The Bill and Phil Show

Bill & Phil’s 2016 Tech Stocking Stuffers

Post by Phillip Hampton on Dec 1, 2016

We’ve been making a list, checking it twice all year. In case you need ideas for some really cool techy stocking stuffers this holiday season, we have a few suggestions. We have used most of these items already and can attest that they are delightful gifts for most anyone (tech geeks like us or not). In no particular order, here are our top 10 tech stocking stuffers for 2014:

1. Moto 360 Smartwatch: This smartwatch from Motorola is a thing of beauty. Built on the latest Android Wear platform, the Moto 360 works in concert with an Android smartphone. Unlike other smartwatches that we have tried, this one looks and feels more like a real watch with its round face and leather band. Nonetheless it has tons of tech features that will amaze and intrigue. It will set you back $249 (and maybe that’s a little steep for a stocking stuffer); but it’s worth the dough in our opinion.

Google Pixel Phone

Post by Phillip Hampton on Oct 28, 2016

pixelWe know that Apple is still the king of the hill in the smartphone market (in the U.S. at least); nonetheless, we still have a strong affection for our Android-based phones (Phil especially).  As such we were dismayed when the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 crashed and burned (literally) upon launch.  Fortunately, we had not yet purchased the latest Note phone before the over-heating reports began to surface in the news.  So, with money already budgeted for the latest and greatest Android competitor to the iPhone, we began to search for a worthy candidate.  We didn’t have to wait long.  Google gave us an October surprise with the rollout of 2 new Google-branded phones:  a 5-inch Pixel and a 5.5-inch Pixel XL.

Wi-Fi Home Stereo Grudge Match: Chromecast Audio Vs. Airplay Vs. Sonos

Post by Phillip Hampton on Sep 7, 2016

Our love of music is legendary—from Robben Ford to Amos Lee to Lake Street Dive to BØRNS.  We’ve even been known to listen to a little Tim McGraw, Wiz Khalifa, and Ziggy Marley from time to time.  Unfortunately, we both have spent so much money buying gadgets that we cannot afford to wire our homes or offices for expensive whole-house audio systems like Russound, Niles or Nuvo.  Yes, we know, hard-wired systems are more reliable and provide the highest of audio quality.  But, we cannot afford to tear the walls out of our houses and completely rewire them for audio in every room.  Wireless audio systems are the perfect solutions for us.  Plus, as part of our gadget addiction, we can “play” with wireless audio using our smartphones.  For us, it’s the best of all possible audio worlds. 

There are several wireless audio solutions on the market now, but we have narrowed our favorites down to three:  Sonos (the most expensive solution); AirPlay (an Apple-centric product); and Chromecast (Google’s solution).  All three systems have their pros and cons, so we put them to the test in a wireless audio grudge match.


Sonos has long been the leader in multi-room wireless speaker systems.  The Sonos system (like the Chromecast Audio and the AirPlay systems) connect to your home Wi-Fi system and the Internet.  You can play music from almost any available audio service, from iTunes, from Groove Music, from Amazon Music, and so on.  If you are creative, you can even use your turntable as an audio source for the Sonos system if you have a device called “Sonos CONNECT.”  You can play different music in different rooms or play the same music in all rooms together and still maintain independent, individualized volume controls in each room.  You control the music, the sources, and the volumes independently from an app on your smartphone, iPad or other tablet.  The Sonos solution is truly elegant. 

But, there is a drawback.  It is expensive.  The Sonos CONNECT (the wireless receiver component) costs $350.00.  The Sonos CONNECT with a built-in amplifier costs $500.00.  If you use the CONNECT alone, you will have to buy an amplifier or use speakers with built-in amplifiers.  It just so happens that Sonos has its own line of amplified speakers.  There are three such speakers:  the PLAY:1 at $199.00, the PLAY:3 at $299.00, and the PLAY:5 at $499.00.  For larger rooms, you will need the PLAY:5.  By the way, those prices are for one speaker.  If you want stereo, you will have to buy two of each.  A subwoofer costs $699.00. Another option is the PLAYBAR which can be installed underneath an HD television, providing audio output for the TV as well as being controllable from the Sonos system.   Obviously, at these prices, putting speakers in every room of your house can become very expensive.  The Sonos system is rock solid, though, and you rarely will get skips or “hiccups” in your audio streams because of its proprietary networking software system.

Apple AirPlay.

AirPlay is a proprietary Apple software protocol.  The technology is supported on all Apple devices, from Apple computers to iPhones, and iPads to Apple TV.  In order to use the AirPlay system, you will need either an Apple TV or an AirPort Express device.  You will need one such device for each room.  You can buy either of these devices for approximately $100.00, or you may be able to buy refurbished ones for approximately $60.00.  There is also a limited number of AirPlay enabled speakers; however, those speakers cost the same as Sonos speakers or even more.  The best use of an AirPlay system is to use it with your existing stereo equipment.  You can connect the Apple TV device or the AirPort Express device to your stereo and stream music from any Apple device. 

