The Nvidia Shield is far from the most popular video game system on the market, but its newest service may be one of the most innovative around. Grid, a new cloud-based gaming service, is available now for anyone who owns an Nvidia Shield – the company’s gaming tablet and portable console. Essentially “Netflix for games,” Grid has 20 titles available to play right now through Nvidia’s cloud platform. While the current list of games doesn’t feature any brand new titles, it does include some massive games from the past few years, like Batman: Arkham City and Borderlands 2. And the best part of all? Grid is completely free for Shield tablet and console owners through June. Eventually, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee to access Grid’s library of games, just like you pay Netflix for its movies and TV shows. While Nvidia hasn’t announced how much Grid will cost come June, it HAS said it will add new games every week to further fill out its catalog.
Thanksgiving and the holiday season are almost here, and Verizon wants to make sure you stay connected. Verizon has dubbed the day before Thanksgiving, November 26, as "Connection Day." Verizon says Connection Day is an opportunity for you to connect with everything you love – like your friends, music and apps – on one of the busiest travel days of the year. It also means tons of free stuff for you. Verizon MORE Everything customers that register for Connection Day get an extra gig of data for free, plus another gig during their next billing cycle. Verizon Wireless isn’t the only one offering free perks on Connection Day. To make traveling easier and less stressful, Amazon is offering free Audible audiobooks, Conde Nast is offering free digital magazine downloads, and JetBlue, Boingo and Gogo are serving up free Wi-Fi on flights and at airports. To make the most of everything Connection Day has to offer and ensure you get as many free goodies as possible, sign up atVerizon.com/ConnectionDay.
A new kitchen scale called Drop looks to make your food preparation smarter. Drop, which pairs with a companion iOS app, completely changes the process of cooking. Instead of a traditional list of ingredients and steps, Drop divides a recipe’s 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 that each batch still turns out right. Each step in a Drop recipe has an accompanying video to make sure you know exactly what you need to do. This helps new cooks feel like the pros, and ensures veteran chefs are nailing each step along the way. The scale also has a built-in timer and a “next step” button, to help make sure your batter-covered fingers stay clear of your iPhone. If Drop sounds like a gadget you’ve got to have in your kitchen, it’s available now for $99.
Reading books is a social experience. Think of all the times you handed a new book to a friend or family member and shouted, “You’ve just GOT to read this!” As e-books become more and more popular, though, there’s less and less of a chance to share the book you just read with a friend. Amazon’s latest update for Kindle is bringing that magic back by letting you share purchased books with your family. Your “Household and Family” library lets you share books back and forth between two adult accounts, as well as four child accounts. The best part is that the program not only works on Kindle devices, but on any third-party device with the Kindle app, like your iPhone or Android tablet. The update also added a new feature called “Word Wise,” which helps kids expand their vocabularies as they read by automatically displaying the definition next to tough words. To start sharing and learning, the update is available to download at Amazon.com today.
One problem with a lot of today’s fitness trackers and other wearable technology is that the devices just aren’t very stylish. A new pair of smart earrings called “Ear-o-Smart” intends to make quantifying your life sleeker and more stylish than ever. Ear-o-Smart, which just hit Kickstarter, is a pair of earrings able to replace your health bands and fitness headphones. The earrings are able to track your heart rate, your calories burned and even your activity level by shining an LED on your skin and measuring the light reflected by your blood. That data’s then sent to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The team that created Ear-o-Smart says their earrings can be more accurate than fitness bands because they stay in contact with your skin and don’t slide around when you exercise. The Kickstarter project looks to raise money to improve battery life and make the device even better. The earrings will cost a little more than $100, and are on pace to start shipping in June.
