Moto 360 Smart Watch Review

on Thursday, January 8, 2015
Early this year when Google first announced Android Wear, it teased us with the Moto 360. It was by far the best-looking smartwatch we'd ever seen. Many months later it's here at last. It's the best Android Wear device yet, but with the Apple Watch looming on the horizon, it's no longer clear if that's good enough.

What Is It?

It's a smartwatch that works with Android phones (version 4.3 and higher), essentially acting as a second screen for your device. It displays your incoming calls, texts, emails and allows you to reply to them by voice. It displays your Google Now cards to keep you up to date on the things that theoretically matter to you, it gives you turn-by-turn directions, it allows you to translate words and phrases, and it has a suite of sensors that help keep you in shape. And it looks good doing it.

Who's It For?

Android phone users. Bleeding-edge technology must-havers. Productivity obsessers. Runners and bikers. Watch wearers.


Like Derek Zoolander, it's really, really, ridiculously good-looking. Is that subjective? Obviously, but it's also general consensus among design nerds, tech enthusiasts, and the random people I've showed it to. It's discreet enough that it doesn't jump out at you, but it looks cool enough that friends of friends have been quick to ask me about it. The design recalls high-end analog watches of yore. It's extremely simple and clean. The Moto 360's relatively thin stainless steel bezel belies the technology under the hood, and its perfect circle is interrupted only by a single button on the right. Combine that with the standard leather strap, and it really is quite lovely.

Front and center is a bright, beautiful, flat, perfectly round 320 x 290 pixel backlit LCD screen with a 1.56-inch diameter. While it isn't quite as thick as other Android Wear wristwatches, it actually feels larger due to the round screen. It's significantly brighter, too, which is clutch when walking around outdoors. The screen is protected by a very thick layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, which really does feel like a solid piece of glass. It's a great staging ground for the lovely watch faces Motorola has designed and includes with the 360.
At the bottom of the screen is a blank space, which many, many people hate oh so very much. That's where the display drivers live (which allow the bezel to be thinner), alongside Android Wear's first ambient light sensor. Sure, your display may resemble a flat tire, but at least it can automatically brighten or dim so you can always comfortably read it. Also, while you notice it a lot during the first half-hour, you'll start to forget about it after that. Every now and then you'll notice it again, and while you'll wish it weren't there, it's not going to ruin the experience.
The watch's back is smooth, glossy rounded plastic. Because the watch is charged via a wireless inductive charger (a very nice looking cradle, by the way) there are no ugly breaks in the smooth surface for electrical contact points. In the middle is a heart rate sensor that uses the same pulse oximeter-type technology we've seen from other heart-rate monitoring watches in the last few years, such as the Mio Alpha and the Basis Band.  
At launch there will be two colors: black and stainless steel (though they're both made of stainless steel). The black will come with a black band, and the stainless steel will come with a "limited edition" dark gray band while supplies last. (A lighter grey band will replace it.) Black and stainless steel metal bands will also be available in the months to come, too (for $50 more), but if none of Motorola's preferred bands tickle your fancy you can always swap in a standard 22mm band of your choosing. A Motorola rep told me that not all bands would fit cleanly, though, so they do recommend using one of theirs and having a jeweler do any band-swapping for you.

Using It

Functionally speaking, the Moto 360 is almost identical to the other Android Wear watches already out there. You raise your arm to wake up the screen. You say, "Okay Google…" to enter voice commands. You swipe up and down to toggle between cards which hold small amounts of glanceable information which Google thinks you might like, and left and right to dismiss or go deeper into them. I don't think there is anyone who would argue that a smartwatch is a necessity at this point, but is it a convenience? Absolutely.

Having an Android Wear watch on means that I pull my phone out of my pocket a lot less than I otherwise normally do. Viewing a text and sending a quick response is almost always done from my watch now. Checking quickly if I have any new email, too, doesn't require a reach into the pants pocket. If I'm getting turn-by-turn walking directions, I just glance at my watch when it vibrates and tells me to turn, rather than walking around with my face in my phone. If I'm going for a run and I want to see my current stats and/or change music tracks, it's all right there. If I want to look something up real quick ("Is Benny Hill still alive?"), or see which gate I'm supposed to be walking to at the airport, it is simply much much convenient.
In addition to that, the Moto 360 has some unique functionality. It's the first Android Wear watch with an ambient light sensor, so it fluidly becomes more visible when it's bright outside and doesn't blast your eyeballs with light in a dark movie theatre. Really, all smartwatches should have that. It's also the first smartwatch that charges wirelessly. The watch comes with a cool little curved dock you simply drop it into, without having to futz with lining anything up. It just falls into place and starts charging. The watch face turns into a cool little clock that looks pretty damn good on a bedside table and doesn't put out too much light. 
Perhaps the best unique feature, though, is that this is the first smartwatch that has a sensor that is constantly monitoring your heart rate, not just when you do it on demand. Motorola added its own special app which tells you how many minutes you've spent in different heart rate zones, in addition to the step counter that Android Wear includes by default. There's Inactive (40-92 bpm), Active (92 - 129 bpm), and Vigorous (129-185 bpm), and the app recommends you spend at least 30 minutes a day in the Active zone. It tries to motivate you to do that five days in a row via the occasional notification. I think the metric is a great idea, generally presenting a much better look at your activity levels than a simple pedometer. After all, counting steps doesn't help much if you're biking, lifting weights, doing yoga, having adventurous sex, and so on.  
Generally the heart-rate monitor works very well. The catch is that it needs to maintain good contact with your skin, which means that if you prefer to wear you watch loosely it may not be able to keep tabs on your ticker. The other annoying thing is that you have to actually launch Motorola's heart rate apps if you want to track your progress. That requires a voice command, or digging through a menu. It would be much more convenient if this could be integrated into the standard stack of cards like Google Fit does with your steps. You will get a very occasional notification when you're half-way to your activity goal, and a second one once you've completed it, but that's it. It's a great feature, but it needs to be more fully integrated.

