Nest Hello review: Intelligent video doorbell helps you feel safe, announces visitors through Google Home

When I bought my house five years ago I decided to setup my own home monitoring system and installed a couple Dropcam cameras. I added a Nest outdoor camera last year and have been satisfied with the quality, performance, and ease of use.

While I had my front porch covered with a Dropcam in an outdoor enclosure, I almost bought a Ring doorbell instead. Then I heard that Nest was going to release a competitor so I placed a pre-order a couple of months ago that also included another Google Home Mini as a bonus.

Last week I setup my new Nest Hello and am very pleased with the high quality recording, integration with Google Home devices that announce the name of people at my door, and

Specifications

  • Camera: 1/3 inch, 3 megapixel color sensor with 8x digital zoom
  • Field of view: 160 degrees diagonal
  • Video resolution: 1600×1200 at up to 30 frames per second with HDR
  • Night vision: 850 nm infrared LEDs
  • Water resistance: IPx4
  • Connectivity: 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac WiFi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)
  • Operating temperature: 14° to 104°F (-10° to 40°C)
  • Dimensions: 117 x 43 x 26 mm and 121.6 grams

The retail package includes Nest Hello video doorbell the chime connector, 15 degree wedge, release tool, masonry drill bit, window decal, wall plate, extension wires, wall anchors, screws, and a Quick Start Guide.

Hardware and installation

The Nest Hello is a white and black device that looks like a larger standard doorbell you might find already mounted outside your door. This is important as it doesn’t cause confusion for people when they walk up to your house to ring it.

The lower part where a person pushes has a nice lighted ring to help direct people to the button. The upper portion is where you find the camera that records their arrival.

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The retail package comes with all of the parts and pieces you need. I’ve done a lot of work on my houses in the past so had no hesitation in following the step-by-step instructions found in the iOS and Android app. It took me about 15 minutes to get the Nest Hello installed and the only tool I needed was a Philips screwdriver.

The directions were very specific and helped me install the chime connector, mounting plate, and doorbell. I also used my camera to capture the photos recommended in the app in order to make sure the wiring was correct.

The doorbell that came with my house was a complete piece of junk that the builder probably bought for 50 cents. It was mounted horizontally on a piece of siding near my door under a covered porch.

The Nest Hello mounts vertically, but thankfully the wiring came through the siding in the middle of a piece so there was room to mount the Nest Hello on this piece of siding material. I also did not need to use the wedge to angle the Nest Hello away from my door.




























Smartphone software

The same Nest app that I use for monitoring and controlling my Nest Thermostat and other Nest cameras is used for the Nest Hello doorbell. Having one central app to control my home monitoring system was a major reason I selected the Nest Hello over other devices.

Within the smartphone app, you can customize all of the camera settings. These include notification type (push or email), when to send notifications, what activity you want to be notified for, sound toggle, manage familiar faces, manage Nest Aware subscriptions, schedule the camera, enable quiet time, setup visitor announcements, and much more.

I connected my Nest Hello to my Google WiFi mesh network and it has performed perfectly over the last 10 days. Since I have a data cap with Xfinity cable internet, I will have to keep an eye on the impact of the Nest Hello. Nest states that at 1600 x 1200, each Nest Hello could use 150GB to 600GB of upload bandwidth per month depending on the video quality setting.

To help my Nest Hello optimize notifications I have enabled the familiar faces features. After the camera spots faces then the app will prompt you to respond if you know this person. You can then go into the settings and name the people identified by the camera. As I build up this database, I notice a few instances where I have multiple face categories for the same person. Sometimes the person has glasses or a hat on. I hope that Nest learns these faces and can then let me combine all of those identified into a single designation. If not, it will still name the person in the notification.

You can also designate zones, much like other Nest cameras, so you can have notifications enabled only when someone enters those zones. This is important for houses that face a busy street or sidewalk and only want notifications when someone approaches the door. My Nest Hello is setup on a wall that faces the length of the house front so no zones are currently needed to limit notifications.

Speaking of notifications, I have a house full of Google Home devices and have enabled Nest Hello integration. When a familiar face rings my Nest Hello all of the Google Home devices in my house announce that this person is at my door. This is a major advantage of the Nest Hello and makes for a safer experience when answering your door. Everyone in the family loves it so far, especially if they are in a room far away and someone comes to the door.

You can also view your Nest Hello via a web browser so you can get access to your cameras from virtually any computer wherever you may be.

Pricing and competition

The Nest Hello is priced at $229 while its direct competitor, the Ring Video Doorbell Pro, is priced at $249. Specifications are about the same, but the Nest Hello has a 4:3 format, better format to show people from head to toe, with slightly higher resolution and deeper integration with Google Home.

In order to receive familiar face alerts, continuous video history, activity zones, clips, and timelapses you need to have a Nest Aware subscription. I subscribe with a couple of my other Nest cameras and Nest provides a free trial for the Nest Hello as well. The subscription is $5/month or $50/year. If you own multiple Nest cameras there are subscription price reductions available too. My current Nest Aware trial for the Nest Hello is free until next year.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

Nest cameras are installed in my house for safety and security for the entire family. There may be other products with more customization and higher levels of performance, but Nest makes it easy for everyone in the family to quickly check their phone for the cameras in the house.

