Tag Archive: product reviews


It all starts with the best of intentions. You want to get some friends together for dinner, or grab drinks with a few colleagues after work, so you send out an invitation via email or group text message. Then things spiral out of control, as people message back and forth about where to go, and what time to meet. Pretty soon you’re entangled in an endless chain of messages that makes you wonder, “What have I done?” But planning events doesn’t have to feel like you’re herding cats.

WePopp and Rundavoo are two mobile apps that aim to make the task of event planning a little more organized. Both are free, and allow you to create events right from your smartphone, and then send out invites where people can vote on details, suggest alternatives and exchange messages all in one place. After everything is finalized, you can lock it down and add it to your calendar.

After using WePopp and Rundavoo to plan various events over the past few days, I wouldn’t recommend either app if you’re just trying to get together with one person. Email or phone is better for that. And if you already have an event with a set venue, date and time, I don’t see any advantage to using WePopp or Rundavoo over something like Evite or Facebook events.

Instead, these two apps are useful for more impromptu gatherings and activities that involve larger groups of people. The voting feature in both of these apps is particularly useful for getting input and nailing down details. But they both have their flaws.

For example, WePopp’s text notifications can get annoying. Meanwhile, Rundavoo crashed on me a few times, and its interface can be confusing. Of the two, I’d recommend WePopp, because it’s easier to use and doesn’t require your invitees to download the app or sign up for an account, though if you don’t sign up you won’t get access to all the features.

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WePopp is currently only available for iOS devices, but an Android version is coming soon. I downloaded it to my iPhone 5, and the interface is basic and intuitive. Everyone who I sent an invitation to using both apps preferred WePopp’s interface because it was simple and easy to understand.

To start planning an event, just slide the “Create a Popp” button, and it will take you to a screen where you can choose from a variety of preset invitations: Meal, Drink, Party, Movie, Sport, Weekend or Other. WePopp will then ask you to enter a date, name and description for the event, time, place and invitee list.

You can enter more than one suggestion for each section, so people can vote for their favorite option. I created one for a happy hour, and listed three different locations. It was nice to see at a glance which place had the most votes. I’ve done this before over email, and usually, I have to search through messages to tally people’s responses.

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One thing to note: The “Invite friends” section currently sits at the top of the page, above date, time and place, and when I first started using the app, I automatically started filling this section out first. But, after pressing the “check” button, it sent out invites, even though I had yet to fill out the time and place. I think it would be better to put the invite link at the bottom of the page; the company said they are looking to change that in the next version.

Invites can be sent via Facebook or text message. But WePopp can get overzealous with texts. When an invite goes out, your recipients get two messages: One saying that an invitation is on the way, and another with the link. It would be nice if WePopp consolidated that into one message.

Also, when I received a WePopp invite from a friend, it came via text message, even though I had the app. I’d prefer to be alerted via push notification; the company said they’re working to add that in the future.

The good thing about WePopp is that your friends don’t need an account or the app to respond to invites. Instead, they can simply click on the invitation link to open up a mobile site and tap the buttons to RSVP and vote for their favorite choices. Without an account, though, you can’t make other suggestions, and you won’t receive notifications if someone posts a message to the group chat section.

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Once everything is decided, you can finalize plans (another text is sent to invitees), and WePopp even gives you the option to add it to your calendar.

Rundavoo works similarly to WePopp. The app is iOS-only for now, but you can also send and respond to invites using Rundavoo’s website. An Android app is planned for the new year.

I found Rundavoo’s interface to be prettier, but it’s slightly more complicated. To start, you can choose from preset invites or create your own. You’ll then be asked to fill in the what, when and where. I like that Rundavoo uses your phone’s location services to populate search results for places (WePopp also does this), and then pulls in images of the business to use in the invite. It also integrates with Foursquare and Yelp.

Like WePopp, you can enter multiple suggestions for people to vote on. But, by default, Rundavoo locks down the venue, date and time, so you have to press the little lock icon to add other suggestions. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s an extra step I’d rather not have to deal with.

