David J. Danto
Collaboration Industry Consultant and Analyst
Covering AV / IoT / Mobility / Multimedia / Video / Unified Communications
Technology Grab Bag – Product Reviews – December 2017
One of the side benefits of being a technology consultant is you get to preview a whole bunch of new stuff. Sometimes the system or device I get to play with is directly related to enterprise collaboration – my area of expertise. Sometimes the device isn’t really intended for collaboration but I position it for that purpose with interesting results. And sometimes I just try out what is just a cool piece of technology, unrelated to any specific focus area. I have to admit that when it comes to trying out these devices I am just the proverbial “bigger boy with bigger toys” loving every minute of it. Learning about new products is just one of the ways I work at staying current with the tech world as a digital immigrant. Here are some of the new devices I’ve been playing with recently.
· WIZ Connected Smart Lighting: I can’t begin to describe how long I’ve been waiting for easy to connect, bright enough, functional smart lighting that the average consumer can easily install and actually afford. It had gotten to the point that I just assumed the manufacturer was lying and that their units would require additional home wiring, additional hubs, an advanced engineering degree to install, a bank loan to purchase – and, if you could finally get them to work, they’d be about as bright as a firefly. I gave that same hard time to the people at Wiz – asking them the hard questions about lumens, installation, hubs, etc. – and they gave me all the right answers. It was enough to agree to try them out. Mea-culpa, their units are the real thing. I tried the Hero table lamp and a couple of their BR30 lamps. The units install just like any other lamp or bulb. Each unit is put into pairing mode by switching it on and off a few times. Once you download their app, name the room they’re in, and give it your WiFi password they automatically pair and start working with app control. They let you choose the Amazon Echo skill you prefer – a simple one that allows users to say “Alexa, turn on the living room light,” or a more feature rich one which requires a longer trigger phrase. (I can’t stress enough how the simple these were to install and use. They went into an environment with multiple routers – each with different subnets and passwords – and it didn’t throw anything off.) As far as the performance is concerned, one has to be impressed by the range of colors these instruments can produce. The white light can be tuned from lower than tungsten to higher than daylight and everything in between, and the colors can be set to any hue and saturation. In addition, using their very powerful app, they can be set to a number of animated settings where the colors change automatically within a theme. As with all LED lamps I wish they were brighter (the BR30 achieves 900 lumens – equivalent to about a 75 watt bulb, and the Hero appeared about the same) but these light levels will only improve as the technology adoption grows. These units can be controlled via any smart home voice device, via their app, or via a handheld remote control. On top of all that, they are priced very competitively to the lamps and bulbs from larger manufacturers. It is great to see that smart lighting has finally reached its tipping point.
· Amazon Echo Dot: I reviewed the original Echo device in July of 2015, explaining what a “voice controlled assistant for the cloud” was, and detailing how limited it was in functionality and support. Now that you can get a smaller version – the Echo Dot – for an incredible $29 during the holiday season, it’s time to take a second look. A number of partners have now developed “skills” for the device that begin to approach the doorstep of being a true AI assistant for a smart home. An example of this is obviously the lights above. Another example is in-house intercom, where one Echo can call the other, removing the constantly shouted “what” from the typical household. I believe the most valuable skills still have to do with playing music. The Echo can access Amazon Prime music (or if you pay more, Amazon unlimited music) and just play any artists or genres one desires. If you want Alexa to play your personal music collection, you either have to pay Amazon to host it (which is still prohibitively expensive) or use a service called “My Media for Alexa” which lets you link your devices to an in-home music server for $5 per year. I’m a big fan of this service, but be aware that between its quirks and the Echo’s very limited speech recognition abilities, it is very difficult to get to work correctly. If you ask, “Alexa, ask My Media to play the album The White Album” it sort of throws up and plays nothing. If you ask, “Alexa, ask my media to play music by The Beatles” be prepared to get any Beatle covers too. I hope the My Media folks do a better job of music and album identification in future updates. The strongest skill that Amazon has released recently is support for multi room music. For $29 per room plus a pair of nice speakers you can avoid all the costs of a Sonos or any other multi room music system. Well, almost – sort-of. Yes, Amazon did get multi room music working, but it’s very klugey. It requires the Bluetooth channel, so any Bluetooth speakers will not work. Having to use wired speakers for the Echo severely reduces its flexibility. In addition, not all audio services will let you play music in multiple rooms simultaneously – either by plan or just because of the limitations of Alexa’s ability to understand what you’re saying. (You try saying “Alexa, ask My Media to play the album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band everywhere” and see how long it takes your Echo to just throw-up and fail on all of it.) Another limitation is that Echo devices can only belong to one group. You can’t have a group for “upstairs” a group for “downstairs” and a group “everywhere” (which is sad because it’s just lazy programming.) If you can manage to get music playing in multiple rooms, get used to it, as the next time you ask Alexa to play anything else it will automatically play to all the devices in the same group. There is no un-group command that I can find. One has to ask each separate Echo to play something just on that device (by device name – like “play music by the Beach Boys on David’s Basement Echo Dot”) to break it away from the group. (Yeah, I’m going to have to rename these devices to much shorter names…) In summary, the Echo is powerful and helpful, but still has a looooooong way to go.
· Taupo Combination PC Power Supply / Device Charger: It’s rare when I can find a product for my travel bag that cuts-down on the devices I carry. Here is one such item I’m overjoyed to share news about. This device powers my notebook PC, and has three other USB ports to charge and power my devices. My typical road bag has my PC’s power supply and two multiport chargers (one for the hotel desk and one for the hotel night table.) With this unit I can leave the desk multiport charger home. The PC supply and multiport charger are combined into one. Of course you have to be sure that the device is the right one to power your specific notebook, and that you get the correct connector/cable. (There are a few models to choose from and some other manufacturers making similar units.) I’ve been using this for a couple of months now with no issues. Anything that can make my travel bag lighter is a huge winner in my book.
If you’re using these products please send me a note and let me know if you agree or disagree with my review. Also, if you have a device you’d like me to review and describe in my articles, social media updates and newsletters, let me know that as well – I’m always happy to try new devices and systems with an open mind.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over three decades of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works as an analyst and consultant in the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems, develop a future-proof collaboration strategy for internal use, or if you would like his help developing solid, user-focused go-to-market strategies for your collaboration product or service.
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