Loading the Stuff...

Review: Mpow Seashell Bluetooth Sport Headphones

Mpow Seashell Bluetooth HeadphonesDisclosure: An Mpow representative shared this product with me in return for an unbiased review, and I promise that is what follows.

Packaging

These headphones were packaged very well. The box has a magnetic closure allowing you to store your headphones in it again. In addition to the headphones, there are small, medium, and large ear cushions as well as ear stabilizers in the same sizes. And finally, a small user guide.

Build Quality

Build quality of the Mpow headphones appears to be of very good quality. They are very lightweight, but quite solid. The band that connects the headphones is very flexible and is ribbon-shaped so it won’t tangle or kink. The ear cushions and stabilizers are pliable but very durable. Overall, I am impressed with how well-made these headphones are.

Fitting & Comfort

The Mpow Seashell headphones fit great. At first, I thought I might be constantly refitting them during my activities, but then I adjusted the stabilizers in a non-obvious way (at least non-obvious to me). I rotated them toward the back for my ear instead of pointing upward. Once I did that, these headphones stayed in place no matter what. Awesome! So I encourage you to experiment with the cushions and stabilizers. For me, the results were remarkable. The Mpow Seashells are pretty darn comfortable, overall. They’re feather-light and a pleasure to wear during long activities.

Pairing

These headphones pair fast! When I turn them on, they immediately connect to my iPhone 6s. Initial pairing as a cinch. Have the headphones off, put them on, press the multifunction button for about 5 seconds, the audio prompt will indicate that it’s pairing. I tapped the Mpow entry in my phone’s Bluetooth settings, and it was paired in seconds. And when I turn them back on, they’re immediately connected to my phone. I do this several times per day, so it’s convenient to never need to troubleshoot the Bluetooth connection. This may be related to the new Bluetooth 4.1 spec that these headphones support (and thankfully so does my phone). Establishing the Bluetooth connections is always as smooth as silk. It’s just really nice to have such reliably quick connections.

Sound

Talking about sound is always the most controversial part of any product review. It’s such as subjective aspect, but let me try to be as objective as possible. The Mpow Seashell headphones sound just fine, and they’re great for workouts and activities. While I could not get them to reproduce low-end/bass (even by tweaking my phone’s equalizer settings), the high-end/treble sounds terrific. Bottom line: They’re not going to reproduce sound like expensive, high-end products, and that’s okay. I appreciate those products as well as anyone else, and these Mpow Seashell headphones sound great for its product segment. And they sound very good at low and high volumes.

Using Them

I’ve used these while at my desk job, working out, and doing yardwork. At my job, the Mpow Seashells were comfortable and provided the convenience of being cordlessly connected to my phone. During my workouts, they were just as comfortable and out of the way the whole time. And I don’t recall needing to adjust them. Very nice! While doing yardwork, I noticed the headphone’s band would become lopsided while I was raking leaves. This led to tugging when I would switch to rake the other direction. The solution: Let the band hang in front of your neck. They’re lightweight, and it allowed me to rake trouble-free after that.
When I take the headphones out of my ears and let them rest on my shoulders, I notice that the microphone side of the headphones tended to slide forward. This isn’t a big deal but something to be aware of so you don’t lose them on a run.

The Mpow’s volume and multifunction buttons control my iPhone’s playback just like the headphones that came with it. Volume, skip back, skip forward, and pause are all available.

Phone call performance was terrific. During one call I switched from the phone to the Mpow Seashells, and the caller didn’t notice (I mentioned it later in the call). And the headphone controls work as you’d expect during calls, too.

You can invoke your phone’s voice controls by pressing the multifunction button for about 2 seconds and then releasing. I do this, and Siri is waiting for my command.

Conclusion

It’s easy to recommend the Mpow Seashell headphones. They’re terrific for activities or just lounging around. They sound great especially for this price segment. And the Bluetooth performance is the best I have ever experienced. These headphones go with me everywhere.

