October 15, 2018 - Episode 509 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

Hosted by Scott Ertz and Avram Piltch, F5 Live is a livecast covering the worlds of gadgets, gaming, Internet and media.

Amidst Fresh on the Mind Privacy Problems, Facebook Announces Controversial Video Device

Anyone who is unaware of Facebook's privacy and security violations does not live in the same century as the rest of us. Between major controversies like Cambridge Analytica and their recent data breach, faith and trust in the company is not in a great place. All of that makes this week's announcement even more surprising: Facebook is launching Portal: an Alexa-powered smart display and video chatting device.

These new devices, dubbed Portal and Portal+, are, on the surface, pretty standard fare. They have a screen, a camera, and a microphone array. They respond to a voice command, in this case, "Hey Portal," and theoretically ignore all other content. They have video calling built-in, using Facebook Messenger, and use the microphone array to minimize background noise. Even the body of the base device looks nearly identical to an Echo Show Gen 2.

While the basics are pretty generic, there are some distinguishing features. For example, using some AI features, the camera is capable of some interesting tricks. As people move around in the frame, or people enter and exit the frame, the field of view can be adjusted automatically. It's like having a director of videography living in your kitchen. This is far from the first consumer product to offer a feature like this - even Skype offers a version - but none of them work quite as seamlessly as the Portal.

The really interesting aspect of the Portal has nothing to do with the product, and more to do with the timing and marketing. With such a low level of trust in the company and their handling of data, bringing out what amounts to a spy device right now has created an interesting scenario for the company: getting people to want a Portal in their home. They've gone to a lot of trouble in their marketing material to create a feeling of privacy. In fact, more of their website is dedicated to privacy than any other feature. Privacy seems to be the only feature that has a sub-page on the domain.

From little things like a camera cover to big things, like locally-running AI, they are talking a lot about privacy. They make one claim that others have made in the past, "Facebook doesn't listen to, view or keep the contents of your Portal video calls. Your Portal conversations stay between you and the people you're calling." Usually, when other companies have made a big deal about this, it has turned out to be misleading at best, and an outright lie at worst. Facebook's track record makes me lean more to the latter than the former.

Are you interested in a Facebook Portal? Let us know in the comments.

Announcing a New Breakthrough Alert System for Meds with HEXIS (PLuGHiTz Live Special Events)

Many people old and young have problems keeping track of and remembering to take their medications. Lenny George and another co-founder have developed a wonderful adherence device, which they call HEXIS from CueMed. This device is a voice-enabled connected pill organizer designed to contain your meds. It can hold up to 7 days worth of pills, as many as 14 pills a day and can separate them into 4 groups per day. It comes in a smart-looking little tower that contains 7 containers for your medications. It is a very discreet way to have your meds handy without advertising that you are carrying them. HEXIS recognizes only your voice and will only respond to you, keeping your medication schedule private.

Lenny states that there are as much as 65% of prescription users that do not finish their meds. This can have very serious side effects, resulting in hospitalizations, and increased or recurring illnesses. He also tells of his co-founder having trouble with her thyroid meds. It seems that "life problems" get in the way as they do for so many people.

HEXIS keeps you on track by educating you that there are serious consequences to not taking them on time or at all. This device can also be work with other health devices such as Fitbit, glucose meters or blood pressure monitors or electronic scales that track your sleep, heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. Proper monitoring is so very important to your health and HEXIS is a way to make it easy. This isn't just a pill organizer but it actually has an analytic approach to help you form and keep good health habits to ensure your improving health. They have gone through several prototypes to come up with the correct hardware solution that serves as your personal health coach.

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Apple Preventing People From Repairing Devices They Own

Over the past few years, the trend of electronics companies preventing consumers from making alterations to their devices has been on the rise. When it came to videogame consoles, one of the early implementors, it made some sense: altering a console could cause cheating, which is no fun for those who play legitimately. But, as the trend left gaming consoles, it went from a policy to protect a community to a policy to protect corporate profits.

We've seen phones and laptops seal their bodies, even preventing their owners from changing something as simple as a battery - a capability that both had previously had for decades. All of these changes have been made difficult or nearly impossible, but if you had the determination, you could make the repair and continue to use your device. All of that is about to change, however.

This week, it was revealed that Apple has made a change to its 2018 MacBook Pros and iMac Pros, updating a piece of hardware included in their computers specifically to punish people who want to fix a product they own. The new version of the chip, the T2, will temporarily self-destruct the computer if certain repairs or upgrades are performed without authorization. These actions include anything involving the display assembly, logic board, keyboard or trackpad, or Touch ID board. These are some of the most common and most expensive repairs, which causes owners to look for less expensive options. Unfortunately, to get the computer back up and running after a repair, Apple's Toolkit 2 has to be run to unlock the device.

In addition to being a downer to owners themselves, this policy change is going to add several new complications to the macOS ecosystem. First and foremost is computer repair stores. Most are not able to get certified Apple Authorized, which means that these companies will no longer be able to repair or upgrade these computers for their customers without making things worse.

