Friday, February 28, 2014

Finally...Surface Docking Station

After much anticipation and waiting, I was finally able to get my hands on the hard-to-find, always-out-of-stock, back ordered, docking station for my Microsoft Surface Pro 2.  How did I get a hold of such a mythical item? Just walked into a Best Buy store and by chance caught a glimpse of the box in the cabinet with the other Surface accessories. What was even better was that it was marked down because it was an opened box item. Even the Best Buy employee was surprised that they had one. It amazes me that this is such a hard item to obtain.


The docking station has a display port, an Ethernet port (100 Mbps), an audio input/output jack, a USB 3.0 port and three USB 2.0 ports. Pair it with a decent monitor (mine is connected to a Dell ST2220T monitor right now) and it's pretty much all you need to use your Surface as a desktop workstation.


Before getting the actual Surface docking station, I was testing and using the JUD500 Ultra Station by j5 Create as a docking station solution for my Surface. It actually worked well and I do recommend it not just for the Surface but as a docking station solution for a laptop as well.

JUD500 Ultra Station

Friday, February 21, 2014

What I Use: Sonos Play:1

Sonos has been around for awhile and I have always been impressed by their wireless speaker systems. Unfortunately, the cost of those speakers kept me from trying them out for myself. That is until Sonos introduced the Play:1.


The $200 Sonos Play:1 is a compact wireless speaker. It offers high quality sound by streaming from your personal music library on your computer or from an iOS or Android device. The Play:1 also allows you to stream from various commercial streaming services such as Pandora, Spotify, Beats Music, and Amazon Cloud Player. Like all Sonos wireless speakers, the Play:1 supports a large range of music formats including popular ones such as mp3, aac, wma, and FLAC.

The Play:1 is designed to work as a standalone wireless speaker. You basically have two setup options. You can connect it directly into your home router via an Ethernet cable (included) or use the Sonos Bridge (which was free at the time I purchased the Play:1 in December), which also connects to your router but allows you to put the Play:1 anywhere in your house as long as it is within range of your wireless network. The Sonos Bridge also allows you to add additional Sonos wireless speakers throughout your house to create an expandable, multi-room music system. You can even add a second Play:1 speaker and sync them for an even better stereo experience.

Setting up the Play:1 was pretty straightforward and simple. Download and install the Sonos app on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Click on "Add Component." The prompts will tell you to press a button on the Sonos Bridge or two buttons on the Play:1, and the app will do the rest. That's it. No complicated or confusing configuring required. 

A few things to remember about the Play:1. First of all, it is not a Bluetooth speaker. You have to use Sonos' proprietary wireless standard in order for it to work properly. Another thing to remember is that you have to use the Sonos app (available for iOS and Android devices but NOT Windows Phone or devices running Windows RT) on your device to play music instead of your music player or service. For example, if you want to listen to Spotify, you would open the Sonos app and select Spotify instead of opening the Spotify app.

One thing that iTunes customers need to make note of when purchasing the Play:1 or any Sonos device is that prior to January 2009, iTunes music was copy-protected using a form of Digital Rights Management (DRM). The DRM protection prevents any iTunes-purchased music from being played through any non-Apple devices, including Sonos. If that is the case, you can burn the DRM-protected music to CD and then re-import them into iTunes.

In my opinion, the Sonos Play:1 is the best value you can find if you are looking for a home speaker (versus anything from it's closest competitor, Bose). Considering it's size, the sound quality is amazing. While it costs about as much as a decent Bluetooth speaker, it does not suffer from the range limitations and reliability issues associated with Bluetooth. Furthermore, it allows you to get the great features of the Sonos ecosystem at a lower cost and gives you the ability to expand to a larger Sonos music network for your home down the road.

Monday, February 17, 2014

What I Use: Sol Republic Tracks Air

As someone who regularly works out and participates in 5k running events, I was in search of reasonably priced, wireless headphones. People in the market for headphones generally gravitate towards the celebrity-endorsed, athlete-approved Beats by Dr. Dre, but the price of their Beats Studio Wireless headphones were way more than what I was willing to shell out. After continued searching, I eventually discovered the Sol Republic Tracks Air and could not be happier with my decision.