Your Privacy Versus The Government

Data SecurityWith the proliferation of mobile devices around the world, data security on these devices is getting truly serious attention. Apple, Google, Microsoft, and others are automatically encrypting data on these devices. This encryption is getting so strong that it has intelligence and law enforcement agencies very concerned. They’re worried they won’t be able to get into these devices during investigations.

What Is Encryption?

I won’t be getting too technical, but here is the concept: The data on your mobile phone gets randomly scrambled based on a complex key. That key allows your phone’s operating system (Android, iOS, Windows Mobile) to descramble and use the data. If you legitimately access the phone with a passcode or biometric check (like fingerprint reader), then you can access data on the phone. If you don’t have the passcode, your truly locked out. Even if you disassemble the phone and remove the storage element, all you’ll be able to see is jumbled, meaningless numbers, letters, and symbols. Without the encryption key, it could take a supercomputer thousands of years to discover the key that decrypts the data.

Governments Want a Back Door

Law enforcement and intelligence agencies want a special key to a “back door” to access data on phones. Sounds reasonable, but there are ramifications. If there’s a known back door, then malicious hackers have a target. These people will find it. That’s what they do. Also there’s the obvious government intrusion potential.

It’s Not A Good Idea

For the greater good, a government back door just can’t be a good idea. While it would make investigations much easier, the potential for abuse and exploitation is just too great. It’s not whether abuse will occur but when. When pressed, I think most investigators will admit that other tactics will discover the evidence they need. And there’s always the possibility a suspect can be convinced to surrender a passcode to access a mobile device’s data.

If a universal back door exists and is exploited, it puts a huge number of people at extreme risk for identity theft and more. A virtual skeleton key to access any device is so profoundly dangerous to the well being of so many people, it’s ludicrous to even consider.

Anyone who argues otherwise is shortsighted or untrustworthy.

Learn more: Daily Dot9to5mac

Amazon Tries to Improve Work Conditions, and You Can, Too

Amazon Misery

Living smart with your tech begins with making your living. Choosing where and how you work is critical to a balanced life. This topic has been gnawing at me for a long time, and this seems like an appropriate time to post it.

Last summer, the New York Times reported on some unflattering work conditions at Amazon. Punitive performance reviews for employees who missed work due to serious health issues or tending to grave family matters were just a couple of the cited examples. To be fair, Amazon is far from the only organization with such a corporate culture.

But Bloomberg recently reported that Amazon is working on it. And in a fairly innovative way. The company is soliciting employee feedback on a daily basis, aggregating the responses, and reporting on perceptions. This sort of daily barometer should help managers understand the atmosphere they are fostering, compare it to stated goals, and make adjustments as needed.

Many of us find ourselves in work environments that are less than optimal. If you’re miserable, you need to understand what made the environment the way it is and then realize your options.

Your Drive

Professional Life

You probably want to do good work, be recognized for it in meaningful ways, and be provided opportunities to advance and receive more take-home pay. These desires drive us and encourage us to get up and go to work each day.

Your Bosses

The person to whom you report used to have these basic desires, but now he or she has additional responsibilities. In many places, bosses are expected to manage you (not just your work) to meet organizational goals. Some of those goals aren’t supposed to be shared with you, so your boss walks a fine line sometimes. Your boss is expected to make things happen on the front lines that conform to those organizational goals … and every now and then a goal might actually compete with others.

Their Bosses

Your boss’s bosses answer to a wider group of organizational stakeholders: Executives, board members, shareholders, etc. They truly earn their pay at this level because they likely never stop working. Evenings and weekends chained to their work-issued smartphones aware of each and every incoming email message. The organizational goals can be difficult to manage. Some goals are fleeting and some are long-term. All are probably communicated as “critical”.

The Result

The scatter-brained response to answering to disjointed demands can result in a organization run by fear of not meeting all these overwhelming goals. And this fear trickles down to you.

The Unexpected: You’re Human

For your direct boss, this is all difficult to manage. He or she needs all available resources to meet objectives. You are one of those resources. When you’re not available, your boss might consider you the problem.