There are drawbacks, however.  The AirPlay system is only useable with Apple products unless you buy a third-party software “hack” that would allow you to use AirPlay with Windows or Android devices.  If you are using a Windows computer, however, you can download the Airtunes/AirPlay software and play music only from iTunes.  If you use AirPlay with an iPad or an iPhone, you can only stream music to one room at a time.  The multi-room capability is only available if you are using iTunes or a third-party hack, such as Airfoil from Rogue Amoeba (cost is approximately $30.00).  Thus, the AirPlay solution is certainly less expensive than the Sonos solution, but it is not nearly as versatile.  In addition, in certain homes or offices, you can experience “skips” while streaming music using AirPlay, but the system does support Lossless Audio. 

Google Chromecast.

If you are like us, and you’ve spent all of your money on gadgets, you may want to look at the Chromecast Audio system.  The Chromecast Audio (not to be confused with Chromecast Video) is the cheapest solution by far.  The device costs $35.00.  You can connect one of these devices to your existing system or to powered speakers in each room and stream music from almost any iOS Android or Windows device.  You can group rooms together, or you can play music in each room separately, although not with as many options as are available on Sonos.

Google Chromecast offers high-resolution audio as well.  The drawback is that, unlike Sonos, it does not rely on a single app that simplifies the process.  Also, it is not as easy to choose speakers using Chromecast as it is using AirPlay.  Instead, Chromecast system is integrated into individual applications and browsers on your devices.  Some services (like iTunes) are still unavailable using the Chromecast Audio system.

The bottom line is that it is very inexpensive, but it is not a unified hardware and software solution.  On the other hand, Chromecast Audio is very simple to use and works very well with little or no “skipping” because the device itself connects directly to the Internet once you have chosen the source for it to use.  At $35.00 per room (plus the cost of a nice but inexpensive set of powered speakers or an existing stereo system), the Chromecast system is the system of choice for the poor and the cheapskates among us. 

The Winner(s).

Now that the grudge match is over, we have to award the heavyweight championship to Sonos.  It is by far the best and most elegant of the systems—if you can afford it.  But, we will give the featherweight award to Chromecast.  AirPlay is really only a solution for those that are still addicted to, or restricted to, Apple products. 

So, pick one of these systems and jam around your house to a little Electric Love by BØRNS.

Bluesmart Luggage

Post by Phillip Hampton on Jul 11, 2016

bluesmartIt is no secret that we like all things classified as “smart” technology.  From smart watches and socks to smart light bulbs and coffee makers; we have it all just about covered.  For sure, the one area we could use some extra “smartness” is during travel.  You know how it is.  Long security lines, delayed flights, no power outlets for our drained devices and no comfort for our aching feet.  Travel can be a real pain.  So when we heard about a new line of smart luggage, we were all ears.  The Bluesmart company has developed a suitcase with some embedded technology that we found incredibly intriguing.  So much in fact that we purchased their debut suitcase, dubbed Bluesmart One.  We are told that this suitcase was featured on the popular television show “Shark Tank”; however, we did not see it there first.  We just blindly ordered based on an advertisement we picked up at a tech show.


At first we thought we had been scammed as our Bluesmart One suitcase was dead on arrival.  There was zero battery life in the suitcase and when we plugged it in to charge, absolutely nothing happened.  To their credit, the customer service folks helped with us some troubleshooting measures and when all else failed, they shipped us a brand new replacement suitcase.  Bluesmart One II turned out to be a winner.  First of all the suitcase is small enough to fit in most overhead luggage bins.  It has a hard-shell exterior, which we’re told is water resistant, but we haven’t tested…yet.  There is an easily-accessible front compartment for electronics or files.   It has hubless wheels that turn in all directions, making it very easy to roll this case across the parking lot or the airport terminal.  Aesthetically, this is a handsome little case, if not quite as roomy as we had hoped.


Aesthetics aside, though, we had to investigate what made this suitcase so smart.  We were quick to find out.  First, there is a companion app that we downloaded on our smart phone so that we could pair it with the luggage and watch it do its tricks.  The app has the controls for all of the embedded technology.  First we noted that we can pull up the location of the suitcase via the GPS tracker function in the app.  So when we land in Nashville and our suitcase is on a plane headed for Chicago; we don’t have to wait for the airline folks to track it down.  We can tell them ourselves how they screwed up and where to find our luggage.  Another useful feature is the ability to lock the suitcase via the app.  The instructions indicate that this lock is “TSA compliant” and we have had no security incidents so far.  A further safeguard for protecting your luggage is the autolock feature.  If this feature is turned on, the suitcase automatically locks when it gets out of Bluetooth range from your phone.  It will also automatically unlock when you get within range.  Very convenient.


With the app you can also determine the weight of the suitcase.  This feature is not terribly useful on this unit because of its size.  Because it is so small it is unlikely that you will be carrying anything that will be over the weight limit for the airlines.  Nonetheless we would love to have this feature on some of our larger non-smart suitcases.  Perhaps future Bluesmart products will be larger in size.


Another cool feature we really like is the ability to turn on a small LED light on the suitcase via the app.  We like to see heads turn in the baggage claim area when our suitcase comes out of the chute with a blue light glowing.


