No WiFi Dead Spots PERIOD. Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router Review

Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router

I can’t believe that it has been almost two years since I moved away from my Apple AirPort Extreme WiFi routers. You can see my original Linksys Velop review from May 2018 here. I grew my original three node Tri-band Linksys Velop network to five nodes that year and it worked pretty well for me. However, I’m a speed freak. I want the fastest possible network speeds that I can get and I zero tolerance for dead spots. I have a fairly large network with anywhere from 110 to 130 devices connected at any given time. I also have a smart home and stable fast WiFi is a must for a smart home to function successfully. This need for speed lead me to look at the NEW Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router.

The Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router is a BEAST!

It’s not only significantly larger in size, but it also improves upon the Velop Tri-band Mesh Router in every way. The specs are mouth-watering.

Continue reading “No WiFi Dead Spots PERIOD. Linksys Velop WiFi 6 Mesh Router Review”

Nest vs. Ring vs. Logitech – Which Security Camera is Best?

There are several security web cameras and video doorbells on the market right now. Each as you would expect has its advantages and disadvantages over the other one. While there are several viable options out there, today I’m going to focus on three that I use regularly. All of these webcams connect to your home/office network via Wi-Fi. By no means should you walk away thinking that these are the only three options. However, these are the three that I’ve had the most direct experience with.

Why use more than one brand?

You can absolutely get good cameras from any of the three vendors I’m reviewing today and use that brand exclusively. However, sticking with a single brand may mean that you’re missing out on other features and uses that you may be interested in. For example, I like my Ring cameras because Ring offers solar powered options that don’t require a power outlet outside the house or having to constantly take them down and charge their internal batteries. Ring also works with Amazon Echo (Alexa) smart speakers with displays so that you can view them in any room without having to fire up the app on your phone.

Amazon Echo 5 Showing the Ring Video Pro Doorbell by saying “Alexa, show me the front door.”

Nest offers both indoor and outdoor cameras that work just as good as the ones from the other two vendors, but I really like that they offer of all things a native Apple TV app so that I can view my cameras on the big screen.

Nest Apple TV App

Logitech offers cameras that cost less and have the big advantage of having native HomeKit support. Having HomeKit support means that the cameras can be integrated into HomeKit Automations. For example, if someone walks within range of a camera at night it can trigger lights inside and/or outside the home to come on automatically. Logitech also lets you do more without having to pay for a monthly subscription to store the videos in the cloud. Because Nest cameras are powered via AC they are always recording/streaming whether there is activity or not. This way you can look at any timeframe to see what happened even if there wasn’t a specific event trigger.

I love all of these features and use them daily, but don’t worry, I’ll tell you by the end of this post which camera I’d go with if I could only pick one.

I started with Nest before it was Nest

Continue reading “Nest vs. Ring vs. Logitech – Which Security Camera is Best?”

Apple AirPort is Officially Dead! Now what? – Linksys Velop Review

three AirPort Extreme Base Stations

In case you missed it, Apple has officially announced the end of life of AirPort Base Stations. They will continue to sell existing stock, but the product will not get any new features and Apple will no longer develop this product line. What does that mean for existing users? If you have an existing AirPort WiFi network and it’s up and running with no issues, you’re probably fine for a while. I have three of the latest AirPort Extreme Base Stations and haven’t had any issues. They just work! However, I just replaced them. Why? Although I wasn’t having ANY issues with my existing WiFi network, I’m asked for recommendations all the time. I don’t like to recommend products that I haven’t actually used. Also I looked at this time as a opportunity to try something new. Apple AirPort Base Stations haven’t had any real new features in years. Now that they’ll no longer be selling them (once stock clears), I wondered what Apple would be recommending to customers? One of the systems they sell in the Apple Stores and online is the Linksys Velop system.

Linksys Velop has over 4,100 reviews on Amazon.com and has a 4.5 star rating

Linksys Velop in the family room

Any product that has that many reviews on Amazon and manages to still have a 4.5 star rating means that people must really like it. I got mine setup and I could easily give it a 4+ star rating, but it’s not perfect…

Continue reading “Apple AirPort is Officially Dead! Now what? – Linksys Velop Review”

U-verse vs. Xfinity – No contest…

comcast-truck

This is a follow up to my post back June 17th, 2016. Back then I had just moved to my new home and back then the only wired option for broadband internet was AT&T U-verse. Sadly the maximum speed was only 18Mbps down and a paltry 1.8Mbps up. Although Comcast’s Xfinity was available in my subdivision, they hadn’t run lines yet to the newly developed area.