You’re human, and sooner or later you’re going to have demands outside of work. If you’re out of the office a day or two here and there, that’s manageable. When you have a serious illness or condition that takes you out of commission for weeks, that’s not manageable. And corporate fear could result in your manager perceiving you as a liability.

Your boss and your boss’s bosses aren’t evil. They don’t hate you, per se, when you can’t perform as expected. They fear how their bosses will react when objectives aren’t met.

This fear can impact you in surprising ways. Like when your boss tells you that your cancer is affecting your work.

The Solution: Examine What’s Important Before You Make a Change

When you’re in this kind of environment, you can seek to work somewhere else. Also, you should really examine how you measure your success. Do you want to make yourself comfortable? Or do you want to keep up with the Joneses? Either answer is acceptable as long as it’s honest.

Personally, I used to want a large custom home, all the latest gadgets, and a nice automobile. These things are high-cost items. But I’ve learned there is a high cost of earning a high living. No family time. No uninterrupted time off. Living to juggle the next email message … and the one after that. Some people can manage this lifestyle in stride, so their cost of earning that living might be acceptable. For others, this lifestyle is miserable.

If having time for yourself and family are also important, you’ll have to decide where your balance is for you and for them. Perhaps, a track home or apartment is comfortable. Perhaps a Chevy is as good as a Cadillac. Perhaps the 2-year-old smartphone and 3-year-old laptop still work well. And quality downtime with your family and friends can be realized.

I’m not going to expand into philosophical or religious aspects that might influence your decisions. All of that is up to you.

I’m also not going to discuss at length the whole notion of finding work you like. But there is something to the old saying “find work you like, and never work another day”. That’s cute, but there’s always a reason they call it “work” and not “fun”.

Personal Life

But there are jobs out there that allow you to balance your professional and personal life. Organizations that actually support you if you need to tend to health and family matters. But jobs like these might not make you rich.

But in other ways, these jobs might make you richer.

Review: Anker ToughShell for iPhone 6s Plus

iPhone in ToughShell - Front and Back

Disclosure

Anker provided their ToughShell for iPhone 6s Plus without cost in return for an unbiased review, and I promise that is what follows here.

Packaging

Anker’s product packaging continues to be as thoughtful as anything Apple can design. Opening the ToughShell package was pleasant and looked classy.

Anker ToughShell Packaging - Closed and Open

Look

The case looks rich and professional. The design appeals to my own preference of solid, well-built understatement. Even the Anker emblem is embossed in a classy-yet-inconspicuous way.

Build quality

The materials used are of very good quality. It looks good and feels just as good. No mushy feeling air gaps under the shell. I don’t think this aspect of the case could be any better.

Feel

Lightweight and smooth, which is good for easily gliding in and out of pockets and purses. It’s easy enough to hold while using, but some might prefer a less slippery feel. This is a subjective preference, of course, but buyers might want to be aware of this.

Protection

The back and sides are well protected. The corners feature built-in shock absorbing bumpers that should offer adequate protection from a usual drop. The front offers a raised edge that will most likely protect your phone from a drop onto a flat surface. The barely there design for the front bezel helps the iPhone maintain its aesthetics. Some people (like me) might want that front protection to be a tad deeper, but it probably protects the phone just fine. This design makes it easier to swipe in from the edges to take advantage of iOS features. Deeper bezels can get in the way.

Fit

The ToughShell fits the iPhone 6s Plus like a glove, and installing it on the phone was a breeze. The case holds the phone just about perfectly and with confidence. A drop will not dislodge the phone from this case.

Use: Access to buttons

The volume and sleep/power buttons are covered by the case, but pressing any of them is simply effortless. The button covers are designed to be flush with the case. This is great for aesthetics, but it’s not so easy to locate the buttons by feel. I imagine this would become easier over time as you get used to the case.

Use: Access to ports/mute toggle

Accessing the mute toggle, headphones jack, and lightning port are very easy. While they are not covered by the case, they are recessed for protection.