Android Wear

Let's talk about Android Wear in general for a moment. Having now spent a couple of months using it every day, I feel that I can conclusively say that it's a good operating system with a lot of potential, but it definitely feels like a beta. There's a general lack of consistency that plagues Android Wear at this stage of its development. Sometimes useful cards pop up at the right time, sometimes they don't. For example, the first time I flew with Android Wear, my boarding pass popped up on my watch, I was able to scan its QR code, and the whole airport thought I was a magical time-traveler. I've been on at least five flights since then and that card hasn't once shown up again and I don't know why and I don't have a Sonic Screwdriver to fix it.
It's the not knowing why part that's really irksome. Yeah, it's great that everything happens more or less automatically, but when it doesn't, you should be able to bring up the stuff you want. There is almost no way to control the flow of information you get, and the flow of information is less useful as a result.
There are larger problems, too. Sometimes the watch will spontaneously unpair from the phone and then refuse to reconnect for an hour. Sometimes when you enter a voice command it will say the phone is disconnected, even when it isn't. Sometimes it looks like the Moto 360 is ready to receive a voice command, but it ignores you, leaving you to shout, "Okay Google. Okay Google! OKAY GOOGLE!" into your wrist like an idiot.
The voice commands that it responds to are often very specific, which means you have to memorize a list of commands rather than use natural language (Cortana would laugh, hard). It's harder to launch apps than it should be, and if you accidentally close out of an app (or let the screen go to sleep) you'll automagically be transported back to the main screen, like it or not, and have to navigate your way back there. There's no multitasking, and there's no undo button.  
Most of this was stuff we could let fly... until we saw the Apple Watch two days ago. Now, granted, that watch isn't a real or purchasable thing until the spring of 2015, but it looks freaking fantastic. The suite of features the Apple Watch promises at launch, and the seemingly dead-simple navigation could take a lot of the shine away from Android Wear, assuming it all works as advertised. Google had created the best smartwatch OS we'd seen yet, but Apple's software demos make it look very beta indeed. Again, Apple's watch isn't real yet, and Google now has roughly six months to get its shit together. We're rooting for both teams. 

Battery and Performance

Here's where things get dodgy. The Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch are both driven by the Qualcomm APQ8026 System on Chip, and both generally feel pretty snappy and responsive. Motorola, for some unknown reason, decided to go with a Texas Instruments OMAP 3 for the Moto 360. That chip is roughly four years old, which, in silicon terms, makes it practically paleolithic. Honestly, it doesn't make that big of a difference in speed, but there is a noticeable difference. Things seem to load up just a bit slower, voice commands take just a moment longer, and there's just a blink more hesitation when swiping through the OS. It's not bad, but when the whole point is to be more convenient than looking at your phone (which is probably a speed demon), every millisecond counts. Generally, it still succeeds at this, but there's obvious room for improvement.
The way bigger problem with the TI OMAP 3 is that it's not as efficient. When you've only got a 320mAh battery in there you need a chip that absolutely sips power, and the OMAP 3 ain't it. Having a backlit LCD instead of a AMOLED screen probably doesn't help either. The result is that the Moto 360 does indeed have the worst battery life of any Android Wear watch yet on the market.
That said, I wouldn't call the battery life "bad," as it certainly doesn't render the watch unusable. As we noted Monday, we haven't yet found battery life nearly as bad as some other outlets initially reported. The Moto 360 has two screen modes: ambient mode, and ambient mode off. In ambient mode, the screen dims when you're not using it, but is not supposed to turn all the way off. What odd is that it does, in fact, turn all the way off sometimes, but then it comes back on with the slightest twitch of your wrist. With ambient mode off, the screen goes completely black when you're not using it, and to turn it on again you either make the "looking at my watch" gesture, tap the screen, or press the button on the side. I would say, on the whole, that ambient mode is slightly more convenient, but it's not night and day.

With ambient mode on, you will probably make it a good 14 or 15 hours on a charge, depending how aggressively you use it. That's generally enough to last you from the moment you wake up until you get home from work. With ambient mode off, however, I consistently got more than 24 hours of use. In fact, as I write this now, it's been off the charger for 26.5 hours and still has 25 percent battery life in the tank. So, while we prefer ambient mode, it's definitely better to leave it off so you can use your watch with impunity.
But here's the thing. The Samsung and LG watches both have ambient mode set on by default, and even with it on they get more than 24 hours. With it off, they get around two days. Not only that, their ambient mode actually keeps the screen fully on so it's always easier to steal a glance at the time (though they lack Moto's slick ambient light detector). So is the Moto's battery life a deal-breaker? No, but it's behind the curve. If you forget to charge the Moto 360 one evening, you might be okay. If you forget twice, you're probably out of luck.
Update: Since its initial release, the Moto 360 has gotten an update that's significantly improved its battery life. We're still testing it out, but we can say anecdotally that the Moto 360 now lasts, on average, at least 25 percent longer than it did previously. That doesn't change the weirdness of the way its ambient mode works, or slingshot it to the head of the Android Wear pack as far as battery life is concerned. But the Moto 360 isn't quite as far behind the curve as it was before. 


It's just so pretty. It's the first smartwatch that doesn't make you feel like a dork. It has the brightest screen of any smartwatch yet, and it's way more visible outside. It's easily the most comfortable smartwatch out there, too. It's light, it has a smooth back, and the leather straps feel good on the skin. The constant heart rate monitoring is a great feature.
It also really is just very convenient. If you're an Android user it actually does make life just a little bit easier. It has the best charging dock of any smartwatch yet, and because it supports the Qi protocol, you can just toss it on any wireless charger may already have on your desk (it worked fine on the Nokia DT-900 charger, for instance). It's also dust and water resistant, and the screen feels rock solid. It's easy to like.

No Like

Battery life, while not as dreadful as some have said, is worse than the other two Android Wear watches, and it's also a tad slower. I wish it had a faster, more efficient processor. You shouldn't have to disable ambient mode to get 24 hours on a charge. It's a bit thicker than the other two Wear watches (but because it's rounded it doesn't catch on things very easily). The mic seems to be a bit less sensitive than the other watches, too, and it occasionally struggled to hear me or respond to an "Okay Google…"
There are definitely some software gremlins, too. In addition to Android Wear still feeling like an advanced beta, there would be occasional snags, like a third-party app being rotated 90 degrees for some reason, which is something I've only seen happen on the 360 (but, to be fair, it only happened with one app, so it could be an isolated problem). The heart rate stuff would be much more useful if you could always see it at a glance, or if it integrated with an app on your phone or in the cloud. On its own, most people wouldn't know what to do with that data.

Should You Buy It?

Despite its flaws, we are still calling this our favorite Android Wear watch yet. It looks great, it feels great, and it generally works very well. So, if you're sure you want an Android Wear watch, then yes, go ahead and get this one. We think you'll probably like it. At $250 it's $50 more than the Samsung and $20 more than the LG, but we think it's worth it to have a smartwatch that's this attractive.
That said, there is work to be done, and much of it is on Google. If Apple really can deliver everything it's promising the Apple Watch can do by next spring, then it will simply blow Android Wear out of the water. Full stop. And I say that as a longtime Android user. The Moto 360 still has a chance to be the best smartwatch out there—and it probably is right now—but if it wants to remain on top, it's going to need to improve in meaningful ways, and quickly.

Moto G Review

on Sunday, January 4, 2015
You are now entering the world of inexpensive smartphones. You're in the bargain bin, the bottom end, the cheapest of the cheap. Dispense with your expectations of blistering fast processors, pixel-heavy cameras, premium metal bodies, or 2K screens. Also, while you're at it, do away with the notion that "cheap" means "bad." I just tested the new Moto G, and it's surprisingly excellent.