The Nest Hello has so far exceeded my expectations, especially with the Google Home personal announcements, and allowed me to move one of my existing Nest cameras to another location of my house so that I have even more complete coverage of things with the Nest cameras.

My wife’s aunt is currently battling cancer so has moved in with us for support. The ability to silence the doorbell chime while still being able to see who is at the door allows her to rest during the day. Our small dogs go crazy when the door bell rings so this noise is removed thanks to the Nest Hello solution.

If you are looking for a way to monitor who is at your door, it’s tough to beat a Nest Hello doorbell. The video quality is excellent, you can talk to the person through the Nest Hello without opening the door, and you feel safer knowing exactly who is on the other side all day and all night.

If the Feds Don’t Act, Expect More Autonomous Car Accidents

The tragic accident in Tempe, Arizona, last Sunday evening that killed Elaine Herzberg as she walked her bike across the road should have never happened. But the same could be said of the 197 pedestrians struck by cars and killed in Arizona in 2016, and the more than 40,000 people who died in car accidents in the US during the same time period.

Herzberg’s death caused a stir because it was caused by one of the self-driving Volvos Uber was testing in the Phoenix area. Because self-driving tech is new and not completely trusted, this one roadway death out of thousands every year has been intensively covered by media, scrutinized by traffic safety experts, and caused considerable hand-wringing among companies that are heavily investing in autonomous technology. It should spur questions about the technology—and government regulators into action.

A video of the accident from inside and outside the vehicle released on Wednesday clearly shows that neither the car’s sensors nor the human safety driver behind the wheel saw Herzberg. The car did not slow down or swerve to avoid hitting here. Even though the Volvo XC90 comes equipped with a range of sensors and driver assist systems—including pedestrian and cyclist detection with auto brake (above)—and the Uber vehicle was outfitted with more sophisticated sensors such as lidar, the vehicle inexplicably never detected Herzberg as she crossed a darkened road.

Her death demonstrates that self-driving tech in its current form isn’t ready for public roads. But it also proves why we desperately need federal regulation to protect people and autonomous vehicle innovation.

Autonomous Tech Testers Flock to Phoenix

Companies like Uber, Lyft, and Waymo have flocked to Phoenix because of Arizona’s lax laws on autonomous vehicle testing. That prompted California to relax its regulations last month, although the state requires self-driving vehicles tested on public roads to have safeguards like remote operation.

States like Florida, which has favorable weather, and Michigan, home to the US car industry, have also adopted a laissez faire approach the autonomous vehicle testing in hopes of attracting or retaining automaker and tech company dollars.

Meanwhile, self-driving car advocates have been waiting on Washington to give guidance on autonomous regulation. The Obama administration and former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx laid the groundwork in January 2016 with a series of voluntary safety guidelines and by offering $4 billion in federal funding to foster the testing and development of self-driving technology.

After power changed hands in D.C. a year later, the federal government and Congress delayed picking up the baton for several months due to partisan bickering and lobbying by special interests. Now, self-driving car policy has effectively stalled on Capitol Hill.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has said that the USDOT won’t stifle innovation but she hasn’t show leadership on self-driving cars. More than a year into the Trump administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the division of the US DOT that supervises motor vehicle regulation and was tasked under the Obama guidelines to oversee autonomous vehicle policy, still doesn’t have an administrator. Overseas, China and Germany have made development of the technology a political priority.

This will continue to leave states to figure it out for themselves—and in the current Wild West environment perhaps more accidents like the one that killed Elaine Herzberg. Collateral damage will also occurr to self-driving technology and the semi-autonomous driver assistance systems since they’ll likely be viewed with even more suspicion by the public due to this mishap.

There’s little doubt that self-driving cars will ultimately save lives and will need to be safely tested on public roads, but with sufficient federal regulation and oversight of the technology. Until then, more people will continue to die on US roads every day. And that too is a tragedy.

Coros Omni smart cycling helmet hands-on: Protection, music, and safety

While wandering through the Showstoppers hall at CES in January, I stumbled across the Coros booth because I saw a bike helmet and GPS watch being displayed. I cycle to work and the fact that the helmet could initiate a text to my wife if I crashed was a compelling feature.

A couple of weeks ago, Coros sent me its Omni smart cycling helmet and I wore it while commuting on both my 1994 Bridgestone XO-3 and RadCity electric bike. It’s an excellent helmet that provides the exact features I’ve been looking for in a more advanced helmet than my Giant model.

Bone conduction speakers

Since I spend the majority of my commute on trails with very little traffic, listening to podcasts and music is an option. However, I will not wear headphones while riding because I fear that drivers may run me over and I want to be aware of my surroundings. The Coros Omni helmet uses bone conduction technology through speakers in the vertical straps to provide an audio experience while keeping both ears free and clear to hear ambient sounds.

The speaker frequency response is 100HZ-20KHz with a volume of 85 plus/minus 3dB. I’ve adjusted the straps so the speakers rest against my face near the front of my ears and can definitely tell when they rest against my face or when I turn my head and the strap moves away from my head.

Music and podcasts play loud enough to enjoy and not miss a beat or a word, but are also not loud enough to distract me. I can completely hear the world around me and have no concern that they are reducing my level of awareness while riding.

The helmet connects to your phone via Bluetooth 4.1 and works just fine with iOS and Android devices. The helmet functions as any other Bluetooth speaker would so when you play audio content on your phone it comes through the speakers and plays on your helmet too.