At first glance, the Tracks Air design is pretty much identical to other wired Tracks headphones. Same durable build as well as the same colorful interchangeable headbands. However, upon closer inspection, you will notice that the right earcup has additional buttons to control volume and playback. In addition, an interchangeable audio cable with mic and music controls is included in the case you ever need one. If you want to use the Tracks Air with a smartphone, there are microphones built into the earcups so you can make and receive phone calls. The Tracks Air headphones are also USB rechargeable (no need to switch out batteries) and is advertised to deliver up to 15 hours of playtime on a full charge. It will even tell you how many hours of play time you have when you turn on the headphones.


I found that the Bluetooth and NFC compatibility of the Tracks Air made pairing the headphones for use with my Samsung Galaxy S4 and 7th generation iPod Nano a snap. Since this was my first pair of wireless headphones, I felt the sound quality (listening to hip hop, R&B, jazz and podcasts) was just as good as the wired Tracks V8 that I had been using. The headphones are surprisingly comfortable and lightweight (especially being someone who wears glasses), perfect for wearing to the gym or for morning runs on the weekend. More importantly, not having to deal with wires and cables is priceless (without having to go broke)!

Overall, the Sol Republic Tracks Air are a quality option for the casual listener in the market for a pair of wireless headphones. At $200, the Sol Republic Tracks Air are a solid value and definitely worth a look for those who don't want to pay a premium for wireless headphones.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I Got A Surface Pro 2


I finally broke down and bought a 128GB Microsoft Surface Pro 2 recently. Admittedly, I was not considering getting a Surface. I was actually looking at laptops. Ultrabooks to be specific. Something lightweight, durable, and easy to carry around. I even had my choices narrowed down to the Acer Aspire S7-392, Dell XPS 12 and Sony VAIO Pro 13. However, the more I thought about it, I began to realize that I did not want (or need) another laptop. What I REALLY wanted was a powerful yet lightweight device that was capable of taking full advantage of what Windows 8.1 has to offer. Enter the Surface Pro 2.

The Surface Pro 2 is more viable as a laptop replacement and can be considered a natural evolution of the PC experience. While trying not to sound like a Microsoft fanboy, the Surface Pro 2 (as well as the Surface 2) is actually a pretty decent step forward for technology. The Surface Pro 2 delivers power and portability capable of smoothly handling the creation of content as well as consuming content. The perfect device for anyone wanting to transition from a traditional PC to portable device.

The Surface Pro 2 has a 4th generation Intel Core i5 Haswell-based processor which offers improved performance and battery life over the original Surface Pro. I paired it with the backlit Surface Type 2 Cover and a Arc Touch Mouse Surface Edition. Oh yeah, the dual-angle kickstand is also a nice touch.

Yes, there are cheaper and lighter tablets as well as more powerful ultrabooks, but the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is an interesting tablet and laptop in one device. It is also a more-than-adequate PC replacement for most people. Now if only Microsoft could keep the docking station in stock...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What I Use On The Go

As I sit at home because of inclement weather (who doesn't love snow days), I decided to write an article that details the technology and services I use on a day-to-day basis. Not too long ago, I used to be the guy who carried around an abundant amount of gear everyday just to be prepared for anything. Toolkits, cables, adapters: you name it and I pretty much had it in my bag. This past year, I have learned to trim down the load of stuff that I carry around each day to just the stuff that I actually needed. Without further ado, here are the essential things found in my bag.

 


Computer 

Tablet 

Smartphone (Verizon)

Watch 

Mobile Broadband 

External Storage 

Backup Power

Bag

Note Taking

Other Services & Products I Use
  • Web Browser: Google Chrome and Internet Explorer 11
  • Productivity: Office 365 Home Premium
  • Note Taking: Evernote Premium
  • Cloud Storage: SkyDrive
  • Password Management: Last Pass Premium
  • Music: Spotify Premium and Amazon Cloud Player
  • Messaging: Skype
  • Twitter: Tweetium and Tweetro+(Windows), Tweedle & Tweetcaster Pro (Android)