What Is It?

Living in the shadow of Motorola’s Moto X flagship smartphone, the new Moto G is a $180 off-contract lookalike running Android 4.4.4 on a 5-inch screen. I can’t stress this enough: $180, and the phone is completely yours to use on any GSM carrier, no contract shackles whatsoever. Since a replacement won’t take a massive bite out of your bank account, you can live without a constant fear of dropping your phone onto hard surfaces, into washing machines, etc. Go ahead, live a little.

Why Does It Matter?

The new Moto G is the second generation of a smartphone that did incredibly well for Motorola despite its lackluster hardware. The company even called it “the most successful, highest-selling smartphone in Motorola's history” at Mobile World Congress in February. So yeah, it’s a big deal for them.
But for you, this update may make our favorite cheap phone even more desirable. The new Moto G is larger, it features dual front-facing speakers, and it's a pretty great deal. Plus, Motorola also still offers its first-gen handsets, so you can still get that smaller screen if buying a year-old smartphone doesn’t bother you.

What's Missing?

As with many budget smartphones, some corners have been cut. For one, the new Moto G doesn’t come with LTE, meaning you’ll be forced to use generally slower 3G (HSPA+) networks. Honest talk: with T-Mobile’s service in New York City, spending most of my time at work or home tethered to Wi-Fi, I never spent much time staring at loading screens. You might check to see what 3G speeds are like in your area before committing to slower speeds.

Don’t expect this to have all the bells and whistles of the Moto X, either. Some of the most useful features are missing due to hardware restrictions. You can’t say “OK Google Now” to start voice commands when the phone is sleeping, because that requires a more advanced Snapdragon processor. Since the Moto G doesn’t use an AMOLED screen, it also can’t send you notifications by selectively lighting up pixels when the phone is locked.
Now that you know what you’re getting, let’s get started.


Smartphones are getting bigger, and the new Moto G is following the trend. It comes with a 5-inch display, a full half-inch bigger than the original. It’s surprisingly comfy, and the phone makes a good first impression. Still, I soon began to see why the Moto G can be priced so competitively.
Many adjectives could describe Motorola’s new budget phone—simple, thrifty, sturdy—but “slim” isn’t one of them. Much like the original, the new Moto G is a bit chunky. At 11mm thick, it shaves a fraction of a millimeter from last years model, but the plastic-heavy exterior retains plenty of girth. Thanks to lightweight materials, it’s not as heavy as you’d imagine before picking it up, but it is still a good 20 grams heavier than the Nexus 5 (our go-to off-contract smartphone).
The materials also leave something to be desired if you’re coming from higher-end smartphones. The rim of the device is noticeably separated by two different types of plastic, one with a glossy veneer and another with a matte finish, and the mismatch feels weird after a while. Worse are the power button and volume rocker: the faux-chrome keys are tough to push, feel cheap, and generally look like they belong on a toy phone from Fisher-Price.
Still, the Moto G is a pretty attractive device once you get past the materials. Much like the Moto X, the aesthetic is simple, the branding minimal, and everything feels very symmetrical. The back has the same subtle curve that makes the Moto G incredibly comfortable in my average-sized hands, and I actually appreciate the increased screen real estate compared to the original.
Speaking of that screen, the Moto G retains the same HD resolution as last year at 1280x720 with the same IPS LCD technology, but stretches it out to five inches. That stretch means a lesser pixel density, 294 ppi if you’re keeping track. The display still looks pretty great, but it can get pretty dim too. I needed to jack up brightness manually once in a while.
The dual front-firing speakers on the Moto G aren’t amazing, but I love them all the same. They don’t really have any low-end to speak of, and at high volumes, the quality becomes a little muddled. But these things are loud, which often is enough. It’s just surprising that the new Moto X does better with one speaker than this budget phone does with two of them.

Using It

The Moto G was a completely stress-free setup. I popped out my T-Mobile SIM card from my Nexus 5 and slotted it into the Moto G, then fired up Motorola’s Migrate app to easily transfer my messages, photos, video, and music. Mere minutes later, I was ready for action.
In fact, as soon as I downloaded essential apps, tweaked settings, and installed my favorite Final Fantasy 4 background, it practically felt like I was still using my Nexus 5. Motorola runs a nearly unsullied version of Android with only a few Moto-specific apps, and it’s delightfully free of bloat. (Hopefully, it will also mean quicker Android updates.)
Although I was experiencing Nexus 5 deja vu, performance differences helped clear my double vision. A 1.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400 processor and 1GB of RAM are still the underpowered muscles behind the Moto G, and in some instances, they show. When tapping to load bigger apps like Dead Trigger 2, I found myself waiting a few seconds longer for the app to actually show. Every once in a while, I’d return to a completely empty Android home screen only to have all my apps pop up a second later. In the grand scheme of “shit that is messed up,” this might be somewhat minor, but it’s a clear advantage for the Nexus 5 and other devices with more expensive components.
 Once apps load, the Moto G performs without a hitch. I played the graphically intensive Dead Trigger 2 on high settings on both the Nexus 5 and Moto G, and it was hard to see a difference. But again, attempting to intensely multitask caused a few hiccups and jitters. If I had to pop out of a game to make a phone call or shoot off a text, the Moto G would often completely close my game and I’d have to reload. (The Nexus 5 doesn’t do that.) If you’re constantly dancing among applications, you might feel the Moto G’s constraints more sharply.

Camera and Battery

Last year’s Moto G wasn’t a particularly good cameraphone, but the new Moto G is a little better. It’s got a new 8 megapixel sensor, up from 5 megapixels, and it holds up well against its budget-conscious brethren, with decent clarity in low light and overall more accurate color reproduction. Just don’t expect it to out-shoot the higher-end competition. In a few shots, lighter colors tended to have a glow around them, which could speak to a less-than-stellar lens. The shutter also has a bit of a lag, but it’s not too sluggish.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Motorola’s camera UI is simple, intuitive and closely resembles Android's stock option. Swiping in from the left pulls up your camera features, such as HDR, flash, manual focus, slo-mo video capture, and panorama, and swiping in from the right pulls up your picture gallery. Overall, it keeps things free of icon clutter so you can focus on the image in front of you.
So how long can you expect all these good times to last? Well, the Moto G still comes with a 2070 mAh battery, which for a phone its size isn’t amazing, but the phone was able to last more than a full day in my test. Unplugging from the charger at 8 a.m., I used the Moto G in the morning and afternoon for Spotify-listening, notification-reading, and text messages. Once off work, I really put the phone through its paces. I fired up Google Maps to get me to the nearest subway station, snapped pictures and video along the way, watched cached TV episodes on the commute home, and surfed the web for an hour or so before bed. Under these normal circumstances, the Moto G should get you through the day, though it never hurts to keep a USB cord handy.


