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Google Fi vs Republic Wireless 3.0 Mobile Phone Service Customer Review 2020

tldr; – I am a fan of both mobile phone companies, however at this time (January 11, 2020), I feel that Google Fi is the better value. Get a $20 credit here.
Read my Republic Wireless / Google Fi review below to find out about the ups-and-downs of both discount mobile phone companies, information about Republic Wireless and Fi compatible phones, see sample bills, and more.

If you’re tired of the big U.S. mobile phone companies (aka Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, U.S. Cellular, and T-Mobile), you may want to consider two very strong contenders: Google Fi and Republic Wireless 3.0.

Below is my review and comparison of the two mobile phone service providers.

I am a current customer of both Google Fi and Republic Wireless. I have been with Republic Wireless since the beginning and am a more recent Google Fi phone company (formerly Project Fi) customer starting in July 2016.

I currently have two mobile phone lines on each service–my wife and I mainly use Google Fi, and my kids are on Republic Wireless phones.

At the moment, I’d say Google Fi is the better option – especially because it supports more phones (Android and iPhone) and has additional connectivity options, particularly when traveling internationally (no “roaming” fees in 120 countries).

I also prefer Google Fi, because it has built-in security in the form of a virtual private network (VPN) when you’re accessing service via WiFi. This is important because it will give you more confidence that your data isn’t being stolen when using public WiFi hotspots (eg – at the airport).

Right from the start, I’d like to say that neither Google Fi, nor Republic Wireless are perfect for every mobile user.

Google has a helpful tool to help you determine if this sort of service will meet your needs and save you money (or more importantly–whether it won’t!):

Take the Google Fi “fit” quiz to find out if Google Project Fi is the right choice based on your current mobile needs. Just answer a few questions about your usage habits and typical location, and it will help you to know if the costs and Google Fi coverage will work for you.

Pro Tip: If the Google tool tells you that Fi phone service isn’t right for you, then the Republic Wireless service probably won’t be right either.

Service coverage generally isn’t an issue for U.S. customers of either carrier, the main question is whether or not you’ll require more than the tipping point of data to make it worth it. In most cases, if you can commit to connecting to WiFi as often as possible, you can make the switch to Fi or Republic worthwhile. Much of the time, service is better over WiFi anyway, so it’s really a bonus.

BTW, if you decide to go with Google Fi, please use my “refer a friend” code. After you’ve been on the service for 30 days, you’ll get a credit for $20, and so will I! The Google Fi coupon code/promo code is EM35EF or you can just follow this link

You should see something like this at the top of your screen:

Google Project Fi Coupon Code
This is valid for single accounts (not group/family plan accounts) and may expire (they have extended the deadline for this program, but haven’t stated a new end date–but if the link works–and it will tell you immediately that it did, then you WILL get the credit. It is definitely still in effect as of May 2020, and looks like it will continue for now.)

BTW, check here for current Project Fi special offers.

What Do Google Fi and Republic Wireless Have in Common, and What’s Different?

Executive Summary

    • iPhone Support: Google Fi supports iPhones. This is exciting news because it opens the door to cheaper service for all users-not just on Android. Most iPhones should work fine on the service. Unfortunately, iPhones don’t support network switching for now.
    • Both companies allow you to purchase a phone from them or bring your own unlocked phone. Republic Wireless has a more limited list of bring-your-own options.
    • Both companies allow you to make calls and send text messages over WiFi. Both try to save data by connecting you via WiFi when possible. Google Fi has the added advantage of built-in VPN security over WiFi. This means there’s less worry about hackers snooping your data when you’re using WiFi in public places because it will be encrypted.
    • Both companies are month-to-month, no contracts. Stop service at any time.
    • Google Fi service automatically routes your calls and data on one of three 4G LTE networks (Sprint, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular), depending on which has the best connection when you place a call or use data. It will support 5G on Sprint’s network as it rolls out, provided your device can accommodate 5G. On the other hand, Republic Wireless is only on T-Mobile’s network.
    • Both companies offer very competitively priced data plans. The real savings come into play when you use WiFi for calls, texts, and data as much as possible. Google Fi offers an unlimited plan.
    • You are more likely to have better mobile call quality with Project Fi than you are with Republic Wireless, but I have had very few problems with Republic Wireless’ call quality in recent years. If you are placing calls on a decent WiFi network, either provider works great.
    • Both companies offer the option of monthly payments/financing on the phones they sell.
    • Republic Wireless plans start at $15/month and Google Fi’s plans start at $20/month. These are the base prices to keep your line activated and make calls and send texts via WiFi — you’ll be charged more if you use any mobile data. (Which can be avoided by using WiFi for data when possible.)
    • Data on Republic Wireless is cheaper than on Google Fi, however, Google Fi’s “flexible plan” billing model is much more, well, flexible since you only pay for the data you use–and you only pay to the penny. In other words, although they quote $10/gig, they only charge you for any fraction you actually use when you select this plan–you don’t have to pay for an entire gig.
    • With Republic Wireless, you will know exactly how much you will be billed at the end of the month based on which plan you select. With Project Fi, you will know the base costs, and then the actual bill depends entirely on how much data you use. Google’s “Bill Protection” feature puts a cap on the monthly charge and amounts to an unlimited plan.
    • Google Fi has an “unlimited plan.” It is a great deal if you use lots of data. The most an individual will have to pay in a month is $70. For that price, an individual on the plan will get 22 gigs per month of high speed data without throttling and without paying anything more. If you exceed 22 gigs, but don’t want to be throttled you can opt to pay an additional $10/gig.The same deal exists on the family/group plan…but for instance the most two people would have to pay is $120/month. There are additional savings for each person you add to the plan.Here is a table with pricing as of September 22, 2019:Google Fi Plan PricingYou also get free calling to over 50 countries included in the unlimited plan. Google One membership with 100 gigs of Google Drive space is also included.
        • Republic Wireless requires you to upgrade your plan when you hit your data limit. You can upgrade and downgrade your plan up to two times per month. This is a bit of a pain. You also must pay for the entirety of the amount of data in the plan you select no matter what portion of the data you use.
        • Republic Wireless does not have a family or group plan, Project Fi has a “group plan’  with very competitive rates, convenient “bill splitting” features if you’re sharing with friends, and data plan sharing. This can be an especially great deal for members of your family who don’t use alot of data…and the bill splitting is very innovative.Google Fi will let you pause a member of your group’s data usage or pause their service completely. On Republic Wireless, you can downgrade a user’s plan to not have data, but you can’t really pause their account yourself (although you may be able to do this by contacting customer service).
        • If you purchase your phone from Google Fi, you can enroll in their “Device Protection” insurance plan for about $5 – $7/month. I highly recommend this, as it has been hassle-free help for me on three occasions including one where a $300 phone was dropped in water. In the event something goes wrong with your phone it’s will be replaced with a refurb for around $60 – $90. If your screen is broken, you can take it to a local retail shop and have it fixed for around $20.

      What’s So Special About These Two Mobile Phone Carriers?

      They have some great selling points and great phones in common. As mentioned earlier, I am a customer of both of these services, so I wanted to share some insights for people trying to figure out if Fi or RW is right for them and whether or not they should dump the usual suspect mobile carriers and save money. (The answer is probably YES!)

      Below is a review of some of the feature differences between the two mobile phone service companies:

      What are the Phone Options for Google Fi and Republic Wireless

      Republic Wireless and Google Fi get the best performance with certain pre-selected Android phones. Importantly, Google Fi allows you to use an iPhone, Republic Wireless does not.

      When you sign up for either of these companies, you’ll either have to bring your own phone (which, in the case of Republic Wireless, will need to on their list of approved phones) or purchase one from the company.

      The phones they recommend are generally among the higher-end phones.  If you purchase a phone from either company, it will come “unlocked” — it will be yours to take with you should you ever decide to move to a different phone company. This is good to know as it is often not the case when you buy a phone from other carriers.

      [Learn More About Google Fi]

      Likewise, if you buy your own phone (or if you already had one that’s compatible), it will need to be “unlocked” for it to work. If you are purchasing a new phone, just be sure that not only is it a compatible model, but that it is an unlocked phone.

      If you have a compatible phone that you purchased on a plan through AT&T, for example, it may not be unlocked. You may or may not be able to get AT&T to unlock it for you, depending on your contract. You’ll have to call and ask to be sure.

      Both Republic Wireless or Google Project Fi will provide you with a SIM card that you’ll need to install to use their service.

      Google Project Fi Phone Options

      At the moment (as of May 2020), Google Fi supports most Android phones. Their recommend phones are the Google Pixel (1 – 4 / Pixel 3a), LG ThinQ, Moto G6, Moto G Power, Moto G Stylus, certain Samsung phones, OnePlus, iPhone, and the Moto X4. These are venerable phones.

      As you may be aware, the Pixel 4 phone is now the flagship phone of the Android operating system and has some fantastic features-I am a HUGE fan of this phone (EXCELLENT camera, fast response, waterproof, very good all around and perfect for Fi–follow this link and click SHOP to see the discounted Fi customer price).