6 months later I have Xfinity high speed internet again

Continue reading “U-verse vs. Xfinity – No contest…”

Is the Amazon Echo worth it? REVIEW

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If you’re an Amazon Prime member then you were probably given the chance to order an Amazon Echo early and for the introductory price of $99. I took them up on their offer and ordered the Amazon Echo a few months back. I wasn’t really sure what it would do for me or if it would be worth it. I received my unit and went through the setup process using the iPhone app. It was pretty easy to setup, connect it to my WiFi network and configure it with my Pandora Radio and iHeart Radio accounts. From that point on I could just say “Alexa” and ask it pretty much anything that I wanted to know. Rather than write about it I decided to give you a video demonstration:

I gotta say that I’m pretty impressed with it and especially the accuracy of the voice recognition. I use it for music the most. It’s cool being able to say play songs by _______ or have it play any of my Pandora Radio stations. I don’t have a daily commute, but if I did it would be great to say “what’s the traffic look like?” and have it give me current traffic conditions from my home to my work place. To answer the question, YES the Amazon Echo was absolutely worth the $99 special price. Now the question is is it worth the current price of $179.99? I would say mostly yes for the music aspect of it and the home automation potential. It’s also cool that new capabilities are being added to it on a regular basis. It works as advertised. One way to justify it is to keep in mind that there are bluetooth speakers out there that cost just as much and do a whole lot less. The sound coming from Amazon Echo is as good if not better than most other “dumb” speakers out there today.

You can get the Amazon Echo here.

I have Gogo Wi-Fi on my Long Haul International Flight – Finally!

 

  

I’m headed back to Atlanta from Amsterdam today. The flight time is just over 9 hours. I did my usual downloads from my TiVo DVR the night before so that I would have some shows to watch and of course I have my MacBook Pro so that I can get some writing done. The last thing I expected on this Delta flight was to have WiFi internet all the way home! Sure I get my hopes up each time I board an international flight by looking for the familiar WiFi stickers found on 99% of all Delta domestic flights and like always there were no stickers present on this flight. However, once we got up to 10,000 feet I noticed that my phone was asking me to login to my corporate IPASS account (a roaming partner of Gogo). I just figured someone on the plane was faking a Gogo hotspot. However, it worked! I was blown away because I figured I wouldn’t see this until at least 2016. I asked the flight attendant just to make sure and she confirmed that “some” planes have it now and that we were “lucky” today. Lucky indeed!

 

So what does it cost to enjoy this international benefit? Since I have a corporate plan from work that covers Gogo InFlight WiFi I didn’t even think that about a cost difference at first, but as I started writing this I figured my readers would want to know. I went back to the regular logon page and the prices are high indeed. $19.95 for one hour and $39.95 for the whole flight. While I appreciate this  being a work perk, I gotta say that I would gladly pay $39.95 for WiFi on this 9 hour flight. The amount of stuff that I can get done (including this blog post) is worth it to me. The next question is how fast is it? Gogo inlfight wifi in the states uses a celluar system (plane to ground) and from I can see it’s based on 3G technology. When it first came out the speeds were decent, but lately they have been slow to almost unusable. Still slow is better than nothing, so I use it all the time. 

 

Since connecting to the ground over the ocean is not feasible, any plane offering international service requires satellite connections instead. One of the first thing I did was run 4 consecutive speed tests to get an average speed and while it’s not screaming fast, it’s faster than the domestic service. I’ll take it!

 

 

The Bottom Line

I remember wishing for WiFi on long haul flights for years. It almost brings a tear to my eyes to see it finally making its way into my life and I commend Delta for making these investments to make air travel a little less painful. 

My New Favorite Travel WiFi Router

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I’ve traveled religiously with an Apple AirPort Express Base Station for years. It’s portable, it’s fast, and pain free in terms of setup. It just works. However, there’s one thing that made me look for a new solution. More and more hotel rooms and locations that I’m in on the road are now WiFi Only, meaning that newer hotel rooms are no longer equipped with wired ethernet jacks. Even those rooms that do have the wired ethernet ports are often disconnected. Sure I could just connect my devices to the WiFi network offered but that offers a set of challenges that I was avoiding by bringing my own router in the 1st place. When you connect to the hotel WiFi (free or paid) chances are each device has to go through a sign-in, login, accept the terms process. Usually this login is only good on average for up to 24 hours before having to repeat the process for each device each day. On the other hand if I connect my own WiFi router (hotspot) then I use one device to sign on/login etc. and all the other devices on my network can surf freely without the need to have to sign on/login individually.

Why the AirPort Express is no longer the solution

The AirPort Express is great and even the newer form factor has grown on me, however the AirPort Express requires a wired connection to the internet in order to work. If I’m in a hotel with WiFi only the AirPort Express has to go back in my bag. Sure the AirPort Express can be used to extend an existing “AirPort network”, but I have yet to see a hotel equipped with AirPort Base Stations, let alone the access needed to make that kind of configuration work.