I’m going to say it—I like the bigger size. There are a few reasons why I finally left Apple for Android, and size played its part. In my personal experience, a 5-inch screen just seems like the sweet spot for most phones. The Moto G doesn’t make watching movies an eye-squinting experience, yet I’m also not juggling the phone.
Honestly, the biggest restriction on this phone is its price, trying desperately to meet that $180 mark. With a phone this cheap, you have some real freedom. Don’t you need a case? It’s OK, this phone is really cheap. But aren’t you worried about nicks, cuts, and scrapes? Not really, this phone is really cheap. What about a cracked screen, though? You see where I’m going with this.

No Like

The Moto G is seriously lacking in storage. Right now you can only buy an 8GB model through Motorola’s online store with MicroSD expansion up to 32GB. After downloading essential apps, I only had 3GB left to work with. This means I’d have to actually think about the next time I record an interview or save a Spotify playlist for offline listening. I just hate thinking.
The display is adequate for watching movies or playing games, but it’s a little dim compared to my Nexus 5. The auto-brightness setting keeps the screen much dimmer than I’d like.
The phone may have a removable back, but it doesn’t come with the convenience of a removable battery, which is a pretty common and desirable feature on many midrange phones. 

Should You Buy It?

Do you really want a Moto X but hoping the Moto G would suffice? Then, no, you shouldn’t. I would even be hard-pressed to recommend this over the Nexus 5 as LG’s Google device comes with a faster processor in a slim package. But the Moto G is incredibly cheap, and within that frame of mind, there’s no reason this phone should be this good.
If you’re moving down the smartphone ladder from a previous flagship to the Moto G, you might notice its sluggish performance in some spots, but you'll still be satisfied using it as a temp until that next bank-destroying handset comes along. If you’re moving up from an even cheaper phone, updating from a 3- or 4-year-old flagship, or finally ditching that flip phone, you’ll feel like you’ve hit the jackpot.
Moto G Spec Sheet
  • Network: Any GSM network (HSPA+)
  • OS: Android. 4.4.4
  • CPU: 1.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 400
  • Screen: 5-inch 1280x720 IPS-LCD display (294 PPI)
  • RAM: 1GB
  • Storage: 8GB + 32GB MicrosSD expansion
  • Camera: 8MP rear / 2MP front
  • Battery: 2070 mAh Li-Po
  • Dimensions: 5.57 x 2.78 x 0.43 in
  • Weight: 5.26 ounces
  • Price: $180 (8GB) off contract

Polaroid Cube Review

The Polaroid Cube is a delightful little camera that takes still shots and video. Like the name suggests, it's a tiny cube just 35mm on a side. It sticks to any and all magnetic surfaces—even your dinner fork. It can be tossed around and taken out on the town and record all of life's oh-so-precious moments. But so can your smartphone. Does being darling make a difference? Yes, but perhaps not enough to justify your $99.

Some gadgets feel like they need to be handled with care until you settle into a comfort zone and they become part of your life. The Cube isn't one of those. The moment it came out of the package, I was totally comfortable stuffing it in my pocket. I threw it in my bag; I let buddies futz around with it; I accidentally dropped it a few times. It's solidly built, but super friendly and maneuverable. It just screams: "I'm here for good times! Enjoy me!"
Polaroid commissioned San Francisco-based studio Ammunition to oversee the entire design, and it shows. Wrapped in what feels like a hard rubber eraser with a "retro" rainbow stripe that runs around the perimeter, the Cube is totally adorable. Ammunition's the company that created the ubiquitous Beats by Dre headphones, so that makes sense: the company is well-familiar with making distinctive products with mass-market appeal. They've proven they know how to make something that people not only want to use, but want to be seen using.

Using It

Is this thing on?
There's only one button on this baby, a nod to the One-Shot Polaroids of yore. A teensy—like, really small—adjacent light swaps from red to green, flashing or steady, to let you know the camera's current mode. As you switch between them, a series of corresponding beeps will give you an audible heads-up.
Here's how it works: Hold the button down for three seconds and the Cube turns on. Push it once and you'll snap a still pic, or press it twice and you'll start to record video and sound. One more touch will stop recording, and another three-second hold will turn it off again. That's it. It's super simple... but only once you know how it works! I (foolishly) opted to go rogue my first evening with the Cube, mugging like crazy while pressing the button with reckless abandon during an evening soiree, and all I have to show for it is four measly jpegs: One of the inside of my hand, one of my dumb face, and two of me and a pal on a dark street with dopey expressions.
The Cube comes in blue, red, and black, each water-resistant enough to be splashed or rained on, but you can opt for a waterproof case. There are also tripod, bike, and helmet mounts, a strap, a "bumper" that envelops the body so the whole thing becomes a kind of pendant; and a sweet little headless monkey. Unfortunately, none of the accessories or attachments were quite ready when I was trying it out, so I had to get creative when I wanted to film a bike ride from the Mission to Outer Richmond. But you know what? All it took was a plain old rubber band to affix this to my stem and I was good to go. The light weight and tiny size of the Cube makes it easy to attach to all kinds of everyday objects.
Which brings me to the best part: the super-strong dime size magnet on the flip-side from the on-off button. It's awesome. Armed with that little sucker, I stuck the Cube to a fork, a knife, the metal stand that holds your pizza at a restaurant, even a bobby pin in my friend's hair!

It's No GoPro

Just don't buy this thing thinking you'll replace a hardcore, exxxxtreme sports-friendly action camera. My colleague Brent Rose has reviewed a lot of those, and he says the Cube doesn't quite cut it. You pay a lot less for a lot less image quality, a narrower field of view, and no mounts out of the box. Plus, even if your bike has steel handlebars (most decent ones are aluminum these days) the magnet's not strong enough to keep it from wobbling. Video proof above.


This thing is just plain fun. It's fun to look at, it's fun to toss around. It's super simple to operate. It's durable. When I'm not planning on doing something off the wall, daredevil crazy, I don't need a GoPro. This fits in way better with my more casual lifestyle.

I actually really appreciate the fact that the Cube is not Wi-Fi-enabled and has no viewscreen. When I took it out to dinner, we were flipping it around and making faces, and we all wanted to give it a go. If this had been a smartphone, everyone would have spent time hunched over it to see what kind of footage we got and how we all looked and oh-wait-let's-take-another-then-upload-it-to-Twitter-and-has-anyone-faved-it-yet?
There is something charmingly old-school—dare I say, nostalgic—about having to wait until later to see what you've captured. I mean, we snapped a bunch of clips throughout the course of the night—WAY more than we would have on any normal eve—but it didn't take us out of the moment, and no one was bothered about what the results were going to be. If anything, it freed us up and made for even sillier stuff. The delayed gratification reminded me of the joy and anticipation of developing a roll of actual film in high school. It felt fresh and engaging, as opposed to tedious and obnoxious. Granted, it was a total novelty, and I don't feel like I would bring this out with me all the time, but there's something to that.