Scribd, an e-book subscription service that lets you read as much as you want for $8.99 per month, recently added 30,000 audiobooks to its service at no extra charge. Available now on Android, iOS and the web, the audiobooks are streamed directly from Scribd, which means you can start listening to books immediately. The audiobooks live in a dedicated section within the app, where staff picks and the most popular titles are highlighted. The Scribd app will let you quickly skip chapters, skip backward or forward 30 seconds, and download audiobooks to your device for offline playback. Feel like you’re about to fall asleep? The app lets you bookmark locations and set a sleep timer. Some books even support playback at faster speeds to help you speed read… er, speed listen. The 30,000 audiobooks join Scribd’s 500,000 e-book titles in an attempt to draw users away from other, similar services like Oyster, Audible and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. If you’re looking for great literary value, try out Scribd today.
If you’re looking to get your kids some smart gifts this holiday season, here are some of my favorites. I love the Maker Movement, and RadioShack’s $69 Make: it Robotic Starter Kit is a great place to get started. The Make: it kit lets you build and program your very own robot. If your child wants to one day build space shuttles, this is where they start to learn how to do it. Another great toy I love is Roominate. Aimed at young ladies, Roominate lets your child build a dollhouse with STEM tools. It’s a confidence and creativity builder. For $30, Roominate lets you build dynamic environments with electronic components in them. It’s a great STEM skill builder that also lets you have a ton of fun. One other awesome gadget is RadioShack’s RC Surveyor Drone. Available now for $70, the drone has a built-in camera and SD card slot, to help you and your child explore new heights and capture a bird’s eye view of the world around you.
If you’re an Amazon Prime member, your embarrassment of riches just got even greater. Amazon recently unveiled a new program called Prime Photos, which gives Prime customers free, unlimited cloud photo storage. Non-Prime members also have cloud photo storage, but it’s limited to 5 GB. The newest Prime perk lets you store as many photos as you want from just about any device, including iOS, Android, Fire, Mac and Windows. To start uploading photos, head to amazon.com/PrimePhotos, and download the Cloud Drive Photos app or upload images straight from that page. If you download the app, you’ll be able to enable auto-upload of photos you’ve taken, and you can easily share your photos through Facebook or email. Unlimited free photo storage was one of the main selling points of Amazon’s Fire Phone, which hasn’t sold well. But the feature is now part of the core Prime experience, and won’t raise Prime’s $99 annual fee. If you’re looking for unlimited photo storage, you can sign up for a free trial of Prime at Amazon.com today
Amazon recently unveiled the Echo, a cloud-connected speaker with an “always on” microphone. The Echo listens for your voice from across the room, and you can tell it do things like play music, or ask it questions like what the weather is outside. It’s basically speaker with a Siri-like personal assistant built in. But the Echo is an Amazon Trojan horse of sorts. Right now, you can ask about the weather or have it start playing Taylor Swift music. But you can also have the Echo add items to your shopping list to buy later. You can’t buy things through the device yet, but you’ll be able to buy things from an Amazon device like this, some day in the future. You can say, “Order me the new Halo game” or “Get me a new set of really comfortable slippers,” and they’ll be on their way to your front door. Amazon turned shopping online into a one-click purchase, and the Echo is the first step toward making it a no-click purchase.
Like it or not, it’s already holiday shopping season. What’s the big deal this year? STEM: Science, technology, engineering and math. For parents who want to get their kids off on the right foot, there are tons of great STEM gifts available to purchase. Here are some of my favorites. The LittleBits Cloudbit Starter Kit, available at RadioShack for $99, lets you make your own cloud tools, like thermostats or lights. You can then control them with an app on your tablet or smartphone, so you’re actually learning to make circuits you can use. Another product I love is the Circuit Scribe, which started on Kickstarter. Circuit Scribe teaches your children how to draw electronic circuits – then bring them to life. After drawing a circuit on the paper included in the $45 starter kit, you can then put magnetic components on the circuit you just drew and watch the lights turn on. It’s a really cool way to learn how to draw circuits – and one of my favorite toys this year
The most recent update to Sony’s PlayStation 4 added several new features, but one stands out above the rest: Share Play. Share Play is sort of like a virtual couch. Plenty of games have online multiplayer, but Share Play lets you play any game with friends – even if they don’t have the game themselves. Tap the ‘Share’ button on your PlayStation 4 controller, and navigate to the Share Play menu. From here, you can pass a virtual controller to any of your PlayStation friends so they can join your game. Even better, if you’re stuck on a particularly hard part of a game, you can pass them YOUR controller. That way, they can show you how to beat the section – and also prove how much better at video games they are than you. Share Play isn’t without its limitations, though. It can only be used in 60 minute bursts, and games can get laggy even if you have a good internet connection. Still, it’s a remarkable feature, and a true highlight of “next-gen gaming."
