Studio711

Gadgets

Garmin Fenix 3

I pulled out my GPS watch for a hike and while it was charging, I was surprised to find out that I’ve never done a blog post on it. So here’s a “long term update” on the watch even though it doesn’t get used a lot.

Last fall I picked up a Garmin Fenix 3. It’s a ridiculously fancy watch. The key features that I use are hooking it to my phone for text message and phone call notifications, GPS tracking of my hikes, and tracking my skiing. It also has some cool golf features (distance to hole, etc) but I haven’t played golf in a long time.

It’s expensive. It was around $500 when I got it, but thanks to a health benefits program at work, I sort of got it for free. But if you are really active and like to have a great GPS tracker with you at all times, this seems like a pretty good fit.

Last weekend, Logan, Elijah and I hiked up Little Mt. Si and I used the watch for that hike. It was really nice to have a good feeling for how far along in the hike we were (I knew the total distance and the total elevation) and then watch us follow the track back.

When it’s all done, you get a website showing all the data from the hike and you can share that with other people. Here’s a link if you want to see it: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1776138597

So yeah it’s cool. It’s fun to put random watch faces and different apps on the watch. Would I ever pay for it? Nope. I don’t wear a watch day to day and I don’t do enough activity stuff to justify it. But is it fun to use? Yep!

Ford Android Auto

One big reason why I waited for a 2016 F150 instead of getting a 2015 was because the 2016s were going to come with the new Sync 3 system. Sync 3 includes options for Android Auto and Apple Car Play. I’ll be focusing on Android Auto because that’s what I use.

My truck came from the factory with Sync 3, and while that was an upgrade to the original Sync, what I really wanted was Android Auto and I didn’t have that version of the firmware. Late last year, a firmware update for Sync 3 which adds Android Auto and Apple Car Play leaked online. I saw hundreds of people reporting success installing it themselves, but I was a little nervous to brick an expensive piece of my truck. So I waited. And waited. And waited.

This week I finally saw the update appear on the Ford Sync website. I quickly downloaded it onto a USB key and headed out to my truck. The install took 20-30 minutes, but when it was done, I had Android Auto! It’s pretty slick. You can easily switch back and forth between Ford Sync or Android Auto. Maybe I should pause to explain what Android Auto is…

The common problem with fancy head units in vehicles is that by the time you buy one, it already feels obsolete. And in 10 years? It’s almost a joke how far technology has progressed leaving your fancy head unit in the dust. But we carry around phones in our pockets that get upgraded every few years, have internet connections, and have way more capabilities than head units. So why don’t we just use the head unit as a dumb display and use the phone as the brains of the head unit? That’s exactly what Android Auto does. When you connect, an app starts up on your phone and is displayed on the head unit. It’s a simplified interface with bigger buttons and a reduced set of capabilities for safety. But even with those restrictions, it’s AWESOME!

For example, I can touch the voice button on my steering wheel and talk to Google to send text messages, ask the internet a question, etc. I can pull up the maps and say “Find the nearest Dairy Queen”. A list shows up on the screen, I pick one, and it finds the route with the least traffic. My podcast app integrates with the system as does Spotify. It’s super slick and very snappy. If you want to see it in action, I’ve included a couple photos below but you can also head to YouTube and find lots of demo videos.

My only complaint at this point is that you have to plug in your phone to use Android Auto. They technically do support Bluetooth connections, but I don’t know if that’s just coming later or if it requires slightly different hardware. It’s not the end of the world because I often plug my phone in while I’m in the car anyway.

The best part is knowing that this interface will keep getting updated and improved, my maps will always be up to date, and I don’t have to pay any silly subscription fees to get live traffic on the maps in my vehicle!

Stop Spam Calls

Lately my cell phone has been getting two or three spam calls a day. Even when it’s not that bad I’m still getting one every day or two. Technology to the rescue!

There’s a free app (Android, iOS and Windows Phone) called Truecaller. It replaces your phone app. When you get a call, it looks up the number to determine if other users have marked it as spam. You can even tell it to block the call completely if it’s really sure that it is spam.

This app has been a big help for me. Previously I’ve answered pretty much every call because I don’t know if it’s a call from our alarm monitoring company or not. (Those calls come from a variety of different call centers.)

It still annoys me that we haven’t been able to solve the problem of spam calls, but at least this helps me reduce the amount of time that they suck out of my day.

Find My Phone

“Where’s my phone?” is a common question in our house, and I’m guessing we’re not alone. Assuming you aren’t able to have someone call your phone for whatever reason, here are two alternatives we use.

  1. We have some WeMo light switches in the house. I hooked them up to IFTTT. If we hold down the light switch button for more than 2-3 seconds, it will call our phones. If the ringer is off, that might not help a lot.
  2. Type “Find my phone” into Google (or visit the Android Device Manager page). This is where you’d go if you lost your phone and want to wipe it remotely, but it also has a “Ring” feature that will ringer your phone even if the volume is turned off. I’m guessing there is something similar for iPhones too.

Calling our cell phones is one of the main reasons we still have a landline, but we’re looking to drop that (and switch our alarm monitoring solution) so we’ll switch over to these alternatives.

SmartThings Plus Ecobee

Last December, I wrote about how I had done some programming on our new SmartThings hub to automate our home a bit. My favorite customization is that our thermostat automatically turns down when both Tyla and I are away from the house (based on the location of our phones) and then automatically turns back up when we return. It occurs to me that I should probably disable that when we hire a babysitter and both leave for the evening.

It all works smoothly, but using the default APIs available with the SmartThings, I can only tell the thermostat to go to a specific temperature when we return. I can’t say “resume your normal program” which is what I really want since the thermostat automatically turns down a bit at night. I suppose I could program all that in the SmartThings hub too but it seems like overkill when the thermostat already can do that on it’s own.

So to avoid that overkill… I spent a couple hours figuring out how to make my SmartThings application authenticate with the Ecobee API and call a “resume program” method there. Basically I wanted to see how hard it was to call into the detailed API for a specific device when I hit a limit in the generic API provided by SmartThings. Turns out, it wasn’t too bad.

I continue to be happy with this SmartThings hub and would recommend it, especially if you’re a programming nerd who likes to tinker. It’s a fun little sandbox and all this code is probably saving me some money on our heating bill.