Thursday, September 5, 2013

Your Favorite Apps

There are thousands of apps out there, and finding the one you need can take hours. So we asked our clients, employees, friends, and family to tell us about their favorite iPhone or iPad apps. Here are the top ten. 

Home Improvement | DIY - Houzz
Surround Sound - JL Audio
Kids | Toddlers - Shape Puzzle
Personal Finance - Mint
Business Finance - Outright
Notes - Paper
Navigation - Waze
Home Management | Home Automation - Savant
Shopping - Grocery IQ
Real Estate - Zillow

Home Improvement & DIY - Houzz

This is the perfect app if you’re looking for ideas for your remodel, new home, or home improvement project. Houzz takes incredible project photographs and organizes them by room, style, or product type. Similar to Pinterest, you can save the projects you like into your own ideabooks, organized by room, style, or custom category of your choosing.  Perhaps the best feature on Houzz is the Find Local Pros link. From here you can see project photos of local contractors, ask them questions about their projects, see reviews of their work, and even contact them for an estimate. You can find us on Houzz here.

Kids & Toddlers - Shape Puzzle
My daughter loves the Shape Puzzle app. Its a free multi-language puzzle app that teaches children about animals, numbers, colors, verbs, nouns, adjectives, and more. While assembling these puzzles, she’s practicing organization, problem solving, and critical thinking. 

Surround Sound - JL Audio
This is a great tool for surround sound setup. It gives you an SPL meter, Real Time Analyzer, Speaker Polarity Test, and useful ohm and amplifier calculators. It’s only as accurate as the iPhone’s mic but it gives you a great place to start tuning your home theater system. Many receivers have setup mics that you can use to automatically calibrate your surround sound receiver to your room. For professional setup I always recommend contacting an HAA certified technician.

Personal Finance - Mint
This app can link all of your accounts into a single interface, providing you with a real-time snap-shot of your personal finances. Checking, savings ,and credit card accounts are shown individually along with an overview of your cash flow situation. The app has it’s own pin number to keep your financial information secure. Mint also provides account alerts, and financial advice on how to save money. 

Business Accounting - Outright
After you link all of your business accounts to Outright, it automatically downloads the account information each night, and places transactions into logical tax categories. In addition to your banking and credit card accounts, you can link your PayPal and eBay accounts as well. You can also manually enter cash transaction and even track your vehicle mileage.

Notes - Paper
This unique app simulates a real notepad and pencil. Your finger acts as the pencil as you handwrite your notes or drawings. The free version allows you to change notepad paper as well as the pencil color, width, and weight. Once your done with your note, you can save it or share on facebook, twitter, or google+.

Navigation - Waze 

Waze combines its’ user’s real-time data to monitor traffic congestion, accidents, or other slow downs. It can even alert you before you before you get to the problem so you can find an alternate route. Waze also finds the cheapest gas on route to your destination.

With this app and Savant’s hardware, you can transform your home into a smart home. Savant allows us integrate everything in your house, from TVs and music to lights and shades, security and surveillance to thermostats and misting systems. After installing over 100 home automation systems, one of our favorite things to control is the garage door. How often do you leave the house and wonder if you’ve closed your garage overhead doors? Now you can use your iPhone to check the status of the doors while you’re away, and even close the doors if they’re open. We’ve even setup the Savant system to automatically close the garage door once the security system is armed so you know it will always be closed.

Shopping - Grocery IQ
This is not just another grocery list organization tool, Grocery IQ stores your list on their website so it is available on all of your devices simultaneously. Additionally, all of your family members can use the same Grocery IQ account, so you can add items to the shopping list remotely and everyone with the app will see the new items instantly. I can add milk and eggs to the list while I’m at work and they instantly show up on my wife’s phone while she is at the store.

Real Estate - Zillow

Looking for a new home is hard work. Zillow helps you narrow your search by using location-based searches. To find out the price of homes near you, simply open the app and press the Nearby button, now each property on the screen has a price. To find out more about the property, just click on the price and you’ll see a thumbnail photo of the house with the address and other information about the property. Zillow will even estimate the prices of homes that aren’t for sale. Now you can see how other homes in the neighborhood compare to the one you’re interested in. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Customize Your iPhone's Autocomplete Feature

The autocomplete feature of the iPhone can really speed up your typing, but occasionally it tries to give you a strange word. At the least this can be annoying, sometimes outright embarrassing.

Autocomplete uses words you have already typed, so if you find that your iPhone uses too much adult content then you may want to choose your words more carefully. There are a few settings you can modify to fix this issue. iOS devices like the iPhone store your keyboard strokes in a Keyboard Dictionary. You can delete this dictionary to clear out your previously typed words. 

Go to Settings>General>Reset 
and you will see the screen below. Choose Reset Keyboard Dictionary. 

You can also use the autocomplete feature to your advantage. You can create custom keyboard shortcuts that autofill commonly used words and phrases like your email address, mailing address, even your sweetheart’s nickname.

Go to Settings>General>Keyboard>Add New Shortcut...

For the pranksters out there, you can get your friends’ iPhone and modify her keyboard shortcuts to finish common words with something more amusing 

Whether you use your iPhone for ordinary tasks like phone calls and texting or control your whole house with iPhone home automation, Concept Electronics will setup, customize, and support your digital lifestyle.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Free Home Security Systems?