      If you need a cheaper option, I am also impressed with the  cheaper version of the Google Pixel 3 (Google’s previous flagship), the Pixel 3a. It is a bit slower, and has a plastic body (NOT waterproof), but also has an excellent camera, just like the Pixel 3’s.

      Generally speaking, if you have a Pixel 2, 3, or 4, you’ll get a monthly software update from Google–You will always have the latest release of Android–a truly a nice feature, rather than waiting and hoping that your phone will get an update…a chronic problem due to a combination of phones and phone companies.

      The Moto X4 and Moto G7, and the newer Moto G phones are also well regarded and certainly have a lower price point than the Pixel phones. Although having said that, you may want to look at the refurbished Pixel phones on Amazon.

      Along those same lines, you can purchase these phones from Google when you sign up for service, but you should double-check the price on Amazon just to make sure you can’t get a better deal — here are some links to refurbished older Pixel phones:  Google Pixel, and Google Pixel 2.

      You can finance the phones when purchased on Google or Amazon. Having said that, a compelling reason to purchase the phone from Google is their trade in program that is applicable to certain phone models and includes a Google Fi credit of varying amounts depending on the age and condition of the trade.

      I have bought several phones through Google Fi’s store and have had good luck that way. It definitely does make it a little bit easier than bringing your own phone.

      A Word About Google Fi Device Protection

      Google Fi Device Protection December 2018The Google Fi device protection will cost you $5 to $7 per month and covers things like: cracked screens, spills, and device malfunctions.

      If something goes wrong they will replace your phone with a new or refurbished similar phone. I have used the service once when the battery was failing on my Nexus 5x. It was quickly replaced with a refurbished identically configured phone. There is a deductible to consider.

      See the table above for example costs for device protection and the deductible you’ll have to pay if you get your phone replaced using this service. Note that you can only sign up for device protection if you buy your phone from Google.

      Bring an Additional Data Only Device to Google Fi

      Google Fi will allow you to add a free additional “data only” SIM card to your account. This will let you share your data plan with another device (without any additional monthly fees!) So for example, you could have your main SIM card in your Google Pixel phone, and then put the data-only SIM in an iPad. Whatever the device, so long as it’s able to use a compatible SIM card, and it is “radio compatible” with T-Mobile. You would not be able to use the phone’s dialer with this option and there is no tethering.

      Here is a list of devices they have verified are compatible with the free data-only SIM card:

      • Android tablets running 7.0 or higher with LTE bands 2 and 4 (US versions)
      • iPads running iOS 10 or higher with  LTE bands 2 and 4 (US versions)
      • Samsung Galaxy Tabs S2 or newer (US versions)
      • Nexus 9 LTE (US versions)
      • Sony Xperia Z4 (US version)

      Other devices not on the list could work, if they are unlocked and radio-compatible with T-Mobile (GSM Radio) and they have the right sized SIM slot. For example, I have heard of people using it with their iPhone 6.

      You can just order one and try (it’s totally free! You don’t even have to pay for shipping.) if you think you have an unlocked device that will work. Just remember there will be no calls or texts through the normal channels (although you can certainly replace the regular dialer and text messenger with some other app for example, What’s App, Viber, or Skype…). Note that you might potentially need a “nano SIM to Micro SIM adaptor” for some devices.

      Republic Wireless Phone Options

      Republic Wireless is compatible with lots of phones, but they only allow you to use specific models, and there is no iPhone support yet, although it is available in beta, so coming soon. Having said that, the list of choices are fairly substantial and that gives you more freedom if you’re bringing your own unlocked phone that is on their short approved list. Below is a list of a few of the phones they are currently compatible with (The model number IS important!).

      I have included a link to Amazon.com for each phone. You are likely to find the phone cheaper on Amazon than on the Republic Wireless site, in some cases $50-100 cheaper–especially for the Moto G, since Amazon is selling it at a discount, but it includes some relatively innocuous advertising.

      At any rate, as long as the model numbers match, you will be able to use it on Republic Wireless–just be sure it is unlocked and double check the model as sometimes these links get switched out to different products on Amazon’s end, and I can’t control that:

      • Moto G Stylus (XT2043-4) – Amazon 
      • Galaxy S20+ (SM-G986UZKEXAA, SM-G986UZKAXAA, SM-G986UZAEXAA, SM-G986UZAAXAA, SM-G986ULBEXAA, SM-G986ULBAXAA) – Amazon
      • Samsung Galaxy Note 10 (SM-N970U1K1XAA) – Amazon

      If you already have one of the above phones and want to check to make sure it’s compatible, you can just download, install, and run the Republic Wireless app from the Android app store. It will tell you if your phone is compatible.

      At this writing Project Fi also offers insurance on the phone, Republic Wireless does not. Insurance is something Republic is said to be working on.

      Multiple Mobile Networks and WiFi in Use

      One very cool feature of both Republic Wireless and Google Project Fi is the way they can move seamlessly between wireless networks, and they can also place calls/send text on WiFi networks.

      Google Fi has the upper hand here, as it can make use of 3 major US mobile phone networks: Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular. Whichever network is providing the strongest signal is the one that your call will be routed on. It does this in real-time, so if you should move to an area where one of the three providers is giving you a better signal your call will switch networks and you’ll be “none the wiser.”

      Republic Wireless utilizes just one network–T-Mobile (actually, they don’t tell you, but they hint that it’s the one that has the best 4G LTE network.)

      The Seamless Handover Between Phone and WiFi

      Both Republic Wireless and Project Fi will allow you to seamlessly switch over to and away from a WiFi connection. This is REALLY handy. Especially if you live in a place where there just isn’t really any strong cellular signal (or if, for example, you work in a basement that has WiFi, but no mobile signals get through).

      If you’re connected to a WiFi hot spot, you don’t incur any data charges and you can use voice, data, and texting as you would on the mobile network. Did I mention how great this is? 🙂

      If you place a call, and then move away from your WiFi network, your phone is going to seamlessly jump on to the wireless network, assuming one is available.

      Google Fi also keeps a database of hundreds of open WiFi networks that it can automatically connect to. When it does, it always uses an encrypted connection to protect your calls and data. It seems to work very well and saves you money.

      The Data Plans and Costs

      Depending on your situation, you will probably find that you’ll save money using either one of these companies, when you compare them to AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon.

      The Cost of Google Fi

      Google Fi has two basic plans: Unlimited and Flexible. You can choose which one you’d like and switch between them at will–the change takes effect on the next billing cycle.

      The Flexible Plan on Google Fi

      The formula for pricing is something like: Google Fi Monthly Payment = Base Cost of $20/month + data used & international calls + phone insurance (optional) + taxes, fees (in my case $3.62 in October 2016 for a single line to be exact–see sample bill below).

      Google’s FAQs state “Taxes and government surcharges vary by service address, but are normally between 10-20%. For example, if your monthly bill is $40, the taxes on your statement could be between $4-8.”

      If you’re paying for your phone on a monthly basis, that fee would also be charged on your monthly bill along with device protection fees if you are enrolled.

      Google Fi “Flexible Plan” is really a pay-as-you-go offering.  They do give you benchmark “data plans” but really, at the end of the month you’re only going to pay for what you actually used as far as data (down to the megabyte). This is a bit hard to grasp, because we’re so used to phone companies that charge you the minimum of your chosen data plan and then charge you for additional data as you go, but in specific large blocks of data. This is not the case with Project Fi.

      When you sign up for Google Fi on the Flexible Plan, you will “choose a data billing plan,” but really it’s just to give you the idea of what you will be spending each month. That might sound scary, but it works–especially with their bill protection feature.

      Even though you signed up for a plan, they charge you by the megabyte. To put this more specifically, Google currently charges a base of $20/month to keep the service activated for voice and texting, then they charge $10/gig of data used (plus a monthly fee). In reality though, if you only used 350 megabytes in a month, you would be charge $3.50 for data, not the whole $10. So you are always charged for just what you used, no matter which plan you select.

      Project Fi’s help explains signing up for a data plan on their network this way “You’ll always pay for what you use, so changing your data budget is like setting a goal. We’ll send you alerts as you get close to your budget.” They go on to explain that “With Project Fi, you’re charged $10 per GB for data. If you use more data than your budget, you’ll be charged for the exact difference–at the exact same rate. If you use less, you’ll get credited for what you don’t use. ”

      If you really need to have no more than an exact amount of data used, you can use your phone’s “set mobile data limit” features to set a hard limit. This way, when your phone notices you’ve reached a certain data threshold it will shut off its mobile data usage.

      Pro Tip: I’d recommend the Datally app made by Google to control your data usage in any case.

      The Unlimited Plan on Google Fi

      The Unlimited Plan is a pretty good deal. At the moment, an individual line on this pays $70/month. A family of 4 would see a bit of a discount, paying $45/line. This includes 22 gigs of high-speed data. After that you will be throttled.

      The Unlimited Plan also includes free international calling to 50+ countries and a subscription to Google One with 100gigs of Google Drive space.