You can also receive and make calls through the helmet. A microphone is positioned just inside the front of the helmet so that wind does not affect the audio and you can speak forward. My wife confirmed that calls sounded fine, just like most Bluetooth headsets.

Led tail lights

I have a tail light on my bike and also attach a blinking red LED to my cross-body bag. The Coros Omni includes two LED light bars, one on each side of the back with three RGB in each light bar.

You can turn the lights to on, off, and auto. In auto mode, the lights will turn on when it gets dark and off when it gets light. For safety reasons, I tend to turn them on most of the time. I feel that being well lit is a benefit for safety and like having lights up higher on my helmet.

At first I thought the lights could simulate turn signals, but since that wouldn’t be a standard like we see on cars it may just confused drivers. When turned on, the lights blink slowly off and on to raise awareness of a bike rider ahead.
































Remote control

In order to help you stay focused on the road ahead, Coros includes a small remote control with a CR2032 battery that you can mount on your handlebars. Rubber bands are provided to wrap around your handlebars and secure the remote in place.

The small remote has five buttons that are used to control audio volume, tail light on or off, prompt for real time ride data, play or pause music, pick up/hang up a call, refuse a call, and move to previous or next track. There is a walkie-talkie feature listed, but I cannot figure out what that is for since it is not described in the manual. I sent an email to Coros to ask about this functionality and will update this article if I get an answer.

Each button has icons to make it clear what its function is with the large center button in yellow that is used to play/pause audio and control calls. I primarily use the volume and center buttons.

Emergency contact

Within the Coros Omni smartphone application, you can designate a primary contact that will receive a text message in the event that you fall off your bike. I understand that a gyroscope in the helmet will sense your fall and initiate the text. I was unable to test out this feature and hope I never have to actually use it.

Daily usage and experiences

The Coros Omni has a design that closely matches my current Giant helmet with a very open design for excellent air flow (18 vents) and a comfortable fit and finish. It weighs in at 340 grams, which is perfect for me and has no impact on wearability.

The Coros Omni helmet has a polycarbonate shell with EPS impact foam. It has hot-press lining and EVA padding. A removable visor is included as well. A bag to carry the helmet is also included in the package.

You can purchase the Omni helmet in red, white, black, and blue for $199 through its Indiegogo site. The folks who backed the project should have received their helmet about 10 days ago.

The helmet charges up via microUSB, hidden under a rubber port cover, and has a 700mAh battery with an advertised 8+ hour battery life. I’ve ridden my bikes for a few days and have yet to recharge the helmet with at least an hour each ride. A power button is positioned below the microUSB port to turn the helmet on and off.

The straps were very easy to adjust for the perfect fit and there is a very comfortable under the neck pad too. I was sent a large helmet to test out, which is designed for hat sizes from 7.25 to 7.75. It fits perfectly with a rear adjustment dial to make sure it’s perfect. The medium size fits hat sizes 6.75 to 7.25.

The Coros Omni is currently safety certified in the US, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Dawn of the New Everything, book review: VR, and decisions that cast long shadows

Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey through Virtual Reality • By Jaron Lanier • Bodley Head • 351 pages • ISBN: 978-1-847-92352-3 • £20

During his promotional tour for Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey through Virtual Reality, Jaron Lanier commented to Luke Robert Mason at a Virtual Futures event that Facebook’s future might include a profound change in its business model. He didn’t, of course, predict anything like the scandals — Cambridge Analytica and millions of harvested accounts — that are colonizing this week’s front pages. But he did imagine that Facebook might find it ultimately more lucrative to adopt a transition path in which the company starts paying for the most popular posts while charging for the use of the network, gradually refusing to pay “people who want to manipulate you”.

Ultimately, it would be a paid network, and the abusive behaviour that ‘free’ attracts would fade away. “But,” Lanier noted, “it could get a lot worse before it gets better”. It’s not a wholly convincing argument, if you consider the history of advertising.

As he writes in Dawn of the New Everything, Lanier believes that we made a serious misstep in the early days of the internet when we allowed the ‘free’ business model to flourish, beginning with refusing to accept charging for email. Lanier disagreed with other pioneers such as the late John Perry Barlow, who believed that charging would kill many desirable uses of the internet and limit access to those who could afford it. Twenty-odd years on, huge businesses are built on appropriating the work of others. Today’s machine learning systems are a particularly good example, as they depend on appropriating giant databases built out of free contributions — snippets of translated text, or the billions of images posted to Flickr and Facebook.

Ancient conflicts

These ancient conflicts over payment for information form a recurring theme in Lanier’s tour through the history and future of virtual reality, his main topic.

Barlow, Lanier contends, redefined William Gibson’s original Neuromancer idea of ‘cyberspace’ from virtual reality to the “reality of bits”. While Lanier supported many of the goals that led Barlow, John Gilmore, and Mitch Kapor to found the Electronic Frontier Foundation, he diverged on this: how could you have privacy in ‘cyberspace’ if you didn’t also have a means for supporting private property? How would artists and musicians get paid?

When Tim Berners-Lee launched the World Wide Web, Lanier deplored the web’s one-way links, which erased information’s accountability and origin. It would, he argues, have been perfectly possible to design the web so that whenever a link led someone to download a file the owner was notified, as in the designs promulgated by other early hypertext experimenters, such as Ted Nelson.