Microsoft has entered the fitness tracking game with the Microsoft Band and Microsoft Health fitness platform. Available now for $199, the Microsoft Band tracks your sleep and exercise, and is meant to be worn all day. The band lasts 48 hours on a single charge, and tracks things you’d expect, like your heart rate. It’s also got a built-in UV sensor that measures sun exposure, and also identifies stress by measuring your skin. The band and the Microsoft Health platform can then analyze your data to see, for example, how a particularly stressful meeting with your boss affects your next night’s sleep. In a time when just about every company is getting into the fitness sector, what makes the Microsoft Band stand out? Its big selling point is that it not only works with Windows Phone, but with iOS and Android, too, and it’s also able to receive smartphone notifications from any of those devices. The Microsoft Band finds itself in a very crowded market, but it’s at least worth a look.
More than 10 million pets are lost each year, and only about 10 percent find their way home. Pawscout wants to bring more missing pets home. Instead of using traditional pet-finding methods like micro-chipping, Pawscout’s new $30 tag lets you track your pet’s location through a companion app and a mesh network of smartphones. Start by creating a profile for your dog or cat in the app, with info like its breed, tendencies and medicinal needs. Once that’s set up, you can use the app’s Bluetooth functionality to see how far you are from your pet. If your pup wanders too far off, the app sends an alert. It’s that same Bluetooth functionality that helps bring your lost pets home. If you mark your pet as lost, anyone with the app that comes within 250 feet will get a notification of your lost pet along with your contact information. Pawscout is partnering with the ASPCA to help get the $30 tag into new pet owners’ hands when it ships this February.
If you love music, you probably have a great speaker system or stereo set-up in your home. But what happens if you want to listen to music in a different room, or want to play your music when you're away on a business trip or vacation? A new Kickstarter project called ARCHT One is here to help. The ARCHT One is a wireless speaker that evenly disperses sound and delivers a dynamic audio experience. Simply put, you can place the ARCHT One anywhere and enjoy sound everywhere. At the push of a button, you can control playback of music directly on the ARCHT or through a companion iOS app. The speaker system also features AirPlay and Wi-Fi functionality, so you can stream and enjoy your music no matter where your music lives. The ARCHT One has already passed its $70,000 Kickstarter goal, and early bird backers can pick up a unit for far less than the $599 list price. To learn more or secure a unit for yourself, check out the project's Kickstarter page today.
If you’re tired of your phone’s terrible battery life, check out Verizon’s new Droid Turbo. The Turbo, made by Motorola, has a battery that’s about twice as big as the one in the iPhone 6 – and lasts way longer, too. Verizon says the Turbo’s battery lasts 48 hours, but that’s an ideal situation with only light use. Regardless, the battery lasts far longer than just about every other phone battery out there. And when it does deplete, you can use the phone’s “Turbo” charger to pick up eight hours of battery life in 15 minutes of charging. The Turbo has a 5.2 inch screen, which is just about the same size as the Galaxy S5 and halfway between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. But the Turbo’s screen is “Quad HD,” which means it’s about four times the resolution of a normal HDTV and sharper than Samsung and Apple’s top-tier phones. If the Droid Turbo sounds like a phone you’ve got to have, it’s now available through Verizon, starting at $199.
