• Amazon Fire Stick versus Google Chromecast ·

    We went all-in on Chromecast at home. We had a Chromecast Audio in every room, even the bathroom, with a set of speakers. We set up multiple groups like “Full House” and “Kitchen and Living Room” so we could have music playing wherever we were hanging out. We had a Chromecast in the living room and in the garage with the treadmill, so we could watch videos while working out. The living room Chromecast was our main source of video entertainment since we don’t have satellite or cable TV.

    Our dream was to have music fill the house from Spotify, iTunes, or Soundcloud at the press of a button. To have Game of Thrones playing in the living room while a documentary played in the garage. The dream was not meant to be, however. We encountered little problems every time we used a Chromecast, such as our phones not seeing a particular Chromecast until we force-closed the app, disconnecting and reconnecting to the wifi, or unplugging and replugging the Chromecast.

    It’s super frustrating when all you want to do is watch some TV or listen to music while you work and the technology flakes out. Why do all the other Chromecasts show up in the Spotify app except for the one I want? Why does the garage TV show up in Netflix but not the living room TV? Why is pausing Game of Thrones fraught with the risk of never being able to unpause because by the time you come back from the kitchen, the HBO Now app has forgotten it was Chromecasting, you have to reconnect, and then it loses your place in the show so you have to scrub back to it? Why did my song cut off in the middle because it disconnected, forcing me to stop what I’m doing to try and reconnect to the Chromecast Audio?

    I’m a big Overwatch fan, and I love watching the Overwatch League. Shortly into stage 1 of season 1, I was all hyped to watch the evening’s games on the TV after work. However, the Twitch app on my iPhone would not detect the living room TV Chromecast. The usual technique of unplugging and replugging the Chromecast, force-closing the app, and reconnecting to wifi on my phone didn’t help. I also couldn’t detect the Chromecast from my computer, trying to cast from a Chrome browser tab to the TV. We ended up swapping the garage Chromecast with the living room Chromecast because my phone had no problem connecting to that Chromecast. By this point, I’d missed part of a game and was very annoyed. That’s when I ordered a Fire Stick on Amazon.

    I have had no such problems with the Amazon Fire Stick; the user experience has been night and day. We plugged it into the living room TV and it just works in a way the Chromecast never did. I can pause a show and when I come back, it’s exactly where I left it. It hasn’t forgotten my place in the show, it hasn’t disconnected from the wifi, it hasn’t dumped me back to a home screen. When I reopen the Twitch app after a few days, it starts on the last channel I was watching, which is exactly what I want.

    I prefer the control mechanism for the Fire Stick. To browse content, I do it on my big TV screen as opposed to my tiny phone screen. I like having a remote for controlling what’s on my TV instead of using my phone.

    When I want to work on the couch, I have no trouble playing music on the living room speakers with the Fire Stick. The Spotify and SomaFM apps are great, and the macOS Spotify app lets me control what’s playing on the Fire Stick.

    That’s what the experience should have been playing Spotify via Chromecast, but so often it was a struggle. My phone would lose its connection to the Chromecast while the music would continue playing, so I’d have to try and reconnect to regain control. Put your phone down for a minute, long enough for the display to turn off, and when you unlocked your phone again, Spotify would have forgotten it was casting. I don’t think it was a problem with any particular app either since I had this experience with Spotify, HBO Now, Netflix, and Twitch.

    The Fire Stick shows TV shows that are available to me while I’m just browsing the menu, which is a nice feature that I didn’t even realize I wanted because the browsing experience for Chromecast is so lacking. With Chromecast, you pick an app and have to browse content in whatever way that app presents. The Fire Stick has a dashboard view that lists your apps, and it surfaces content as well. On Chromecast, the question is “what’s on Netflix” or “let’s see what HBO Now has”, as opposed to the general “what’s on TV” that the Fire Stick allows.

    The Chromecast seemed to have problems with our home wifi. Sometimes after casting something and letting your phone lock, unlocking your phone would show the Chromecast icon doing the “searching” animation, trying to reconnect. It was a 50-50 shot whether it would successfully reconnect or fail. If it failed, usually you couldn’t just tap the icon and try to connect again, it would be in some screwy state requiring a force-quit of the app. For whatever reason, the Fire Stick has not had this problem; it stays connected to our wifi.

    Perhaps the idea behind Chromecast–a simple device where the real brains are on your phone, computer, or tablet–isn’t a bad one, and it just suffers from a poor implementation, or is ahead of its time. I’m inclined to believe the Fire Stick just has a better idea to start with, though: make the device itself smart enough to keep track of what you’re watching or listening to, so it doesn’t need a separate phone, computer, or tablet to do its job. Amazon can focus on getting the experience right and have it work pretty much the same for every app, as opposed to Google who has to rely on everyone else building their Chromecast apps correctly. I like that the Fire Stick has one interface for controlling content, instead of relying on each individual app to let me control playback in a reasonable way.