No Like

The little light above the power button is tough to see in full daylight—aaand kind of when it's dark out, too. When I started my pre-dusky bike ride, I had to hold the thing right up to my eye to make sure it was flashing red and I was actually recording video. This wasn't a problem when I was just testing things for fun, but I imagine there might be some crunch-time mix-ups where someone thought they pressed the button just so, only to find it didn't take.
Ditto the corresponding beeps; they're faint enough that you might miss them in the hustle of fumbling to get this thing running. You can turn them off completely if you want, though.
This is less a no-like than a heads-up: If you're buying a Cube, don't forget to nab an SD card, too. The first time I used this thing was immediately after unboxing. I stuck it in my pocket—it literally fits in a pocket!—and ran out to meet some pals for a drink (or two). We had a total blast tossing it around, magnetizing it to everything from a fork at dinner to my pal's bobby pin, just generally being goofballs but really having a great, silly time. After a long night of beer and pizza I got home, plugged it in with the shortest little USB cable I've ever seen, and realized it did not come equipped with memory. Please note: That is absolutely, positively, me being an idiot, but I can't imagine I'm the only one out there.
And most importantly: The Cube is practically begging to be chucked around. But wow: That absolutely does not make for great footage. In fact, it makes for pretty shaky, stomach-churningly tough to watch stuff. I am still laughing at my friend Andy, who had it magnetized to a piece of metal and just spun it around and around and around. Seemed like a good idea at the time! Not so much when you realize the garbage you've recorded.

Should You Buy It?

Who the heck is the Cube made for? This is not going to replace anyone's ultra-high-end action cam. GoPro does not need to worry.
It's reliable for shooting stills and video—but so is your smartphone.
I feel like this is the kind of thing that would be a blast to have hanging around at a party, or the digital update to disposable cameras at a wedding if it didn't cost $99. It's something a kid could go nuts with, without a parent worrying that the delicate equipment might get busted. I honestly don't know if the fickle youths of today would buy into something that won't share their whereabouts and happenings with a quick click, but maybe they're ready for a gizmo that changes the frenetic pace.

TCL Roku TV Review

While many television manufacturers have taken to padding their features lists (and price tags) with everything from 3D to curved screens, streaming set-top box maker Roku has just released a whole new breed of barebones smart TV. Practical, intuitive, and surprisingly affordable, the TCL Roku TV may not have the best picture on the market, but for $500 you could do much worse. Plus, it's got practically all the features of a $100 Roku 3 set-top box built right in, so it's great for frugal first-time cordcutters.
The Roku TV is Roku's first attempt to integrate its streaming offerings directly with the display hardware—not unlike what Google failed to accomplish with Google TV—by combining the streaming functionality with a TCL television. TCL isn't a very well known name in the American electronics market—you won't find any at Best Buy or Costco—but they are huge in Korea. Roku also makes another version with a Hisense panel.


The TCL display is surprisingly decent for a $500 TV. The set measures 43 x 27 x 8 inches and weighs just 32 pounds with its base, which is great because you can actually assemble and install the TV without needing a burly assistant. The 48-inch screen that we reviewed is wrapped in a half-inch, non-descript black bezel and sits upon a center-standing trapezoid base.
The panel itself is an edge-lit LED, 1080p, 120Hz affair, which is impressive on one count: similarly-priced sets from Sony, LG, and Samsung can only muster half that refresh rate.
It also includes 3 HDMI ports, various component hookups and dual-band Wi-Fi. The Roku TV also utilizes Dolby audio processing, though the TV's pair of speakers are only 8W apiece (in other words: weak) and tend to get just a bit tinny at higher volumes. 

The Roku TV's remote is a very close cousin of the current Roku 3 remote, albeit without a few features. It doesn't have the gaming A/B buttons which let you use the Roku remote like an old-school NES-style controller, or the insanely helpful headphone jack which could let you plug headphones right into the remote control to tap into a wirelessly beamed audio signal from your TV. That's a shame, because it's a must have in crowded dorm rooms. Also, the useless, un-programmable shortcut buttons to the sponsor partners (Netflix, Amazon, Rdio, and VUDU in this case) that I don't ever use are unfortunately still there, as is the side-mounted mute button that engages every time you pick the damned thing up.
Luckily, you can just use your phone: Roku's Remote App works wonderfully, has identical functionality, removes the bloat buttons, and is available for both iOS and Android. With your phone, you can also tap into the handy DIAL connectivity feature that bounces content from your mobile device to the TV a la Chromecast so you won't have to type in your YouTube searches with a D-pad. Just hook your phone up to Wi-Fi, press the cast button in your YouTube or Netflix app, and you're golden.
Either way, it's a super simple remote that's almost insultingly easy to use. Personally, I love big complicated remotes with thousands of buttons and QWERTY keyboards and espresso makers because that means I'm likely the only person in the room that knows how to use them and my obsessively calibrated display and audio settings are therefore safe. With this remote, any schmuck that walks in off the street is literally two button presses away from destroying my settings. Still, for your tech-phobic parents that want a basic TV that just works, the remote is more than enough.

Using It

Have you ever used a Roku before? Fantastic: you can skip on ahead because the UI is practically identical. It's the same user-customized homescreen that you've come to know and love from the set-top box days as well as new dedicated buttons for each of your inputs. You now have the ability to easily rename each input from HDMI 1 and HDMI 2 to, say, DVD or Game Console or Nerf Herder—as long as you know what that means, it's all good.
In fact, you can easily pair the TV to your existing Roku account and have it simply migrate all your current settings and channels over. (Maybe I shouldn't have told you to skip forward.) This is a particularly great feature because otherwise you're going to spend the next four hours digging through the service's stable of 1,500 channels looking for something decent to watch.
Which could be particularly annoying, because using the Roku TV doesn't feel like your conventional channel surfing—it's a lot more like scouring RSS feeds using an NES controller. I guess it's really not that much different from scrolling through your cable box's onscreen guide using their terrible controllers, but it feels suspiciously like navigating through a desktop operating system without the aid of a mouse. Don't get me wrong, setting up the Roku service is easy enough: it's just a massive, time-wasting pain in the ass. You have to hunt and peck along a virtual keyboard using the remote's directional arrows to input any sort of information.
Now, this normally wouldn't be an issue because most TVs only need you to input information once, during initial setup. Not so with the Roku TV! In the Roku ecosystem each content provider in Roku is called a "channel" and has its own miniature app, and every time you want to add a channel to your homescreen you have to repeat your personal information to many of the third party content providers—on a goddamn D-pad. Seriously, why does PBS need my email to let me watch Antiques Roadshow?


It's a $500 television that, at 48 inches, is actually large enough to be seen across a room. (If you're willing to pay $680, there's also a 55-inch model, and a 32-incher for less money.) And, when the signal is solid, the picture could even be described as decent. I mean, the color reproduction isn't all that great. Reds tended to be a bit orangey, yellows a bit mustardy, though you can clean that up with a fairly intuitive calibration menu by hitting the star button on the remote. It still won't look perfect: the colors all seem a bit flat and washed out compared to my Bravia reference set. But given that most folks in the market for $500 TVs are looking at price first, performance second, who really gives a shit? It's close enough.

No Like

You'd better have cable or a good Wi-Fi router to enjoy this TV, because a solid connection is an absolute requirement. The second the signal hiccups or the Wi-Fi fades, the picture on the Roku TV aliases quite badly. They're the sort of giant, blocky edges you'd expect on an 8-bit side scroller, not an HDTV. I can't stress this enough: the instant you get less than ideal signal strength the picture looks like it was drawn on Tetris blocks. That said, when the signal is solid, so is the picture quality.

Should You Buy It?

Eh, for a budget HDTV, it's not that bad—especially when the big name brands like Sony, LG, and Samsung are all asking around $750 to $1000 more for similarly specced sets, and $500 televisions from the likes of Insignia, Vizio, and Westinghouse can't even muster the decent picture quality of this thing. I mean, I wouldn't buy one for my own living room, but if you're in the market for an entry level set for a child that is going off to college (and will likely break it before then end of the first semester) or for a tech-phobic parent that already uses the Roku service (hi Mom!), the Roku TV is at least worth a look.
Just repeat the mantra: "Yeah, but it's only $500.

Bose QC25 Review

Take a look around any airport lounge in the world and you'll immediately see a set of Bose noise-canceling headphones. They're iconic, and it's because they're good. With the new QuietComfort 25, the first refresh in five years, everything gets just a little bit better.
Bose has made steady but significant improvements since the year 2000, when the company's first noise-canceling cans hit the market. The original QC1s only had a single microphone listening for noise in each ear cup, and required an external pack to hold batteries and electronics. By the time the QC15s came out in 2009, everything was onboard, and the noise-canceling tech had evolved: the headphones listened to the noise outside the earcups, too, and blocked it from ever reaching your 'drums.
Today, the QC15s are a staple because they've got a universally appealing sound, and they're so comfortable that you can wear them for an entire eight-hour flight without feeling pain. There are plenty of other good options, but people keep turning to the Bose headphones for a reason. Indeed, though they didn't win my Battlemodo of noise-canceling headphones a few years ago, I've actually changed my mind in the years since. The headphones are so reliably good that I'd recommend them to anyone in the market.
Given the success of the previous model, it's not surprising that the new QC25s are a pretty conservative play. They're more of a refinement than an overhaul of the successful QC15. Bose tweaked the formula, and freshened up the design, but for the most part the cans remain the same pair that set the standard years ago.


QC25 (left) next to the old QC15 (right).
The biggest change is the headband. The QC25's headband now collapses at hinges above each earcup for more compact storage, where the cups previously just folded flat. That headband is also now a smooth arc whereas before there was a subtle bend that helped reduce the discomfort of having a pair of cans clamped onto your head. The straighter line is more attractive, and thankfully Bose hasn't skimped on comfort to get there. You can still wear them for hours and hours. The luxurious puffy leather pad at the crest of the headband has been replaced with a slimmer synthetic cushion, but it's still plenty cozy.
The plastic construction is lightweight and sturdy. You can give the headband a nice twist and it won't snap. The hinge folds smoothly without feeling creaky or flimsy. The frame isn't indestructible like V-Moda's millispec cans, but if you're careful, they should hold up.
The new straighter arc and subtler cushioning is in line with the more contemporary, slim and minimal aesthetic of the QC25s. The cups have ditched the ancillary design lines, and opted for a simple matte finish with a silver logo. Besides the standard black and white models, you spend an additional $100 on a completely customized model, painting nine different parts of the headphones in the colors of your choice. It looks like straight up ColorWare, which I don't find particularly tasteful, but it means there are thousands of different color combinations if you want to express yourself.
In black, though, the headphones are a handsome set that I'd be happy to wear anywhere. In the past, I've avoided Bose products much of the time because I just think the company's trademark surgical gray is old and stodgy looking, a bit like it was pulled from a Windows 3.0 application window. Though the QC25s aren't a huge departure from the old look, they're a positive step in the right direction.
The leather earpads are plush and contribute considerably to the headphones' comfort. Still, in the few weeks I tested these headphones, the cushions popped off two times, which shouldn't ever unintentionally happen. It's not just annoying: You run the risk of losing a cup and having to pay $40 for a replacement set. I never had this problem with the QC15s, and neither did a few people I asked. Very odd.
On a positive note I quite like that the cloth protecting the drivers inside the earcups is no labeled "L" and "R" so you quickly know which way to put the headphones on.

Finally, the QC25s ditch the proprietary cable Bose used on the QC15s for a simple 3.5mm-2.5mm cable you can buy from Bose or anyone else.
I was able to grab the cable out of one of my other headphones and use it with the QC25s, no problem. That could come in handy someday.

Using it

To use the QC25s, you can simply take them out of the box, plug them into a source of your choice, press play and let the good times roll. That's actually a pretty big deal: For the very first time, Bose's noise-canceling headphones work without batteries. Sure, the QC25s don't actually cancel noise that way, and they don't sound particularly amazing, but when your QC15s were dead they didn't work at all. Imagine getting on a plane and realizing your battery is dead. You're just screwed. No music.
And when you do have electricity handy, a single AAA battery powers the headphones' noise-canceling guts for more than 30 hours. At the office, I was able to use the headphones for an entire week on a single battery, if I remembered to turn them off when I wasn't using them.
Still, using replaceable battery power in an era where almost every other gadget you own charges by USB feels a bit regressive. More so when you look to the future. In a few years it might be the only thing you own in the world that takes old alkaline cells. But "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," I suppose, given that you can still buy AAA batteries on practically every street corner in the world.
 If you need noise canceling headphones, the Bose QC25 cans are a safe bet. I'm not always fond of the wisdom of crowds when it comes to gadgets, but Bose has nailed this product, and if you want something comfortable that sounds good, it's OK to follow the herd here. The $300 price tag for the basic set is competitive, and in fact, cheaper than some competitors.
The QC25s are not the only option, of course, and I'm personally very fond of the Audio-Technica QuietPoint line. What's more, I'm looking forward to hearing new products like the newly announced Parrot Zik 2, which incorporate customizable digital signal processing, giving you more control over the tuning of the headphones.
As for whether you should upgrade: what shape are your old QCs in? The only really groundbreaking new feature of the QC25 is the ability to work without batteries. If the price is right you might be better off with the QC15 on sale. Or maybe wait a year and see how the headphone industry evolves, period.
What we're looking at here is awesome, but it's straight out of 2009.