      Traveling and International Calls on a Google Fi Plan

      An important, and notable feature of Project Fi is that if you travel to any of 135+ other countries, your data plan will still be in effect–you won’t be charged any extra (beyond the regular $10/gig if you’re on the Flexible Plan and nothing additional on the Unlimited Plan), and you’ll be able to consume data, just as you did in the USA. I recently traveled to Italy, France, Spain, Ukraine, and Germany with my Fi phone and had success with calls, text messages, and data. This is a great feature because you don’t have to worry with purchasing a local SIM card or anything like that.

      Once I got to a new country, it took a few minutes, but I’d get a message from Google Fi confirming my phone had been registered in the given country, and then I could make calls, send texts, and use data. For more details and to see the list of countries that are in Project Fi’s plan, click here.

      Note that although your data costs will be the same as they are in the USA, expect to pay 20 cents per minute for calls. Assuming you have a US phone number, WiFi calls within the USA and abroad would be free, and beyond that, if you’re calling another country, the same international calling rates would apply.

      If you are wondering, yes, you can send text messages to other countries from Google Fi phones–I have texted to Germany and  Ukraine without problems.

      A Word About Groups and Families on Google Fi

      Google Fi offers a group plan/family plan. Each additional line above the initial primary line is $15/month, and then the data is shared at the same rates mentioned above.

      If you have younger kids and want to be able to control their data usage, you’ll want to use Google Family link app. It lets you set limits on the child’s phone including which content they’re viewing but you can also create settings and alerts for data usage that the youngster can’t tamper with.

      One great feature of this group/family plan is the bill splitting/”repay” feature. “Fi plan members can repay group plan owners for their share of the monthly bill directly through the Google Fi app. No need to pull out your calculator—Project Fi will handle the math. Reminders, payments, and tracking are all just as simple.” That means it’s a bit easier if you’re sharing an account with friends or roommates, everyone can easily pay their share of the wireless bill.

      The Cost of Republic Wireless 3.0 Plans

      Republic Wireless has a base cost of /month. This base cost includes no data, and doesn’t include things like taxes and fees, phone payment plan, etc. But if you own the phone outright, that is a great starting point. For college students who are near ubiquitous WiFi, that could truly be all you need. Plans go up from there. Most people will need a data plan, and with Republic Wireless, you get 1 gig included for $20/month. Not bad.

      Here is a chart (as of 8/6/2016) that shows how the rates increase with more data. You will find these rates turn out to be lower cost than Google Project Fi. See below for a direct comparison.

      Republic Wireless Data Plan Rates - A Great Deal

      Republic Wireless allows you to switch plans via their app whenever you want, so if you hit your limit or need to cut back, you can do that at will. It is important to understand that unlike with Project Fi, you can’t just keep using data beyond your selected plan. The data will stop when you hit your data plan limit. At that point you can upgrade to a higher plan through the Republic Wireless app, and you will immediately have more data at your disposal.

      On the other hand, if you then want to downgrade again, you can request it, but it doesn’t take place until the beginning of the next billing cycle. (I think you can just do this immediately after you upgrade, so you won’t have to wait an extra billing cycle to switch back down). With Republic Wireless, you still get billed for the entire amount of your data plan, even if you don’t use it.

      A Word About Using Google Fi and Republic Wireless with Kids

      If you have children and those children have a phone, you’ll probably have concerns about their data plan usage. The question will be: how can I restrict my child or teen’s data usage so that they don’t cause the parents to go bankrupt. Here are a few thoughts on this:

      1. With Republic Wireless, it’s a simple matter – you just select the amount of data you’re okay with and that’s what you’ll be charged — provided that your kid doesn’t upgrade their plan themselves–a possibility, but definitely a deliberate action, and one you may be able to restrict (see Family Link bullet below)
      2. On Google Fi, there is no “hard stop” on data usage. It will let you keep going, and you’ll be charged until you hit your plan’s threshold for unlimited data. After that there will be no further charges. So if you have a kid who uses lots of data, there is no line where the data will be “gone.”
        Having said that, they do have two features that are useful in cases where you need to control your family member’s data usage.
        First, you can set a data usage “alert” at whatever amount you think is appropriate. So for example, if you think you’re child should only use 1 gig per month, you can choose that amount, and you and your child will receive an alert when they hit that benchmark.
        Second, you, as the account owner can sign in to Google Fi and  pause the data for your child’s account. So if you’re on the ball, you can sort of control how much data is used. Depending on your child, the alert itself might be enough for them to curb their data usage.
      3. On Android devices, you can setup the “Family Link app.” Family Link is a free Google app that allows you to control all aspects of your kid’s phone usage.
        Family Link doesn’t specifically let you control they amount of data they can utilize, but it would allow you to restrict their ability to access certain apps. So this may be a way for you to stop them from adjusting the phone’s settings. It definitely lets you restrict the amount of time kids can spend using specific apps.
        I don’t know much about it, but there are similar apps for iPhone/iOS.
      4. I think it is worth mentioning again that both Google Fi and Republic Wireless are built on the idea that you’ll use WiFi as much as possible — including for sending text messages and making phone calls. Therefore, in many situations that other mobile phone companies would have you using data from the data plan, these two companies stand out since they save you from this where possible.

      Comparing the Cost of Republic Wireless vs Google Fi

      In short, although there are some nuances to this, Google Project Fi is slightly more expensive than Republic Wireless. It really depends on how you intend to use the service which of the two would be better.

      Base Plan (No data) cost

      Republic Wireless: $15/month (no group/family plan at this time)

      Google Project Fi: $20/month first line, $15/month additional group plan lines

      Data Costs:

      Republic Wireless: Depends on the amount of data. All plans already include unlimited voice & texting: 1 gig $20; 2 gigs $25; 3 gigs $30, etc. (as of 8/6/2016). You DO have to pay for unused data.

      Google Project Fi: Base Cost of $20 PLUS the data costs (but only for the exact amount of data you use): $10/gig. So a one gig plan would be $30/month; 2 gig plan would $40/month, etc. +taxes, fees, etc. I am in Maryland, and I paid $3.62 in taxes and fees on my October bill (see below).

      Google Fi Sample Bill

      Here is a sample bill from Google’s Project Fi for one line in October 2016… and if you’re wondering about Google Fi taxes and fees, there is a breakout (again for October 2016 in Maryland! It might be somewhat different in other states):

      Project Fi Taxes and Fees

      Closing Thoughts

      You can’t go wrong with either of these phone companies. Both offer great service and operate with very decent phones. Google Fi has the power of additional phone networks, encrypted WiFi, international data, phone replacement insurance/device protection, etc, but Republic Wireless gets the job done at slightly lower costs. Since there are no contracts with either company, you can leave and take your phone with you at any time — you just have to finish paying for the current month and you’re done.

      You can certainly try Project Fi and if you don’t like it, you could switch to Republic Wireless (assuming you are using one of the compatible phones that work on both mobile services!). The hardest part would be changing out the SIM card in your phone (which isn’t that hard, but can be kind of a pain if you’re a bit ham fisted like me.)

      Like what you read? See my review of the Vitamix 5200 blender and my list of gift ideas for Brainy / Gifted kids.

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      Getting the Most from your Rocketbook Notebook – A User Review with Tips

      The Rocketbook Everlast and Rocketbook Fusion are a fantastic gift for the “wired” high school, college students, artists, and business people.

      These notebooks put a new twist on taking notes in the more traditional way with pen and paper, while at the same time not being as onerous as using a tablet computer to take handwritten notes.

      There are a few things that raise the value of this system:

      1. The spiral-bound notebook is made of paper-like plastic, rather than regular paper. This is great because it means that if you use the readily available Pilot Frixion Pens or Markers, anything written on the pages can be easily wiped away clean with a damp paper towel. So basically it means you can reuse the notebook over and over again. I love the feel of the special Pilot pens on this surface. It is smooth and fluid. I also appreciate the fact that the notebooks have some pages that use dots instead of lines. I prefer this because makes it easier to use the paper for a wide-variety of notes including drawings and landscape notes (as opposed to portrait) which definitely has come in handy.
      2. There are two sizes available: 8.5″x11″ and 6″x8.8″.Although there is a cool-factor to having the smaller size, I’d recommend going with the letter-size book. It’s slightly more expensive, but the added utility makes it worth it.
      3. Before you wipe away your notes with a wet cloth, you can use the Rocketbook app to photograph your work and automatically file it up to one of several services including Google Drive, DropBox, and Evernote, or just email the notes to yourself or a designated email address (perhaps use Gmail’s “+ addressing” as part of a filing system).
      4. The app includes handwriting recognition that incorporates artificial intelligence to improve the results. I have been using this feature and I must say it is pretty good–not perfect, but my writing certainly isn’t either. What it gives you (for now) is the ability to make your notes searchable once you scan them and email/file them in the cloud. That’s a huge step forward, and it’s definitely a welcomed feature.The notebook’s pages have a 7 symbols at the bottom of the page that when checked tell the system where to send your notes…You define the symbols in the app…that way, if you check one or more of the symbols, the app will automatically know where to email or upload your notes. Otherwise you have to do it manually once you’ve photographed the pages…kind of a waste of time since it can be automated.

