Tag Archives: gadgets

This is a technology wish list for 2016

There’s plenty for tech companies to do in the new year. Here’s a wish list for 2016:

PICK AND CHOOSE ONLINE TELEVISION

In 2015, HBO and Showtime freed themselves from traditional television shackles. Both now offer app subscriptions directly to consumers – with no cable or satellite TV service required.

It’s a start, but lots of worthy channels, including ESPN, remain locked up in packages filled with channels not everyone wants. Even though Dish’s Sling TV offers ESPN over the Internet – Sony’s PlayStation Vue will also do so soon – you can get it only as part of larger packages. I’d love to get AMC, ABC Family and Comedy Central as stand-alone subscriptions, for instance.

MANAGING YOUR SHOWS

With lots more online viewing options, we need better ways to keep track of what to watch and when shows expire from streaming services. I kept forgetting to watch that “Unauthorized Melrose Place Story” on Lifetime, and now it’s too late.

Streaming TV devices from Apple, Roku, Amazon and Nvidia let you search multiple services at once to see what’s available, but you don’t have any way to add shows to a universal queue. Instead, you have to go to Netflix to see your list of flagged shows on that service, HBO to see its list, and so on. It’s as if you needed separate video recorders for each channel. TiVo comes closest to offering a universal queue with its OnePass feature, but it has relatively few streaming TV apps.

ENOUGH WITH PASSWORDS

Passwords are difficult to manage, which is one reason so many are trivial to guess (“password12345,” anyone?) and so many people reuse the same weak passwords across multiple services.

Yahoo has an easier way to sign in to its services. Using Account Key, you confirm who you are through a text Yahoo sends to your phone. Google is testing something similar. Other services tap the fingerprint ID technology found on iPhones and some high-end Android phones. A touch of the home button bypasses the password by confirming you’re the one holding the phone. We need more such mechanisms that offer both simplicity and security.

GETTING ALONG

Companies are getting better at acknowledging their rivals. Microsoft, for instance, made its Office apps for iPhones, iPads and Android before tackling its own Windows phone system. Samsung smartwatches now work with non-Samsung phones, while Apple made its music service available on Android.

It’s a start. But animated photos taken with Apple’s new iPhones can be viewed only on other Apple devices. And streaming devices made by Apple, Google and Amazon typically won’t play video bought from each other, at least not without using a backdoor relay feature such as AirPlay. So if you have Amazon video, you’re stuck with Amazon’s device. Amazon even stopped selling Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast on its website.

GETTING AROUND WITH NO INTERNET

Google Maps for Android and iPhones now works without an Internet connection, so long as you download mapping data ahead of time. That’s helpful when you find yourself trying to leave a remote national park or an underground parking garage – both areas where cellular service is spotty or non-existent. But the offline feature doesn’t work with walking or transit directions, so it’s not as useful for wilderness hikes or in many subway stations.

Speaking of maps, all services could do better at directing motorists to rental-car centers at airports. Typing in the three-letter airport code assumes you’re getting dropped off at the main terminals. The rental-car location might be miles away, perhaps off a different highway exit. It would be nice to see the rental-car location more prominent in map searches. Better yet, how about the closest gas station to refill your tank?

OOPS … I DROPPED IT AGAIN

Motorola may have cracked the problem of shattered phone screens. Its Droid Turbo 2 phone ditches glass for shatter-proof plastic. While the glass used in most leading phones is chemically strengthened, it will still crack if it hits a hard surface with enough force. In testing, the Turbo’s screen withstood normal drops, though plastic does make the device more prone to scratching.

Sure, there’s a trade-off, but it’s time to stop assuming that cracked screens are just something we have to learn to live with.

What’s cool for back to school? A fresh look at the gear

For kids of all ages, one big thing helps soften the blow of summer turning into fall: fresh and fun back-to-school gear.

Supplies with popular licensed characters from movies, TV shows and books always make a splash among younger kids, while older students contemplate design and functionality for everything from lockers to dorm rooms to smartphone cases.

For phone-toting high school and college students with an eye for smart design, NewerTech NuGuard KX cases for the iPhone promise protection and a much better fit in the palm of a kid’s hand than other heavy-duty cases on the market.

The NuGuard KX cases for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus use state-of-the-art “x-orbing gel technology to absorb and evenly distribute kinetic energy.” This means the case provides the massive impact protection that kids need but is a fraction of the size of those other protective cases that fit like a brick in a hip pocket and cramp the hand of talkers and texters with a lot to say. The KX case, measuring a thin 1/2 inch thick when on the phone, slides into a pocket or even stows neatly in a day-planner.

Plus, the one-piece design — a hard shell with a soft interior available in red, black, blue and midnight — means fast installation, easy access to ports and buttons, simple cleaning and less to lose.

The additional “impact x-orbing” screen armor keeps the glass screen on the iPhone looking new, preventing damage from impacts and scratches but not interfering with the Retina display. Other screen covers might slip or turn yellow but the self-adhesive NewerTech cover installs without the use of water to preserve bubble-free clarity and block dirt and dust. The armor even held up to NewerTech’s hammer-hit tough claim.

For those with an eye toward color, a stop at Poppin.com might go a long way in desk supplies, dorm storage and other gear. Among the New York City company’s back-to-school products is an 18-month, spiral-bound planner good from July 2015 to December 2016. It includes weekly and monthly views with color-coded pages by month, along with a handy translucent front pocket.

“We’ve been very pleasantly surprised in past years with how well we’ve done with planners,” said Jeff Miller, Poppin’s vice president of product design. “You hear so much about how everybody’s moved to electronic whatever but we’re very much still in a paper age on planners for students.”

Dorm rooms remain, well, dorm rooms, so space is at a premium. Poppin sells a storage unit called the Box Seat for the college contingent tired of the milk-crate look. It’s covered with fabric in light and dark gray, navy, orange, red and pool blue, and is sturdy enough to withstand 275 pounds.

At Staples, students at two middle schools will see the fruits of their labor hit shelves. They were chosen to work in teams to come up with school supplies of their own for the company’s new Designed by Students Collection.

Among the winning products: The Big Pen, a pencil case that looks like a pen or pencil and actually writes. It comes in versions that are highlighters, ball point pens, markers and mechanical lead pencils. The cases include a pencil sharpener and real erasers at one end. Refills are available for the writing-implement part.

Another of the student designs chosen is an ingenious locker organizer that zigzags vertically to create nifty cubicles. The Floating Shelf comes in color combinations worthy of boys and girls — neon green and gray, purple and pink, and black and dark blue.

Alison Corcoran, senior vice president of marketing for Staples, said the company worked closely with about 48 students in all, from Middle School 88 in Brooklyn and the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. About 14 products are included in the collection.

“They made presentations. The teams did self-criticisms and evolved their ideas as part of the curriculum,” she said. “School supplies have been around forever. We thought, let’s take a fresh look with the people who are actually using these things on a day-to-day basis and ask, `How can we make them better and more relevant?”’

Yet another of the student designs is the Back2Back School Bag, a rectangular-shaped backpack that provides wider storage space and has two oversize slots for laptops and folders. It also includes a separate, attached compartment at the bottom to segregate lunch or snack items — or smelly gym shoes — from the main compartment.

“Kids loved it. It’s a highly functional shape,” Corcoran said of the unusual design.

This year, the rambunctious little yellow Minions with the big goggles have their own feature-length film spinoff from the “Despicable Me” franchise, and have surfaced on backpacks and notebooks available at Target.

A new take on Charlie Brown in another theatrical release, “The Peanuts Movie” due out in November, might have something to do with two choices in Snoopy-theme soft lunch bags, including one with the famous beagle snoozing on top of his equally famous doghouse.

Givebacks have grown among companies doing business in back-to-school. Many offer buy-one-give-one programs to kids and classrooms in need, or they’ll fill donated backpacks with school supplies to donate.

At Yoobi, a spate of new supplies in that vein was curated by Usher. The Yoobi X Usher collection was designed by artist Jonni Cheatwood and features five prints for more than 20 products, ranging from blue paint drips to pink-and-green splatters in binders, notebooks, pencils, pencil cases, folders and journals. For every item purchased, Yoobi donates an item to a worthy classroom. The collection is available at Yoobi.com and in Target stores nationwide.

It’s not the first education-focused collaboration for Usher, who has two school-age sons. They, too, had a hand in the project, the singer said by email.

“I looked at what colors they were drawn to and in a very sly way, I’d show something to them and ask, ‘What do you think about this? Do you like this color?’ That helped me curate the collection,” he said.

Review: Gadgets for the beach and getting you there

If you’re headed to the beach or any other weekend getaway, don’t forget these “essential” gadgets.

Of course, no technology is truly essential. You’re at the beach! Disconnect! Go swimming! Build sandcastles!

Still can’t leave the gadgets behind? Well, consider these:

E-BOOK READER OR TABLET

You’ll want reading material. Sure you can bring real books and real magazines, but that’s a lot to carry.

I prefer e-readers over tablets for e-books because e-readers work better in direct sunlight and don’t come with such distractions as Facebook updates. Amazon has the best readers out there. Last fall’s Kindle Voyage is a premium model with a stunning, high-resolution display that makes letters resemble what’s on a printed page. The main drawback: its $199 price tag (add $20 if you want a regular screensaver rather than ads).

This week, Amazon is bringing that great display to its mid-tier model, the Kindle Paperwhite. It doesn’t have the extra buttons that make page-turning easier like the Voyage has. Nor does it have an auto-brightness feature that adjusts for ambient light. But the Paperwhite does have a new font that’s meant to be easier on the eyes; other Kindles won’t get it until later this summer. (That said, I thought the old fonts were just fine for reading.)

At $119 (or $139 without ads), the Paperwhite is $80 cheaper, while offering much of what the Voyage has.

For digital magazines, you’re better off with a tablet because e-reader screens typically lack color. I like Apple’s iPad Mini for its size and shape. The full-size iPad Air is too large to carry around, and Android tablets typically have dimensions more suited for widescreen movies than for replicating printed pages. You can read e-books on the tablet, too, but e-readers offer a better, glare-free experience.

BATTERY CHARGERS

You’ll probably have to crank up the brightness on your tablet and phone to overcome all that glare in direct sunlight. That will drain the battery quickly. Bring a portable power pack, which is essentially a battery for recharging the battery on your gadget.

New portable packs from myCharge have both Apple and Android cords built-in, so you can leave your tangled mess of cords at home. Those powerful enough for tablets start at $100. It’s useful for groups with an array of devices. You can charge one Android device and one iPhone or iPad at once, but not two Android devices or an iPhone and iPad together. It’s one of each. Many people stick with one system or the other, so for most individuals, that second cord will go unused.

The dual-cord chargers will be overkill for many individuals. Mophie makes not just battery packs but also phone cases with extra power for leading phones. The drawback is you need a new one when you switch models, though I’ve found batteries tend to wear out over time anyway.

There are lots of others to choose from. Some battery packs have Apple or Android cords built-in, while others have a USB port, which means more flexibility, but also cords you need to bring. A higher price tag usually means more charging capacity.

DEALING WITH BEACH TRAFFIC

The Waze mapping app won’t eliminate traffic, but it might shave off time by finding a quicker route. In some cases, that means getting off a congested highway an exit or two early and using local roads. Users report traffic conditions through the app to let Waze find the fastest routes.

Mapping apps from Apple and Google, which owns Waze, do factor in traffic conditions, but it feels special to be getting that from fellow motorists. In the rare times that I drive, I’ve found Waze to be spot-on. It doesn’t work well when there are few other Waze users to report traffic, but traffic-heavy destinations such as the beach should draw plenty of users and traffic data.

GETTING WET?

Waterproof gadgets might be overkill unless you’re a lifeguard at the beach every day. Same goes for waterproof cases and pouches, which also make gadgets more difficult to use. The only time I’ve found a waterproof case useful is when I’ve gone snorkeling with a point-and-shoot camera.

Ziploc and other re-sealable plastic bags can help protect gadgets from inadvertent splashes. A small amount of liquid usually won’t kill a gadget. Jumping into the ocean or pool with the phone in your pocket is another matter. Use common sense.

Or leave your gadgets home. You’re at the beach!

Live-streaming apps dominate buzz at South by Southwest

A live-streaming app called Meerkat, calls to online activism and pedicabs with a “Game of Thrones” Iron throne seat were the top topics of conversation at South by Southwest over the weekend, as 33,000-plus members of the technology, marketing and media industries poured into Austin, Texas.

“You never know what’s around the corner at South By Southwest, it could be a small thing or it could be life changing,” said David Rubin, Pinterest’s head of brand, at the social media company’s annual barbecue on Saturday. He said the festival is a good place to schmooze with clients and do some recruiting.

“Pinterest is about creativity and the employee base is quirky and interesting, so it’s a good place to meet potential employees,” he said.

Here’s a look at top topics so far at the annual gathering of the Technorati.

LIVE-STREAMING APPS

An app called Meerkat is dominating conversations. The simple app allows people to live stream anything at the touch of a button. The app used to let users automatically Tweet live streams too, but that came to a stop after Twitter confirmed it acquired Periscope, a Meerkat rival, for undisclosed terms and limited Meerkat’s access to Twitter.

At a panel about government patents, U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker had used Meerkat to stream her official swearing in of the new chief of the U.S. Patent and Trademark office Michelle Lee on Twitter. “Being the first (at)cabinet official to share key events on this exciting new platform,” she tweeted. Countless others streamed other panels and events.

Meanwhile, rival live-streaming app Stre.am is a finalist for SXSW’s innovation awards.

ONLINE ACTIVISM

Some major political figures are using the festival to call for online activism. Former Vice President Al Gore gave a rousing talk about the need for urgent action on climate change. Gore called upon SXSW attendees to get involved in supporting climate change legislation ahead of environmental talks in Paris in December.

“We are at a fork in the road, we can win this, but it requires passion,” he said.

In a keynote, Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud of Saudi Arabia discussed her efforts to bring women into the workplace and announced a new breast cancer awareness campaign that will rely on social and mobile media to spread the word in the Middle East, including the Twitter-ready hashtag (hash)10ksa.

Often in the Middle East, “a woman doesn’t want to admit unhealthy status,” she said. “There are larger cultural issues involved to talk about breast cancer.”

CORPORATE STUNTS

Promotions are everywhere. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is employing pedicabs with Iron-Throne seats and hosting “SXSWesteros,” an event site that serves a “Game of Thrones” beer and allows fans a chance to sit on the show’s Iron Throne.

Meanwhile, smartphone battery pack maker Mophie created buzz with St. Bernard dogs that “rescued” more than 300 festival-goers low on batteries when they tweeted a plea for help to Mophie. The dogs, all locally owned by people in Austin, are part of the St. Bernard’s Rescue Foundation, which was created to raise awareness about rescue dogs.

“People don’t get exposure to St. Bernard’s ever,” said Mophie spokesman Kevin Malinowski. “People get them as puppies when they’re so cute, but once they grow up they can’t handle them, so this is almost an education.”

RUSSELL BRAND’S NO-SHOW

A documentary about actor Russell Brand, called “Brand, a Second Coming,” was a headliner for the film portion of the festival. Brand was set to appear at the Friday premiere and give a talk as well as discuss his daily YouTube show “Trews,” in which he talks about news topics. But that day Brand announced on his blog that he wouldn’t appear at the festival, saying he was uncomfortable with how the documentary turned out, and backed out of the talk.

“I apologise sincerely to the organisers of SXSW for my non-attendance, especially Janet Pierson, Brian Solis and Rynda Laurel from the interactive festival who were responsible for the keynote talk that I was due to do,” he wrote in the blog post.

From quirky to revolutionary, the CES show has them all

Sure, the International CES show was chock full of connected cars, smart home sensors, music gear and computer gadgets, as you’d expect.

There were even drones buzzing the 160,000-plus people that tromped across the 2.2 million square feet of exhibit space along the Las Vegas Strip. But if you didn’t get to see some of these goodies, well, you just haven’t lived.

Of the tons of products on display, here are a few that inspired, brought a chuckle, or made you just say, hmmm, yeah, I definitely need that. (Wink.)

STOP, OR I’LL TAKE OUT MY IPAD

The gun holsters of old-timey detectives, hidden under an arm and concealed under a coat, have inspired a holder of something else entirely.

Tech Slinger’s holster features a pocket large enough for a tablet on one side and a smartphone and accessories on the other. When worn, devices hang below each arm. Think of it as a storage device for Inspector Gadget.

The company says the holster will prevent people from leaving their devices in a cab or the seat-back pocket of a plane. The devices stay with you but won’t weigh on a shoulder like a backpack or satchel might.

This year, Tech Slinger introduced a new “side order” sling to go around a person’s waist — great for restaurant staffers who carry tablets to take orders.

The company sells the holsters for $70 to $75.

FLATBREAD FIX

The smell of baking flatbread wafted through the air as a Silicon Valley startup demonstrated a robotic kitchen device.

The Rotimatic uses sensors, software and electric motors to make the Indian staple “roti,” or unleavened flatbread, at about one per minute — faster than the half-hour or more it takes to mix, knead and cook by hand. Just add flour, water and oil. The Rotimatic measures the ingredients, kneads and flattens the dough. It even adjusts the dough and cooking temperature for any spices or herbs added for variety.

What to pay for something that makes only one kind of bread? $599.

ABLE TO WALK AGAIN

One touching moment came when Shane Mosko stood up and walked with the aid of a robotic exoskeleton.

Mosko, who has partial leg paralysis from a spinal cord injury, usually needs a wheelchair. The robotic aide from Ekso Bionic now allows him to walk about 500 steps before tiring. The system includes mechanized leg braces, a battery backpack and a walking cane with controls to operate the system. Software and weight sensors are used to adjust the mechanized gait to the ability of each user.

“I think half of what this brings to the table is the psychological aspect of looking people in the eyes,” says Mosko. “You don’t think about it, but being in a wheelchair, you are down low, you’re in your own world.”

Ekso cofounder Russ Angold said the Ekso GT has been used by about 3,500 patients recovering from stroke and spinal injuries since it was first sold in 2012.

“It gives you so much hope that spinal cord injuries are going to be a thing of the past someday,” says Mosko.

BIKERS BEWARE

Volvo wants cyclists to know when a car is coming.

In partnership with Ericsson and sports gear maker POC, Volvo demonstrated how its car would get a signal from a nearby cyclist’s phone GPS. Meanwhile, the cyclist’s helmet would flash a series of lights and vibrate if that person’s phone senses that a Volvo is nearby and on a collision course.

Volvo says the connected helmet still needs more testing before it can be sold.

LOOK SEGWAY, NO HANDS

Zipping around as if he were floating, hands in his pockets, Kazar Beilerian of Montebello did effortless circles, literally, around the journalists walking from one press conference to the next.

He was riding his company’s IO Hawk. The forward-facing auto-balancing board just needed a little pressure from the toes to start moving.

Leaning forward too much, though, could sometimes send a person backward.

The device costs $1,800 and has a rival: Inventist’s Hovertrax.

HIGH-TECH SEWING

Cameras aren’t limited to smartphones anymore. A new sewing machine from Brother has one — and a scanner, too. You can scan a pattern and edit it on the sewing machine’s LCD screen. The machine will then embroider the pattern for you (though you can’t step away for long, as you need to manually change spools of thread to change colors).

As for that camera? Sorry, it’s not for selfies. The camera works with lasers to ensure you’re sewing straight.

The Dream Machine sells for $15,000.

ILLUMINATED SONGS

Sony’s Symphonic Light Speaker looks like a clear cylinder of glass that surrounds an LED light bulb. The glass itself vibrates imperceptibly to act as a speaker to play music from a smartphone or other device.

“It fills your room with music while obviously lighting up your daily life,” says Sony Corp. CEO Kazuo Hirai.

Perhaps totally unnecessary, yet cool.

Sony didn’t announce a price or release date.

TOMORROW’S GADGETS

A new smartwatch from Samsung has a glass interface to appear transparent, while a new phone has a hologram interface with fingerprint security. There’s also a Bluetooth earpiece with a metallic frame for combat-ready durability.

Where can you buy them? Sorry, they exist only in Hollywood. They were custom-made by Samsung for the upcoming “Avengers” movie from Marvel. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The props were on display at a private event at CES. There are no current plans to make even fake versions for fans.

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WIGWIRED: Out and Active

Extreme Selfie. The prestigious Tillywig Award for “best toy” has gone to Lexibook’s Wi-Fi Move Cam, a sports camera made for action and adventure — pedaling down a mountain bike trail, hiking around the bend, snorkeling on the lake’s bottom and swimming out to the float.

Seek & find. Pricey boats are equipped with pricey fish finders and depth plotters. For anglers just paddling away from shore in a kayak, or even standing on shore or a pier, Deeper’s Smart Fishfinder is a more moderately priced alternative at $250. The fishfinder is cast using a rod and reel to send an image of what lies beneath the water to a companion app. Be sure to double-check the clasp before casting.

Spot on. For those heading into remote or rural areas and not expecting reliable cell signals, the Spot satellite messenger can be used to let social media friends know when you’ve reached the summit of the mountain or the bottom of the canyon but, more importantly, transmit an SOS when an emergency strikes.

Pocket trainer. Train for more than a game with the free Mountain Athletics app, which contains an instant goal tracker, training for endurance and strength, a timer and rep counter and athlete tips.

On break. Take the phone but turn off email. A recent survey found that work email is encroaching into the personal lives and downtime of many laborers. About 44.8 percent of those surveyed for the poll say they check work email at least once a day in their personal time.About 63.6 percent of those surveyed admit to checking work email while on holiday, and:

• 6.7% have gone through work email during a child’s school event.

• 5% have checked work email during a wedding ceremony.

• 3.8% have checked work mail during a funeral.

• 3.8% owned up to checking their work email while their spouse was in labor.

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WiGWIRED: Behemoth TVs start to take off

Supersized isn’t just for french fries.

Americans increasingly are replacing their once-enviable 50-inch TVs with even bigger screens. Think: 65-inches and up.

People are snagging big screens — pushing sales of them up 50 percent in the past year while overall TV sales have faltered. As prices fall, hardcore TV watchers and video gamers are finding sets affordable that a few years ago would have been playthings for wealthier people.

Jarvis Jackson, for instance, plans to spend up to $1,500 for a 65-inch TV with Internet capability. Jackson, who lives in Birmingham, Ala., says he’ll scale back on dining out and postpone other purchases to make room in his budget.

“You definitely can tell the difference between a 55-inch and a larger size TV,” says Jackson. “To get the right TV is important, especially when football season is coming up.”

Shoppers like Jackson are being enticed by new technologies like Internet capability that allows Netflix streaming, and Ultra HD screens, which offer a sharper picture.

Falling prices have also made big screens more accessible to the average person: TV prices overall have fallen 9 to 11 percent, and the average price of a 50-inch TV is down $75 from two years ago to $573, according to research firm NPD Group.

“TVs are more affordable than they’ve ever been, so a ‘supersized’ TV today is still far less expensive than smaller screens were three or four years ago,” says Jamie Bastian, a spokeswoman for Target, which expanded its selection of big-screen TVs to include 70-inch versions this year, up from last year’s 60 inches.

Although TVs 65 inches or bigger account for just 2 percent of sets sold, they’re the bright spot in a market that has been slumping in part because more people are using tablets and cellphones to stream movies and TV shows.

Overall, TVs 50 inches and bigger accounted for 25 percent of the sets sold in the past 12 months, up from 14 percent in 2012. NPD expects the figure to reach 30 percent this year.

The advent of flat screens and high-definition television prompted a rush to upgrade a decade ago, but things like 3-D TVs have failed to entice buyers in recent years. But experts say Ultra HD is a simple enough upgrade to gain widespread adoption in the next few years.

While overall TV sales have dropped as much as 10 percent annually since 2010, big-screen TVs have become the fastest-growing category. During the year that ended April, 800,000 65-inch TVs or larger were sold, a 69 percent jump. That equated to a 50 percent increase to $1.6 billion in sales in a TV market totaling an estimated $18 billion.

Lower-income shoppers are accounting for a larger share of the supersized TVs. In the year that ended in April, 61 percent of TVs 60 inches or larger were purchased by shoppers with household incomes of $75,000 or less, up from 45 percent a year earlier, according to NPD.

Retailers are taking advantage of the demand. Amazon.com plans to feature some 100-inch models this year, while Chicago-based electronics store Abt is expanding its warehouse space by nearly 30 percent, in part to accommodate bigger TVs.

Best Buy is increasing its selection of 55-inch-plus TVs by 20 percent. But big-screen TVs come with hassles: Best Buy delivery people sometimes have to open the box on the customer’s front lawn or go through a patio door because the box won’t fit through a regular door. Best Buy says a 55-inch Samsung TV weighs 37 pounds whereas a 75-inch Samsung TV weighs 83 pounds.

“I don’t think anyone would have estimated the appetite for the size of these TVs,” says Luke Motschenbacher, director of Best Buy’s TV business.

Smartphone apps remind patients to take meds

Medicine only helps if you take it properly. And adhering to an exact schedule of what to take, and when, can be challenging for patients who are forgetful or need to take several medications.

Doctors warn about the consequences and urge patients to use various techniques, such as using divided pill boxes or putting their pill bottles beside their toothbrush as a reminder to take their morning and bedtime medicines.

Still, only about half of patients take medication as prescribed, resulting in unnecessary hospital admissions and ER visits that cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $290 billion a year.

To help combat the problem, many doctors are trying a more high-tech approach: They’re recommending smartphone apps that send reminders to patients to take their medications and record when they take each one.

“I think it’s going to become pretty standard” for doctors to recommend them, said Dr. Michael A. Weber, a cardiologist at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Weber began recommending apps to patients a few months ago and already has seen better lab results from a few using them.

“Some people say, `That’s a great idea,'” Weber said. “Even ones who claim they’re conscientious, like the reminders.”

He said the apps are particularly helpful for patients with symptomless conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Those patients are less likely to regularly take their medications than someone with pain or an infection.

“I don’t think they’re going to change the world,” Weber said, though he recognizes benefit of apps. Even so, he said smartphone apps won’t do much to help people who simply don’t like taking medicine, fear side effects or can’t afford their prescriptions.

