I’ve tested a LOT of technology, gadgets and devices as a tech writer, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that most gadgets will require regular maintenance to keep working well.
Just like your car, the fluids need to be topped up, and when you hear a rattle you need to take it to a mechanic and get it looked at to prevent a bigger problem down the road. It’s the same thing with all the high tech gadgets we buy; you’ve got to do your part to keep them in good working order.
Why is my tech not working?
In the last few months alone, I’ve had home automation devices stop working, smart light bulbs cease to function, headphones that crashed constantly, and many other devices where they’ve just stopped working altogether, or only function intermittently. Here’s a few common reasons why your devices may not be performing as they should.
1. Software/Firmware Updates Need to be Done
What’s the difference – Firmware vs Software
For starters, what’s the difference between firmware and software? Software is a program you run, often designed to run on a computer’s hard drive. Usually software is something you, the user, adds to your arsenal of programs by choice. Firmware is software that’s embedded my a manufacturer into a device, that’s absolutely essential to it running. Firmware often lives inside a tiny chip deep within your device.
With that said, some products bring in constant firmware or software updates, like every couple of weeks. Others far less frequently. The key is, when your device gives you those push messages that say it’s time to update, don’t ignore them. Updates are designed to remove bugs, patch security flaws and keep things running smoothly. That’s why when you call a tech support hotline for help, the first thing they’ll ask is if your device is up to date.
2. Integration with your phone is not quite perfect yet
Have you ever tried to write a program for an app or device? Yeah, me either. It’s frikking hard, time consuming and expensive. That’s why a lot of companies will start by writing a program for just one smartphone OS, and bring in the second one later.
Why is there only an Apple App for that?
Often the development team has a preference for one device or operating system over others. Why? This articlefrom The Guardian explains it pretty well: “Developing iOS apps means ensuring they work nicely on a small range of iPhones and/or iPads: generally 6-8 different devices depending how far back the developer wants to go. On Android, it’s a different story: nearly 12,000 different devices out there in the hands of people, with a wider range of screen sizes, processors and versions of the Android software still in use. Many developers’ lack of enthusiasm for Android is down to concerns not just about the costs of making and testing their apps for it, but also the resources required to support them once they’re launched, if emails flood in about unspotted bugs on particular models.”
So to that point, keeping every single device out there running smoothly with your software or firmware is no easy feat. So that means if you’re having troubles you can try waiting it out until the next batch of updates, and hope that helps.
3. The product wasn’t quite ready for market, but they released it anyway
I’ve tested numerous products this year where it feels like the company’s gadget was definitely not ready for public release, but they started shipping devices anyway. Selling units helps get cash flowing in, which in turn helps pay for customer and tech support, which is one reason companies might release a not-quite-ready gadget or device. The other reason a product might hit the market too soon? There’s no better way to beta test something than to put it in the hands of thousands of users and see what happens. At that point, you need to hope they have really good customer service and fast developers to get things working well quickly.
Did I get a bum device or a dud gadget?
4. It’s a dud.
There’s another reason your gadget or device may be causing you to pull your hair out. It’s a bad apple. From where I’m sitting right now, I can see four smart gadgets/devices that have had to be replaced within hours, or weeks of getting them, because they were duds.
How do you know if they’re duds? I’d say these days, if you’re spending any more than an hour on set up or installation and it’s not working properly, you may have a did. Today, most quality, well-made devices are set up and ready to go in less than 15 minutes. Any longer than that and you might have a problem. If you’ve been fighting with a gadget for more than an hour, or repeating the set up process over and over and getting nowhere, contact your company’s help line. They can — and will —tell you if you have a bad device. And in 100% of the cases where this has happened to me, they’ve replaced it within days, at no cost to me, and the new one has worked smoothly.
How can I fix my malfunctioning tech?
So to get back to the original question: what can you do to keep your stuff running smoothly?
Plan to update your device. When an update is ready, do it. That will decrease the liklihood of problems.
Don’t ignore problems, especially early. If a device keeps crashing your computer, performing poorly or otherwise driving you crazy, call tech support and get it dealt with. If it requires a replacement device, that’s easier done a month in, rather than leaving it three or four months because you’re just too frustrated to deal with it.