      These two parts taken together mean freedom for people like me who need to take lots of notes and actually keep track of the resulting work for future reference.

      Here are a few points that may help you understand the way you can make use of the Rocketbook system:

      • The Rocketbook system let’s you work in a nonlinear way–since the notes will be sent to the cloud, you don’t necessarily have to use contiguous pages to track the same topic–you just have to send the right pages to the right place in the cloud and then possibly further organize them from there.
      • You may want to consider adding a pen holder to your Rocketbook.
      • If you don’t plan to fill the notebook before you photograph it, or if you need to erase some notes but aren’t ready to erase others, you’ll need some sort of system to identify which notes have already been photographed.
        I keep it simple–I just use the upper right hand corner of the page to put the date and circle it after I capture the page so I will know it’s safe to erase.
      • There are a wide variety of Pilot Frixion pens and markers available from retailers including Amazon.com. They come in different colors, sizes, and tips.
      • I learned from the “A Life of Productivity” blog, that it’s better to use the Pilot Frixion 0.5 tipped pens–they dry faster and obviously don’t make your writing as thick. This solves a problem that I have also noticed: it takes a few seconds for the ink to dry on the page–I’ve definitely smudged a few notes with the default 0.7 pen that ships with the Rocketbook.
        I have a few of the .5 tipped pens, and it is clearly an improvement. I also appreciate the fact that I can take up less space with a fine tip.
      • Rename your files when they reach the cloud. For instance with Google Drive, you would want to rename them and possibly move them into a more precise folder.You will want give the files some kind of descriptive name to help you to know the contents of the notes and the order that they’re meant to be read.  If you always write about a particular subject, you may be able to leverage the symbols system to always file particular types of notes to a particular place/folder…so that can save some time.
      • The Rocketbook people also have another notebook that is possibly more well-known than this one called “The Rocketbook Wave.”It is cool in that you erase the notebook by microwaving it, however it may only be able to be used a few times.Aside from that, the idea behind the notebook is basically the same as the Rocketbook Everlast.
      • One final tip: The day is going to come when you’re going to make a little mistake in your notebook and you’re going to want to erase. It would be simple to just use the eraser that is on the other side of your pen. Don’t Do That. If you do, you’re going to mess up the coating on the notebook. I know it’s a pain to use a damp cloth to get to just one small area of the notebook, but still don’t erase the regular way. If this comes up for you alot, you might find something like this aqua eraser which could work in some cases.
      • Stickers like post-it notes seem to mess up the notebooks. It’s unfortunate because one thing that’s missing is a good way to bookmark or divide up the Rocketbook…but try to avoid putting these to use in your notebook.
      Categories
      Reviews Technology

      Review of the Ecovacs Deebot N79 Robotic Vacuum

      tldr; The Ecovacs Deebot N79 is a worthy robotic vacuum that may not be as smart as some of its competitors but it definitely has a great feature set and does an excellent job of its primary job–it is a really good vacuum.

      My daughter asked for a robotic vacuum cleaner for her 9th birthday. (Looking for better gift ideas for a gifted and talented student? [Opens in a new window]) A strange request, but my wife and I were talking about getting one anyway, and the birthday wish was the push we needed to finally look into it and make a decision as to which robot vacuum to purchase. There are several competitors, and among the competitors there are different price points and features. It was difficult to decide.

      We mainly considered the Roomba  and  Ecobots offerings. They seemed to get the most favorable reviews. We were especially interested in the Roomba model that Costco sells (Not a member of Costco? See my review!), but since we weren’t really sure how much use we’d get out of it, we didn’t want to shell out nearly $400 for it. So we decided to look for something cheaper.

      As we looked at the various models, we considered whether they would be able to interoperate with our Google Home, whether they had the ability to mop the floor as well as vacuum, and how well other reviewers received the devices. We eventually settled on the Ecobots N79 and purchased it from Amazon. We loved the fact that former Roomba owners endorsed it, and were sold when we read the review from the woman who left  her sliding glass door open and found it outside dutifully cleaning her patio until it got stuck in some lava rocks.

      The Deebot N79 was easy to setup and get it going. It comes with a charging station and a tool used to clear hair, etc, from its rotating brush and to clean off the filter intake. The first time we ran it, we were extremely impressed, if not a bit mortified by the amount of cat hair and crud it picked up before heading back to it’s charging station about an hour later.  We don’t keep the tidiest house, but we do vacuum and we didn’t think there would be so much invisible debris. It didn’t stop there though. It’s holding tank was stuffed full the next few times we ran it–I am sure it sucked up an entire cat’s worth of cat hair…and much more. To be fair to us, the robot is able to slip under our sofas and is rather persistent about trying to get into various corners we may often miss.

      Certainly, one of the things we like about this model is that it has a low profile so it can get under the sofas.  It also can slip between our dining room chairs which means it does a decent job of cleaning up after dinner. It has side-brushes that stick out and sweep crumbs into its rotating brush path (also a distinguishing feature as many of the competing units don’t use a spinning brush). We also like the fact that it can be programmed to start automatically at a certain time of day either via the included remote control or from a free Android/iOS app which can trigger a vacuuming from anywhere you have an internet connection.

      The Deebot N79 seems to be very durable and determined to do it’s job. I really like the fact that it is really easy to change and clean it’s brushes. Even the main roller brush has a compartment that easily snaps open, so it makes it easy to clean off hair that gets wrapped around it etc (and they also include a tool that helps you cut off hair without taking out the brush too. Also, it is no problem to change its air filter–again you just snap open a chamber on the dirt collection box and you can just put in a new one.

      The Ecovacs app includes a timer that tells you when to officially change certain parts (like the side brushes or the air filter). The box we got came with 2 extra side brushes and an extra air filter. And when you need additional parts for the vacuum they are readily available on Amazon, and aren’t that expensive.

      As you can tell I am genuinely happy with our purchase, however everything isn’t perfect about the vacuum. Unlike some of its competitors this device is rather dumb. It runs in random patterns and redirects itself if it approaches something it can “see” in its path such as something tall like a wall, sofa leg, a person or the top of a staircase. It doesn’t always see things ahead of time but if it runs into something it is a relatively harmless bump that turns it around and sends it in another direction.

      While some of it’s more expensive competitors can map your house and know which areas it has done recently, this one is clueless. Still, in an average session, it seems to find its way all over the place. So even though it doesn’t have all the smarts, its cleaning algorithm seems to get it around to enough places so that it is still effective. It handily gets between our hard wood floors, our area rugs, and the shag carpet in our bedrooms–this is something that apparently can’t be said of certain competing robotic vacuums.

      This review would be remiss if I didn’t include a sort of warning for new owners. You kind of have to “clean up” for this robot if you want to get the most out of it and/or don’t want to risk certain belongings getting chewed up by it. We’ve had two occasions so far where this became an issue. One time it made it’s way into our bedroom and found a dress that was touching the floor in the closet. It did manage to suck it into it’s brush and apparently tried to get away with it. It didn’t end very well for the dress. The vacuum’s consumable side brush got a bit torn up in that tif as well.

      Another time our indoor welcome mat got sucked in and dragged around until the robot stopped and shut itself down. This probably wouldn’t have happened, but our mat had become a bit disheveled. The point is that you have to get certain things out of the robot’s way or it is going to try to “neutralize” it. So before you decide to buy one of these, look around your house and think about what may need to be picked up before vacuuming. If you have chairs whose legs are too close together, that could also be something you’d have to move out of its way if you’d like it to clean in that area.

      [Looking for gift ideas for the smart kids in your life? See my hand-picked list of educational toys that make excellent birthday or holiday gifts.]

      This should be obvious, but the robot can’t go down stairs by itself. So if you have a multi-level dwelling, you will need to physically move the robot yourself and turn it loose. It won’t be able to find its way back to the charger if you do this, so it will eventually just die someplace and let out a sad beep to make you aware of its failure. Certainly it is worth the effort to move it to another level for a while and let it do its thing while getting a break from the usual scenery.

      There is another odd foible about this vacuum that I would like to mention. You can use the app to schedule vacuum sessions ahead of time at different times of day/days of the week, etc. It isn’t that much work, but in an instant, your schedule can potentially disappear. If for some reason you decide to use the robotic vacuum’s On/Off switch to toggle the power–something that there is rarely a valid reason to need to do–your schedule will be toast. That makes absolutely no sense and I hope they will fix the problem at some point.

      It seems to me that if the app in your phone knows what the schedule was, it could easily re-download it to the vacuum’s memory at next opportunity. But for now, if you toggle the power on the vacuum, and return to the app, your schedule will also be removed from there…and you’ll have to recreate it. Rather a pain.

      In spite of that and the above detractors, I definitely do recommend this vacuum. At the price, you probably won’t have an easy time finding something that is as reliable and capable. Don’t take my word for it, you’ll definitely want to have a read over the other reviews on Amazon.