August Smart Lock Review

Smart locks, along with intelligent lights, are the standard bearers for today's home automation movement with some of the biggest names in security—looking at you Schlage and Kwikset — offering internet-connected locks. But a San Francisco-based upstart may have just beaten these industry titans at their own game.
Normally, installing a smart lock on your door demands serious dedication. These locks are usually designed to be permanent replacements; in that you've got to fully disassemble the existing lock, potentially bore out a larger hole in the door to accommodate the new lock's additional girth, then install and wire up the new electronic system. This requires a degree of time and skill that the neophyte DIY'er (or renter) might not possess, which means that they must then find, hire, and pay a handyman to do it for them and generally negate whatever perceived day-to-day convenience the smart lock provides.
In short, smart locks can be more trouble than they're worth.
But the August Smart Lock is a little bit different. Instead of using a proprietary deadbolt and front plate (the bit that sits on the outside of the door where you stick the key), which increase both the cost of the product and the amount of skill needed to install them, the August lock simply hooks into your existing lock assembly. Instead of demanding a handyman armed with a 2 3/8" bore bit, the August lock requires about 10 minutes out of your day and a single Phillips head screwdriver to install.
Plus, it's dead simple. You unscrew two screws holding the thumb-turn (the bit that sits on the inside of your door where you flip the lever back and forth to engage the deadbolt), pull off the thumbplate, slap on one of three included adapter plates in its stead, slide an adapter ring around the deadbolt spindle, and securely clip the smart lock unit onto the adapter plate. That's it. All of the internal locking mechanisms remain unchanged. You can still use your key. You're simply adding what is essentially a powered, Bluetooth-connected thumb-turn. It's fantastic.
Once you have the lock installed, it's simply a matter of installing the August app on your smartphone (it's available for both iOS and as a slightly borked version for Android), setting up an account, and pairing the lock to your phone via Bluetooth connection. Bluetooth is especially helpful for a number of reasons. It can automatically unlock your door based on how close your phone is to the lock (if only it turned the handle for you too), or automatically engages the deadbolt when it see's that you've left the house and are out of Bluetooth range once again. It also eliminates the possibility of the lock being remotely hacked over the internet, and frees up a port on your router since it doesn't require a Wi-Fi bridge. And you never have to take your phone out of your pocket.
Sharing keys is also a breeze. Usually, other smart locks require handing over a physical fob or programming a touchpad or some other pain in the ass—you might as well just give out your spare key and just be done with it. But with the August it's as easy as sending a text message. You simply launch the app, tap Add Guest, look up the person in your contact list, and give them permission. You can give them one-time access, or let the cleaning lady come in at particular times of day, or give your significant other full access. The program sends them a text with a link to install the app, if not already done, and adds the key to their virtual keyring, so to speak. You can even send someone permission when you're away from home — if, say, you have an unexpected but welcome house guest.
The very best part is that if you ever move, you simply unlatch the unit, remove the adapter plate and ring, install the old thumb-plate again, and boom, your smart lock moves with you. No fuss, no muss.
The lock is about 4 inches across, comes in 5 or 6 different colors, and weighs a couple of pounds. The faceplate twists off to reveal slots for four AA batteries, which the manufacturer says should last a full year. Be very careful when pulling out these batteries: I managed to snap off one of the negative terminal springs with minimal force when yanking one out, and it's currently held in place by the battery and some prayers. But what's really cool is that even if I did irrevocably break that terminal and lose the lock's smart capabilities, the lock itself would still function. The original key still works on the existing exterior faceplate and the interior unit's outer ring operates exactly like the thumb-turn it replaced.
In fact, the August's outer ring is actually a bit easier to operate than your average thumb-turn—especially for folks with painful joints who would otherwise struggle to grasp a narrow latch. And though it's a ring, you can still tell when the bolt is fully engaged because the little LEDs will flash red. The motor's fairly quiet in operation, and you can increase or decrease how much force it uses to turn the deadbolt for sticky or free-sliding bolts. The August feels just how it looks: smartly designed and secure.
It's not a perfect system, of course: torquing the adapter plate down to the correct tightness took a bit of trial and error (too tight and the unit wouldn't latch, too loose and the entire lock assembly is shifting around in the door) but the biggest problem currently facing the system is its app. For example, I ran into repeated error messages when adding and removing guests. Also, you can't share root access with another user, so only you — not your spouse — can add additional guests. While there is value in minimizing the number of cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, it also precludes everybody from taking full advantage of the system's offerings.
Also note that the iOS app is lagging the Android version: the device won't automatically lock and unlock when you approach or leave the house if you have an iPhone. August says the iOS app should be updated shortly after today's product launch, and it's not a huge problem anyhow because you can still press a button in the app. Aside from that, this auto lock is fantastic.
The August Smart Lock retails for $250. I think it's worth every penny.

Seek Thermal Review

on Thursday, January 1, 2015

What's better than having a thermal camera capable of finding the freshest cinnamon buns — among other prey? The FLIR ONE accessory gave iPhones Predator-like thermal vision which turned out to be as awesome as it sounds, and now a company called Seek Thermal is promising the same with an iOS and Android-friendly smartphone accessory that makes a few compromises for a cheaper price tag.

What Is It?

Thermal cameras have been around for decades now, and over time they've gone from huge units strapped to the front of police helicopters to handheld devices that can be carried into dark buildings. But Seek's Thermal is the first infrared camera that's small enough to be attached to the bottom of your smartphone. It relys on your device's processor, battery, generously-sized touchscreen, and a free accompanying app. It's quite possibly the smallest thermal camera currently on the market, and that's awesome.

Who's It For?

With a price tag of $200, the Seek Thermal is $150 cheaper than the FLIR ONE iPhone accessory, so first and foremost it's for anyone who's ever wanted a thermal camera, but doesn't want to spend a fortune. Most people interested in the Seek will probably never use it as anything other than a toy or a fun party trick, but it does have practical applications: You can use it to do anything from spotting intruders, to saving money on your heating bills by hunting down cracks in your home's insulation.
And let's not forget that the FLIR is only accessible with the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S at this point. The Seek can be used with iPads, the new iPhone 6 or iPhone 6 Plus, and many of the millions of Android smartphones in the world—as long as they support the USB on the Go (USB OTG) standard. (Sorry, Nexus 4 users.)