Lanier writes of his resulting guilt in using the early web, despite its fun. Most people were untroubled, and while the web bloomed the principle of ‘weightlessness’ took over the internet and all its works.

In between these musings, Lanier recounts his unusual childhood and the story of VPL Research, the virtual reality company he founded in 1984, whose output he compares to today’s VR — vastly cheaper, but not much different. In the 1980s, VPL’s top-of-the-line EyePhone (as Lanier also writes, every current name is repurposed) cost $50,000 and is comparable to headsets that today cost a few hundred dollars. More important, he says, was the software: he thinks VPL’s tools were better than those available today.

Although the VPL failed to set enduring standards, Lanier writes that the decisions made by the first to enter a field cast long shadows — as we are witnessing in today’s scandals over Facebook and undue electoral influence.

Video: Creating spaces and worlds in VR

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What if Amazon Closed Up Shop Tomorrow?

I love to speculate using the “what if…” premise. In this case: what would you do if Amazon suddenly shut down tomorrow with no notice?

This idea came to me after my podcast partner Adam Curry was having trouble with an Amazon S3 server used to maintain important files relating to our No Agenda podcast.

Like everyone else who uses Amazon Web Services (AWS), the logic is that Amazon is the most likely company to keep things running since Amazon itself would suffer the most if things broke.

In my case, the AWS glitches were resolved, but the next day I was looking for something to watch on Amazon Prime via my Roku. I clicked and the Amazon logo appeared on the screen. It lingered and lingered and lingered. At least five minutes passed and nothing but the logo.

Maybe my connection was bad? I swapped back to the homepage and clicked on Netflix, which came up instantly (and got me watching the Ricky Gervais stand-up special. Review: Excellent and worth a watch. Advice: turn on sub-titles.)

Afterwards, Amazon still had issues. It dawned on me that there is always the possibility that Amazon, like any other company, could fail one day. Maybe today?

Say the company folded and walked. Perhaps it turned out to be running on cooked books or was a mob front or who knows what. It doesn’t matter; I’m asking what would happen to you—and your business—if the whole thing was taken offline and access to anything Amazonian was denied.

Amazon’s own operations would stop. The online retailing giant would be over. No access to your back orders or any reference to anything you ever did on Amazon. Subscriptions to your medicines or tea or whatever you get over and over would be done.

The music, videos, and ebooks stored by the service would be gone. Kindle support would be over and the device itself no longer manufactured. The e-book business would be in peril. Kiss Alexa goodbye.

Inventory would never be paid, creating a cash flow problem for thousands of vendors. AWS, with its petabytes and petabytes of websites, online storage, processes, entire online stores and storefronts, and everyone’s backups: ALL GONE.

We can probably assume that the government would step in and get the servers running to the point where people could access their data and retrieve it. That would at least help somewhat. But, that might take months. You may never get all your data back.

Worse, what if the entire redundant AWS worldwide system was breached by bad actors and attacked at some file allocation level, rendering it all useless?

Why it would happen, how it would happen, even if it would happen is not the point here. The point is, what would you do about it?

You can adjust your online buying habits, but what about the lost data and systems? Are you out of business? Are your backups gone? Were you too dependent? Did you use AWS to exclusively store and back up your priceless family photos? The idea is frightening. (And, yes, it is the storyline—more or less—of the first season of Mr. Robot. Amazon as Evil Corp.)

I just think it is something to consider. And consider it well.


Until We Ban Data Brokers, Online Privacy Is a Pipe Dream

Our nation is controlled by opaque, amoral artificial intelligences— and so are we. When I wrote yesterday how I feel trapped by Facebook, I was just scratching the surface of the way that big-data AIs analyze, taunt, and manipulate us.

Facebook is the worst of them, because most AIs are really only interested in selling you things. Facebook is interested in keeping you engaged with Facebook, and as I said yesterday, that often means filling you with anger and fear.

Facebook has shown that a big data AI can control our opinions and manipulate our emotions. But it’s far from the only AI of its kind, and this is just the beginning. The big data AI cat is out of the bag, and it knows everything about you.

Facebook is particularly powerful because it has convinced people to log the contents of their lives within its walls. Most big data systems need several different data sources, collected from different theaters of activities, to create their profile of you: where you click on the web, the locations tracked through your phone, who your friends are.

Facebook uses buttons and cookies embedded in Web pages to build a profile on you even if you don’t have an account. But even if you use an ad blocker and don’t ever click “Like,” there’s enough data out there for Facebook to know plenty about you. It could track what your friends say about you, and use data collected from other sources. If you have a whole network of friends in one neighborhood, there’s a good chance you live in that neighborhood; if you shop at a bunch of chain stores in a neighborhood, and those chain stores share your loyalty card data with data brokers, and those data brokers share it with Facebook, Facebook would be able to figure out where you are.

Because there are so many data sources, opting out of Facebook data-sharing won’t opt you out of the manipulations and predations of big data. If we’re going to get a handle on these AIs, we need solutions that target the whole ecosystem, not just one particularly noxious site. The conversation can’t just be about Facebook.

Just look at China, which is experimenting with a new “social credit” system. Like the Black Mirror episode “Nosedive,” it will control your ability to buy plane or train tickets based on what you “buy, say or do.” Here in the US, we generally freak out at the idea of the government controlling our lives in this way. But we’re passive when private industry tries to do the same.