This will also create a new complication for people looking to purchase a used Mac. Similar to Xbox, PlayStation, iPhone, and other devices, there is now a risk of purchasing a used Mac that is theoretically fully functional and even potentially upgraded, but which doesn't work.

This policy has nothing to do with security and everything to do with greed on Apple's part. Apple wants you to bring your computer to an Apple Store or an authorized repair center (which pays for that right), rather than taking it to your local computer shop, so that they can charge customers far above market rate for repairs. Hopefully, other manufacturers won't follow Apple's terrible lead in this area.

Amazon Announced a Line of Useful and Bizarre New Products

Any time Amazon holds a device announcement event, there is no telling what they might show off. This week, the company held a semi-surprise reveal and it did not disappoint in the surprise category. We were aware that there was a DVR coming and there were rumors of a microwave, but other than that, there was no preparing for the event, and that is exactly what Amazon was going for.

In this Alexa-themed event, Amazon showed off some of what we have come to expect: a new Echo Dot, a new Echo Plus, and a new Echo Show. These were existing products in the Amazon catalog that simply got an annual refresh. They also added some products to the lineup that were pretty standard, such as the Echo Input, which is simply an input for an existing speaker system, with a price point of $35. They also showed the Echo Auto, following the lead of some of their hardware partners, bringing Alexa to the car.

Then there were the less-than-expected products. For example, we had heard rumors of an AmazonBasics microwave earlier in the week, but what the product turned out to be was way stranger than we could have expected. The microwave is Alexa-controllable but does not have Alexa built-in. Instead, the microwave takes commands from Alexa devices, such as the Input, Dot or Show, and acts on them. During the presentation, the microwave cooked some potatoes through Alexa input. While Alexa might not be built-in, Dash is, meaning that you can easily replenish your waning popcorn reserves easily.

In addition to the microwave was arguably the strangest of all of the new products: the Echo Wall Clock. This is a fairly standard analog clock which, unlike other Echo-branded products, does not have Alexa built-in. So, what makes this clock special and, more importantly, bizarre? The ring of 60 LEDs around the outside of the clock face. When you set a timer through Alexa, on a different device, the rings will light up and help you count down the timer in 60-second ticks. For example, if you're in the kitchen and ask Alexa to remind you in 20 minutes to check the chicken, 20 of the 60 LEDs will light up and count you down. It's an interesting solution to a problem that I'm not sure exists. At least the clock is self-setting, auto-adjusting for Daylight Savings Time, and only runs $30.

In addition to Echo devices, Amazon also showed off the Fire TV Recast: the DVR product we heard details about last month. This $230 device allows you to connect an antenna wherever you get the best reception and watch the content itself, both live and recorded, somewhere more convenient. It certainly makes the configuration of an antenna-based entertainment system far more effective. Essentially, you can stream the content from the Borg Cube-looking device to just about any Fire TV or Tablet device, Echo show, iOS or Android device.

This product lineup feels a lot like the same Amazon that launched the Fire Phone: a company throwing a bunch of crazy ideas at the wall and hoping something sticks. The products that have the biggest potential to fail this time around, however, took a lot less research and development investment than the Fire Phone did. That means that, even if these products fail miserably, the loss to Amazon is lessened.

Which of Amazon's new products are you most excited for (if any)? Let us know in the comments.

September 16, 2018 - Episode 508 (F5 Live: Refreshing Technology)

This week, Apple wasn't completely honest in their presentation, Nintendo isn't completely in sync with their customers and Netflix wants to recommend a complete solution for producers.

Introducing Nehbur: A Fantastic New App for Rentals (PLuGHiTz Live Special Events)

Have you ever found yourself in need of something for whatever project you are working on and just don't have it? Now there is a platform for sharing items with your neighbors that they or you don't need or use all the time. It's called Nehbur, co-founded by Chris Reel from Canada.

Nehbur is a rental platform designed to provide items to share by renting or selling to your neighbors and friends. The purpose is to try to bring neighbors and communities together in a symbiotic manner. One example is given by Chris. He told of a time when he saw for sale an electronic drum set. He, being an avid drummer, was blown away by the sale price of $100. when they usually go for at least $1400. He called and asked if there was something wrong with the set. The girl told him that there was nothing wrong, but she just had to make her rent. He realized that if she rented the drum set out over and over she would make more than her rent, and possibly recoup her cost of the set AND she would get to keep it! The idea for Nehbur was born.

Another very good example is when the PLuGHiTz Live team arrived at Collision and found out we were without monitors. We had to immediately have a late-night road trip to purchase some. If this app had been available, we could have rented them from someone local instead. We were not alone with this problem. The Nehbur team itself had to locate a screen for their booth at Collision.

This obviously-needed is not yet available but should be in the near future. For more information on this important app, go to their website.