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Invites can be sent via text or email, but if you send via text, your friends will need to sign up for an account to respond. If sent by email, users can simply click on the links to RSVP, but if they want to add any suggestions, they will need an account. Most of my friends were not thrilled about this, but they did it for me (such good friends, they are). Even then, they said they found the interface confusing.

On the organizer’s side, votes were clearly displayed, but I never received notifications when people RSVPed, even after double-checking my iPhone’s notifications settings. More annoying was the fact that Rundavoo crashed on me multiple times, often when I was in the middle of creating an invitation. But Rundavoo told me they are working on a number of improvements, including the ability to respond via text without an account.

Trying to plan an outing with friends shouldn’t be a frustrating experience, and WePopp and Rundavoo offer an alternative to the back and forth of planning events over email. For now, you’ll get a simpler and more stable experience with WePopp.

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NOWTV 520x245 Review: Skys NOW TV box. We put this tiny   10 Roku device to the test

Sky’s NOW TV service might not be as well known as others under its auspices, such as Sky Go, for example, but at under 10 for a little white box that promises to make your boring old TV an internet-connected one, it sounds like a no-brainer. Plus it introduces the option to pay for on demand access to Sky’s sport and movie channels too.

The one thing that’s critical for an internet-connected TV is….yep, an internet connection. This is where my experience with NOW TV started: with a failure to connect.

Opening up the box, you’ll find the unit itself (which will be very familiar if you’ve seen or used Roku’s little streaming player), an HDMI cable for connecting it to the TV, a remote (plus batteries) and a power pack. Naturally setting it up is as easy as plugging all those things in.

NOWTV rear 730x391 Review: Skys NOW TV box. We put this tiny   10 Roku device to the test

Once you’re ready and the unit is switched on, you’ll see a welcome screen asking you to connect to a WiFi network. Despite trying several times, having double and triple checked that I’d put in the correct password, it simply wouldn’t connect to my (Virgin Media) router. I tried disabling security on the router altogether, to no avail.

However, tethering it to my phone worked no problem at all. First time, in fact.

Once connected, the software will update itself and then ask you to sign in to NOW TV. If you don’t have an account you’ll need one, and you can’t set one up from the box, so you’ll need a laptop or tablet or something.

Once that hurdled has been safely cleared you finally get to the NOW TV menu screen which provides access to all installed channels (apps) and the settings menu.

Now TV Menu 730x422 Review: Skys NOW TV box. We put this tiny   10 Roku device to the test

Navigation is simple enough, all performed via the arrow and enter keys on the remote and it’s responsive enough to keep you from being frustrated at having to wait around.

New apps can be installed by pressing the apps button on the controller and then navigating to the desired option, whether that’s dedicated channels like BBC News 24 or things like Spotify or the Facebook photos and videos app.

apps1 730x482 Review: Skys NOW TV box. We put this tiny   10 Roku device to the test

Actual streaming performance, which will undoubtedly vary depending on your connections – tethered to 4G in this instance, was without problems and it didn’t balk at the BBC iPlayer HD content, though it only supports output at up to 720p.

Obviously, Sky’s hoping you’ll shell out for its on-demand Sky Sport and Sky Movies. Pricing has been set at 9.99 per day for all six Sky Sports channels and subscription to the movies channel is being offered on a 30 day free trial for new customers, followed by a one month introductory price of 8.99, which then rises to 15 per month.

Essentially, the unit is a rebranded Roku unit with Sky’s software on board and a few services removed. While Roku devices tend to retail for a little more than the price of the Sky branded-offering (which is around $15), Sky’s not really in this for the hardware cash. To it, the value of those ad-hoc daily sports, or monthly movies are far more important.