Keep your receipts/order numbers. All my receipts and manuals for major purchases go in one drawer, so they’re always easy to find. You’ll likely need some kind of proof of purchase to get help or a replacement. If it’s a gift, you can always redact (black out) the price and make a copy of the invoice or receipt for the recipient.
Don’t take no for an answer. If you have your receipt, and are having legitimate troubles with a device and tech support can’t help you, don’t accept that. I recently dealt with a company that basically told me of its malfunctioning gadget, “we don’t know what to do.. soo..”. That’s not good enough. Ask to speak to a supervisor, who often has more experience, and the authority to do something for you.
Having specific problems with your smart light bulbs? Try a reset. Read my blog on How to reset Your Smart Light Bulbs here.
Do you have tips or advice for people dealing with glitchy tech? Share your wisdom in comments.
Need your gadgets and devices to do more for you? I have a new trick that helps me keep ahead of bad weather; my smart light bulbs in my living room turn bright blue when snow is in the forecast for the following day. So how can you get this kind of personalized heads up, and not need to constantly keep checking your weather app?
You’ll need two things: a Wi-Fi enabled smart bulb with colour-change abilities, such as Philips Hue or LIFX, and an app called IFTTT.
The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”. Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.
One of the ways you automate things is by using or making “recipes”, such as “if the temperature drops below zero, Then turn my Nest thermostat up 3 degrees,” “If there’s a flight deal (to a certain city), Then notify me on email,” and even, “If the pollen count is high, Then remind me to take allergy medicine,” and “If the current weather condition changes to rain, then change my Philips Hue light bulbs pastel blue.” The possibilities are literally endless, and while you can create your own custom recipes, you can browse and use the recipes others have made on the IFTTT website too. For a look at the full list of apps and services, or Channels that work with IFTTT, click here. My IFTTT recipe: IF snow turn LIFX bulbs blue
I have some LIFX bulbs in a living room lamp, so I went to the IFTTT app and created a recipe that uses the local forecast in my area, to tell the bulbs to turn blue when snow is coming, and I also get an alert sent to my cell phone (click here to access my recipe). Now I get a super helpful 24 hour advance heads up about inclement weather. In the summer, I create a new recipe to warn me of rain. Another similar recipe on IFTTT will turn your LIFX bulb cyan and slowly blink them.
It’s worth getting to know IFTTT technology. It’s easy and fun to automate life’s tasks and get your devices working smarter.
Every so often you come across a cool tech device that blows your mind, and makes you rethink what you thought about a gadget. In this case, it’s an everyday object that’s been re-imagined: the light bulb.
Since Edison’s day, light bulbs have been largely the same shape and structure: glass chambers with tiny wire filament inside, heated to glowing by an electrical current. While in modern days we’ve seen the introduction of compact fluorescents, and LED lights, the lowly light bulb has been largely the same, until now.
Enter Nanoleaf. The small startup, with a University of Toronto grad at its helm, began life on Kickstarter. Hoping to raise $30,000 the Nanoleaf team shot past their fundraising goal in 24 hours (2 hours, to be exact!), going on to get over $192,000 pledged to their goal of reinventing the light bulb. These can-do inventors are coming to Beakerhead, the art science and engineering festival in Calgary (September 16-20, 2015).
A whole new look: no rounded edges, no glass
So what did Nanoleaf do? For starters, they changed the shape of their light bulb from rounded, to dodecahedron — a sphere-like shape made from 12 flat plains.
“Our patented Laser-scoring process allows us to fold PCB just like a piece of origami, giving us the freedom to ‘think outside the bulb’ when designing Nanoleaf One,” explains Nanoleaf’s website.
Then they imbedded the Nanoleaf One with dozens of tiny LEDs, so much the better for being able to throw out of a ton of strong, clear and long lasting light.
“Heat robs LEDs of efficiency and longevity,” the website foes on to explain, “that’s why we use individual, tiny, pure copper heat sinks for each LED instead of the less efficient aluminum of competing bulbs. It costs more, but it’s just one of the many ways we achieve such high efficiency and long life.”
Then they decided to eschew glass altogether, and cut those flat plains from computer circuit board, aka Printed Circuit Board, or PCB. PCBs are made from something called “FR-4”. It’s a woven glass fabric with epoxy resin and other materials like plastic and copper sheets.