Everyone likes the word “Free”. Most of us see the value of a home security system. A free home security system can be a great thing if its installed correctly. Unfortunately many security installations aren’t up to par. We just had an Austin homeowner call us with a really bad experience. Someone came by his house offering free security systems. The equipment looked nice and the sales person was knowledgable. When it came time for the installation the homeowner realized he may have made a mistake. The free security equipment consisted of an attractive color keypad, but large, unsightly wireless sensors.

The technician left claiming the system was finished, but the system still wasn't operational. After arming the system from the keypad, the homeowner could open all of the doors without the system ever going into alarm mode! There were even a few doors that didn't have any security sensors at all. After more than 10 phone calls to the alarm company to try to get them to fix the system, the homeowner decided to scrap the free alarm system and get a professional home security system installed, he called us. We started with the idea that we would need wireless sensors everywhere but after we looked in the attic, we realized that we could hardwire many of the door and motion sensors. It took more time to install the system that way, but we were able to offset the cost by crediting back the wireless door sensors we would have installed. There were still a few places that we couldn’t get wires, so we installed recessed wireless contacts on those doors. You can see in the photo below that the recessed wireless sensor is barely visible in the frame of the door.

Now that we are finished, all of the doors have alarm sensors, the homeowner has hardwired motion detectors throughout the house, and he has monitored smoke detectors in every room that will contact the fire department in the case of a fire. We setup an IP communicator that uses the internet to transmit the alarm signals. This is the fastest method of communication, sending the alarm signals in a fraction of the time it would take using a phone line. There is also a cell-backup built in to the communicator that will use a wireless cellular network to transmit the signals in case the internet is down. Finally we set the homeowner up with an iPhone app that lets him arm, disarm, bypass, and check the status of his security system from anywhere in the world. 

Concept Electronics offers free security systems and have many happy clients, but its important to know what you’re getting into with a free home security system. Nothing is free in this world, free security systems are actually financed security systems. That is why they need your credit score and a 3-year contract. This is a great solution for many people that don’t have the ability to pay for a system up front. If you can afford it, a professional security system is the way to go. Purchasing the equipment outright offers several benefits. 

  • The contract period is usually shorter, Concept Electronics has month to month security monitoring contracts for purchased or existing security systems. We believe that if you’re unhappy with our service, you should have the freedom to change your monitoring. 
  • You can choose higher quality equipment that will last longer and be more reliable. Free security systems come with the least expensive equipment available, you do get what you pay for. If wireless sensors are necessary, they are typically large, surface-mount sensors that detract from your home’s aesthetics. I always recommend recessed sensors, they are more secure and invisible when the door or window is closed.
  • The installation will be more thorough. Many security companies pay their technicians by the job. This motivates the tech to finish the installation as quickly as possible which can lead to mistakes and sloppy workmanship. All of our employees are paid hourly, so they can afford take the time to explore the best way to accomplish a given task.

If you do opt for a financed security system make sure to ask the salesperson as many questions as you can. You’ll want to know about the company’s contract period, opt-out options, service/maintenance policy, and service hours of operation. If you don’t get clear answers then you may want to talk to another security company.

Friday, January 18, 2013

CES 2013 Recap

Concept Electronics made it to CES this year, albeit with a skeleton crew. Here is a recap of the best of the Consumer Electronics Show.

TVs are king of the consumer show every year. The last two years have been about OLED displays, with Samsung the clear leader. Their most recent model was created with printer technology. The blacks are absolute and color saturation is incredible. They still won't even hint at a possible ship date so that means we'll have to wait for at least one more year before we see one of these displays on the market.

Sharp was showing their new prototype 85", 8K, yes that's right, resolution is a native 8K. WOW that's a tight picture. Now, I remember when HDTV was just starting out and the broadcasters and TV manufacturers were arguing about what comes first, content or hardware! I hope we don't go down that road again.

Also, I was invited to an "Awe-Inspiring Entertainment Experience", "Unforgettable Home Cinema" demo. The invitation was sent by Digital Projection and was a cooperative effort between Digital Projection, Stewart Filmscreen, D-Box Technologies, Kaleidascape, Acoustic Innovations, Bitwise controls, ADA Electronics, Triad Speakers, Perfect Path HDMI, & DVDO Video Processing.

The Video presented by Digital Projection, DVDO, and Stewart Filmscreen was fantastic. The D-Box augmented Acoustic Innovations seats were really fun, comfortable, and high quality. They really moved with the Batman video clip. However the Triad/ ADA surround sound system was really disappointing. Using 4 subs and Gold Line Speakers in front, Silver Line speakers for the rears and bragging about the power of the room EQ in the ADA processor these guys fell flat. I mean HTIB flat. With the kind of company they were with you would have expected the sound system to shred your clothes. It sounded like they were still in the washing machine.

Audiophile equipment is always displayed at the Venetian, away from the craziness of the main show. There are hundreds of rooms with high-end gear packed in tightly to showcase the latest transport, DAC, turntable, or speaker. Most of these rooms are average and forgettable, but here were a few products that really stood out from the crowd.

VTL debus the new TL-2.5 Phono Stage. Wow, priced at $2500 its too cheep. It should cost $4000. It's really good. Open, musical, great trailing decay. A lot of value for the money.Yes, the TL-6.5 is better in every way, but it should be at 4X the price.

Best new speaker: Estelon
The line is comprised of 4 models. The X Diamond, featured with Vitus electronics was a show stopper. Designed around a Diamond tweeter, is full range, and extremely coherent, not to mention dynamic. Beautiful painted finishes with very sexy curves. One of the few speakers that may have a moderate WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor)

You can see larger images at +Concept Electronics or at our website