       

       

      Categories
      kids activities Parenting Phone Bills Technology

      Parental Control Apps to Monitor and Control Your Child’s Screen Time

      As a parent, I hoped it wouldn’t happen, but it did. Screens have invaded the minds of my two girls, and I needed to get control over it. Since my kids switch between a few devices and types, I needed to use a combination of things to reign this in. Here is what I was up against:

      1. Mobile Phones – My kids both have mobile phone devices from Republic Wireless. That means they can use either mobile data plans or WiFi to access the internet. I needed to be able to control the apps they use, the time of day they can use them, the websites they visit, and be able to update the time they can use these devices as needed, such as when the schedule changes temporarily or to reward good behavior.
      2. Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets – The cost of the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets is so low (especially on Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday or if you get a refurbished unit) that we got one for each of them. They also got Amazon Freetime Unlimited for Kids so they do lots of reading on the devices. But they also spend time doing other things including using some educational apps that I recommend anytime, and some not-so-educational things, like watching Rhett and Link videos on YouTube.
      3. Chromebooks-I LOVE chromebooks in case you were wondering. They are quick, virus-free, and reliably do what they are designed to do–run a chrome web browser and Google Docs. Unfortunately, the parental control options are quite limited, so this required some thought.

      The parental control that works for us

      Given the mix of devices above, there isn’t one complete solution. Especially because of the mobile data on the kids’ phones, I needed to come up with something extra for that, but here is what works in our household:

      Google WiFi – I have to say I am very pleased with Google’s WiFi product. It was easy to setup and depending on the size of your home, you can add additional “nodes” around the house to get full coverage–it sets up a mesh network around your home very easily.  You can purchase either one node at a time or buy them in sets of three. Three will do quite well for most medium and larger homes. Once you’ve setup your Google WiFi, you control it through an app on your phone. Among other things, that app allows you to easily pick out devices on your network and schedule the time they are able to access Wifi. For most of the things my girls do on their Chomebooks, Phones, no WiFi means things aren’t going to work. They definitely won’t be watching videos on YouTube for example if they have no WiFi. This takes care of alot of the issue, but not all of it.

      Parental Time Limit App for iPhone and Screen Time – I really like this kid-supervision app. It is installed on the mobile phones and works on Android and iOS devices. It allows us to set a limit for the total amount of time the kids can spend on their phone using apps. You can restrict app installs, and set limits for specific apps. You can also use this app to schedule the time the phones can be used.

      There is an easy “pause” button that allows you to turn off access on the kids’ phones–great for dinnertime. When you click it, you can set the amount of time the phone will be in pause mode. You can also add time if you like. In fact, one great feature is that you can setup tasks that. The app costs about $4/month with discounts for multi-month purchases.

      There is a limited free version of the app that will let you get the hang of the app, and is potentially all you need.

      Kid’s FreeTime App – This is specific to the Amazon Kindle Fire Tablets. It is more difficult to use than the ScreenTime app mentioned above, however the basic version is free and included with the Kindle Fire Tablets. It limits time in apps, and also prevents kids from installing their own apps or books. The Kid’s FreeTime Unlimited add-on allows kids to choose their own books and movies based on Amazon’s pre-selected titles that it feels are okay for children.

      Categories
      Reviews Technology

      Google Home for Kids

      We recently added a Google Home to our household. We’ve all been having alot of fun with it and I think it’s very useful for families with children. The device is relatively family friendly, and my kids love having it–so do I.

      Ways we use Google Home with Kids in our house

      • Timers: I think the timer feature is one of the “killer app” aspects of the Google Home. You simply say something like “Ok Google, set a timer for 30 minutes for Piano,” and it will start running a timer. The cool thing is that you can have as many timers going at the same time as needed. So cooking timers and music practice timers for two kids can all be going together. The time left can be checked by asking “Ok Google, how much time is left on the piano timer.”  The convenience of using this feature, combined with the legitimacy of a computer dutifully timing something means less fudging of practice time. The rule in our house is that if it isn’t timed, the practice didn’t happen.
      • Games and jokes: There are lots of fun games to be played on the Google Home. For example, Mad Libs. The Google Home will walk you through the Mad Libs interview process and then read back your mad lib. We’ve been having a great time playing Mad Libs as a family. There are plenty of other games it can play as well.My favorite is trivia. “Where was Andy Warhol born?” Not exactly a kid’s question, but fun, nonetheless.There are other kinds of games too–including the “Crystal Ball,” the online version of the 8 ball. You ask a question and get blythe answers like “all signs point to yes.”…and the jokes. So many jokes. Just ask Google Home to tell you a joke, and you get one of hundreds of jokes, not so funny sometimes, but others, pretty good. An example just handed down from Google is “Why can’t you trust an Atom?” “Because they make up literally everything.”It will also be happy to sing you a ditty if you ask “Do you know the muffin man?”There are plenty of other games provided by third parties. One of my girls’ favorites is called “Akinator.”

        When you give the command to “talk to Akinator,” Google Home connects you with a service that guesses which literary character you’re thinking of by asking you a series of questions until it is able to narrow it down. There are also plenty of academic games such as mental math and spelling quizzes.

      • Stories. Google Home can tell fiction and non-fiction stories, and recite poems. Some of them are pretty good–occasionally my kids will even listen to them 🙂
      • Controlling Lights – We have two sets of controllable devices for our lights: a few Philips Hue light bulbs and a Wemo dimmer switch from Belkin that controls our basement lights.In both cases, they are a bit expensive, but the cool and convenience factor is worth it. At the basic level, you can control the lights from an app on your mobile phone. You can turn them on and off, slowly bring up the lights over time…if you have a Google Home, you can just ask Google’s assistant to turn them on for you. Commands like “Turn on the light in Mary’s room” or “set the light in the living room to 50%” are fun to use.

        For even more fun, you can connect IFTTT to your Home device to add additional commands. For example, Philips Hue bulbs come in white or colors. The colored bulbs can be any one of thousands of colors that you set via the app or Google Home. You can use IFTTT to flash the colors of your favorite professional sports team when they score a touchdown, run, or goal.

        You can also write your own commands and the responses. So when my daughter whines I say “Ok Google, my daughter is whining!” Google responds with my daughter’s name and says “stop whining. You are 8 years old. I am only a few months old, and I don’t whine…” and then it blinks the lights for added effect.  If you have the colored Philips Hue bulbs you can ask Google to do things such as  “Ok Google, set the living room lights to Christmas colors…”

      • By the way, you can do some really  useful things with IFTTT and Google Home, for instance it can log things into a Google Spreadsheet for you such as keeping track of work hours. By the way again, IFTTT can also control smart outlets such as Wemo. Follow the link to see that it’s just a gadget that plugs into your existing wall outlets, but it can be controlled via your mobile phone, Google Home, and in fact, IFTTT.
      • Controlling a TV. That’s right, it’s great for controlling Netflix and chromecast compatible televisions for that matter. If you have a TV near the Google Home, it’s most useful. You can ask Google Home to put a certain video or photograph on the TV screen for you.
      • Getting facts. Google’s search engine has lots of facts and information. Things come up at dinner. Google knows the answers. “How far away is the moon from Earth?” “What’s the fastest land animal?” “What sound does a horse make?” (It answers that one with a sound!) Its also great for homework help. It can answer questions, but also help kids practice math problems, spelling words, and more.
      • Music. It is fantastic for music. I am amazed at how quickly it can pull up any song or type of music I can think of…and that my kids can think of. We’ve subscribed to YouTube Red (Google Home came with a six month free subscription) and so we’re getting tons of advertisement-free music. You may be wondering if there is any way to restrict the content on the Google Home so that the kids don’t hear anything “adult” on YouTube. In fact, there is a setting in Google Home called “YouTube Restricted Mode” which allows you to “Hide songs and videos that may contain inappropriate content.”
      • Relaxation. Google Home has a library of relaxing sounds such as forest sounds and beaches. We turn this on during dinner or homework sometimes.
      • Recipes. Google Home has access to a huge library of recipes that it will walk you through step-by-step. This is fun for the kids, and sometimes can be quite helpful in general.
      • Alarm Clock. This is the most flexible, easy-to-use alarm clock your kids will will ever have. “Ok Google. Set an alarm for 8:30am with School of Fish on YouTube.”
      • Calendars and reminders. Maybe this isn’t so helpful for kids, especially younger kids who aren’t as concerned with future events, however this feature certainly does help parents. Google Home allows you to set up calendar events and reminders for a future date. Busy parents will appreciate not having to stop what they’re doing to update the family calendar.

      Looking for ways to control your kid’s screen time? See my post about parental controls for kid’s devices it includes a small review of the Google WiFi device.

      Categories
      Featured Phone Bills Review Reviews Save Money Technology

      Republic Wireless Review Part 1

      Republic Wireless 2.0 Review Executive Summary – Updated March 12, 2016

      My customer review covers the Republic Wireless Mobile Phone Service with the Moto X gen 2, Moto E gen 2 and Moto G phones.  This review is about the Republic Wireless 2.0 plan which isn’t available anymore. They have now launched a their 3.0 plan, so the information below is outdated.