    Granted, there’s no Chromecast Audio equivalent for the Fire Stick. We only have the one Fire Stick so we can’t play music on the various speakers around the house without using Chromecast. But the experience has been so much better with the Fire Stick that I’d rather play music on just the living room speakers than hassle with Chromecast in the other rooms. We’ve been so pleased with the Fire Stick that I wish we’d just bought one of them initially instead of wasting so much time trying to make Chromecast work.

  • first impressions of Google Music All Access coming from Rdio ·

    Recently, I became interested in Google Music All Access and decided to try it. I had already used my free month back when the service first became available, so this time around I had to shell out $10/month. I’m used to that price, though, having paid the same for Rdio and Spotify before it. I went ahead and cancelled my Rdio subscription because I only need one streaming service at a time.

  • my first week in Android land ·

    Last week, T-Mobile announced they’d pay your Early Termination Fee to switch from another carrier to T-Mobile. I had been thinking about trying out an Android phone for a while, and the Nexus was my top pick. I couldn’t have a Nexus on Verizon because of GSM/CDMA crap, and I wasn’t about to go back to AT&T since I left them in disgust for Verizon a year back. The T-Mobile deal was my ticket off of Verizon, which was a decent carrier if expensive, and into the Android world. The next day, I went out and swapped my iPhone 4S for a Nexus 5. I’ve been keeping notes in Evernote on my new phone about how the experiences differ.

  • new Chrome extension: extractCSS ·

    I spent yesterday afternoon creating a Chrome extension using Adnan Topal’s extractCSS library. I found extractCSS.com a few months back, I think via Hacker News, and thought it was a cool idea. It lets you paste a chunk of HTML code and it will extract the CSS classes, IDs, and inline styles used in that HTML. It produces a skeleton stylesheet with rules for those IDs and classes, and inline styles already filled in.

  • Chrome extensions ·

    I’ve written my first Chrome extensions because I discovered that ColourLovers has an API. Both extensions are about palettes, either using them or creating them. Page Colourizer grabs a random palette or pattern and applies it haphazardly to the current page. Some of the results are pretty garish, but it’s entertaining. It’s a fun way to discover new ColourLovers palettes at least. The other extension, Colour Extractor, grabs up to five colors from the current page and lets you make a palette with them. It also shows information about each color it extracts, and if a color isn’t already named on ColourLovers, you can click it to go to the Create a Colour page and give it a name.

  • Google apps on iOS are annoyingly under-featured ·

    I’ve recently had some annoying experiences with Google’s apps on my iPad and iPhone. I was having a conversation on Google+ the other day with a friend of mine, and I wanted to share some photos in the conversation thread.  I had photos on my iPhone that I wanted to somehow get online and link to them in a reply on Google+.  I wanted to put them in a Google Picasa album, but Google doesn’t have a Picasa app for the iPad.  I’ve seen Picasa apps put out by third parties, but that always makes me nervous, giving some outside source access to my photos.  Why should I have to, anyway?  Google makes plenty of iOS apps, why not provide one for Picasa?  Picasa is something users can spend money on, too, which should be an incentive to make it convenient to use, regardless of your device.  I spend $20 a year to get extra storage space, but the best way to upload photos is still on my desktop computer.  This sucks because I don’t take the photos on my computer, hell I don’t even take photos on a camera anymore.  I take photos on my phone, and half the time I never sync the things to any other device.  I need to be able to share my photos on a dedicated photo-sharing site, uploading them directly from my phone.

  • review of Chrome OS after a month ·

    After having used my CR-48 Chrome OS netbook for a little under a month, I have to say it has been an exercise in frustration. I don’t know how much of that is the fault of the operating system, because my two main issues deal with the trackpad and the wireless connectivity.

  • Chrome OS: first impressions ·

    Holy crap, I got a Chrome OS netbook! I didn’t think I’d actually get one after I signed up for their beta program a few days ago. I didn’t submit a video explaining why I’d be an excellent choice, and my answers were short. I just explained that, as a student, I’d test Chrome OS by taking notes in class, doing my homework, and doing some programming; I also said I’d be able to test how an Internet-based laptop performs when out in the boonies at my parents’ house, where their wifi isn’t the greatest and their Internet connection is even worse. :P Somehow, though, I managed to score a position in the beta program—woot!