The connected home has been a kitchen staple for a while, but few gadgets have truly changed the way we think about cooking. A new smart kitchen scale, Drop, looks to do just that. Drop, which pairs with a companion iOS app, completely changes the process of cooking. Instead of a traditional list of ingredients and steps, Drop’s recipes divide the ingredients into blocks. Every recipe is built around the scale, which adapts to how much of each ingredient you have. Baking cookies and a little bit light on flour? Drop can scale back the recipe to make sure the batch still turns out right. Drop’s recipes are far more visual than traditional recipes, and each step has an accompanying video to make sure you know exactly what you need to do. This significantly lowers the entry bar for new cooks, and also ensures veteran chefs are nailing each step along the way. If Drop sounds like a gadget you’ve got to have in your kitchen, you can pre-order one now for $99.
Netflix recently signed deals with Comcast and Verizon to improve streaming quality for its customers. There’s still work to be done, though, and streaming quality can often be shaky. Netflix wants you to know what’s wrong if you have a less-than-good stream, which is why it updates its monthly speed index to show off the best and worst ISPs for streaming. But did you know you can also test your Netflix performance in real time? There’s an 11-minute video on Netflix, called Example Short, that’s made up of a series of unconnected clips. To test your connection, start this video and keep your eye on the numbers in the top left-hand corner of the screen. These numbers represent the bit rate and resolution of the video in real time. The numbers will start out low, but should gradually get better as the stream buffers. The higher and steadier these numbers are, the better your Netflix performance is. Unfortunately, if the numbers aren’t up to your standards, there’s little you can do – other than change internet providers.
Your Amazon Prime subscription just got even more bang for its buck. Amazon recently launched its music streaming service, Prime Music. Included in an Amazon Prime subscription, Prime Music includes access to more than one million songs, as well as playlists based around artists, genres, moods and activities. Prime Music also lets you create your own playlists and save tracks to listen to offline. Amazon was already a major digital music player with Amazon mp3 and its cloud music storage, but Prime Music is Amazon’s first attempt at a music subscription service. The service pales in comparison to Spotify and its more than 25 million tracks, but a rivalry was never the point. Amazon says it launched Prime Music to give the annual Prime membership more value, which offers free two-day shipping, the Amazon Instant Video library and the Amazon Kindle Lending Library for $99 per year. Prime Music is now available to Prime members for free. If you don’t pay for Prime, you can try out Prime Music for 30 days for free.
If you have an iPhone, you probably know a lot of what Siri can do. But there are still a couple tricks Siri has up its sleeve that most iOS users may not know about. If you’ve got World Cup fever, Siri may be your best friend over the next few weeks. Siri is able to tap into all sorts of information about the World Cup. You can ask, “When is the United States playing Germany?” and Siri will answer. You can also quickly get scores of past games as well as the current standings. Siri also makes it easy to quickly change just about any setting on your phone. You can have Siri turn on your Wi-Fi, adjust screen brightness and more. If you’re going to the movies, you can ask a question like, “How good is 22 Jump Street?” and Siri will display the latest reviews from Rotten Tomatoes. And, if you want to catch some shuteye before you leave, you can even tell Siri to wake you up in half an hour.
If you find yourself misplacing things like your bags or keys all the time, Tile is here to help. Tile, a crowdfunding sensation last year, is a lost-item finder that you activate with your iPhone then attach to just about anything. Powered by Bluetooth, Tile “sings” to you when you’re looking for your lost item. To find your misplaced item, open up the Tile app, tap the Tile you’re looking for, then tap “Find.” That’s when Title plays its tune, helping you locate exactly where it wound up. Tile’s range is less than 150 feet, which is why its “Community Find” feature is so important. Community Find uses the power of every other Tile user to help find your missing item, even if you’re nowhere near it. You can also mark your Tile as “lost,” which means you’ll get a push notification if anyone else finds it. If you want to keep better tabs on your things, Tile is available to order through its website today for $19.95.