Just today, I have a pitch in my inbox about “the fastest and most accurate facial recognition solution … This AI technology can scan 1 billion photos and recognize/identify photos in just one second.” According to the pitch, it’s ready to deploy in banks, offices, and hospitals.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a Facebook account: your bank card and loyalty card usage will be tied to your face, and your bank will share that information with data brokers such as Experian. You can’t opt out of banks and stores.

Every time you step within reach of a camera, the AIs collect data on you. Every time you use a card. Every time you get tagged by a friend in a photo. Even if your Facebook is locked down, de-permissioned, put away. Any solution to the predations and manipulations of big data is going to have to be a big one.

Americans, by nature, hate hearing that they need systemic solutions. Our culture is all about individual action and individual failings. We want to hear that flipping switches, turning off options, and sending emails will fix things for us. We want individual control. But without entirely opting out of society, we aren’t going to get it.

Ban Data Brokers

If we really want to break the AIs as a whole, we just need to stop them from sharing data with each other. This would have to be a wholesale ban on data brokers, enforced at the federal level—not just notification, the way that the EU’s new GDPR regulation works, but killing the personal-data-sharing industry entirely.

To protect behaviors like trying to import your Google calendar into Outlook, the outright ban should affect only data brokers, which collect data from one site, bundle it, and pass it to others. Other companies that collect personal information should be forced to request specific permission for each destination they want to share data with—blanket permissions wouldn’t be accepted. That would make large-scale data harvesting relatively inefficient.

I need to make very clear that this would not fix the primary problem with Facebook. It knows enough about you, through your interactions solely on Facebook, to make you enraged for clicks. Facebook needs to grow a conscience and stop feeding off negative emotions.

Blocking data-sharing would be a little annoying. You might have to come up with different logins for different websites again. But the only way we’re going to free ourselves from a world run by AIs to break big data back down into little data again.

I’m Stuck in the Facebook Trap

Facebook is the ultimate toxic friend. You’ve probably had a friend like this in your life: a charming, charismatic, entirely non-self-aware pal who blithely leaves destruction in their wake but will always be forgiven, because they’re fun to be around and to ditch them would be social suicide.

The Facebook algorithm, the artifically intelligent editor of our Facebook lives, is designed to activate passionate responses from its users. It’s not evil, if you think evil requires intent to harm, but it verges on evil in that it makes decisions without caring about who it hurts. The company doesn’t care whether it’s getting good passion or bad passion, as long as it gets that sweet, sweet attention.

Personally, I can’t quit Facebook because what it does right, it does very right: connecting families and old friends. I’ve found old high school friends, peered into the personal side of coworkers’ lives, and kept up on neighborhood activities. If you ditch Facebook, and your friends and family still use it, you end up uninformed and disconnected.

Facebook’s power is its network effect. When everyone you know uses Facebook, they probably aren’t going to move somewhere else. Defaults and inertia are powerful.

Because it turns out that bad passion is more engaging than good passion, Facebook is destroying us through a diet of noise and anger. It’s in the news right now because a consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, impermissibly gamed Facebook’s system to target various political ads. But Cambridge did what Facebook does all the time, in terms of optimizing ads for attention. Facebook is just annoyed that it wasn’t the one in control.

I’m far less concerned about the ins and outs of whether Cambridge did a bad thing, or whether individual Russian trolls targeted a specific ad at a specific key voter, than I am about Facebook’s overall status as a platform that feeds on anger. Lies are more entertaining than truth; hate gathers more attention than contentment. A happy baby is great, but a cry of rage trumps it. Facebook begs for the worst, the click-baitiest, the dopamine fiendiest. It encourages it. It amplifies it. And it makes it look like it’s coming from your friends, and that they want to en{g,r}age about it. That’s the poison, not any specific political advertisement.

The engagement factor is what makes Facebook different from Xaxis, Google, Acxiom or other targeted advertising platforms that could also be serving you fake news. Google’s ads don’t look like they’re from people you trust, and they don’t invite a conversation. They don’t pull you into an attention vortex that we are biologically programmed never to escape.

Facebook Must Die; Long Live Facebook

I can’t find any real alternative to Facebook to stay in touch with far-flung groups of friends, ad-hoc alumni associations, networks of ancillary cousins, or constantly reconfiguring neighborhood parent activity clusters. Like many people, I’m stuck in the Facebook trap.

I’d love to say that Facebook will fade; we’re already seeing the backlash among kids. My daughter says it’s evil, and she and her friends don’t want to use it. That’s great! They should learn from our mistakes and burn those mistakes down.

Unfortunately, a social network that’s eventually all old people being fed highly optimized fake-news memes by trolls and instigators will still go pretty far towards destroying America. Old people vote and at a higher rate than younger folks.

Only Facebook can fix Facebook, and Facebook doesn’t want to. Regulation won’t fix it, because Facebook’s problem isn’t really that it’s collecting or sharing biographical data. It’s that the map of our interactions on Facebook itself tell it how to enrage us, and the algorithm knows that enraging us, dividing us, and telling us colorful lies will keep us engaged.

Facebook staff need to not merely label the lies, but cut them off; to not merely wring hands about trolls, but ban them; to understand that its system is an editor making choices all the time about what users see, and to start making choices based on the world they want to live in. Facebook doesn’t need to be subject to regulation: it needs a conscience. Until then, it will continue to do damage.