So why reinvent the light bulb? Nanoleaf’s Sunny Han says, “In the beginning, the three co-founders Gimmy, Christian and Tom got together to create a solar product as a solution to relieving the global energy crisis. They wanted to add an energy efficient light bulb to go with the device. However, after searching the market, they couldn’t find any LED bulbs that were as energy efficient as they had hoped for. The more they looked into it, the more they realized just how big of an impact greener lighting could have on global energy consumption, so they decided to challenge the industry and create something better.”
“The world’s most energy efficient” bulbs, and they can back that up
Nanoleaf calls its bulbs “the world’s most energy efficient” and declares their bulbs will save you about $300 over its lifetime in energy cost alone.
So how do they back that up? Nanoleaf’s Han says “Lighting Facts – a program run by the U.S. Department of Energy to regulate industry standards – has certified our light bulbs as the most energy efficient in the world. With the Bloom’s efficacy levels reaching 120 lumens per watt, our bulbs are the most energy efficient out of over 33,000 other LED lights listed in their database.”
Nanoleaf says its bulbs are 87% more energy efficient than a regular incandescent, and will last 27 years, meaning you may never need to change the bulbs in your home, for as long as you live there! At about $30 a pop, they’re right in line with the price point of other high-efficiency bulbs.
Dimmable bulbs without the dimmer switch
With the invention of the Nanoleaf Bloom, the company set another benchmark: creating a dimmable light bulb that doesn’t need a dimmer switch. Instead by clicking the switch on whatever fixture you have it in on and off, you gain the control to dim the bulb to whatever level you choose. That’s a lot of versatility in your home.
Nanoleaf is brighter than bright: but why?
The bulbs themselves are super bright, almost too bright, but thankfully they can be easily dimmed from any switch. They’d be great in a workplace, workshop, garage or basement, because they’ll give you what feels like twice as much light as any other bulb. Why is that? Han tells me, “the Nanoleaf Bloom is indeed a 75W equivalent. It appears to be brighter because there is no diffuser being used. Most bulbs are made with frosted white glass, which ends up causing the light to appear less bright. Since we place the LED chips right on the exterior of the bulb, the result is a very bright light. The shape of the bulb also gives it true omni-directional lighting, something that the LED industry has struggled to achieve.”
The Nanoleaf bulbs are simple to use; if you can screw in a light bulb, you can up the efficiency in your home. Getting the hang of the dimming function might take a bit; you need to start with the bulb on, then do a quick on/off cycle and wait until the bulb has lowered to the level you like, then you turn it off and on again to set that level.
Nanoleaf has big news to share
The Nanoleaf folks shared with me that they have a new connected product coming out – a starter pack that will come with a smart bulb and hub, similar to bulbs you’ve read about here, like Philips Hue, LIFX, and WeMo/Osram. Want more general info on what a smart bulb can do for you? Check out my blog post.
“The smart home space is growing every day, but most of the new products out there only focus on the ability to control your lights wirelessly. Nanoleaf’s introduction into the connected space will keep in line with our focus on energy efficiency and offer convenient connectivity, but is one-of-a-kind with its unique dodecahedron design. We want to make products that will create meaningful experiences for people – something that they will remember and take with them wherever they go.”
Advice for inventors?
It’s no small feat, inventing something truly new, but plenty of people with amazing ideas never get past having a doodle and a dream. What advice does the Nanoleaf team have for other inventors out there who may have an idea for something great?
“The best advice would be to just go out there and do it!” says Han. “The longer you wait, the more you stall and the less likely it will happen. Our CEO, Gimmy Chu, says that he’s glad he didn’t know everything he knows now. Otherwise he would’ve been more hesitant to take that initial plunge. Having a great idea is a good starting point but you need to be ready for a lot of hard work, late nights and bumps in the road.”
See NanoLeaf at Beakerhead
You can see Nanoleaf in action.. for free, as part of Beakerhead’s Temporary Gallery of Lasting Impressions. Check Beakerhead’s website for info.
Its doors were locked for years, but thanks to Strategic Group, Calgary’s historic Barron Building is coming back to life as an engineering backdrop for contemporary art. During Beakerhead, it will be a sublime stage for SoleNoid, a western Canadian premiere by German artist, Peter William Holden, and Nanoleaf, an illuminated installation by internationally renowned Calgary-based artists Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, made of Nanoleaf light bulbs that can last up to 40 years. Nanoleaf is a Beakerhead for a Better World project, presented in partnership with Trico Charitable Foundation.