Netgear built the WiFi Travel Router I was looking for

The Netgear Trek  N300 does the one extra thing I need. It allows you to connect to an existing WiFi network and then share that connection via the WiFi network that it creates. Having my cake and eating it too. It can work in either a wired or wireless setup. If there is an Ethernet jack in the room then the Netgear Trek N300 can plug into it and route it just like the AirPort Express. However, if there is only a WiFi network you can have the Trek N300 join it and share it creating your own private password protected WiFi hotspot for the rest of your devices/guests.

How does it work?

As you might expect the setup requires a couple of extra steps when connecting it to an existing WiFi network. The first thing you’ll do is simply configure it with a web browser to set up the wireless network for your devices to connect to. Let’s say for example you want to create a network called “Get off my LAN”. Once you set that up with a password you’re all set to travel. Once you get to your hotel room or other public WiFi area, just power the Trek N300 up using the built-in foldout plug or plug in a standard micro USB cable (it comes with it) and power it via USB. This is a very nice touch because I don’t have to have an extra free wall outlet available. I can power it using my Anker 40w 5 port USB charger/power source.

netgear_wifi_page

Now simply connect to it from any of your devices. Bring up your web browser and enter the address of your Trek N300. Signin with your admin password and from there you will see a list of the visible WiFi networks to choose from. Choose the public network that you wish to connect to and you will likely be prompted by the public WiFi’s login page. Login as you normally would if you were connecting to this network directly, but you are actually connecting the Trek N300 to it. Once you’ve successfully logged in or paid your Netgear Trek N300 will be online and able to route that WiFi connection to your private WiFi network “Get off my LAN” for all your other devices/guests to connect to.

This Router/Range Extender works GREAT, especially after I upgraded it to the latest firmware. Unfortunately it won’t speed up a painfully slow hotel WiFi connection, but it will make it less painful for you to use by eliminating device limits and multiple device logins. Also it will give you one more layer of security because all of your devices will be behind the Netgear firewall and not visible to the public WiFi network.

The Bottom Line

netgear_trek_n300

The Netgear Trek N300 didn’t disappoint. I’m using it this week on the road as I write this post from my room at a Hampton Inn. There are no ethernet ports here in the rooms and without the Trek N300 I would have had to connect each device to the hotel public WiFi and sign in each device separately. You get an extra Ethernet port on it to connect wired devices too.

Also when you compare the price to the AirPort Express it’s a no brainer.

You can get the Netgear Trek N300 on sale here.

They also have an iOS App to manage it that you can download here for iPhone:

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Or here for iPad:

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I went with this color laser printer

brother-HL3170CDW

A few weeks ago I posted on my Facebook page asking for recommendations for a new printer. The requirement was that it had to be color and be ready to print when I’m ready to print. In other words I print very infrequently and my frustration with inkjet printers is that some models dry up when not used regularly and take lots of ink just to get the nozzles clean and printing again. My previous office printers had all been Xerox Phaser (dry ink) printers. While these printers have always served me well, it was going to be overkill to get another one as I just don’t print that often anymore. When it comes to photo printing I usually send them out (Mpix, Costco, etc.) So in house high quality photo printing was not a requirement either. I got lots of different recommendations about Canon inkjets, HP laserjets and others. I decided that for the cost of consumables and again the infrequent use, I would be better off this time with color laser. The other requirement was that it had to be wireless. I did look at the Xerox color laser printers, but it seems that Xerox just doesn’t get it when it comes to wireless. In order to go wireless with Xerox I’d have to go with their midrange Phaser 6600, which lists for $499 and still requires a $99 wireless add-on to do WiFi?? WTH! Really Xerox? Wake up! It’s 2014!

My research led me to the Brother HL3170CDW

Not only did this printer meet all of my requirements:

  • Color laser
  • Wireless (WiFi – AirPrint – Google Cloud Print)
  • Automatic Duplex (2-sided) printing
  • Low cost & low cost consumables
  • Quiet
  • Small

But it excelled at all of my requirements as well. Setup went perfectly because I never had to plug in a single cable besides the power cable. The first thing I did after installing the 4 supplied toner cartridges was to power it up and join my WiFi network from the built-in control panel. Next I added it wirelessly to my MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. Finally I did a print test from my iPad and iPhone, which both saw it over AirPrint. Yes, this was the out of the box “it just works”, experience that I was looking for. The print quality is good as well. No problems to date.

What’s the downside?