Here is the only real criticism I can find for the ToughShell case: Anker’s own lightning cables will not fit into the opening for the lightning port. I tried Anker’s 3ft, 6ft, and 3ft braided lightning cables, and none will fit. If you pull firmly up on the front lower lip of the case, you can manage to connect Anker’s cable. But this is an awkward chore that requires one more hand than most people have. Meanwhile, Apple’s OEM lightning cables fit perfectly. Go figure.

Anker-brand Lightning Cables Do Not Fit in the Case, but Apple Cables Work Fine.

Conclusion

I can easily recommend this case to any iPhone 6s Plus owner. If you’re looking for this level of protection, Anker’s ToughShell appears to offer great protection and professional looks for a terrific price point for an excellent overall value.

Prediction: iPhone 6s

iPhone 6s

It’s a little earlier than usual, but I’m calling my predictions for Apple’s upcoming iPhone 6s.

Name. There has been some silliness that Apple would call this iteration of the phone iPhone 7. I don’t see why the Cupertino folks would break tradition, so I say it will be called iPhone 6s.

Force Touch. Yes. It’s on everything else (Watch, Mac, etc.).

Camera. 12 megapixel minimum on back and full HD for the front camera.

Processor and RAM. The processor will be a 64-bit A9 with better performance. The RAM will jump from 1 GB to 2 GB. The additional RAM should really make a performance difference.

Storage. Apple will drop 16 GB and offer 32 GB, 64 GB, and 128 GB. Because 16 GB nowadays is dumb.

Design. The 6s and 6s Plus will look just like the iPhone 6 models. The hardware-based Force Touch might require a hair more depth to the phone. And Apple will make the casing from 7000 series aluminium. This will help reduce the bend-gate drama. The Rose Gold color will probably be added to the black, white, and gold colors.

Release date. Even though there are reports that the iPhone 6s is entering early production, I bet the phone will be announced and released in September 2015.

Bonus: I think the new Apple TV will also be released during September. The iPad Pro will be released in October 2015.

I think these are all safe predictions, because (truth be told) Apple is a company that usually plays it safe when it comes to product iterations.

Why I Can’t Like Android: Update Support

No Upgrade for You!Okay, I bought a refurb 2012 Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet a couple of months ago. I wanted to have handwriting support for Microsoft OneNote, and it mostly fits the bill. I could gripe about palm rejection here, but I’ll hold my tongue.

Last Thursday, Microsoft announced their Office for Android preview program. I am a very happy Office 365 subsriber, and I was eager to sign up and give it a shot. So I log into the site and read the technical requirements. My tablet needs KitKat to run the preview. Well, guess what. Samsung stopped at Jelly Bean for my tablet, and it doesn’t look like my tablet will ever get KitKat (much less Lollipop).

In comparison, my ancient iPad 2 is running iOS 8 just fine. All I had to do was run the update. This “old” iPad shipped with iOS 4! I’ve updated this device many times.

Apple properly supports their devices and, more importantly, their customers! This is why I flat out cannot consider Android- or Windows-based phones, and this Galaxy Note will probably be my final non-Apple tablet. I absolutely do not want to be prevented from updating my devices. These things are not cheap, and having them outdated in a matter of months in unbearable.

Apple’s Touch ID is Finally Relevant

Apple Touch IDWith iOS 8, Apple is finally allowing third-party app developers to leverage Touch ID. This allows those apps to securely access the identity information stored in Touch ID-enabled devices. Now users of those apps can authenticate with their fingertips to gain access to information within those apps.

Touch ID first appeared in the iPhone 5s and iOS 7, but Apple chose to keep its use limited to securely accessing the phone itself. A year later, iOS 8 is much more open. And developers are free to add this powerful technology in their apps.

Now, password management apps like LastPass and 1Password can ensure that you are really you. Additionally, Apple has allowed extensions into Safari which allows these apps to more easily enter usernames and passwords automatically.

Other apps are starting to implement Touch ID for enhanced security options. Microsoft’s OneDrive was recently updated to support PIN access. Once enabled, the file storage and sharing app allows you to use Touch ID to bypass entering the PIN.