After being unveiled in September, Apple Pay is finally here and ready to use. Available to everyone with an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus, Apple Pay lets you replace your credit card with your smartphone to make purchases at any store with an Apple Pay reader. Want to get set up to start using Apple Pay at one of the 220,000 eligible locations? First things first, make sure you update your iPhone to iOS 8.1. Once you’re up to date, open the Passbook app and scan in the credit cards you want to use. Now you can use Apple Pay in two places. You can easily make in-app purchases in select apps, like Target’s app, with the Touch ID sensor on your iPhone 6, iPad Air 2 or iPad mini 3. Or, you can head to a store that accepts Apple Pay, like McDonald’s or Walgreens. When you’re ready to check out, hold down the TouchID sensor and point your iPhone at the Apple Pay reader. That’s it! Shopping’s never been so easy.
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” With those words and a few taps of her heels, Dorothy was on her way back to Kansas. While The Wizard of Oz is a movie, a company called iStrategyLabs wants to put you in Dorothy’s shoes – literally. A new wearable called ‘Dorothy’ lets you summon a car ride home by tapping your heels together. Ruby, a small clip you place on your shoe, communicates with your phone via Bluetooth. If Ruby’s built-in accelerometer senses you tap your heels together three times, it alerts the app, which then orders you a ride home. For now, Dorothy is nothing more than a prototype, and Ruby is too bulky to wear comfortably. But iStrategyLabs wants to make Dorothy a useful wearable, and is working to create smaller models of Ruby that would fit inside your shoe. If you want Dorothy, you’ll just have to wait – or find a wizard who is able to give you exactly what you want.
Your inbox can be an unruly place, where unread emails pile up and make you feel guilty about the things you need to do and the people you need to respond to. Google’s Gmail team felt your pain, so it launched an app called Inbox to help you take control of your email. Inbox is more of a personal assistant than an email app, as it separates the messages you receive into different Bundles. That means your order confirmations stay separate from your travel plans and your Facebook notifications. Inbox even lets you create custom Bundles through tags or by manually grouping messages. Inbox’s coolest feature, though, is Highlights. Just like in Google Now, Inbox grabs the most important info from each email and pulls it to the top. That means you’ll easily be able to find what time your flight is or when your Amazon package is going to be delivered. Inbox is a free app, but you need an invite to get access. To request an invite, head over to Google.com/Inbox today.
Having kids can sometimes feel like owning a taxi service with some very loyal repeat customers. A San Francisco startup called Shuddle aims to relieve some of that burden with a service best described as “Uber for kids.” Shuddle is very similar to services like Uber or Lyft, but unlike those other ride-sharing companies, Shuddle is designed to drive kids around town, whether your kid needs a ride to school, soccer practice, a friend’s house or the mall. Shuddle wants parents to feel at ease, and has a very rigorous hiring process. Shuddle’s drivers are required to have childcare experience, pass a criminal background check and receive comprehensive training before hitting the road. Parents must schedule a pickup a day to a week in advance. Then, Shuddle passes along the driver’s full name, photo, bio and a vehicle description, along with the ability for parents to track the car’s progress in real time through its app. Shuddle is only available in the San Francisco area for now, but aims to eventually expand to other markets.
Spotify is awesome, but Spotify with a limited monthly data cap can become expensive. Unless you want a sky-high mobile bill, it’s important to limit the amount of music you stream to avoid going over your monthly cap. But how much data does a service like Spotify really use? Most songs on Spotify stream at 320kbps. That means that if you listen to an hour’s worth of Spotify, you’ll use up a little over 100 MB of data. If you expand that to a full eight-hour work day, that’s almost a full gigabyte of data. To avoid burning through your monthly cap this quickly, make sure to download tracks and playlists for offline playback or connect to a trusted Wi-Fi network whenever possible. If no safe networks are available, you could always stream Pandora, where streamed songs use only about a fifth the data as they would on Spotify. A final extreme solution would be switching over to T-Mobile, which offers free streaming music for Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and iTunes Radio.