Garmin Forerunner 645 Music review: Music, Garmin Pay, and comprehensive data capture motivate for success

Over the past few years I have tested various Garmin GPS sports watches, including the Forerunner 225, Forerunner 935, and Fenix 3 HR. One feature missing from all of these that I find essential for my recreational running, offline music streaming support, has finally come to Garmin in the form of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music.

I ran with folks from Garmin, iHeartRadio, Firstbeat, and GU at CES with the SkullCandy Method wireless headset connected to a Garmin Forerunner 645 Music and enjoyed that brief time with this GPS sports watch. I’ve been running and cycling with the 645 Music for that past couple of weeks and think Garmin may have hit the sweet spot with the Forerunner 645 Music.

Specifications

  • Display: 1.2 inch (30.4mm) 240 x 240 pixels resolution transflective memory-in-pixel color chemically strengthened glass
  • Storage: About 3.6GB of internal storage for up to 500 songs and 200 hours of activity data
  • Water resistance: 5 ATM
  • Connectivity and sensors: WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE, ANT+, GPS, GLONASS, optical HR, barometer, compass
  • Bands: 20mm industry standard replaceable strap
  • Battery: xxx300 mAhxxxx rechargeable lithium-ion. 5 hours in GPS training mode with constant streaming music and up to 7 days in smartwatch mode with 24/7 HR monitoring
  • Dimensions: 42.5 x 42.5 x 13.5 mm and 42.2 grams

The Garmin Fenix 3 HR has been my personal GPS sports watch since 2016 and the most obvious difference right out of the box is the weight of the Forerunner 645 Music, about half of the Fenix 3 HR. It weighs in at just about the same as the Fitbit Ionic.

Hardware

The Garmin Fenix 3 HR was the first Garmin I purchased for myself for long term use and it has served me very well. If I want to enjoy music though, it has required that I carry a phone or other music player when I run. This isn’t a terrible experience because I often capture photos during my runs, but it is also a bit freeing to leave the phone behind and just get out and run.

I also find the sleep tracking on Garmin devices to be useful, but only wore the Fenix 3 HR to bed a few times since it tended to knock my wife out as I twisted and turned in the night. It’s really just too large and heavy to sleep with every day.

The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music looks like a typical Garmin device with a round face, stainless steel bezel, solid plastic back, and silicone strap. I love that it has the traditional five button design with no touchscreen capability. When you run in the rain, sweat a lot, and want to switch screens or interact with your device the ability to control things with buttons is preferred.

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The Garmin Forerunner 645 Music fits my 6 foot-1 inch, 250 pound frame well, but is also likely to fit others since it is only 42.5 mm in diameter and quite light. It is about as thick as an Apple Watch and slightly thinner than other Garmin devices I have recently tested. Universal 20mm bands can be used on the 645 Music, which means you can find a number of affordable band options on Amazon. You can dress it up or down to fit your needs.

The soft silicone band that comes with it works fine and I like the soft feel of it. A notched loop keeps the bitter end in place, but is also a bit of pain to move to other openings and remove. Then again, it is so comfortable and light that I only took it off to charge it every four or five days. This securing method also ensures the band stays on all the time, even during intense activity. The silicone band has a number of openings to fully adjust to your wrist size. The clasp is metal with a matte finish.

The display is not a touchscreen so all interactions are carried out through the use of five buttons; three on the left and two on the right. The display is the same size as most other Garmin watches, but the resolution is higher than most at 240 x 240 pixels. It looks great in all lighting conditions and is very visible even in bright direct sunlight.

The buttons are used for the following, moving from the top right and going clockwise: start/stop/select, back/lap, down, up, and light. The software associated with these button presses are described in detail in the watch software section of the review.

The optical heart rate monitor is centered on the back of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music and this time it is nearly flush with the back. It incorporates Garmin’s newest elevate optical HR sensor for 24×7 recording every second. I never felt any discomfort caused by the heart rate monitor pressing against my left or right wrist.

There are four charging pins recessed on the side of the back. A proprietary USB charging cable and clamp is included with the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music. I confirmed that the advertised time of five hours for GPS tracking and music playback is accurate during my weeks of testing. I generally run three days a week for about 45 minutes to an hour each time, with music playing, so was able to get about five days between charges with these runs and 24/7 life tracking.

You can also connect the HRM-Run heart rate monitor strap, a $99.99 accessory, or a Running Dynamics Pod ($69.99), for an additional six running dynamics metrics. These include cadence, vertical oscillation, ground contact time, ground contact time balance, stride length, and vertical ratio.


















Watch software

If you have used Garmin GPS sports watches before then it will be quick and easy for you to pick up and use the Forerunner 645 Music. Even if you are new to using these five buttons to navigate, it should only take you a short period of pressing the different buttons to figure out how to navigate around and find everything. There is a lot going on here with the Forerunner 645 Music, but the words that appear as you navigate are clear and easy to understand.

The main watch faces that are provided by default are fine, but I went to the Connect IQ store and installed a couple of other watch faces that provide a guick glance at the daily activity tracking that is important to me.

You can use the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music to track running, biking, treadmill, indoor track, indoor biking, pool swimming, snow skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, rowing indoors and outdoors, walking, strength, cardio, yoga, elliptical, stair stepper, and others. Golfing and hiking are activities I tracked on the Fenix 3 HR, but they are not options on the Forerunner 645 Music. You can get more applications from the Connect IQ Store so I installed the 7-minute workout too since I like to perform bodyweight exercises. In my weeks of testing, I primarily used the running and cycling tracking, as detailed below.