Probably one of the most useful features is the ability to charge other electronic devices directly from the suitcase.  There is a USB port on the outside of the case and one inside the outer storage pouch.  One of our pet peeves is to be on the last leg of a flight late in the day in some far flung airport with no juice left in our phone.  In the crowded waiting area all of the “early birds” have commandeered all the electrical outlets; and we’re left to burn as the last bit of battery drains from our phone.  No more.  We can simply plug our phone or tablet directly into the suitcase via a USB cable. Voila.  We have our own portable power supply. 


After using the Bluesmart One for several months, we really do like it.  As we mentioned, we wish it was a little roomier on the inside.  As it is, however, it is perfect for short, overnight trips that do not require a lot of packing.  It is a little pricey at $449; but we realize you just have to pay sometimes for smartness.  If Bluesmart comes out with a larger smart suitcase in the future, we’ll probably get that too, provided it doesn’t break the bank.

Health and Fitness Tech

Post by Phillip Hampton on Jun 8, 2016

Google-fit-1Summertime is our favorite time of the year.  We love casual Fridays, residual daylight after work is completed for the day, and weekend trips to the lake or beach.  While our minds are certainly ready for a week of R&R at the beach; we’re afraid our office bound bodies are not ready for prime time.  Too much sitting in front of a computer screen, too many fast food lunches at our desk, too many donuts from the break room have left our bodies looking unprepared for summer exposure.  So how do we solve this problem?  Like we do in many other dilemmas, we look for a tech solution.  Not surprisingly, we have found that fitness tech is all the rage.  There was an entire wing of the latest Consumer Electronics Show exhibit hall dedicated to technology to making us healthier and more fit.  We promptly trashed the remaining donuts from the break room and dove in to the pool of fitness gadgets.  Here are some of the gadgets and apps that are helping us get our bodies in tip top shape so we can be even more productive when we get back from Acapulco.


We started, of course, with a fitness tracker.  These things are ubiquitous and come in all shapes and prices.  Probably, Fitbit makes some of the most appealing models for us.  We bought the Fitbit Charge HR, which, at about $130, is not the cheapest nor most expensive model available.  It does, however, provide the basic functions we were looking for:  tracking all-day activity; heart rate monitor; pairing with phone for call notifications; date and time readout; sleep analysis; and wireless syncing to a personalized Fitbit dashboard.  Plus, it is one of the more comfortable and unobtrusive wearable fitness trackers that we have tried on; and the battery life has been more than adequate.    For about $70 more we really like the Fitbit Blaze, which really blurs the line between fitness tracker and smart watch.  If we happen to misplace or accidentally “break” the Charge HR, we’ll probably go ahead and upgrade to the Blaze.  Regardless of which model we use, however, we really do like Fitbit’s cloud-based dashboard that helps us track our activity and progress on our road to fitness.


Not to boost Fitbit’s stock or anything, but we did go back to the Fitbit well one more time to help us shed a few of those unwanted pounds around the midsection.  We bought the Aria smart scale to help make us more accountable on our fitness journey.  This digital scale will update our Fitbit dashboard with our current weight reading (we know it’s not necessarily a welcome statistic we like to see daily; but it certainly is a great motivator to help us make healthier choices).  Not only measuring weight, the Aria scale measures body mass index and lean mass and body fat percentages.  Paired with the Fitbit tracker, we can set goals and even let the Fitbit app coach us on achieving them.  Nothing against personal trainers, but this setup is a lot less expensive in the long run.


Speaking of apps, a great app that we have used to assist us on this journey is MyFitnessPal.  This free app is a very useful tool for tracking what we eat and our daily exercise as well.  The calorie counter is easy to use and the app provides a tremendous database of calorie counts not only for raw foods but many popular restaurant dishes as well.  We really have no excuse for remaining calorie-ignorant now that we have this app.  We have found that using MyFitnessPal provides another accountability touch point that in itself enforces healthy choices.  We are feeling better already (we’ll leave it to others to notice if we look any better).


As we are trying out many different apps and gadgets to help us become more fit, it would be nice to have one aggregate site or app that lets us see all of our fitness tracking data in one place.  Bill loves Apples’ Health app on his iPhone for this comprehensive health dashboard.  Phil prefers Google’s Fit app on his Android-based Samsung Galaxy phone.  Both apps provide a platform that other fitness apps can link to and provide data to your centralized health dashboard.  So, if you are tracking your steps or exercise with a Fitbit device and your calorie intake with an app like MyFitnessPal, you can aggregate these data points into a central repository of your health information with these apps.


These are just the basics.  But, of course, the road to continued health and fitness begins with the basics– diet and exercise, right?  As we continue this journey, however, we are trying out even more exotic fitness products.  Look for future reports from our Sensoria Fitness Socks, the Kolibree Smart Toothbrush, and the Pavlok bad-habit-breaking device.  If you see us at the beach this summer, you probably won’t even recognize us –not because our bodies are so toned and muscly, but because we are covered from head to toe with all these fitness gadgets.  Make no mistake about it, when we get back to the office, we are going to be so prepared to tackle that new case.  Have a happy, healthy summer.