have to manually arm and disarm my cameras when a simple time-based schedule is easy to implement.

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Amazon Echo Dot 2nd gen review: A delightful and cheap way to get started with voice assistants

Amazon's Echo success took me a little by surprise. It seemed like we went overnight from questioning the idea of a voice assistant in a speaker to almost everyone owning an Echo and companies rushing to add Alexa support for their services and products. Part of what seemed like a quick success is due to the Echo Dot, the smaller cheaper version that you can sprinkle around the house in places where you don't care about excellent sound quality.

The second generation Echo Dot builds on that. Unlike the first one, you can order it directly from Amazon without having to use another Echo.

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Canary review: A connected security camera that nails the essentials, stumbles on the bonus features

You don't understand the feeling of violation that a theft causes until you open the door to your home and see everything moved, turned, tossed, and the muddy footprints of a stranger everywhere on your floor, your kitchen cabinets open, and even your bedspread removed and balled up in the garden. That happened to my family's mountain house many, many years ago, and I still remember the feeling of disgust over the scene as well as helplessness with all the police procedures that followed. The perpetrators were never caught, just like any minor theft that occurs in Lebanon — they only took small appliances — and we ended up installing gates and locks on all the windows and doors.

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Hands-on with MUVIZ Nav Bar Audio Visualizer: Really neat if you are into this sort of thing

Music is definitely everywhere. From our own personal libraries and streaming stations to advertisements and entertainment, it is a fundamental part of who we are as individuals and as a culture (for better or for worse). Since music is just noise (how's that for a scientific breakthrough), I have always found it neat to see the visual representation of the soundwaves in line with the song that is playing. Back when Windows Media Player was a thing, I always turned on the visualizer, finding it much more entertaining than staring at the album art — or worse, the placeholder image when no art was available.

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Withings Body Cardio review: A gorgeous smart scale that worries about your cardiac health

My arsenal of smart health and activity trackers has been missing a body composition weight scale. The Fitbit Aria always looked appealing to me because I've been wearing a Fitbit for more than 3 years, but it's getting a little outdated. Several months ago, I was looking at the Polar Balance Scale, the Withings WS-50, the Garmin Index Smart Scale, and a few others. Eventually, I settled on the QardioBase because I already had a good experience with the QardioArm and liked the company's no-nonsense approach to design and health. However, I was unlucky enough to get the first generation, which turned out to be a complete failure from the get-go.

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Google Duo review: When video calls are this simple, I will surely use them more

Of the two communication apps that Google announced at I/O, Duo surely seemed like the less interesting one. Video calls have been done again and again, and by now, if you have someone you want to talk to and see at the same time, odds are you already have your preferred way of doing that. But my last few days with Duo have shown me another side to the story. Duo isn't trying to revolutionize video calls, it just wants to approach them from a more modern perspective, one that builds on our smartphone-carrying habits, our needs for immediacy, and our disdain for complexity.

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Fitbit Blaze review: A great activity tracker that looks like a smartwatch, wants to be a sports watch, and is neither

Activity trackers are not miracle workers. Wearing a Fitbit isn't going to make you healthier, just like buying a piano for the living room won't make you a pianist. They're not going to force you to take a run instead of eating bags of Doritos while binge watching House of Cards for an entire weekend, and they're not magic pills that will do the hard work for you.

Activity trackers, however, are invaluable tools and immense help if you really want to get healthier and/or stay healthy. If you have already made the decision to be more active and it isn't just a spur of the moment, short-lived resolution, then activity trackers can be one more weapon in your arsenal.

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