Don’t Buy a New Smartphone unless it’s truly Smart

Want to make sure your new smartphone has the latest wireless technology? Look for this logo.

Want to make sure your new smartphone has the latest wireless technology? Look for this logo.

It seems like every month or so, there’s something new to look forward to having in your next smartphone. Such advances makes techies like me anxious about buying a new phone because we don’t want to settle for last-generation’s tech. I’m talking about Bluetooth 4.0, or Bluetooth LE (for low energy). As the trade group calls it: Bluetooth Smart.

This is the technology that’s been popping up more than a year ago in keyless-entry door locks, fitness bracelets and, ahem, the iPhone 4s circa 2011 (and newer models). The Bluetooth lets phones communicate with another Bluetooth device — such as a Bluetooth sticker on your glasses so they’re easier to find. For those stuck on the Google Android system, Google only began supporting Bluetooth Smart over the summer. So finally more smartphones are getting the technology today.

BUT not all new phones have it. And without, you won’t be able to use a plethora of products and mobile apps that also have Bluetooth Smart built in (like those door locks). And just because a phone may have the new Bluetooth 4.0 chip inside, that doesn’t mean the phone carrier is push out the software that will turn on Bluetooth Smart, said Errett Kroeter, director of global industry and brand marketing for the Bluetooth SIG organization.

So, advises he advised, make sure your next phone is either an iPhone (4S, 5, 5C or 5S), or has Android 4.3 or  newer plus a Bluetooth 4.0 chip. Newer Nokia’s (with Windows 8 Mobile) and some Blackberries also have Bluetooth Smart.

Hence, my recent article pointing out the lack of Bluetooth Smart in many of today’s newer phones, plus a chart of what Android phones now are Bluetooth Smart.

5 Radically Different Smartphone Plans

Thank goodness for competition. And innovation. And all the new mobile-service companies sprouting up to give the old guard something to worry about.

I’m always searching for cheaper and better service (ie: more data) for my own family so I was pleasantly surprised to  find these newcomers are changing the way business is done. And I wrote a story about it for TheStreet.

For the most part, there are no long-term contracts and monthly prices are cheaper. On the other hand, a limited number of smartphones are available per company and you typically will have to buy a phone from that company. Some have major minute and megabyte limits. Then again, some offer plans that are zero dollars per month. That’s right — free. Others rely on a hybrid model, encouraging users to use available Wi-Fi service to offset cellular use.

The other nice thing about the newbies, they are flexible and changing. When I wrote this story last month, Republic Wireless, which sold a standard $19.99/month membership, was about to start offering different tiers because it felt that some users really shouldn’t be paying that much (okay, that may have just been their spin). Now, they also offer a $5/month Wi-Fi-only plan for unlimited text, talk and data.

The five contenders are:

  • FreedomPop, which touts free, limited service plus refurbished smartphones
  • Scratch Wireless, which is free if you only use Wi-Fi to make calls
  • Republic Wireless, a hybrid offering unlimited 4G service for $40/month
  • Zact Mobile, for people who never quite use up all their monthly allotment (the company credits your next month’s bill)
  • Ting, where you pay for what you used in a month.

Read the full story over at

11 Household Objects That Just Got Smarter

Rachio Iro sprinkler

Rachio’s Iro sprinkler is controlled from a smartphone.

When technology works for you, there’s no way of going back to your previous life.

It’s like me and my Prius. Ya, ya, the Prius gets great gas mileage. But that keyless entry and start button is something I will insist on having in all my future cars. I never take my key out of my purse ever to unlock the car and start the engine.

Now that similar technology is becoming widely available for front doors, I’m planning to convert soon and get a keyless lock installed. With today’s keyless technology, you no longer need to carry the key in your pocket anymore. You just need your smartphone (and who doesn’t leave the house without it?)

While exploring several smartphone-based keyless locks, I noticed that it’s not just doors getting into the Internet of Things.   Sprinklers, coffeemakers, vacuum cleaners and garage door openers are all getting their own Internet and mobile apps so these household devices can be controlled from afar.

I’m sure there are more than 11 household items out there that are getting smarter, but here’s a round-up of what I found for a recent story:

Gadgets Geared Toward Seniors

AARP wants to make sure seniors aren’t left out of developing technologies so last spring, the organization held a fast-pitch session and invited companies from all over to tell judges and an audience of mostly seniors what they were doing to help seniors. More than 125 applied.

It was a chance for AARP to highlight the importance of developing technology for our aging population. Plus, they released some new research about where innovation is needed in the healthcare industry.

I dug a bit deeper in this story written for the U-T San Diego by exploring not just the companies selected to make a pitch at AARP’s Health Innovation @50+ LivePitch, but other companies doing something interesting in the senior world: Turning smartphones into “hearing aids,” sneakers that track movement, a drugstore app that rates medicine, etc.

The story published in June but I’m just now getting around to sharing it here. Read it yourself:

HD-Schmach-Dee: I want my Ultra HD!

Ultra HD: Yes, please!

Anyone out there remember the first time you watched a high-definition show in HDTV?

For most people, including myself, it was a football game. The picture clarity was mesmerizing.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen even though I truly could care less about the sport (I was the only quarterback in my high-school’s single powder-puff game to throw the ball for a completion — is that what they call it?).

It was amazing to see sweat dripping off players’ temples, blades of grass, wrinkles and other stuff that really isn’t very interesting. That was a long time ago, at least for me.

Today when I watch HDTV, I feel like it’s just not as clear anymore. My cable provider’s broadcast (cough, Comcast) must be so compressed, those details aren’t as striking anymore. Or maybe I need to sit closer to the TV. Or maybe I need to get my eyes checked.

I’m ready for an Ultra HDTV, which has four-times the resolution and twice to four times as many horizontal lines as HDTV. The UHDTVs are available and I bet there will be big sales this holiday.

But where does one go to watch actual UHD video? That’s what I wanted to find out in my next story for TheStreet. It’s a disappointing mix of options but the good news is more (like Netflix) are on the way. From cable providers? Ummm… not anytime soon. But if people demand it, I’m certain this is something paid-TV providers are eyeing in order to raise prices. Sigh. But it’s got to start somewhere. Check out the options on TheStreet: