Category Archives: Tech

Back To School Tech: Do Your Kids Really Need It?

Gone are the days of Pee Chee folders and rad book covers of our youth, my friends.  Our kids need back to school tech.  And you do too. Now that we have that question answered, let’s talk about the why what and how much with a little help from Verizon, my brand partner for this post. 

I can clearly remember the first year that tech became part of our back-to-school shopping list. That year I had kids in high school, middle school, elementary and preschool. Looking back, I’m sort of surprised I made it through that year. The pickup lines alone should have done me in.  

It started with cell phones for the older kids. Soon though the middle h showed a penchant for art and a teacher told us we should consider a digital sketchpad.  We made that purchase and never regretted it. As the kids started to travel, find their love of reading, started to become explorers, tech came along for the ride. 

This summer Verizon asked me to join them at their Baltimore destination store to host a discussion for parents that focused on back-to-school tech.  The best part? I got to talk about the products I love most of all and how they help us manage school, sports, travel and family time. 

Since you couldn’t be there, I thought I’d share my top four picks and why I love them so. 

Top 5 Picks for  Back To School Tech 

Google Home (mini)

If you’ve ever gone hoarse from hollering at your kids to get to the dinner table, found them playing a game rather than doing research on the laptop, or had family arguments about the atomic weight of slime, this is the gadget you need. It’s sort of an all-in-one family helper. 

Kids can google topics without jumping on a device that may distract them from the work that needs to be done. It works as an intercom system and media player in your home. And, if you were the type of parent who might want to just drop in on the sly to see what they’re up to in their room, you can do that too. Not that I do… nope, not me.  

Samsung Gear VR 

I. Am. Obsessed. With. This. It started out as my own personal Netflix home theater. Then it became a fun way to laugh at people as they tried to play AR games that had zombies chasing them. Then things changed. 

The youngest came home with an assignment on the galaxy. After having to paint foam balls to look like planets, three times before her, I just couldn’t get excited about doing this again. We were fiddling around with our VR and found an app that allowed you to play around in space. This changed everything! The assignment went from boring and repetitive, to immersive and engaging. 

Since then, we’ve taken a ride through the human body to see how platelets and antibodies work. Done a report on glaciers after zooming across, around and THROUGH one. I honestly feel like AR is the future of learning and these types of gadgets will soon become back to school tech must-haves. 

Nest Home Camera

Our oldest is a Marine and traverses about the planet doing hero stuff. The next one down is 19 and a continent away at college. But, we still have two at home, even when we aren’t home with them. The Nest Home Camera gives me so much peace of mind and lets me almost be there, even when I can’t. 

The Nest is more than a nanny cam. It is a two-way communicator. When the kids get home they walk up to the Nest, setting off an alert on my phone. I can then pop in and ask them how their day was. We chat, they show me their classwork or the dog. They like to put the dog up to the Nest and see him look around frantically trying to figure out how mom got in that tiny box. 

Nest does double duty as a home safety device too. Oh, and I can also drop in to see what they are doing when they aren’t looking for. Not that I do that either… nope, not me. 

ASUS ZenPad Z8s 

They want an iPad, you want to pay the mortgage. The ASUS ZenPad tablet is the compromise. It has what they need, fast processing, great connectivity, a plethora of available apps. Paying less than $300 for it will make you feel like you got the gold star. 

Verizon Smart Family

Smart tech can be the tool that helps bring your family closer together. In a time where we are worried about how healthy it is to be too connected when we face the argument of how much screen time is too much, Verizon Smart Family can be that tool for you. 

I love it because;

  • I can set up different content filters for each person in our family
  • Setting turn-off times for the wifi means I don’t have to keep changing (and forgetting) the password to be sure that the kids aren’t on their devices past bedtime
  • I always know where my kids’ devices are with location tracking… find the device you typically find the kid, right? 

Though I must confess I miss some of the simplicity of my back to school days, I’m also really into all the cool ways technology is transforming the learning experience of my kids. That said… 

Also… Pee Chee folders forever! 

 

Turkey Tech: Apps for Thanksgiving Planning

Believe it or not, we blinked and the holidays snuck up on us. If you’re like me, you may have found yourself in a daze wondering how this happened and just how you’re going to get everything done in the next five days or so. Fear not my friends all you need is a little turkey tech! 

Thanksgiving planning (say it with me) … there is an app for that! In fact, there is more than one way to use technology to help get the turkey and all it’s trimmings on the table. 

photo credit: foodista
photo credit: foodista
Bon Appétit Manual

Sick of that tired old green bean casserole? Not sure when you should start the stuffing? Looking to liven up the turkey day lineup? This is an app you’ll want to check out.

Condé Nast has updated their popular (free) app – Bon Appétit Manual –  that helps take some of the mystery out of what to cook and when to cook it. It’s also packed with ideas that will put an end to boring, bland and overcooked dishes.

Butterball Cookbook Plus

Planning, prep, thawing, cooking… this app has it all covered. Makes total sense since Butterball is pretty much synonymous with Thanksgiving dinner. 

Ah, but the Butterball Cookbook Plus app comes with more than just Thanksgiving day guidance. Want to know what to do with those leftovers? Is it worth it to snag two birds while their cheap and cook one later? Let their everyday recipes be your guide. They’ve even got options for turkey snacks. Sweet tryptophan daydreams, Batman!

Hello Vino

Because… hello, you can’t forget the vino. How many times have you found yourself wondering what wine to bring as a hostess gift? Or better yet what to serve to your guests?  

Hello Vino is the app that takes care of all that. It also helps you shop within your budget while hopefully helping you avoid the disappointment of getting stuck with an expensive and crappy wine, for which no thanks will be given. 

Blogs… Yep, Go Old School 

Remember way back in the day (like five years ago) before you’d just mindlessly pin things that you’d never actually read? Don’t get me wrong, I love some Pinterest. Let’s be honest here though it’s become a bit of a shiny object thing over there. 

See It. OOOH, like that! Pin it. Never actually find out what the post it links out to even is. Gah! 

This holiday let us give thanks for blogs and bloggers out there who slave away in the kitchen, perfectly pose their food, snap mouthwateringly awesome images and actually share their recipe for YUM with us! 

Thirty Thanksgiving Side Dishes from A Cork, Fork and Passport is a roundup of drool-inducing inspiration from around the blogosphere that pretty much wraps up ALL you need for the perfect meal of thanks, except for the bird. Julie’s very own Au Gratin Brussels Sprouts will change your life. 

No stress Thanksgiving bird? Inconceivable! Or maybe not. This recipe for Easy Garlic and Herb Roast Turkey from NeighborFood could put the makers of Zoloft out of business.

 Liza at (a)Musing Foodie is a muse of mine (see what I did there?) From weeknight make-it-easy dinners to the center of your holiday table, she’ll keep you hungry.  This year we’ll be heading to The Big Easy for a non-traditional holiday. So last week I made her roast turkey recipe using a small bird and little fuss. 

Oh. My. Yum. 

Top off that turkey and side dish fuss with a sweet and happy ending from THE Garlic Girl. Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Icing for me, yes. You’ll need to find something for you because I’m not sharing! 

No matter whether your turkey day is high tech or no tech, remember that gratitude is something that requires no app. Happy Thanksgiving Nuggetiers! 

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!  

Better (it really does matter)

If you’ve been around here a time or two you may know that I collaborate with Verizon. Most of the time that means testing out new products or services and sharing my honest thoughts here. While I always guarantee readers my unedited opinions, I also accept that not everyone buys the fact that they aren’t influenced, maybe just a little. I get it. Really, I do. I tend to wonder about “sponsored” content too.  I recently had an experience with Verizon Wireless that had nothing to do with my collaboration. It proved to me that their slogan, Better Matters really is a thing.  

The youngest of our Little Nuggets turned ten this summer. Here in the coop the traditional ten-year gift is a cell phone. Right around the same time the teen needed an upgrade (can’t have a smartphone without a functioning camera… oh the humanity!) and our household said goodbye to analog – so long answering machine, you served us well. Off to the Verizon store we went, with no little amount of trepidation.

In the past a visit to the store meant hours sucked out of our weekend. Help that was little to no help at all, and coming home with lighter pockets and befuddled brains. A few years back I even managed to get signed up for two insurance plans on the same phone.

Wait, we thought she was writing about why Verizon Wireless is, um… better.

I hear ya, and I am. I’ve since learned that not all Verizon stores are created equally. In fact, not all Verizon stores are even Verizon stores. What?!! 20160813_132532-01 Here is the deal, there are a lot of stores out there that are Verizon ‘authorized dealers’. Any number of them are great, I’m sure. I just didn’t find those. I found the one that made me dread the cellphone store. Then I found a Verizon store. (cue harp music and unicorn sparkles)

The Verizon store nearest us was a bit of a trek, but totally worth it. From the minute we walked into the store in Glen Burnie, Maryland it was evident things were going to be different. Starting with the warm welcome my phone gave me. Yep, the phone welcomed me to the store… hello, Kubrick!

Team members took our info, what we needed and gave us an actual estimate of how long it would be before we were helped. The doctor’s could take some lessons here! 

Just about everything in the store was hands-on with demos and clear pricing. That pricing thing was the teen’s least favorite feature. When mama knows not everything goes. We played, laughed and got tips from the welcome staff. It didn’t even feel like waiting.

Gerald, our Solutions Specialist (and new BFF) helped the kiddos look through phones, showed them features and put my mind at ease with some cool functions for parental controls. At no point did he push hard for upgrades or add-on items. He’d mention it once. Then accepted my answer like I actually was a human who knew what I did and didn’t want. WOW!

20160813_135510-01While we waiting for data transfers from our old to new phones, Gerald showed us some cool new products. The Nest Cam will be finding its new tree at our house sometime soon. Our current security system came with one camera that doesn’t have the motion-sensing tech an easy install that Nest features.  Plus, I can take my helicopter parenting to a whole new place with it – ha ha. 

Our new puppy doesn’t have a taste for shoes, but he did find my beloved Plantronics Backbeat Fit headphones quite tasty. Gerald introduced me to the Jaybird X2 wireless headphones, which were pretty awesome – not Backbeat awesome but an option for sure. Again, he didn’t try to oversell.

Since that data transfer was taking a bit longer Gerald offered to put the Zagg screen protectors on our new phones. Okay, that was beyond awesome! I’ve never been able to get one on without it looking like bubble wrap on my screen. In fact I usually hate that so much I eventually take the damn thing off and live with the scratches and eventually the cracks.

In the space of less than an hour our family was fully outfitted with sweet new phones (yes, I got me an upgrade too!) some cool and useful accessories and a newfound adore for the Verizon store. Any place can sell you the phone, the ear buds, the cases and shields, but very few places bring the customer service like an actual  Verizon store and the humans that work there. 

20160813_144957-01(This is Gerald. Helpful and adorable too!)

It comes down to people in the end and that’s when better matters.

 

My Life Before Tile

World changing events tend to earn a certain tense in life and history. BC = Before Christ. Postpartum = After you popped the kid out.  And now – in my world – BT and WT = Before Tile and With Tile. 

I know what you’re thinking… Oh, Lara you silly, hyperbolic nut is it really that dramatic? Yes. Yes, it is. You see dear friend my world has changed and its all due to a tiny square of plastic. Tile

Let’s back up just a little here. You may not know this about me, but I am a chronic loser. Not like, “…her finger and her thumb om the shape of an L on her forehead,” loser. Though come to think of it, I did just quote Smashmouth. More like if my head wasn’t attached I’d lose it.

If ever I were to find all the pairs of sunglasses I’ve misplaced I could open a store. Keys evade me like the Cheshire Cat. I’ve actually left my passport in a cab. I’m that cliche.

I’ve tried all the fixes. Keep a journal (left that on a train), tie a ribbon around your finger… wait, that’s for remembering things. I may have an issue there too. There may or may not have been a clapper in my past. I once drove round trip to NYC and back to retrieve my laptop left under a desk in my mother-in-law’s house. Told ya, it’s epic my ability to lose anything but weight.

So when my friends at Verizon asked if I’d like to give a new product that keeps track of things you lose, I was so in. Would Tile be a match for me?

Yes… SO. MUCH. YES.

tileWhat is Tile, you ask? Tile is a tiny Bluetooth tracker and easy-to-use app that finds everyday items in seconds—like your phone, keys, and wallet… and hooray, sunglasses!

Here is how it works

Ring It – Loudly ring a lost item from the app and find it by sound.

See It – Check the map in the app for its last known location and time.

BONUS – Press Tile to make your phone ring—even if it’s on silent.

Tile provided me with one tile to try out and it was so awesome I had to get more. Seriously, the options for using it are endless. I’ve Tile(d) all the keys, my planner, sunglasses, iPad case, the kid’s lunch boxes, and even the dog.

 

I dig a good gadget but by no means am I one of those people who has to have all the things. Every once in a while though something comes along that I can’t wait to try. Being the Queen of, “where the hell did I put it?!” I was excited to see if @tiledit could keep up with me. (Seriously, I once left my keys in the deep freezer. It’s in the basement. Why did I even have my keys in the basement?) Well…. I am blown away. My phone finds my keys – thanks to the app. Had my keys this morning but couldn’t find my phone. Called it. It was dead. My keys found the phone, it even chimes when the battery is dead! Thanks to my #collab with @verizon who sent me this to try, I may have a Tile addiction in the making. Picked up a four pack so the kids and dog could get Tiled. My Da is getting this for Father’s Day. Yup, the losing crap thing is genetic. #tiledit

A photo posted by Lara DiPaola ✈ (@dipaolamomma) on

He has a microchip and has never gotten out of the yard, thank god. If he did though Tile would beat the chip, hands down. I’d just open up the app, ring him and look on the map. Being the newly minted Crazy Dog Mom that I am, this gives me huge peace of mind. A few months back we got robo calls from a pet tracking company telling us about a missing dog in our area who had medical issues. I can’t imagine that sort of worry. With Tile I hopefully never will. 

Even if you aren’t an epic loser, like me, Tile can still change your life. Give it a try.  Verizon offers them in packs of four for around $69.

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!

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Could Q Have Designed the Moto 360?

How could would it be to have your own version of Bond’s Q? I mean really, who couldn’t use a gadget guy hold up in a secret lab creating super cool tech to make you even more awesome? Through my collaboration with Verizon I got a chance take what I’ve deemed Suave Spy Gear befitting – the Moto 360 2nd Gen Smartwatch – for a test drive. 

moto 360 smartwatch review

Moto 360 Smartwatch Review

First off, the gadgets that Q designed for Bond were always stylish. An Aston Martin complete with a bar and rocket launchers… that’s just plain sexy. By that measure the Moto 360 Rose Gold watch for the ladies fits the bill. It’s sleek and the neutral tons make it work with just about any outfit.

The cool factor gets a bump from the ability to use apps that customize the face. Choose something more traditional {as seen above}, find a face with artwork from famous designers, or use your own photos. There are even interactive options.  The motion activated face is really cool too. “Hide” what you’ve got going on as the face dims when your wrist is in a flat position. Flick that wrist and the face comes to life right where you’ll see it.  Very Suave Spy cool.

All that said it is a little big measuring in at 11.4mm. But hey, it’s a statement piece.

One of the other qualities of Q created gadgets is their ability to appear as one thing while having other hidden functions. The Moto 360 does that best with its fitness tracker. No more need to have both a watch and my Vivo Fit on one arm.

The fitness tracker in the Moto 360 (Moto Body) tracks all the typical stuff; heart activity, steps, total calorie burn, running, and heart rate. I wish it tracked sleep. 

Moto 360 smartwatch face app

Moto Body has a great analysis tool that keeps me on track. I also like that it’s compatible with MyFitness Pal. I’ve long been a fan and user of this app and all my data from Vivo had to be manually input.

I love the talk-to-text feature, mostly because I feel so very Spy-Girl when I talk to my watch. Yes, I’m a nerd. I own that. Like with any other talk-to-text platform this one can be a bit tricky. Nobody wants to send a client a reply that says, “Let’s move our meat up to next week.” Yep, that happened. Ugh.

Things I really loved include; alerts for incoming calls, texts and email, calendar reminders, GPS, and the wide variety of available apps. My banking app is even Moto 360 compatible.  The charging dock is small and easy to use. Wearing the watch means less having to hunt around for my phone.

Along with the good there was some not-so-good. The battery drains really quickly. I haven’t been able to wear it for more than a day without having to recharge. In the month or so that I’ve been wearing the watch it has had several bug issues and crashed a few times. That said, Motorola was quick with the fix. I wish there were a way to manually input text. Using the search feature is cumbersome. So much so that I just gave up. The leather band isn’t very durable, but I’m sure you can find chic replacement bands.

moto 360 smartwatch review apps

Is the Moto 360 Smartwatch worthy of Bond? It’s certainly better than an old school watch for making tech-life easier. Were Q to get his hands on it, it could be essential spy gear. For now it’s certainly great for mom-life.

Disclosure: As a member of a very cool team of influencers for Verizon Wireless I sometimes receive compensation, cool gadgets to test drive, or get attend special events. All opinions entirely my own, based on my experiences, because you deserve nothing less!