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Kano Computer Kit Touch - Episode 176 (Piltch Point)

This week, Avram Piltch discusses one of the most recent products he has had the opportunity to review: the Kano Computer Kit Touch. In March, Avram introduced us to the Kano Computer Kit, and this new model addresses one of the issues identified in the previous model: a lack of touchscreen. Most kids expect a screen to be touchable and making a kids device that required a keyboard and mouse was not a completely natural pairing. While the new model does bring touch, it does not bring touch-friendly capabilities to the platform in all places. Avram expects this to be addressed over time.

Apple Event: Misinformation, Misconceptions and Missing Products

This week was Apple's annual iPhone announcement event and the company did what it does best - talk about their products like there's never been anything like them in the history of man. Of course, everyone knows that it's simply hyperbole because almost all phones on the market are exactly like it - often times better than it. While hyperbole involves a small level of misinformation, or at the very least a rewriting of the scale of information, Apple took it to a new level this year.


If you watched the announcement livestream, you noticed there were a couple of points where Apple announced seemingly improbable features and accomplishments. The first and most misleading of these announcements involved the FDA and Apple Watch. With the words that Apple Watch's ECG technology had been cleared by the FDA, the room went nuts. It certainly sounds like an exciting step for a company who doesn't make medical products. However, that is exactly what they said - the FDA does not consider it to be a medical quality product. In fact, "cleared" means almost nothing when it comes to the FDA. According to Apple, they have actually received "a De Novo classification by the FDA" which means that the FDA simply considers the device to be of low risk in its existence, not that it has any medical use or that its data is accurate. The ECG app on the Apple Watch does not do any analysis, it simply allows you to give data to a medical professional, which is why the FDA says that the device is unlikely to cause harm. There are scenarios, however, where it can.

Another statement that was made that sounded like it meant something different from what it meant involved the screen on the iPhone. A casual mention of the iPhone screen's 120Hz refresh rate suggested that the phone's screen had a 120Hz refresh rate. That would have put the device on par with the Razer Phone and would have been a feature welcomed by photographers, videographers, editors and gamers alike. This would have set the iPhone apart from its competition and would have been an actual game changer for Apple. Unfortunately, the refresh rate on the iPhone screen is 60Hz and, instead, the touch sensor's refresh rate is 120Hz. This is not only not a game changer, it is not a change from last year's iPhone X.

Missing Features

It is official - Apple is 100% done with the headphone jack. No iPhone currently available from the company features the last standard connector that Apple included on its mobile devices. iPhone users are now stuck with using a Lightning to headphone adaptor, using headphones with a DAC built-in (like the Monster Elements) or going full Bluetooth. DAC-enabled headphones are few and far between and are not inexpensive. Bluetooth headphones have their problems - the biggest being the requirement to charge. If your battery dies so does the music.

Adapters are not great because they easily get lost or damaged, but at least Apple includes the adapter in the box. Or, should I say they used to. Starting now, no more adapters included with iPhones. If you want to continue using your favorite headphones with your new iPhone, you had better already have the adapter or shell out another $9. Definitely a disappointment.

Missing Product

Last year, along with the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, Apple announced that they had officially accepted the industry standard of wireless charging - Qi. Both of these devices support charging via Qi, marking the final major manufacturer to get on board with this feature. Like many handset manufacturers, in addition to a device that charges using Qi, they also showed off a Qi charger: AirPower. Like many other Qi chargers on the market, AirPower had multiple charging coils and was designed to charge an iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods.

Despite the fact that there was literally nothing special about the product, it was mysteriously delayed. Time. And. Again. In fact, it has still not been released. Even more importantly, it was not mentioned at this year's event at all. Being delayed for over a year now, and with absolutely no mention of the product at their event this year, we can assume that Apple has given up on AirPower. Maybe thye saw what everyone else saw - there was nothing special about the product and therefore had no way to upcharge for it. All we know is that it is nowhere to be seen.

The Amazing Race for Space is Easily Solved with Win-Kel (PLuGHiTz Live Special Events)

Imagine that you are a college student and your dorm is closing for the summer. You have a big problem of where to store your stuff. The choices are limited. You can either rent an expensive storage unit or if you are lucky, you can find a friend with available space to rent. This is what happened to Yoshi Tsuji and Win-Kel was created. Win-Kel is a company that is like an Airbnb for storage space rental, either as a lessor or a lessee.

In the marketplace, you can find people who either have space that they are looking to rent out or people who need that space. The cost is a lot less than the price of commercial storage spaces. You only have to pay for the specific size you need, such as a 3x7 rather than a 5x10. Besides the example of the college student, another scenario is if you have traveled to a convention site and after your business is done you want to explore the area. What do you do with your things such as your big table? That is what Win-Kel is perfect for. You can choose to travel around for any number of days you want and those are the number of days you pay for, no more days than what you need. Other companies would lock you into a pricey monthly contract. Win-Kel totally frees you up to enjoy the area without worrying about getting back before your contract is up.

Win-Kel is partnering with Google now and they want to go international within 2 years. The app is available now for Android and iOS and listings can be created and found nationally now. For more information go to their website.

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