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Guest Column: Sandy and Dave’s tech toys

By Staff | Jan 28, 2015

Recently Dave and I joined more than 160,000 people from 140 countries for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. We spent five head-spinning days immersed in tech toys from all over the world.

We’ve been going to this show since the late 1990s and never tire of seeing exhibits that range from “gotta have” to “what were they thinking?” When I tell folks where we’ve been, everyone wants to know what was memorable.

This column will share our personal views on some of these “new tech toys.” (Caveat: Since people are different, my ideal toy may be a no-go for you.)

We’ll start with fitness trackers, since they generated lots of media buzz. They are usually worn on the wrist, although they can be on a pendant, clipped on your sneaker (or for women, your bra). The all- purpose ones measure your amount of activity (like steps taken) plus how long and well you slept. Some also measure heart rate.

A tracker syncs wirelessly with companion apps on your smart phone to show and analyze the results. You can share your stats on Facebook or other social media-if you’re brave enough.

Some trackers can display lots of info, most are large and clunky. Others are trim bands which rely on your smart phone to show your results and history.

I’ve just gotten into fitness and sleep trackers. Since my last year has been punctuated by a hip replacement, followed by a fractured vertebra (courtesy of a bike accident), I wanted to see if using a fitness tracker could help me build up my strength and endurance. Since I wasn’t sure I would use it, I wanted to start with a low-cost device. Most trackers aren’t waterproof; since swimming is part of my exercise, those were non-starters. An online ad led me to a company called Misfit, and a Web deal got me a Misfit Flash for only $25. That was an easy choice.

I got my Flash about a month before CES long enough to get me hooked and develop the endurance required for the show floor. The Flash is waterproof and motivates me to get moving. The sleep tracker was its most addictive feature. First thing each morning I sync my tracker and phone to find out how long and deeply I slept and how many times I got up. It worked! If I felt more refreshed in the morning, it usually showed deeper sleep. If I dragged out of bed, my sleep picture usually told me why.

I like my Flash, but it has some drawbacks. I have yet to figure out how to tell time from its flashing dots, so I’m wearing both the turquoise plastic Flash and my Movado watch.

I wanted to see other trackers, and found the CES directory listed 388 exhibitors under “fitness and sports” and a whopping 595 under the broader “wearables” category. I visited lots of booths and saw mostly clunky black squares that look best in the gym. I found two I wouldn’t mind wearing out to dinner.

Misfit just announced a partnership with Swarovski -the crystal company. Misfit’s Shine tracker is much more fashionable than the Flash (it’s hard not to be) and with Swarovski they have added the bling to turn your tracker into jewelry. The centerpiece is a large faceted crystal, and you can add a bracelet, watch band, pendant or sports band, depending on the occasion. Misfit says these will be available late in March.

I’m currently eyeing the Withings Activit Pop, a lower-end version of their $450 Activit, which features sapphire glass and elegant leather. Pop has a modest number of functions, style, and an affordable $150 price. Although it is a watch with an activity tracker, the Pop lacks many functions of “Smart watches” which, either on their own or when paired with a smartphone, provide features like checking caller ID, connecting to the internet, running mobile apps, GPS, making calls, messaging, etc. The Pop preview models sold out on the first day. The end of March seems to be the magic date for delivery.

Since it is really hard to know what you want, the Lumoid Website, which specializes in letting you try before you buy, might be the way to go. It lets you try five items for seven days. You can then return them and pay $20 for the rental or purchase one and you only pay for what you buy. I have not used it yet, so can’t vouch for how it works.

If you are looking for a tracker, you need to make sure it will work with your phone. Many work with both Android and ioS-but some seem to love only one. If you are tired of charging all your devices, look for ones that last for months not days.

-Sandy Teger and her husband/business partner Dave Waks have specialized in technology most of their lives. They live in Sanibel in a house full of tech toys. Their technology analysis company, System Dynamics Inc., is a member of Sanibel-Captiva Chamber of Commerce.