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Reviews And Red Flags About The Season’s Hottest Technology Gifts

Here’s what people are saying about the season’s hottest gadgets and places to find help with common issues.

Reviews And Red Flags About The Season’s Hottest Technology Gifts
[Image: Flickr user ปรัชญา สิงห์โต]

Chromecast


Google swung and missed big time with its Google TV initiative, trying to build a simple web browser into an expensive TV. With Chromecast, however, Google went the opposite way and chose to compete against an HDMI cable. For $35, the Chromecast has been lighting up holiday shopping and finally providing people with a decent way to browse the Internet on a TV. Even with the limited functionality or small problems people have with the device, almost everyone agrees it’s worth the price.

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Drizwaldo1 on the XDA Developers forum outlines new app updates for the dongle, which was originally released with limited app compatibility.

  • Plex is a great little app but this feature will be rolled out FIRST to premium subscribers.
  • RealPlayer cloud opens the door to streaming video from their online storage (2GB free – more than that = paid) and is limited to 15 minutes to discourage piracy.
  • aVia indexes photos on Picasa, Dropbox, and Facebook, allowing users to show any of their photos on any of these services on their TV but alas you need to be a paid subscriber for this service also.
  • Now play podcasts via BeyondPod and enjoy the Washington Post’s PostTV, online music service Songza, RedbullTV, Revision3, Vevo, and Viki on your little dongle of delight.
  • Here is the full list of available apps

For those with technical problems, Google has an FAQ set up addressing things like router compatibility. Even though the small device is easy to move and travel with, the biggest potential drawback is not being able to use it if “client isolation” is enabled. This is a standard security practice at places like hotels, school, and other public locations.

Nexus 5

Nexus phones direct from Google used to be the best mobile Android experience hands down, but that’s not necessarily true anymore as Samsung and HTC step up their game. The Nexus 5’s real draw comes from it low-cost unlocked price. And everyone knows, the best way to give someone a phone as a gift is contract free. Sampling Twitter, the reactions aren’t skewed in any direction, but most people seem to like the device.

Beyond the plain aesthetics of the device, the main complaints users had with it were the squishy buttons, poor camera performance, and a quiet speaker. As of December 13th those issues should now be resolved. The camera, for instance, received a software upgrade which seemed to satisfy most reviewers. The things that couldn’t be fixed with software have received a slight physical makeover, including sturdier buttons and larger speaker grill. The updates and fixes have not resolved any battery life issues, unfortunately.

Fitness Trackers

Wearables that track your activity are a huge business because people love being able to quantify things, especially their own personal data. The little devices keep getting better at tracking different movements, which makes them even more useful.

As a broad overview, The Wirecutter recommends the Fitbit Force. An updated take on Fitbit’s Flex, the Force includes a small display which can also act as a watch. A few people in the post’s comments disagree with the choice, but most just add finer points or details for the editors to consider in their critiques.

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The biggest complaint from users on Fitbit’s official forums has to do with the device’s wrist strap not staying on or fitting properly. Even still, the number of problems and issues on the company’s official site are very low and most could be seen as outliers in the data.

There’s also Jawbone’s new tracker, the UP24. There’s a helpful thread on Jawbone’s forums about purchasing an UP24 through Jawbone rather than a third-party store. According to multiple users, Jawbone will replace defective units from all locations, but is much more helpful with refunds when purchased through its online store.

Jawbone had to recall its original UP band due to widespread problems. Those have since been solved, but compared to other similar devices, the UP product line still appears to have more issues overall.

FiftyThree’s Pencil


Makers of the popular drawing app called Paper decided that it needed its own hardware stylus so it made one called Pencil. The most noticeable feature about Pencil is its design, mimicking an actual pencil, complete with a dedicated eraser.

Pencil is a little more of a niche product than any old stylus, needing buyers to also be users of the Paper app to get the full benefit. Those that are users have been happy to throw down the $50+ to get a richer drawing experience.

There usually aren’t too many technical issues with a stylus, but Pencil incorporates Bluetooth to get better sensitivity while using the Paper app. Connecting a Pencil also unlocks the app’s pay features including color blend and more writing utensils.

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A user named Steve on FiftyThree’s message board mentions his issue of having Paper mistake his finger and Pencil, which is the most echoed problem.

Pencil somewhat frequently mistakes my strokes for a finger and instead blends. It seems unrelated to amount of pressure and angle at which it’s applied.
Are others seeing the same thing?

Unlike other sites and companies, FiftyThree is very responsive and each post, so far, has had an employee adding comments.

Nest Protect

The Nest Protect features a dozen or so little bells and whistles that make the occasional run-in with a smoke detector much nicer. The biggest selling point might be its motion sensor which lets you wave at it, instead of trying to rip it down to shut it down when the oven accidentally sets it off.

The consensus from mainstream consumers is positive. Those shopping on the mainstream sites like Home Depot are happy with the product, citing its easy installation and voice prompts to get it set up.

Out of the box, installed, connected to my wifi, and popped up on my Nest app within the scope of ten minutes.

However, one Protect owner on Home Depot’s site did mention having trouble connecting it to his Nest network.

On Amazon, the reviews are more evenly spread from poor to great. One owner pointing out a few interesting tidbits to keep in mind before buying a Protect.

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  1. The Protect doesn’t use standard wired interconnect, meaning it won’t talk to or alert smoke detectors that aren’t from Nest.
  2. It only uses the optical method of smoke detection, rather than both ionization and optical.
  3. The Protect uses a CO detector that will expire in 7 years before needing to be replaced.

Another Amazon reviewer also pointed out that the setup needs to take place from iOS or Android and can’t be installed from a Windows device (phone or tablet).

Xbox One


Because the Xbox 360 was plagued with overheating and red rings, you can be sure the Xbox One is plenty cool inside. This generation’s console has faced other problems though, like optical discs inserted into the system not working properly.

One Amazon user explains his experience with a broken Xbox One:

I received my XBOX. I updated the device and all appeared well initially. Then, I put a game disc in. The optical drive made a mechanical “whirring” noise for about 2 seconds and then was silent. Nothing happened for about 30 seconds, and then a message was displayed stating that it couldn’t read the disc and requesting that a game disc, Blu-ray, or DVD be placed in the device. I placed a Blu-ray disc in the device and the same thing happened.

It’s hard to get an idea exactly how widespread the issue of non-functioning consoles is because the media likes to pick up stories of ongoing issues. TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino was one of those affected and detailed his firsthand experience on Twitter.

  • Order Xbox One Day 1 on Amazon
  • Broken
  • Amazon replaces with a non-day 1
  • Broken
  • @Microsoft replaces it with this

PlayStation 4


While there hasn’t been any single point of failure, or major issues, for new PlayStation owners, new hardware always brings some quirks.

Sony has outlined a checklist of potential problems for those experiencing a blinking blue light while trying to power on the console. The 800+ comments on the thread indicate the problem is beyond a fluke or isolated to a single source. There’s no definitive answer as to what the problem is, but appears to involve the HDMI port not functioning properly.

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IGN setup a “PS4 Problems” page that links to a handful of the most common problems users are seeing. Sony’s phone number is listed encouraging users to report if their console isn’t working properly. Also mentioned is Sony’s expected failure rate of 0.4%, which may be as high as 1%.

For more discussions, upcoming rumors, and helpful tips, new PS4 owners might want to try Reddit’s PS4 community. In addition to other gaming sites, Reddit’s list of links tends to provide a more rounded overview of what’s going on and, of course, the better chance for a hilarious GIF.

Despite all the issues, both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have been continually selling out and consumers have been more than willing to spend the cash.