Of course, Apple Pay will use Touch ID with the new iPhone 6 phones. And that service offering might just be the killer feature of this generation’s iPhone. It facilitates credit card transactions without sharing card numbers or personally identifiable information.

Who said convenience must take a backseat to security? This sort of thoughtful approach is how technology can actually simplify life instead of just adding something else to it.

 

Prediction for the iPhone 6

iPhone 6In my tradition of trying to keep posts short, I will make my iPhone 6 predictions brief.

  • 4.7-inch screen: Yep. It’s about time.
  • 5.5-inch screen: Probably. Not sure when it will debut.
  • iWatch: Yep. Apple will show it off on September 9, but not sure when it will hit the market.
  • 32GB Storage to Start: Nope. 16GB will still be the starting point.
  • Better Camera: Probably. Since the new design will have a 0.77mm protrusion for the camera, Apple will have to spin how the remarkable camera was worth disrupting the enclosure’s smoothness.
  • NFC: Yes. It will be in the iPhone, and half of the tech press will act like Apple invented this technology.
  • Mobile Payments: Yes. Visa, MasterCard, and American Express will support payments with TouchID for verification. It will use iPhone 6’s NFC, but there might be some capability for iPhone 5s and earlier to use some method for mobile payments. But who really knows.
  • iOS 8: This is the real news. Many of the technologies might be overdue, but the new OS will increase the usability of Apple’s mobile devices. Making TouchID functionality available to other apps should make verifying your identity very convenient.

Comcast Caps Atlanta [UPDATED]

Comcast Cares. Yeah, Right...

I live in the Atlanta metro area, and I’ve learned that this market is part of a Comcast trial. A trial in which all high speed Internet customers get a 300GB limit per calendar month.

Is 10GB per day generous?

A limit of 300GB per month is barely reasonable and far from generous. If my kids watch a few shows on Netflix, and I caption some videos for my work, then 10GB per day is confining. Suddenly, my peace of mind about using the Internet (which is already a significant portion of my monthly bills) is gone. I find myself wondering if I’m going to hit my limit on a daily basis. Talk about having a dark cloud over you while you try to enjoy a streaming movie from Netflix, Amazon, or iTunes.

Monitor. Monitor. Monitor.

So how do you monitor your Internet consumption? Comcast gives you three options. First, dig deep into the Customer portal on the Comcast Web site. It’s there. About three levels down. Second, you can sign up your cell phone to receive warnings via SMS. You can set warnings to fire off at certain usage intervals such as 80%, 90%, and 100%. Finding the Web page to sign up isn’t particularly easy, either. Third, you can download and install a meter app for your desktop computer. It uses Adobe Air. I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust Adobe Flash with all its security issues, so why would I want Air on my PC, too?

Get to Your Usage Cap Quickly!

My Comcast high speed Internet service is reasonably dependable and very fast. But rather than feeling like I can brag about it, I worry that it just means my family and I can hit that 300GB limit just that much faster.

Does Comcast really care? Or do they care more about keeping rates steady while increasing revenue through penalties?

UPDATED 19 Dec 2014

I encourage you to visit my toolkit for engaging elected officials so that they will consider reviewing Comcast’s and AT&T’s rules and fees on broadband Internet.

Flash, Safari & Mavericks

OS X Mavericks

 

One of my favorite features of OS X Mavericks on my MacBook Air is its power saver. During the Mavericks keynote, Apple showed how animations ceased when they were obscured by other windows. Inarguably a great feature to save a laptop’s battery.

But I found another great feature related to this power saver: It prevents Adobe Flash advertisements from playing automatically. Hallelujah!

Suspended Flash Element

 

When Steve Jobs initiated his assault on Flash by flat-out ignoring it in iOS, I saw his point. Seeing how Apple has continued their drive to kill Flash, it kinda makes smile and chuckle. If a day comes when I don’t get prompted to update Flash, it won’t come too soon. Oh, and let’s not forget that Adobe “shared” my username and password with hackers. Good on ya, Apple.