Tech News and Commentary
Dave and the team discuss SMGs, Apple’s ratings for their own apps, tech gift Ideas for the holidays, and more.
Lance in Dearborn, Michigan listens online and asked: “I’ve been getting into gardening lately. Since I live in the northern states, I’m planning to try some indoor gardening. Are there any sensors I can use, any sort of tech, that could help me in my desire to get the perfect tomato, either outdoors or indoors?”
Lance, the main sensor youd be able to use is a soil moisture sensor. Theyre relatively inexpensive, for example a PlanetLink soils sensor will cost you about $35 and can be calibrated to monitor for the moisture requirements of tens of thousands of plants.
Those kinds of sensors are not all the same, but you can find smart ones that will alert your phone if the plant needs more water, which can be a helpful hint if youre new at this hobby. Its not rare for sensors like these to need to be linked to a hub like Samsungs SmartThings hub.
That is a little bit of a pain because youll need one extra device, but it does help extend battery life by using less energy hungry radios than what WiFi requires.
Since you mentioned indoor gardening, you may be interested in some of the all-in-one indoor smart garden devices. These are boxes that have room for the plants themselves, but that also include monitoring and grow lights. Some can control their humidity as well to create an ideal environment for the plants.
There are lots and lots of these boxes to the point that theyre fairly generic and itd be hard to recommend an actual brand. A few years ago they made up probably 30% of all of the major tech trade shows. They normally start at around $100 and go up in price depending on both size and features. For example, the soil sensor and humidity control, but also WiFi alerts, automatic watering, automatic light schedule, etc.
Lex in Benton, Louisiana listens on 710 KEEL – calling in via the App and asked: “I have a question about the Alexa communicating with the Fire Stick, and having speakers connected to the Alexa so that I can hear my television through the speakers, to effectively make a sound bar with the equipment I have on hand without having to buy anything. Is that possible?”
Lex, you can do part of what you want to do, but not exactly what youre asking us about.
You can control Amazons Fire TV with Amazon Alexa, at least to a good extent. And you may be able to reuse the speakers you have, but you cant route your TVs audio to the Alexa.
You may be able to connect your existing speakers directly to your TV, though, and use the Alexa to control the TV. The speakers will still do their jobs even if they dont know about your Alexa existing.
Keep in mind that you will probably need some extra equipment for your speakers to work anywhere near the way a soundbar would, so your sound will improve if nothing else just by virtue of it being louder, but dont expect it to sound like surround sound or anything like that.
You will however be able to use your existing gear and get something like what youre after, so thats good news. You will just have to be a little flexible when it comes to your expectations about the end product.
If you have the latest Amazon echo and Fire Stick, you should be able to connect them on the same amazon account and network. Once they are linked, open up the Alexa app on your smartphone, select the word Devices at the top right and then tap the plus Symbol at the bottom right and click Set Up Audio System. The words Home Cinema should appear. Tap that as well. Then name your new setup, and which devices you want to use, then you should be able to enjoy your tv and movies with Alexa voice control without the need for a brand new soundbar.
Steve in Lake Villa, Illinois listens to the podcasts and is calling via the AskDave button on the IT site and asked: “I kind of invested in Google smart speakers. My wife bought me a smart screen for Christmas, I have I don’t know how many little hubs around the house. I kinda do a surround sound throughout the house so I can listen to music wherever I go. I was thinking I might need a tablet to go with this. So the question I have is what tablet would work in the Google ecosystem with the smart screen and speakers? I have Chromecast but I prefer the Roku. Thought you guys might have an answer.”
Steve, any tablet will generally work well with Googles ecosystem, even iPads play nice with most Google services, but if youve fully bought into Google ecosystem, you might as well go for the closest to a Google tablet you can find.
At the moment, Google is not listing any Made by Google tablets on their site. You can still find the old ones online, but the fact that theyre not listed on their site doesnt send the best sign about the companys willingness to support them. Tablets are not very popular anymore, so they may have just decided that its a market segment that they dont need to address directly.
Since Made by Google is not an option right now, you should probably look at the second best thing to that: stock Android tablets.
Its hard to find truly stock tablets that dont come with any extra bloatware from the manufacturer, but there are some out there that may work for you.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7, for example, has a bright 11-inch screen, 13 hours of battery life, and its compatible with Samsungs keyboard cases if youre interested in that. The tablet does use a Snapdragon 865+ which is largely ok, but not exactly the fastest processor around these days. You can find the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 for around $550 online.
You can also look at a Lenovo Tab P11 Pro, its also an 11-inch tablet with a good OLED screen. The Lenovo Tab P11 Pro has two particularly attractive features: the 8,600mah battery, and its $400 price tag, which isnt bad for a decent tablet. Its not the best around in terms of performance or cameras, but its good for the price.
You should probably avoid Amazon tablets. They do run a customized version of Android so they may still play nice with Google devices, and they are also very cheap. Its not rare to find the 10-inch version for little more than $100.
But, theyre designed to push Amazon services from the store itself, to its video, music, and other offerings. That doesnt mean that you wont
be able to make it work if youre determined, but it will always try to steer you towards Alexa or Amazon Music over Googles Assistant and YouTube Music, for example.
Liz in Windsor, Ontario listens online, and asked: “I was under the impression – quite possibly a mistaken one – that a smart TV would allow me to watch what was on my iPhone or iPad through my TV. I know these devices are smart but me, not so much.”
Liz, to play your iOS content on your TV youll need AirPlay. There are a few ways to get AirPlay, but the most common is through an official Apple device, the other ways are a little bit on the technical side and you probably dont want to deal with them.
The cheapest and easiest way to play most of your content from your iOS device on your TV would probably be a Chromecast. Theyre made by Google and they start at around $30. Theyre not perfect, but theyre easy enough to use and their only real mission is to put content from phones or tablets onto TVs.
An Apple TV will be the most seamless way to play the content from your iOS devices, but theyre standalone devices as well and will cost you more.
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