The Forerunner 645 Music also offers the ability to track your phone by sending a signal to it via Bluetooth so that an audible alarm sounds to help you find your connected phone.

While the watch face appears all the time, pressing the up or down button scrolls through your available widgets. By default you can see your steps, performance, weather, notifications, heart rate, last run, music controls, and calendar. You can reorder these and also download more widgets on the Connect IQ store.

Like most recent Garmin devices, the 645 Music has an integrated WiFi radio so you can have your activity data synced to your Garmin Connect account when you return to a WiFi zone previously established. It’s great to enter my house after working out and have my data synced automatically to my Garmin account.

Press and hold on the light button to access a number of options, including find my phone, timer, stopwatch, wallet, lock keys, do not disturb toggle, sync, connection status, and power down. Garmin has a nice new interface where the options appear with color icons in a circular layout that you rotate using the up and down buttons. This looks to be a perfect interface for a Samsung Gear rotating dial and maybe that is something we will see in the future from Garmin.

Pressing and holding in on the up button provides access to watch face options, alarm clock, history, and the vast number of other settings.

Pressing and holding in on the down button brings up an entirely new interface we haven’t seen before. This action takes you to the music interface that looks similar to the light button press and hold with various options in a circular format that are accessed by moving up or down. Press the top right button, also highlighted in this interface, to make your selection. Options in the music interface include manage providers and headphones, choose your source as the 645 Music or your connected phone, volume controls, play/pause, skip ahead, move back, repeat toggle, and shuffle toggle.

There are an incredible number of settings and customization options available that I cannot begin to cover them all here in this review. For example, in the running app you can customize what may be an unlimited number of data screens (after setting up eight I ran out of data to add) in a layout from one to four fields with timer, distance, pace, speed, heart rate, dynamics, cadence, temperature, elevation, compass, navigation, muscle oxygen, and other fields. I recommend you spend some quality time customizing everything exactly how you want it and then be ready to tweak things as you perform your activity and find you want to view your data differently. I prefer to run with three screens and have my primary one show four fields for quick glanceable info.

You can setup alerts, train to a metronome, select auto laps and auto pause, view 3D speed or distance, have your data fields auto scroll, and even change up all of the colors. It’s actually rather stunning how much customization is available on the Forerunner 645 Music, which means it will satisfy every user’s needs.

One feature I did not notice on the Forerunner 935, but found quickly on the Forerunner 645 Music is the performance measurements provided by Firstbeat. It is one of the selected widgets from the main interface and requires a few workouts before providing you with some insights. You can see your training status, VO2 max, recovery time, training load, and race predictor. I am currently training for another half marathon with a goal to achieve a personal best. My best half was my first one with a time of 1 hour and 57 minutes so I am shooting for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Currently, the performance measurements estimate a time of 1 hour and 56 minutes so I am on the right path to improve this time.

If you wear the Forerunner 645 Music at night, it will track your sleep automatically. Sleep data is captured and presented as deep or light sleep with awake times. It is not quite as thorough and useful as the Fitbit sleep tracker, but is still helpful. I tend to take naps on the weekends if I get up very early to watch English Premier League football, but it doesn’t seem to track short periods of sleep like this and I did not see an option for manually tracking sleep.

Garmin Pay just launched yesterday and I was able to set it up with my Bank of America Alaska Airlines Visa card. My USAA Visa debit did not work and I understand that MasterCard support has not yet rolled out. You do have to enter a PIN using the up, down, and select buttons while making a payment and then you can see a status countdown go around the display to show you how much time you have remaining to make the payment.

Smartphone software and website

Collecting the data is important, but using that data for tracking trends, improving performance, challenging friends, and identifying problem areas is also very important. Garmin is one of the few companies that offers the Garmin Connect app for iOS, Android, and Windows 10 Mobile. The app was recently updated and I prefer it over the last version that I also enjoyed using.

When you first launch the smartphone app you will see a screen called My Day. This is a dashboard and completely customizable to your preferences. Simply scroll to the bottom and choose to Edit My Day. Here you can choose from the following cards; heart rate, steps, intensity minutes, floors, sleep, stress score, weight, and calories. There are also toggles to see yesterday’s stats and the last 7 days of stats. In addition, when you record an activity (run, bike ride, etc.) on that day a box appears up top with that card. Tapping any card takes you into much more fine detail for that measurement.

Other tabs in the smartphone software include challenges, calendar, news feed, and notifications. Tap on the tab icon to see more details for each of these.

You can also tap the upper left menu icon to jump to insights, activity stats, health stats, workouts, course, segments, gear, connections, groups, LiveTrack, download golf courses, Connect IQ store, Garmin devices, settings, and help. This menu and user interface matches what you see on the website as well. You can view data over different time frames, see your records, view the badges you earned, see totals and averages, and much more.

There are options to control phone notifications during your activity and at all other times when you are not recording data as part of activity. If you are connected to an Android smartphone, you can go to SettingsSmart Notifications in the Garmin phone app to customize exactly which apps provide notifications to the Forerunner 645 Music. You do not have this per app control when connected to an iPhone. (Thanks to Dave Haas for directing me to this setting.)