      For current information please see my review of Republic Wireless 3.0 and comparison to Google Project Fi.

       

      Republic Wireless Review


      “Stop wasting money on high-priced yearly contract phones.  Get reliable, smarter service cheaper.”

       Get 1 gig of 3G data + unlimited phone/text/ service for $25/month–and they refund you for whatever amount of data you do not use–average refund of $8/month. Since you typically use WiFi for data, there is a good chance you won’t need an entire gig. (There are other plans available for as low as $5/month – see part 2 for complete details)

      • 30 Day No Hassle Money Back Guarantee. 
      • NO CONTRACT – Month to month, cancel or change your plan at any time–in fact you can even change your plan right from your Republic Wireless phone.

      • The  Republic Wireless Motorola Moto X (first and second generation) is a first rate Android Smartphone that delivers speed, features and reliability. (Two more phones are also available: Motorola Moto G for $99-a great price for a decent phone and the Moto E 2nd gen for just $129.)

      • Transfer your existing phone number (Click here to check to make sure your number can be transferred to Republic Wireless.) – you can even transfer Google Voice numbers.

      • No Hidden Fees – There are no roaming fees, etc.

      • Republic Wireless has been in business for more than a year with thousands of customers.  A division of bandwidth.com, so this isn’t a scam or fly-by-night company.  They were just rated #2 in PC Magazine’s reader’s choice among all of the mobile carriers in the USA.

      •  Republic Wireless will gives you credit on your bill for unused data from your data plan. This is a new feature that only applies to certain plans, but to be sure, this is very innovative.

      Republic Wireless provides low cost mobile phone service based on the Moto G 3rd Gen and Moto E 2nd Gen Android Smartphones.  Voice, Data & Texting service is provided through the Sprint network when you are on the go (roaming is included), and via WiFi when you are at home, in the office or outside of the USA/Canada.

      The Motorola Moto G 3nd gen is an excellent high-end 4G LTE phone–it is very well reviewed and has a respectable list of features–this is clearly one of the best phones on the market at this time.  You must purchase your phone upfront–but you will save money in the long run–and probably quite a bit.  If you’re on the fence about whether or not to try Republic Wireless, keep in mind that they offer a money back guarantee for a month, so that will give you a chance to try out the phone service.

      The Motorola Moto G is a mid-range phone that has great features.  At $199, this is a great phone to get started saving money with Republic Wireless.   The Moto G is a very good phone at the relatively unheard of off-contract price of $199, it is a steal. It has some respectable features based on Android Lollipop 5.1.  It is 3G and 4G LTE ready and it comes with 8 or 16 gigs of memory but can be expanded with a 32gig SD card.  It’s camera is a auto-focus and shoots up to 13 megapixels.  The display is 5 inches and is available in black or white.

      The Motorola Moto E 2nd gen also has some respectable features based on Android Lollipop 5.1.  It is 3G and 4G LTE ready and it comes with 8 gigs of memory.  Its camera is a tap-to-focus and shoots up to 5 megapixels.  The display is 4.5 inches and is available in black or white.

      Consider joining Republic Wireless to save.  They have thousands of customers in the USA and their offering is rated very well by consumer magazines including PC Magazine who gave it a reader’s choice award.

       
      See part 2 of my review for a full rundown of the Republic Wireless 2.0 service.

      Republic Wireless Review Part 2

      Categories
      Phone Bills Review Reviews Save Money Technology

      Almost Free Home Phone Service – How To use Google Voice for Your Home Phone Number

      Finding a Cheaper Home Phone Service

      In this article I explain how I replaced my home phone service provider with a $50 adapter (or cheaper with a good sale/coupon) that uses the free Google Voice service to make and receive phone calls.  For the past 10 years I have been a customer of Vonage for my  home phone service.  And although I think alot more of Vonage than I think of most other home phone service providers, especially the POTS landline providers, I finally dumped it.  I had Vonage’s $26/month international plan, but with all the taxes it was $36/month…and that money could be better spent or saved…so goodbye Vonage, but what to do instead?

      Many people would suggest just getting rid of the home land line completely in favor of using your mobile phone, but I felt that having a handset to reach for that is always charged, and has less radiation was worthwhile, especially when it is almost free.

      Obihai 200 Adaptor Free Home Phone Service
      The OBI200 Adaptor – About $50 on Amazon.com

      So what is the solution I am using?  Google Voice with an adapter from Obihai Technology, specifically I got the Obi110 for $48.99 from Amazon.com–this is a one-time purchase.  It is easy to install-to summarize, you  hook the adapter up to the internet via an Ethernet connection and then to a telephone or telephones in your home. Once that’s done, you log into the Obi Technology website and set up an account (for free)–this is where you configure your device to use Google Voice, which currently allows free phone calls in the USA and Canada.

      If you’re not familiar with Google Voice, you should be–even if you don’t plan to use it for your home phone service.  Google Voice is Google’s free telephone solution.  Just visit voice.google.com while you’re signed into your free Gmail account and you can get started choosing a phone number, hopefully in your area code.

      You can always change the phone number at any time and I will explain how to transfer a phone number from another service below.  Google Voice is great because it has lots of features and it is really flexible–for instance you can set it up so that when someone calls you the call is forwarded to one or more of your other phone numbers–simultaneously.   Most importantly though, it works with the OBI adapter so that you can get home phone service for free.

      The quality of the calls is very good.  As long as you have a decent internet connection, you will have crystal clear calls without lag or noise.

      Cutting The Cord From Cable Television

      I want to add this is an important part of the puzzle for people who are cutting the cord and getting rid of Cable TV in their homes.  The ballooning prices make it worth it to ditch the hugely over-bloated and wasteful television experience, but many people are in a circumstance where they get their television bundled together with internet and phone service.  So getting rid of the TV and phone service is complicated by the fact that the cable company provides your dial tone.  I’ve written more about this in another post about saving money, but basically if you get in on a good deal from your cable company for internet only, you can easily save $100/month just right there.

      More About Google Voice

      Google Voice Settings
      Here is a screenshot of the interface of caller
      treatments in Google Voice. 

      Google Voice is awesome.  It gives you lots of flexibility in routing your calls and handling your voicemail.  

      One of my favorite features is the fact that it allows you to decide how to handle calls from contacts you know, people you don’t know and anonymous calls separately.  So you might decide to send anonymous calls straight to voice mail, or when your mother calls–all of your various phone numbers will ring in unison.

      Keeping Your Existing Phone Number

      The good news is that Google Voice lets you transfer in a phone number for $20.  So theoretically you can keep your existing home phone number…but there’s an issue:  Google Voice only lets you transfer in mobile phone numbers, not landline or VOIP numbers.  So if you had a Vonage, AT&T, Verizon or other landline, you’re going to have to go through some contortions to keep your old number.    

      I think the easiest path to take is to do what I did: get a T-Mobile mobile phone SIM card (it was on sale for $1 shipped when I got mine–normally they are $10), and then transfer your old landline phone number to T-Mobile as a waypoint between your old provider and Google Voice.  One the number is transferred to T-Mobile than just transfer it again to Google Voice.  

      Google Voice needs to be able to call your phone number in order for you to initiate the transfer eg- in order to successfully transfer the number to Google Voice, you’re going to have to activate your T-Mobile phone.  And in order to do that, you’re going to need some money on your T-Mobile account.  I can tell you that the smallest amount you can get away with is $10.  

      If you select a pay-by-the-day plan or pay by the minute, that will work fine.  Unfortunately, once you transfer your number out, you loose any credit on the account…so, in my case, I lost $10 (plus the dollar I paid for the SIM card).  The process took three days altogether…but I am happy to still have my old number.

      Republic Wireless Review

      Hooking Up The Adapter

      If you already have been using Vonage or another VOIP phone provider, hooking up the OBI adapter is a very simple matter – you just swap the Vonage adapter for the OBI one by hooking up an Ethernet cable and phone line.  If you haven’t used Vonage before, you might need to make some adjustments to your home phone wiring if you intend to use your wall jacks.  It is a much simpler matter if you just want to hook up a cordless phone (or better yet, a multi-handset cordless phone like the ones you might get from Costco with one or two bases, but four handsets).

      It turns out that if you run a phone wire from the telephone out of the OBI box and plug it into your wall jacks (you can use a Y-jack if you want an extension where you plug this in).  But it is very important that if you are going to go this route, you need to first disconnect your old phone company’s wires from your phone system (through the network interface box that is probably outside of your house). IF YOU DON’T, there could still be current on the line and it will fry your OBI box.  Again, this is only important if you plan to light up the phone jacks in your house with a dial tone…if you just plan to plug in a set of cordless phones, you don’t have to worry about that at all.

      911 and Emergency Phone Service Concerns

      Although using Google Voice for your home phone works very well, there is an important, valid concern–what happens in an emergency?  There are two facets to this–one is that with regular phone service (the old kind) your electricity could go off in your home but your phone would still work.  That may still be true with Cable/FIOS service if they give you equipment with a battery backup…however it is not so with the OBI device–at least not unless you put your internet equipment, phones and your Obi200 device on a separate backup.

      The second concern is that if you dial 911, what will happen?  Well, in short, that may not go so well with a Google Voice line.  Luckily, there is an option.  For $12/year you can get E-911 service from a company called Anveo  that will route your call to the correct nearest 911 center and will send your address (that you provide–you have to change it if you move) so you don’t have to tell the operator where to send help. (If you sign up for Anveo’s e911 service, please use the following referral code: 2722344.) After you create your online account for your OBI adapter, you’ll find a link to setup Anveo’s service.

      BTW, if you’re looking for a very low cost mobile phone service, I suggest you consider Republic Wireless Android smartphone service with no contract and 4G data, voice and texting for $30/month.

      Here is a video that explains more about the OBI and Google Voice–some of it is slightly outdated especially the information about no 911 service (See above):

      Summing It Up

      Using Google Voice for your home phone numbers is a fantastic/flexible way to save you a monthly phone bill.  Altogether, this was about an $92 investment (the adapter plus the costs of transferring in my old number and E-911 service) that will very quickly pay for itself if you consider I was paying $36/month prior to this switch.

      Looking for other ways to save money, consider changing your electricity provider…a no-brainer way to save money every month with about a half-hour’s worth of effort. You may also want to read my review of Google’s mobile phone company “Google Fi.”

      Categories
      Education Technology

      iPads vs. Chromebooks for k12 Schools

      Acer Chromebook

      I was recently asked by a teacher what I thought would be a better purchase for her school–a fleet of chromebooks or a bevy of iPads.  This was an interesting question because I am huge fan of the Chromebook platform and also have some respect for the iPad  as well.  I also have experience as a fifth grade teacher who had a laptop classroom.

      In summary, my answer was  “it depends”…it depends on what you plan to do with them, and this was really the crux of my response.  I basically sent the teacher back to research more about what programs they were planning to use with the devices–its a huge difference between what you can do with a Chromebook vs. iPads.

      Most people these days have some level of familiarity with iPads as they have become more ubiquitous.    We have all seen happy people playing with various “apps” and reading email on the devices.  They are colorful and fun.  Since they are a tablet, they have only an electronic touchscreen keyboard.  You can of course purchase a keyboard separately, but I bet more often than not, no keyboard is ever added to school based iPads.

      I would say most people have never heard of Chromebooks.  I think that’s a shame because they’re really great once you understand their limitations and strengths.  I own two Chromebooks.  They are very light, sleek, turn on and get on the internet in 10 seconds and have very long battery life (9 hours of usable time).  The true beauty of the Chromebook is that it is basically a laptop with only one program on it — the Chrome web browser.  Because of this, you can’t do anything on it that you couldn’t do in Chrome on your Microsoft Windows or Apple laptop.  So yes, there are apps you can get (for instance Google Hangouts, Remote Desktop, etc) but you won’t be installing Microsoft Office or any other Windows/Apple program on it–well, at least not unless they create a Google Chrome plugin for it.  The Chromebooks sport a “hardened” OS which means that basically they are virus-proof.   That’s a VERY good selling point, btw.  You can do word processing, spreadsheets and slide shows on the Chromebook-but it is through Google Apps.  In fact, I think you can assume that for the best results, every kid should have a Google Login/email address (something I strongly support) so that they can store their own documents and photos in Google’s Cloud system–Google Drive.

      So to get back to the question and my answer: if the school is planning to use an education program with specialized apps that are made for an iPad, well, then your choice is to go with iPads.  On the other hand, for web based programs and for better typing / word processing experiences, definitely opt for the Google Chromebook.

      BTW, looking for educational Android Apps? Or how about educational toys for your classroom?

      Categories
      Archive Education Future Technology

      Jobs for our children- What Jobs Will Disappear and Which Will Become More Important Over The Next Few Years

      The Future of Jobs
      By Eron Cohen

       
       
      What kinds of jobs will be available for our kids?

      I frequently discuss technological advances with friends and family.  Inevitably these discussions turn to what the future holds for jobs for kids in America (and the rest of the world).  Frankly, I think there will be many jobs that will disappear completely and many more that will change dramatically.  The bottom line is that there aren’t many jobs that are “safe” from being taken over by technological advances, computer software and robots.  Doctors, cab drivers, pizza delivery drivers,  hamburger flippers, pilots, maids and many more aren’t necessarily safe bets for employment like they are now.

      I want to make it clear that although I put some of what’s below “lightly”, this may be a very serious situation for the future of our country and for the people of the world.  Certainly it is a big problem for people who have lost their job or will loose their job because of automation.  I honestly don’t know what will happen but I mainly see a downward spiral of job availability and this will happen very quickly over the next twenty years.  Part of what motivates me to write this is the hope that some parents/schools will see the fields where there are potential jobs and guide their children into those areas.

      Below I will outline some professions and why fewer people will be employed in these fields.

      Medical Doctors

      Certain kinds of doctors will probably find the need to look for new specialties.  Insurance companies are looking for ways to save money and remote medicine and artificial intelligence are getting better.  This is driving a squeeze on practicing medical doctors, and making the field less enjoyable and rewarding.  There are a few major changes that are developing now that will have a major effect on this career choice.

      For example, several companies are now selling remote medical “booths” where you go in and talk to a remote doctor (who could really be anywhere) via video conference.  Machines in the booth take your vital signs and you explain your trouble to the doctor.  Prescriptions are printed out and you’re on your way.  So okay, you read that and you’re thinking, well the doctor still has a job…well, sort of, but economies of scale and the affordability of this sort of service are going to put a squeeze on the general practitioner…

      Then there is Watson.  You may remember Watson from Jeopardy.  Watson is IBM’s artificial intelligence supercomputer that can read in information and then answer questions based on what it found.  Several hospitals are testing Watson for medical diagnostics including Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital’s oncology department.  The recommendations which are currently given to a patient’s doctor are very accurate and the computer never has a bad day.  The system keeps learning and taking on new information from a huge variety of sources constantly so it will become even more valuable every day.

      Ken Jennings, the Jeopardy Champion who first faced Watson gave the following TED talk. It is a very interesting introspection about having to face a computer opponent who quickly replaced him as the all time best Jeopardy champion:

      Some jobs that people can’t even imagine being taken over by a computer are also in danger.  Consider the phlebotomy robot–it does a better job than people of finding a vein and taking blood.

      Growth areas: Medical careers certainly aren’t going to disappear any time soon.  It seems like the safest jobs will be around developing pharmaceutical and biotechnology improvements.  One source of huge growth is genetics-based cures.  This is one of the factor’s driving websites like 23andme.com where people submit their DNA and information about disorders and cures that work are collated.

      Drivers

      Jobs of all sorts that require driving are certainly going to be obsolete very soon.  Florida, Nevada and California all currently allow driverless cars on the road, and several companies are taking advantage with experimental self-driving cars.  Chief among them is Google who owns a fleet of robotic Toyota Priuses that have already driven hundreds of thousands of miles completely unassisted by humans.  The fact is these drone cars are safer than human drivers (the only accident so far was when a car rear-ended the robotic car–it wasn’t their fault).

      As these cars start to make their way onto the consumer market in the next few years, the consequences to the job market and society as we know it in the USA are going to be immense and deep.  All sorts of careers will disappear.  Taxi drivers, truck drivers and bus drivers will no longer be needed.  No more need for valet parking–these cars will park themselves, thank you.

      People who deliver food from restaurants or packages will likely be redundant as well.  I picture a pizza delivery drone will drive up to your house.  When it arrives, you’ll get a phone call and go out to the car.  Then you’ll insert payment or prove your identity with facial recognition and a hatch will open that has your order.  It will drive back to the restaurant.  The same could be true for package delivery (For another possibility, see flying drones below)

      By the way, consider the idea that public transportation as we know it could quickly become obsolete.  Imagine small time-shared vehicles that are driven by robots.  These would be very fuel efficient, very convenient and very cost effective.  Since you don’t own your own car anyway, you’d just use your smartphone to call for one of the nearest cars to come pick you up and take you to your next destination.  Robotic cars can make much better use of existing roads since they can communicate with each other.  That means that they can follow much closer than human-driven cars can.

      Cooks / Burger Flippers

      Did you always think that in the worst case scenario, you could just get a job flipping burgers at McDonalds?  Maybe not.  Someone has created a robot that can grind and cook the meat and put together a full hamburger at a rate of over 300 sandwiches per hour.  Although such a robot would not be cheap as an up-front cost, the “savings” by not having to hire a human burger-flipper could potentially be very big–especially at a busier restaurant.  The creators say the robots are more efficient, more consistent and more sanitary than a human cook…and figure the cost savings could be put into higher quality food.

      Another example is a recently deployed robot that makes noodles in China.  It works harder and cheaper than human noodle makers.

      There are other areas specific to fast food that could be cut out or cut down too.  For many years now, several fast food chains have been using remote order takers.  When you pull up to a drive-through at an Arby’s restaurant, there is a good chance a professional order taker, sitting in a cubicle in some other state is talking to you, creating your order and then rendering it to monitor in the restaurant you’re at.