Personally, I’m not that interested in Sky’s movie or TV offerings, and with no access to services like Netflix, LOVEFiLM, ITV Player, and 4oD (for obvious reasons – as competing on-demand streaming platforms) it’s slightly less smart than I’d like, but to be able to turn a normal HD TV into an at least semi-smart TV for 10 has got to be worth anyone’s money. Providing it’ll play nicely with your router. I’ll let you know if I get it working with mine.

Update: After much wrangling the WiFi connectivity issue was eventually resolved by accessing the hidden menu (press home button 5 times followed by fast-forward, play, rewind, play and then fast-forward again) and selecting “disable network pings” in the options.

NOW TV

The sliding glass doors open, and you walk into your local Best Buy store ready to browse for some new electronic toys. As the blue-polo-and-khaki-clad salespeople start approaching you to offer assistance, you realize they’re practically speaking a different language — a language that includes confusing technical phrases not used in everyday conversation.

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But you, too, can become fluent in geek speak. In this week’s column, I’ll walk you through some terms that are often used when talking about smartphones, TVs, cameras and laptops. The words range from those that describe a category of device to particular features found in a gadget, but all are helpful to know as you’re shopping around.

Let’s start with cellphones. Go into any electronics store and you’ll find a myriad of touchscreen phones — some with displays so large that they look like they belong on tablets. This latter group is often referred to as phablets — a term born from combining the words phone and tablet (a la Brangelina).

Phablets offer all of the capabilities of smartphones, including the ability to make calls, but they feature screens between five inches and seven inches. (More normal smartphones have screens in the 3.5 to 4.7-inch range.)

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The benefit to the larger display is that it’s easier for reading text, viewing videos and browsing the Web. The downside is that the device is larger in size, making it less pocketable and more difficult to use with one hand. Some examples of phablets include the Samsung Galaxy Note II and LG Intuition.

Another word that’s tossed around when talking about mobile gadgets is processor. The processor acts like the brains of the device. It manages tasks like running the operating system and handling graphics in games and Web pages.

With today’s smartphones and tablets, you’ll most often hear that model X has a dual-core or quad-core processor. The advantage of these multi-core processors is that they can handle numerous tasks at once, thus speeding up overall performance.

But a quad-core processor doesn’t double the power of a dual-core one. Memory, operating system and other factors also play a part in a device’s performance. If all work together and efficiently with the processor, you’ll see increased performance, but the difference in speed will not be that dramatic.

One other term associated with speed, though it has more to do with data speeds, is 4G LTE. LTE, which stands for Long Term Evolution, is fourth-generation (4G) wireless technology that offers up to 10 times the speed of 3G networks. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint all operate 4G LTE networks. Meanwhile, T-Mobile will launch its LTE network later this year.

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Let’s move on to laptops, shall we? Like smartphones, there’s a new subcategory of notebooks called Ultrabooks.

Ultrabooks — the name was coined and trademarked by Intel — were designed to be a compromise between a full-size laptop and tablet (think MacBook Air).

To wear the title, they must meet certain size specifications, use Intel processors and have a minimum battery life of five hours.

Ultrabooks also must awake from sleep mode in less than seven seconds. To help achieve this, many models use solid-state drives (SSDs). Unlike the hard disk drives, which use moving discs to read and write data, SSDs have no moving parts and can retrieve data faster. The downsides are that they don’t offer as much disk space as hard drives, and they’re more expensive.

As such, Ultrabooks really haven’t taken off with consumers, partly due to higher price points that start in the $900-plus range. But prices are beginning to come down ($500 and up), and there is now a greater variety of designs available.

Whether you’re looking for an Ultrabook, laptop or all-in-one PC, you might have noticed that Microsoft released a new version of its operating system. But there are two versions — Windows 8 and Window RT.

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Windows 8 is considered the full version, and can run legacy software that you used on your older Windows machines, in addition to new apps.

Meanwhile, Windows RT can only run new Windows 8 apps, and doesn’t offer access to such features as Windows Media Player or Windows Media Center. Windows RT was designed primarily for use on mobile devices, like tablets.