Nokia’s newest phone, the Lumia Icon, may be the most personalized phone I’ve ever touched. A lot of that personalized feel comes from Cortana, Microsoft’s new personal assistant. Cortana is brand new to Windows Phone 8.1 and, just like Siri, can answer questions like “What’s the temperature outside?” But Cortana learns from you in a way that Siri doesn’t. Microsoft says Cortana is “socially intelligent,” which means you can tell it to remind you to tell your wife her new haircut looks good when you call her later. Then, when you go to press to call your wife, Cortana will remind you to do just that. It’s a really strange way to think about a phone, but Cortana keeps track of everything and really understands what you like. Cortana is different from the personal digital assistants we’ve seen so far, but is it better than the competition? Microsoft says it’s the best thing ever, combining Google Now’s analysis with Siri’s interactivity. You’ll have to decide for yourself when Windows Phone 8.1 launches later this month.
If you spend a lot of time traveling overseas, you’ll quickly realize that smartphones are not all smart. The rates for making and receiving calls are reminiscent of mobile phone plans in the 90s. If you don’t buy an expensive monthly international roaming plan, your phone calls may cost several dollars per minute. Even with those plans, calls and texts aren’t cheap, and the data you’re allowed is almost non-existent. If you use your phone overseas the way you use it at home, you’ll spend somewhere between $100-$150 per day. But there’s a way to avoid crazy fees. If you have an unlocked phone from AT&T, T-Mobile or Sprint, you can pop in a relatively cheap, local prepaid SIM card and keep your costs down. But that SIM card comes with a brand new phone number, which is a big deal if you need to receive calls on your real mobile number in real time. If you don’t, remember: you can always check your American smartphone voicemail a few times a day.
When Apple unveiled iOS 8 at its Worldwide Developers Conference, it highlighted a ton of great new features that we’ll find on our iDevices this fall. But Apple didn’t have time to mention everything. Here are some of my favorite new features that flew under the radar. iOS 8 is adding a new feature to Safari that lets you scan a credit card with your phone’s camera instead of manually entering the information when shopping online. Your phone will scan your card and input your credit card number, expiration date and name into the text fields, making the checkout process quicker and easier. iOS 8 also adds in travel-time notifications to the Calendar app. Apple introduced this feature in OS X with Mavericks, letting you specify how much time you need to get to an appointment so you can be notified when it’s time to go. Apple is bringing that same functionality to the Calendar app in iOS 8, meaning you’ll never be late to a meeting or appointment ever again.
How many times have you asked a friend to call your phone because you can’t find it? Whether it slipped behind a couch cushion or was left in a jacket pocket, there are plenty of hiding spaces that phones love to hide in. Thanks to a new app called Marco Polo, however, finding your phone just got a lot easier – and more fun. Available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch, Marco Polo lets you find your device by yelling for it. Just like at the pool, shout “Marco!” and your device will respond with “Polo!” The app runs silently in the background until you need it, and can be customized with 30 different voice options. You can even change the input phrase to whatever words you want to shout. Marco Polo isn’t the most important app you can download to your iDevice, but it’s practical – and even a little fun. If you seem to always be losing your phone, you can download Marco Polo in the App Store for 99 cents today.
Need a tech gift for a dad or grad and not sure what to buy? Here are a few of my favorite gift ideas. The best phone on the market right now is the HTC One M8. Apple and Samsung have held the “best smartphone” crown for several years, but the One M8 is the current King of the Hill. If you can wait a few weeks for extra awesomeness, LG’s newest flagship phone, the LG G3, looks to be even better than the One M8. If you’re giving a gift to the fashion conscious, you can’t go wrong with Apple’s iPhone 5S, iPad Air or MacBook Air. All of Apple’s gadgets are impressive and they’re all at or near the top of their product class, and they’re all amazing products that anyone would be proud to own. And if the person you’re shopping for already has every gadget they’d need, you can give the gift of customization: digital content cards to their favorite e-marketplaces like Amazon, iTunes or Netflix.