      Certainly there could be kiosks where people can just put in their own orders and pay with a credit card (or maybe that’s all just done from your smart phone).  So perhaps we’ll see fully automated fast food restaurants in the near future.  Wait, what happens when someone forgets to clean up their table?  There’s a bot for that too.  (See maids below)  There is even a robotic bartender at MIT and Royal Caribbean has started deploying them on their cruise ships.

      Pilots

      Aircraft of various types have been “flying themselves” for many years.  To a certain extent having human pilots (especially two of them) on board a plane is really just a formality and mostly has to do with perceived safety. (Ok, well to a certain extent actual safety too, as in the case of an emergency landing in a field–can a robotic plane determine if there are people on the field it is about to put down on?)  There are also unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) which don’t have any people on board and are either remote controlled or follow a pre-programmed flight plan.  All of this means that modern planes will not need two pilots, maybe just one on board, with potential emergency backup pilots available on the ground.

      Many companies are seeing potential cost savings and other advantages from doing away with having human pilots aboard planes.  For example Fedex and UPS are both hoping for regulation changes that will allow them to fly their 747s without pilots.  These planes would immediately have more room and save fuel by not having the need for creature comforts required by humans.   The year 2015 is when the FAA promises to release overhauled regulations that will allow for more drones to mix into the airspace.  Until then, they’re going to have to wait.

      Postal Workers

      Year after year, the number of pieces of mail delivered by the post office is declining by the billions.  This is definitely due to the utility of email and the ease of getting information online.  More and more people are using online bill payment and getting whatever they need from websites.  One growth area for the post office has been package delivery.  Unfortunately, this is not going to last long.  First off, for the reasons listed in the “drivers” section above, packages will be able to be delivered by drones.  But there is something else that’s going to drive a huge change–the new industrial revolution: 3D Printing.

      total us mail volume
      This table shows the diminishing mail volume and the corresponding diminishing number of postal employees
      year after year.  In 2003, 202.1 Billion pieces of mail were handled by the post office.  In 2012 it was down to
      160 Billion.

      3D printing has been around for a long time, but these days it is being adopted in droves by people who want to create and print things in their home.  A decent 3D printer can be had for between $500-2,000 dollars and they can print small to medium sized plastic items.

      People who are interested in printing things can use a 3D drawing software to create something from scratch or download premade files and print them. There are quite a few websites dedicated to sharing files to print all sorts of things such as pens, vases, tools, personalized parts and more.  The reason this is going to affect the post office is that there will be many things that you would have had to order and have shipped to you in the past, which you will now simply download the file and print it out.

      Manufacturing Jobs

      It sounds good to be able to say that more and more manufacturing jobs that were previously outsourced to China and other countries are now being brought back to the USA…One of the realities of this change is that the manufacturing is increasingly being performed by robots and that the robots are even cheaper than foreign labor.

      Librarians

      The need for librarians to organize information probably is going to remain important for many years to come.  The need for librarians to continue to manage traditional paper books is already diminishing.  Libraries are already replacing checkout stands with radio tag readers that are much faster and more efficient.

      Fewer librarians will be be needed to handle checking out books, and checking in books can be done on an automated basis by running them past a reader on a conveyor belt.  Someone still needs to be available to put physical books back on the shelves.

      The elephant in the room is obviously that as electronic book readers, such as the Kindle, become more accepted, the need for physical books is starting to drop off.  Let’s face it, there isn’t nearly as much work needed to maintain an electronic book collection–it is pretty much automated already.

      Talented research librarians are definitely still valuable and will be for some time to come, but they too face an uncertain future.  Artificial intelligence and search engine advances will eventually diminish the need for them as well.

      The Travel Industry

      Traveling to visit loved ones or for sightseeing is one thing, but business travel is another.  Telecommuting and telepresence devices are making significant dents in the need for business people to meet face to face.  As telepresence devices become more common and improve, business travel is going to start to fade out.  This could have huge impacts on hotels, airports maybe even cities.  

      Construction Workers

      There are several areas of construction work that could potentially be disrupted by technology in the near future.  We have 3D printers that are able to “print” housing out of concrete-like materials.  View this Ted Talk on robotic construction:

      The Future Jobs

      It is difficult to say what fields of expertise will lead to the best job prospects.  There are a few that definitely stand out and they’re all science and technology related. For example, alternative energy is going to be very important in the coming years, so studying electrical engineering or materials science would be a safe bet.  Data Science and robotics related fields would also be a good bet.

      Categories
      Save Money Secondary Features Technology

      Easy Ways to Save Money Part 3 – Get Rid of Your Cable Television

      Roku box channel screen
      Roku boxes let you choose various channels from the internet
      including  unusual channels like the Autism Channel and NASA
      Television.  You can’t get these on cable TV at all.

      I wanted to write some posts that outline a few ways that I have saved more than a few dollars lately.  Even if you’re not really on a budget, these ideas should make sense, after all a penny saved is a penny earned, but for most families with kids, every penny helps.  This one is about cutting out cable TV in favor of getting your television entertainment through internet-based channels.  I have written others about changing your home’s electricity provider and changing your mobile phone provider.

      Save Money By Getting Rid of Cable Television and Going with Streaming Video Instead

      More and more households are coming around to the idea of getting rid of their cable television provider and sticking with an internet only service. (See here for Nielsen’s survey on this)

      I used to have cable TV until recently–I was sick of paying $120+ dollars per month for service that I mostly didn’t use.  I had a “triple play” from Verizon FIOS which included  phone, TV and internet.

      First of all, I never once used their phone service.  I was very happy with Vonage and didn’t see the need to switch.  In fact, the only reason I had Verizon FIOS’ phone service was because it was part of a bundle deal, and if you didn’t get the bundle, you’d wind up paying more than you would if you got it. (You can read more about how to save money on phone service in Part 2 of this series)

      Secondly, I hardly ever watched Verizon’s Television offerings.  I had hundreds of channels but couldn’t find anything to watch.   So that leaves the internet.

      I rely heavily on good internet service, not just for surfing the web, but also because we do watch alot of streaming video entertainment.  So the idea here is get rid of cable TV and then “roll your own” television entertainment instead.

      If you are not in a contract with your cable/FIOS provider, then you should be able to cut the service down to internet only.  We found that Verizon’s best price for internet was about $75/month–alot cheaper than the $120 we were paying, but still kind of alot.

      Luckily, we also have Comcast cable in our neighborhood, and they’ve been trying to build up their customer base.  They had an offer for relatively fast internet (25down/5 up) for $24/month with taxes for a year (and then it goes up to 34 the next year).  So that’s what I decided to go with.

      Note that you do have other possible options besides cable if you have “alot of bars” for cellular service in your neighborhood you may be able to get a cellular modem from Verizon, AT&T, Clear or FreedomPOP (the later two being the best deals price-wise–again it also depends who’s service has strong signals in your neighborhood). As 5G starts to roll out, this will become more common.

      We have a Roku Ultra Box, which is a device that costs between $50-100 and allows you to connect your television to the internet.  This device allowed us to watch television series and movies that are available on services such as  Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.

      If you have a Wii or an X-box, then you will also have the ability to use these services and view their offerings on your television. (See my blog post on Kid’s TV shows that are available on these three services)

      We especially like Netflix because it has the largest selection of streaming videos that you can watch on demand.  This includes all sorts of television series, comedians, films and educational videos.   They also have a DVD service that mails you DVD movies that aren’t available on streaming video.   Visit the Netflix website to see their offering and to get a free trial.  Netflix streaming costs about $9/month.

      Hulu is good because it has many more recent TV series that you can watch, but it also has commercials.  At this writing (July 2019) Hulu costs $5.99/month.  You can visit their website to have a look at their offerings.

      Amazon Prime is similar to Netflix with a couple of differences.  First they have fewer available free viewing choices when compared to Netflix, but they also offer newer movies and tv shows that you can pay-per-view.

      These choices usually don’t appear on Netflix for a few months, so it is a nice option, but it can cost $1.99 per TV episode, which can add up fast.  The other difference is that when you get Amazon Prime, you get free two day shipping on many Amazon.com items and you get a free kindle book rental per month.  So the free movies and tv shows on Amazon could be considered a perk if you use it enough to justify the free shipping.  Amazon Prime costs $99.99 per year.

      You could also get  a digital HD antenna to pick up “over the air” channels.  Many people have had cable for so long, they don’t even realize this is an option…and in fact, it is a pretty good one.

      The antennas cost about $30-60 and they are able to pick up many traditional TV stations, plus some other stations that you probably didn’t know you could get for free over the air.  This may be a good idea because it does make up for one thing you might miss-if you ever need to watch live news on TV or an event like the Superbowl, it might not be possible without one.  Although my Roku box does offer the “Roku News Channel” and in fact Fox News, it’s not usually “live” news.

      It is clear that the costs of cable TV aren’t going to go down soon unless more people start dumping cable.  More than a form of protest, you will save money and probably wind up fairly satisfied with what you get.