With a paired Android phone, you can also select to reply to messages with text you have already setup in advance on your phone. This includes customized text responses.

Once you select the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music in the devices list, you can then access all of the specific settings that will appear on the watch. Through this utility you can organize which apps, widgets, and watch faces appear and in what order. You still need to work directly on the watch to customize data fields and such, but this helps you control the Connect IQ part of the experience.

The Garmin Connect website experience is very similar to what you see in the smartphone application, with even more capability to generate reports, import or export data, setup connections to other applications (such as Strava, RunKeeper, and MyFitnessPal), and more. Similar to the snapshots interface on the phone, you have a dashboard on Garmin Connect that you can customize.

I created dashboard tabs for daily activity, running, cycling, and hiking since those are my primary activities. You can then customize the view that appears in your dashboard or choose to jump to a full page view of the selected data.

Over on the left you will find the three line button that opens up a massive list of options you can navigate to for more data and information. Another option lets you manage your profile, settings, and 3rd party connections.

Computer software

One way to manage your device is through desktop software called Garmin Express. While updates to the watch can come through your smartphone, I find connecting to a computer a more reliable way to check and insure I have the latest firmware on the watch.

I rarely ever look at Quick Start Manuals, but I highly recommend you look through this one and find it interesting that the manual in the evaluation unit had a red Post-It flag for the music section since this is a new feature and getting music onto your Forerunner 645 Music is on aspect that is not intuitive.

The Garmin Express utility for the Forerunner 645 Music includes areas for music, IQ apps, tools content, and Garmin Connect. Garmin Connect is the website where you view your data and create reports.

The new unique feature for this watch is obviously music. Selecting the music option takes you to a screen showing My Music and Music Apps. Music on your computer can be organized by playlists, artists, albums, songs, genres, podcasts, and audiobooks. You select the folders on your computer where you want to scan for such content. It’s not the most elegant solution, but gets the job done.

After finding content on your computer, you select that content and choose to transfer it to the Forerunner 645 Music. You can browse your computer and watch music content within this utility.

There are currently no music apps listed in the Connect IQ store so stay tuned for further developments there.

In the US, Garmin has a partnership with iHeartRadio to provide music content for Forerunner 645 Music owners. You need to pay the monthly subscription fee of $9.99 to get All Access service in order to sync to the Forerunner 645 Music. While I listened to an iHeartRadio station during my introductory run at CES, the service has not yet launched for the Forerunner 645 Music so you need to manually transfer songs you own to the device at this time.

Pricing and competition

You can purchase the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music now for $449.99. If you don’t need the music functionality, you can save $50 and purchase the Forerunner 645 for $399.99.

For music playback, the best alternatives are the Fitbit Ionic, Apple Watch Series 3, Samsung Gear S3, and Samsung Gear Sport. These range in price from $300 to $350. TomTom has the Spark 3 Cardio + Music for $249.99, but it has less capability than the Garmin Forerunner 645 and has a mono display.

The current $449.99 price of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music may be about $50 too high to compete with these options, but that depends on how much vast amounts of data and performance measurements mean to you.

Daily usage experiences and conclusion

The primary focus for this new Forerunner 645 Music is the music so let’s talk a bit about my experiences in this area. Garmin has a list of compatible headphones with notes in the right column about the preferred wrist to wear the 645 Music. I tested out the Samsung Gear IconX (2018), Jabra Elite Sport, Blueant Pump HD, and Skullcandy Method Wireless headsets over my time with the watch. The Skullcandy headphones are the only ones listed by Garmin, but the rest worked fine if worn on the wrist that offered the best signal.

First let me caveat this by saying I am 73 inches tall and weigh just over 250 pounds at this time. My chest is about 48 inches around so I have quite a bit of mass for Bluetooth to pass through. Thus, the Jabra and Samsung headphones were terrible when I wore the 645 Music on my left wrist. It cut out and completely disconnected every time. Wearing the 645 Music on my right wrist solved that issue with these headsets so your experiences may vary. The Blueant and Skullcandy headset performed flawlessly with the 645 Music on either wrist.

While I try to cover my experiences and details of wearables here on ZDNet, no one beats Mr. Ray Maker when it comes to wearable tech reviews. I highly recommend you check out the DC Rainmaker full review of the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music.

Without the music, the Forerunner 645 Music is essentially a Forerunner 935 or Fenix 5 device, in terms of activity and sports functionality. However, it is also less expensive so even if you don’t want the music support you can still save over these other devices and have a capable GPS sports watch. There is even a Garmin Forerunner 645 that sells for $50 less, but I prefer to have the capability for music so am looking to this watch as my next wearable purchase.

It is very quick and easy to press in on the top right button, choose run and press it again, and then see the display turn green seconds later as a GPS signal is acquired. I ran in Florida, New York City, and at home in Washington State and the Forerunner 645 performed flawlessly in all of these locations.

I also connected the Forerunner 645 to my Garmin speed and cadence sensors in order to track more details of my cycling. Again, the connection was reliable and the data interesting.

Nothing is ever perfect, but the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music gets as close to perfection as possible with the ability to track multiple sports, play music without a phone, buy things at stores without a phone, track your activity and sleep 24/7 for several days, and serve as a basic smartwatch for essential notifications. It provides much more detail and data than an Apple Watch or Fitbit so it’s a great fit for the casual athlete that wants more than the basics.