Because the Seek relies on a smartphone for so much of its functionality, the rest of the hardware can be incredibly small. It's barely an inch-and-a-half long, and I found I could easily slip it into a pocket when it wasn't in use. Instead of cheap plastic, the Thermal's housing is made from magnesium so it feels incredibly durable. And even though it's tiny, it doesn't feel delicate, so you'll never have to baby it. You'd have to be pretty determined to damage it.
The Thermal's camera lens is recessed about a quarter-inch into a sort of carved metal lens hood that helps to protect it from scratches. Seek claims the lens provides a 36-degree field-of-view which isn't as wide as you'd get from something like a GoPro, or even most smartphone cameras. But it never feels particularly narrow or cramped while you're using it, and the narrower field-of-view helps maximize the sensitivity of the camera's limited resolution.
Inside the housing you'll find the Thermal's infrared sensor, with a resolution of 206 x 156, for a grand total of 32,136 thermal-sensing pixels. That's considerably smaller than the sensor you'll find in the camera of even the cheapest of smartphones, but it's actually far more than the Lepton sensor used in the FLIR ONE with a resolution of just 80 x 60 pixels, or 4,800 in total. So in terms of resolution, Seek claims a win.
The back of the Thermal is just as plain as the front (save for a silk-screened logo) and is devoid of any buttons, toggles, or blinking LEDs. Settings, modes, and calibration are all handled by the accompanying Seek Thermal app, which is what allows the actual hardware to be as plain and simple as possible.
In fact, the only physical feature that distinguishes the Android version of the Thermal from the iOS model is the connector you'll find on top. For iPhone and iPad users it comes with a Lightning port, while Android users will find a microUSB port.

And for those who refuse to leave the house without their pristine devices protected in cases, sleeves, or durable housings, the Thermal comes with a surprisingly sturdy case of its own—complete with a thick rubber lining with a cut-out for the camera to cozy into, and a lid that snaps shut tight to keep dust and moisture out.

Using It

Given how simple Seek's hardware is, all of the actual functionality is handled by an app. And surprisingly, despite a price tag that's $150 cheaper than the FLIR, the free Seek Thermal app manages to pack in a bit more functionality.

When the app is launched you immediately get the live Predator-like thermal vision you probably bought this for, with the ability to snap photos or shoot videos in that mode. Given the limited size of the Seek's IR sensor, its quality is very limited compared to the images your smartphone's camera can snap, resulting in photos with a resolution of just 832 × 468 pixels after interpolation. But unlike with the FLIR, your thermal images aren't automatically and permanently watermarked with the company's logo—which is nice.
If you're not interested in taking pictures, the app includes other modes that provide additional useful functionality. You can activate a simple text overlay that shows the exact detected temperature of whatever's in the center of the frame.
Or you can have the app automatically track and display the hottest and coldest areas of what's in frame, updated in near real-time. Unfortunately the sensor doesn't seem to update at a full 30 frames per second like full-motion video does, but the stuttered updates are frequent enough so that the app doesn't feel sluggish to use.

There's even a particularly useful mode that lets you set a specific threshold, highlighting only areas in the image that are above a given temperature. This makes it particularly useful for hunting down drafts in your home, letting you easily ignore everything but areas that are being registered as colder than the rest of a room.
One point of frustration with using the app, though, is that its camera functionality is disabled when using these other modes. Snapping thermal image photos with the actual temperature info overlaid could certainly be useful to some users, but unfortunately the only way to do so is to take a screenshot, assuming your device allows it.

At its worst, the Thermal produces images like this. Can you tell what was photographed here? The same photo taken with the FLIR (below) is a lot easier to decipher.

Believe it or not, those are both photos of the same display case full of sushi. The Seek's image still shows variations in temperature, but figuring out exactly what you're looking at is almost impossible. (In fact, there were a couple of photos I took for this review that I still can't quite figure out.)
In the thermal images taken with the FLIR you can actually spot the different types of Maki in the various plastic food containers. But why the huge discrepancy? Because the FLIR is actually taking multiple images at once.

The compact Seek Thermal uses a standalone thermal sensor to produce its images, whereas the FLIR iPhone case uses a pair of side-by-side cameras and software tricks to produce hybrid shots. One generate outlines of objects in the frame, the other takes temperature data,and the app merges them together in real-time. It makes it easy for someone who's never used a thermal camera before to tell what's going on.

To its credit, the Seek Thermal app does try to mimic the FLIR ONE's neat hybrid image functionality with an additional mode that puts the thermal image it generates alongside the image from your smartphone's built-in camera, allowing you to swipe back and forth between the two. But because they have different field-of-views and are so far apart, the images don't line up, particularly when shooting objects up close.
How well this mode will work will vary from smartphone to smartphone since the position of their camera lenses will vary, but for the most part it doesn't quite match what the FLIR is capable of.


Even if you have no practical use for a thermal camera, the Seek Thermal makes for a fun accessory that adds some truly unique functionality to your smartphone—there's no denying that. Unlike the FLIR which requires you to put your iPhone in a case, the Seek can easily hang off most iOS and Android devices or be easily stashed in your pocket.
But it wasn't just the hardware's small and durable form factor I liked. While using the Seek Thermal you can hear it making frequent quiet clicking sounds, almost like the sound of the iris stepping down on a camera. It turns out that sound is actually the Seek Thermal's camera automatically and continually recalibrating itself while you use it. On the FLIR you have to pull a manual lever every so often as you find the thermal images degrading, which is a bit of a pain.
The FLIR comes with its own built-in rechargeable battery so as not to completely drain your smartphone while you're using it. But while the Seek Thermal camera leeches power from your smartphone, I actually preferred not having yet another device to remember to charge. The battery drain while using the Seek Thermal wasn't significant enough to worry about, anyhow.
Overall, Seek's app feels a little snappier than the FLIR, which felt like it could use a bit more TLC before it officially made its way to the consumer.

No Like

Even though the thermal sensor on the Seek Thermal is packed with more pixels than the sensor in the FLIR, it's clear why FLIR designed its hardware with the additional side-by-side cameras. It adds to the size and cost of the FLIR, but it also increases the functionality and usability producing thermal images that are always easy for anyone to distinguish.
That's unfortunately not always the case with the images produced by the Seek Thermal. When using it as a tool to provide real-time thermal images of what you happen to be looking at in the moment, it's straightforward enough. "Is this coffee to hot to sip? Yes it is." But after the fact, you might have a difficult time remembering what's going on in a photo you snapped.

Should You Buy It?

Yes, if you're willing to make some compromises. On paper the Seek Thermal sounds like an improved version of the FLIR in every way. The hardware is smaller, its thermal sensor has more resolution, and it's $150 cheaper than the competition. But it turns out what makes the FLIR bulkier and more expensive also vastly increases its usability and user friendliness.
That's not to say the Seek Thermal doesn't work—far from it. It certainly generates accurate thermal images with enough extra functionality in the accompanying app to justify it as more than just a fun accessory for your smartphone. It's just that the FLIR approach results in images that are more than just blobs of color.
So if you're happy to sacrifice a small bit of usability to save $150, you won't be disappointed by the Seek Thermal's capabilities. Or if you happen to use a smartphone that's not an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5S, this is currently your only option when it comes to a compact thermal camera. But if you're hoping to be the hit of your next party, you might be better off spending the extra money for the FLIR ONE — so your guests aren't left scratching their heads.