I would say the only downside is that it’s not as fast as I’m used to with my Xerox printers. When I’m talking speed, I’m talking from the time I hit print til the time the printer wakes up, receives the job and prints it. After that it prints at a speedy 23ppm. My only other concern was that while reading other reviews for this printer, people complained that once it goes into “deep sleep” that it falls off the wireless network for AirPrint. In other words you would have to walk over and hit a button to wake it up to print or print from a computer. I’m happy to report that I have not had this issue at all. As a matter of fact I’ve not printed for two days now and it still shows up and ready to print from my iOS devices via AirPrint. It says “deep sleep” on the LCD. Now there is an option to let it power itself OFF after a user defined interval. At that point I would assume that you would have to press a button to turn it back on and that wouldn’t bother me. However, that option is off by default and the deep sleep conserves power (using less than 1 watt of power). I will turn it off when I’m away on business.

 

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a good quality, color laser printer that supports all the latest and greatest wireless protocols as well as printing via USB, then this printer is definitely worth consideration. It fit the bill for what I was looking for at less than half the cost of a Xerox printer with similar features. It’s also less costly to run than typical inkjets.

You can get the Brother HL3170CDW Color Laser Printer here.

 

Chromecast – Stream web content to your HDTV wirelessly

chromecast-dongle

If you’ve followed my reviews you probably already know that I’m a fan of TiVo and Apple TV. Between the two devices I pretty much have all my TV watching needs covered. TiVo is definitely the best DVR experience for recording and watching TV shows and Apple TV is great for streaming all my media content, watching Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go, iTunes rentals, podcasts, etc. With Apple TV I can even stream/mirror any content from my iOS devices OR my Macs. The latest Macs and Mac OS X has AirPlay built-in. Even with all these capabilities I was intrigued by Chromecast. The low $35 entry price was low enough to give it a shot.

What’s Chromecast?

Chromecast is a small “dongle” that attaches to your TV via HDMI. However, don’t let the picture deceive you as it did me. You not only connect it to your TV via HDMI, but you also need to supply power to it. You can either use the supplied power adapter and plug it into the wall or you can use the USB cable and plug into an available USB port on or near your TV for power. This freaked me out at first because my TV is on the wall and I didn’t want any wires hanging down. However, I was lucky to have a USB port on my TV right next to the HDMI ports in the back. I was able to plug in the Chromecast and power it right off the USB port on the TV as well. No visible wires!

chromecast-setup

Once it’s plugged in and you turn your TV on to that HDMI input you’ll be presented with a setup screen. Head over to your computer and download the setup app. You computer should see the Chromecast wirelessly. During the setup process you’ll give it access to your WiFi network and enter your WiFi password. Mine needed to download a firmware update then I was up and running. After the Chromecast install on the TV, you’ll need to download (Google Chrome if you don’t already use it) the Chromecast extension for Chrome. This extension lets you broadcast from any browser tab you have open in Google Chrome to your TV.

settingupchromecast

How is this better or worse than Apple TV?

First off it’s not direct competition to Apple TV. Apple TV does way more and costs more. Chromecast only works with whatever you can display in Google Chrome or from a Chromecast compatible app on your computer or mobile device. So no streaming of other things on your computer unless they are Chomecast aware. However, that’s probably the one thing I like about it over Apple TV. While I can use AirPlay to stream ANYTHING from my MacBook Pro to my Apple TV, it’s a direct mirror. I cant’ say stream a slideshow in Lightroom and then go work on another photo in Photoshop. It’s a mirror of whatever I’m doing on the computer. (UPDATE – with Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks you can AirPlay to an Apple TV and use the Apple TV as a second display/extended desktop and NOT mirror.) However, with Chromecast I can stream content from one browser tab and go work on anything else while that browser content is streaming in the background. That’s what I like about it most and I think that’s what people that are trying to cut the cable/satellite bills out of their lives will like too. You can stream Netflix, HBO Go, YouTube or any other site to your TV while not tying up your whole computer. There are times that I watch my Slingbox via my web browser. Now I’ll be able to stream that content to my TV.

What about audio? This is the tricky part. If your content is either Flash based or coming from an App that is compatible with Chromecast then your audio will also stream to your TV. However, if the content is not Flash based then the audio will play through your computer.

The Bottom Line

If you want to stream content from the web to your TV, this is your easiest most cost effective way to do it wirelessly. The playback rate is “decent”, not great or perfect, but certainly watchable without dropping too many frames. The picture quality was very good. It’s a one time cost with no monthly fees. I’m tempted to get another one for travel/hotel room use.  You can get one here for $32.88. If you want to MORE, then I’d still recommend getting an Apple TV.

chromecast-nowshowing