It’s too soon to tell how well the apps keep patients compliant or how long they keep using them.

Darrell West, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the independent public policy group Brookings Institution, said some doctors have reported better medication adherence, but there haven’t been large scale studies on the effectiveness of such apps.

The apps began appearing a few years ago and now there are dozens.

Available functions include providing more detailed information on the patient’s medication and illness, prompts to refill prescriptions, email alerts about possible drug interactions, doctor locators and more.

Some have symptom checkers, and one called iPharmacy can identify pills when patients enter their shape, color and imprinted text. Others are just for women on birth control pills or patches (myPill) or patients with complex chronic diseases, such as cancer (CareZone Cancer), diabetes (Diabetes Pacer, which also tracks blood sugar and exercise) or HIV (My Health Matters, from drugmaker Merck & Co.). For those patients, getting off schedule or ignoring symptoms can have particularly serious consequences.

Still more apps take distinct approaches. For instance, Mango Health lets users earn points for complying with their medication schedule. Those points can be turned into gift cards or charitable donations.

CEO and founder Jason Oberfest, formerly head of game platforms at MySpace, said Mango Health partners with doctors and health insurers who are recommending its app to patients and customers.

The app, featured in Apple’s iTunes store, gives a history showing users daily results and point total, plus graphs comparing an individual’s adherence to other app users.

According to the company, 46 percent of its monthly visitors use the app daily and 60 percent are still using it after four months. For widely used classes of drugs for depression, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, the company claims at least 80 percent of its users take their meds as prescribed. That’s compared to 59 percent or less in independent studies of overall patient adherence for those drug classes.

“We’ve heard from people using the application as old as their mid-’70s and older,” Oberfest said, but it’s especially popular with the 35-to-55 age group, people familiar with video games.

Here are some tips for choosing an app:

-Check whether it’s available for your smartphone’s operating system. Some are only available for one system or haven’t been updated for the latest phones.

-Ask your doctor’s opinion. Some may not be up on the different apps but have staff members who can help patients pick and install apps.

-Start with one of the many free or low-cost apps. Search your app store for “medication reminder.”

-Think about what you’ll really use. If you only want reminders to take your pills, that’s all you need. If you’re taking multiple drugs or change medications often, you might prefer an app with information on your condition, drug interactions and other details.

-To protect your privacy, pick one with password protection.

-If your life is hectic, consider one with a snooze function.

WiGWIRED: Grocery stores check out Apple’s iBeacon

Pretty soon, your phone might remind you to pick up laundry detergent as you peruse the microbrews in the supermarket, just a couple of aisles away.

Mobile shopping startup InMarket started using Apple’s in-store location technology, iBeacon, this week to send shoppers deals, rewards and grocery list reminders inside U.S. grocery stores.

IBeacon, which works with Apple devices running iOS 7, is already being used inside Apple stores. Shoppers will only receive notifications if they download the apps — such as inMarket’s Checkpoints — with the iBeacon feature and opt in to receive them.

Initially, the sensors — which are much more precise than GPS but work in a similar fashion — are available in dozens of Safeway and Giant Eagle stores in Seattle, San Francisco and Cleveland.

Techgaze: Wireless audio gizmos under $500

If “unplugged” acoustic music was a hallmark of the ‘90s, surely “wireless” listening is the big trend of the ‘10s.

Sure, we’ve been essentially wireless since the radio came out a century ago. But today’s Internet-connected mobile devices often require cords to hook up to accessories like speakers and headphones. And these cords can result in a knotty nightmare in your bag.

Several wireless gadgets I tried out recently should keep music lovers a bit more tangle-free this holiday season.

Beats Studio Wireless ($380):

This plush set of over-ear headphones almost mirrors Beats’ popular Studio line, but comes with wireless ability for an $80 increase in price. Like the wired-only model, this puts you in a cocoon with its noise-canceling technology, which works even if you just want padded silence. The sound is crisp, and the bass is deep.

A button on the outside of the left ear cup operates like the button on standard iPhone earbuds: one click to pause, two to skip forward and so on. A disc-shaped button turns the volume up and down.

The headphones promise 12 hours of wireless listening and 20 hours if you connect the cord, which is included.

Nearly $400 for headphones is pricey, but whoever gets this as a holiday gift will be mightily pleased. It’s an outstanding way to bliss out during a noisy commute. It works as a headset for phone calls, too.