Over in TV land, two terms are getting a lot of buzz lately. The first is smart TV. This refers to TVs with integrated Internet capabilities.

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Aside from allowing you to stream content from services like Netflix and Hulu Plus, you can also browse the Web from TV, interact with your social networks, access apps and more.

Samsung and LG, in collaboration with Google, are just a couple of the companies that offer smart TVs. But poor user experiences and the availability of the similar features on cheaper set-top boxes, like the Roku, have kept them from taking off.

The second phrase is 4K TVs (also known as Ultra HD). 4K refers to the horizontal resolution of the TV display. At about 4,000 pixels, 4K TVs offer almost four times the display resolution of today’s standard 1080p HD TVs.

Many TV manufacturers will brag that these new sets reduce the gap between pixels, but when viewed from far away, the difference may not be that noticeable. Also, since 4K TVs are still relatively new, they’re crazy expensive (we’re talking in the five-figure range). And there’s a lack of 4K content out there at the moment.

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Last but not least, we come to the camera section. If you’re looking to graduate from a point-and-shoot but don’t want to jump to a large, higher-end digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) device, mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras might be a good compromise.

They allow you to switch lenses and can accommodate larger sensors to provide DSLR-like image quality, while still offering relatively small builds. Unlike DSLRs, these cameras do not have an eyepiece (or a mirror-based optical viewfinder) that you can look through to frame and focus your picture. Instead, most offer a rear display to help you capture the image.

The world of tech is constantly changing, and trying to keep up with the latest trends can be frustrating. But, as with anything, a little education and research can ensure that you’re make the right decision when it’s time to buy.

75165019 520x245 WunWun is like having a personal assistant: It runs errands, walks dogs - even bartends parties

Following the ranks of affordable luxury services like Uber, WunWun is a young, peculiarly named startup with one simple goal: to be your on-demand helper.

The iOS app, which is only available in New York City for the time being, is part concierge service, part personal assistant. It’s comparable, in some ways, to services like TaskRabbit, but instead of posting your needs and waiting for someone to bid, WunWun’s own staff helps you immediately.

The tasks which WunWun is able to help with vary in price, but are seemingly unlimited – so long as they’re within the law.

Deliveries

For deliveries, there’s a flat fee of $15. That’s not a steal if you’re in need of a cup of coffee, but for groceries, a trip to the Apple store or busy days when you can’t leave your desk, WunWun is there. These fees will also keep WunWun from ending up like Kozmo.com.

While trying out the service for myself, I was struck with two cravings: banana chips and cider, and that’s what I ordered. Why? Because I could. That’s why.

Image 730x418 WunWun is like having a personal assistant: It runs errands, walks dogs - even bartends parties

I then received a pleasant text, asking me “are these the right chips?” Shortly after I responded, my delivery arrived, and I felt like a spoiled king (as I trudged up the stairs of my 6-floor walkup).

Services

When it comes to services like walking your dog or assembling IKEA furniture, the company charges $2 for every five minutes.

Let’s say you need a bartender for an upcoming party – WunWun can make that happen for a rather accessible $24 per hour.

A Concierge

Rounding out its offerings, WunWun provides free suggestions. “New in town? Need an idea of what to get your brother for his birthday? The best place to take a vegetarian on a first date in New York City?” WunWun can offer advice on where to eat, what to order when you get there, and can even tell you the best streets to take.

WunWun starts by asking you “What can we help you with?” From there, just type in whatever you need, choose when you need it, and you’ll receive a text from your “helper.” Like Uber, all costs are billed to your card and you don’t need to tip, but you’ll be able to look over and approve your receipt before being charged.

If you’re in New York, or planning a visit, WunWun is worth checking out. Just for TNW readers, WunWun’s offering $15 in free credits. Snag them via the link below and let us know what you think!

WunWun + $15 credit

If you’re on the West Coast, you should look into Exec, which provides help with errands and tasks.

Image credit: Thinkstock / David Woolley

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