Get more info or order a Nanoleaf bulb from their website.
Erin is a Calgary-based tech writer, TV producer, gadget ninja and wanna-be geek. Follow her on Twitter @ErinLYYCor check out and Like her Facebook news page.
There’s so much we can do to get our homes running smarter. There’s any number of products that will do things for you automatically, or examples where once inaccessible technology can now be yours at home. Everything from automating your lights, to remotely locking your doors, checking the weather on demand, or even testing your food for impurities… it’s all possible now inside your own home.
I recently had a chance to run tests in my home of several “smart” gadgets, and we showed them off on CTV Morning Live (watch HERE). Here’s a bit about each one, and some testing notes.
The Wink hub is kind of like a nerve centre of home automation. The hub connects to your home’s wifi, and drives the Wink app on your phone. The app then allows you to control any number of add-on devices. I did have some initial trouble getting the hub working, but Wink/Quirky was quick to replace what was likely a defective unit and I was up and running again quickly. Once the hub and app were in sync, I was quickly able to set up GE Link light bulbs, which allo you to use your phone to turn the lights on and off and to dim them. I tested the soft while light bulbs, which was great, but it would be even better if the LED bulbs had colour options like LIFX or Philips hue bulbs I’ve reviewed previously. That said, you can actually run Philips hue bulbs on the wink hub, but you do still need the Philips hub or starter kit, so it’s kind of redundant.
I also tested the Quirky Pivot Power bar along with the Wink hub. It’s a wifi-enabled power bar that allows you to turn some of the outlets on or off remotely. The Pivot also curls and pivots (hence the name!) and allows you to plug in large size plugs or transformers with ease.
The Wink system has been easy to use and program, and one of the only downsides is the large size of the hub. I also know some reviewers have had trouble with getting the system set up initially, as I did, but the Wink/Quirky customer service folks handled things very well.
By comparison to Wink, the WeMo hub is tiny; it fits in my palm. This was by far the easiest set up I’ve had lately; the hub conected instantly and without trouble. I set up WeMo light bulbs first and they too connected instantly. I did have some confusion setting up the add-ons like the WeMo Insight switch, but I figured out after a few minutes that the WeMo app actually has 2 screens that look like the set-up screen. I was using the wrong one. Once I figured that out, and got into the right one, the plugs connected easily. Once everything is connected, you can use the WeMo app to set timers for lights, or your heater, fan, you name it. I wake for work well before the sun is up, so being able to set the lights to slowly come on, or the fan to warm the room before I get out of bed is a treat. The WeMo system is available at Best Buy, Amazon.ca and Future Shop.
What’s a Personal environment monitor? The Lapka kit contains 4 sensors which measure radiation, electromagnetic fields, humidity and how organic your produce is. It connects to your iPhone and the Lapka app and displays its readings on your phone. I tested my home for radiation and electromagnetic fields, and it came up fine. I also used it to test some fruits in my pantry for the presence of nitrates (from fertilizer). My biggest beef with the Lapka is that there’s not a lot of information either in the package or online about what you’re testing for, or why. I felt like I needed an advanced degree to know what I was doing with the PEM.
I really love this product, both because it looks like the most futuristic humidifier you’ll ever see, and because it was easy to use, and ABSOLUTELY QUIET. I have a humidifier at home and it’s so noisy we need to keep it on the other side of the house from the bedroom. The Roolen is silent. It emits a cool mist that humidifies your home and in “automatic” or smart mode, it will automatically shut off when your home hits optimal humidity. Simple, easy and smart. A full tank will also last almost 18-24 hours, so it only needs filling once per day. You can get one in Canada on Amazon.ca
The Netatmo weather station is a neat idea for weather geeks. One of its brushed aluminum cylinders sits unobtrusively in the home, the other goes outside, and you access their info via an app on your phone. It measures temperature, of course, but also humidity, and noise levels indoors. it’s also equipped to send weather alerts to your phone, but I found they didn’t work in Canada. A neat idea for a gift if someone you know loves weather. Add-ons include alternate temperature sensors and a rain gauge. You can read my full review of the Netatmo on Future Shop’s Tech Blog or get one on their website.