Monster iSport Freedom ($250):

Meant for a workout, these on-ear headphones are made of sweat-resistant plastic and rubbery material and will give you a tight-fitting hug.

Although the headphones didn’t jostle while jogging, there’s something about completely covering your ears that creates a kind of bone-conducing sound. Every foot strike resulted in a thud inside my head, something that doesn’t happen with $29 iPhone EarPods. In addition, on-ear headphones squish your ears against your frames if you are wearing glasses.

Separate buttons for volume up, down and skipping forward and back were difficult to use, partly because I often hit a much larger button for pause and play instead.

That said, the sound is excellent, and I appreciate not having to worry about yanking my headphones off accidentally by snagging the cord.

With 10 hours of playback time per charge, these should outlast all but the most enduring athletes.

Sonos Play:1 ($200 each):

The little brother to the company’s Play:3 and Play:5 speakers packs a big, immersive sound in a package the size of a pickle jar.

Unlike Bluetooth speakers, Sonos speakers run over Wi-Fi and need to be plugged into a power outlet. Through the end of the year, the company is throwing in, for no extra charge, a $50 Bridge adapter to attach to your router, so you can free yourself from having to plug an Ethernet cable into at least one speaker.

You can play digital tunes that you own or use streaming services such as Pandora and Rdio. I found Sonos’ Wi-Fi connection to be far more consistent than using other speakers with Bluetooth, which can cause skips now and then.

The speakers are designed to disperse sound in a wide radius and fill a room. When two little Play:1s are paired for stereo sound, they deliver big time.

Beats Pill 2.0 ($200):

This Tylenol-shaped beat box puts out a decent sound, but to me, it’s remarkably tinny for the Beats brand.

This year’s model, however, adds some cool features. A near-field communications chip lets you pair two Pills together for stereo sound. If you are on the road, you can lift a tab to reveal a full USB port, which you can use to charge your mobile phone if you don’t mind giving up some of its seven-hour playback time. On a full charge, it can replace two-thirds of an iPhone 5S battery.

But the Pill is indeed round and will roll. One rolled off a shelf on me and dropped three feet onto the floor. It didn’t miss a beat or get dented, but I wouldn’t recommend trying it at home.

Marley Get Together ($200):

This is what you want when you go on a picnic with your hippie friends. It’s even made of hemp.

No kidding: The cloth enclosure is made of recycled hemp, organic cotton and recycled plastic. Its natural bamboo front gives this an Earth-loving, yet luxurious polish. Two big woofers and two tweeters on the front will reassure you that you’re not compromising on sound.

Playing Bob Marley over Bluetooth on this modern-day boom box just seems right. It has eight hours of battery life. And I’m sure if the Rasta master were alive today, even he would appreciate the USB port on the back that can be used for charging mobile devices.

Soundcast Melody ($450):

This Bluetooth speaker flips the idea of surround sound on its head. A speaker grill encircles a body that is shaped like a rice cooker. You can surround it from any direction and still feel the sound coming your way.

This chunky, 9-pound speaker is for people who want mobility from a speaker system, but for whom weight is no issue. With a full charge, it’ll play up to 20 hours at low volume or two hours if you’re blasting it.

At this price, it’s pushing the upper end of wireless speakers. But it’s an attractive travel companion with its four speaker sets pointing in all directions, quality sound, lengthy battery life and car-lighter charger attachment.

HMDX Jam Plus ($60 each):

These stubby speakers the size of a tumbler glass are perfect companions to a laptop or tablet.

Pairing two of them for stereo sound was a snap thanks to a switch on the bottom that designates which one is right and left. The speakers have comically short USB cables for charging, no longer than a foot. Provided you have USB ports on both sides of a laptop, insert one on either side for stereo sound.

Mind you, the USB port doesn’t act as an audio connection if your device isn’t Bluetooth-ready. Unplugged, they should give you six hours of listening.

The fact that the speakers point straight up isn’t a deal breaker somehow, as the sound is dispersed well.

For the price, a pair of these would make a nice stocking stuffer for any gadget lover.

On the Web …

Beats Studio Wireless: http://bit.ly/17wrpQY

Monster iSport Freedom: http://bit.ly/1881vBx

Sonos Play:1: http://bit.ly/1a8OqIr

Beats Pill 2.0: http://bit.ly/HT69JJ

Marley Get Together: http://bit.ly/18wIepV

Soundcast Melody: http://bit.ly/17yQ6Mx

HMDX Jam Plus: http://bit.ly/1eR3b6s