Reviews of lots of very cool products!

Archive for February, 2016

Pebblebee Stone Smart Button

Get this great product here: Pebblebee Stone Smart Button

I always enjoy trying new gadgets and gizmos with my smartphone, so I was really excited to try out this Pebblebee smart button.   For such a tiny device, it really has a huge range of potential functions.   Along with the free Pebblebee app  on my Android phone, I can pair the button via Bluetooth and then set up actions for it to control.   I should mention that it seems to lose the Bluetooth connection a bit easier than I would expect, although sometimes I’m not sure when it shows that the device is out of range in the app if this is truly correct, because when I then press the pebble button, it immediately displays as paired and carries out the expected action.

The button has the ability to be programmed for two actions at once, one for a short press, and one for a longer hold. I do wish there was a bit more distinction as to how long is required for a hold. It seems like if I hold it down for a couple seconds, it still carries out a short press action. I need to hold it down for several seconds in order to make sure it does the hold action.  The Pebblebee app gives 5 action choices: send text, make call, take picture, sound alarm, and IFTTT.   

Send text can be used to send a standard pre written message to predefined contacts. This could be useful if you’d Quickly send a message saying that you’re busy or driving to acknowledge that you will get in touch with me as soon as you can.

Make call immediately has your phone call a pre selected contact. This is a nice single click to call a frequently used contact.   

Take picture not only acts as a remote shutter button, it actually launches the camera app. This is convenient, although given that there is a short delay between pressing the button and carrying out the action, it doesn’t necessarily work to capture an immediate image of something that is fleeting.

Sound alarm can be used to help find a way work phone. Activating this action makes my phone put out a very loud alarm, even if the phone was on mute. This could definitely be useful, although be aware that it is VERY loud.

The most versatile and interesting action is IFTTT.   I hadn’t previously been familiar with IFTTT, which stands for “If This Then That”.  Basically it allows for very simple programming of “recipes”, Which as the acronym suggests, prescribed that when one action is taken, another will follow.. That first action can be pressing the Pebblebee button.   I currently have a recipe that another user posted on the IFTTT website set for my hold action, and it automatically mutes my phone.  I like being able to fully mute my phone with a single button press.  I’m having fun exploring IFTTT and trying to write some of my own recipes as well.

Overall I’d say this is a sturdy and well designed device, although the delay between the button press and the action can cause issues in some cases, and the Bluetooth pairing indication seems like it’s a bit off in the Pebblebee app.  For just under $30, this is a good value.
I’m very glad that I was able to order this as a free promotional sample in order to evaluate and provide my honest review.

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Strato Spheres Game by Thinkfun

Get this great product here: Strato Spheres Game by Thinkfun

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My family loves playing unique strategy-based games, so I was really excited to try out Think Fun’s new Strato Spheres.  My almost 8 and 5.5 year olds love playing Connect Four, and this is a great extension of the Connect Four concept to three dimensions.  I really like how compact the game is – Think Fun includes a sturdy drawstring bag that is just the right size to keep all the pieces.  This makes it really easy to take Stratospheres wherever I want to – in fact it’s a great game for passing time on long car rides or while waiting at a restaurant or doctor’s office. 

I like how easy the game is for a new player to understand and get started with.  Literally within 1-2 minutes of me showing the pieces to my 8 year old, we were able to start playing a game together.  All we have to do is divide up the blue and yellow pieces between the two players, then once we decide who goes first, that player puts one of their spheres onto the white starting piece and hands the combined pieces to the other player.  We then take turns adding a sphere to the bunch and hand it back and forth.  I like this physical aspect – we’re actually doing something with our hands, which makes the game very engaging.  Just like in Connect 4, the object is to get four of your colored pieces in a row, except here they can go up/down, across, or diagonally.

While the gameplay and rules may be extremely simple, the strategy is not, and that to me is what makes this a really worthwhile game.  It encourages abstract, complex thought and forces players to really think ahead to figure out the consequences of their moves.  My 8 year old so far focuses mostly on her own offensive moves, mostly ignoring defense, which makes it a bit easy for a more skilled opponent to win, but over time I know she’ll start getting the hang of both offense and defense.  When my two kids play against each other, it’s a much more “fair fight”.  

The design of the pieces themselves is very clever.  The plastic is extremely sturdy – no worry here as with some game components that parts might break off over time.  The pegs are easy for even little hands to use to push together two spheres.  Those pegs are square shaped, which is actually important, because it means that you can’t rotate a piece once it is placed – the original orientation becomes key to placement of future pieces.  In fact, it’s possible to make some spots unplayable, if there are pegs facing into the space from multiple perpendicular angles – this makes it impossible to fit in another piece.  Most beginning kid players won’t really take advantage of this, but it’s an interesting advanced aspect to the game that more experienced players may enjoy.

All in all I’m really impressed with how such a simple concept can make for such a thoughtful game, and I think that my kids will be enjoying this for years to come.

I’m very glad that I was able to receive this as a free promotional sample in order to evaluate and provide my honest review.

Premium Bamboo Mattress Pad Protector Cover by Coop Home Goods

Get this great product here: Premium Bamboo Mattress Pad Protector Cover by Coop Home Goods

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When my daughter recently got sick and we had to strip down her bed to the mattress in the middle of the night, I realized I really needed a backup mattress protector, so I was happy to try out this Premium Bamboo Mattress Pad Protector Cover by Coop Home Goods.  I have to say I am so impressed with this product.  From the moment I opened up the plastic zippered case and took out the mattress pad, I was amazed at how extremely soft the bamboo material is.  I’ve never seen such a soft, almost plush, material on a mattress protector.  Having such nice material under the fitted sheet certainly makes the bed feel even more comfortable.

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The mattress pad fit very easily onto our twin mattress – the elastic portion was easy to stretch out and has plenty of material to fit over even a thick or pillow-top mattress type.  Sometimes this fabric on mattress pads can be so thin that it is easy to accidentally rip, but this one seems very sturdy, so I think it will stand up well over time.

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On the opposite of the soft bamboo fabric is a waterproof layer.  This to me is essential in a mattress pad to protect the expensive mattress from any material that may be spilled as well as from general buildup of dirt and sweat over time.  My kids don’t have any allergy issues yet, but my husband and I both do, so I also like that it blocks allergens from getting through to the mattress.  On some mattress pads, this waterproof portion can be kind of stiff and even make weird noises when you move around on it, but this one so far is great in that regard as well.

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All in all I’d say this is a top quality mattress pad protector and I’m sure we’ll enjoy using it for a long time to come.
I’m very glad that I was able to receive this as a free promotional sample in order to evaluate and provide my honest review.

Mini Magic Ball Stage Light by OxyLED

Get this product here:  Mini Magic Ball Stage Light by OxyLED

From the moment I first plugged in this OxyLED stage light, my kids were mesmerised by the changing colors and patterns. Lightweight, and as soon as it’s plugged in, the light starts going. I should mention that the cord is quite short, so it’s quite possible that an extension cord will be needed, depending on where I want to place it. There are two main components to the light, a row of small LEDs along the bottom edge, and a rotating light inside the ball which transmits patterns through a prism like surface. The LEDs light up in different colors and patterns, which create a lot of movement to the light patterns. As the light cycles through its different patterns, beautiful kaleidoscope of blue, green, and red is projected all around the room where the light is.

Although my kids are really loving this, I am giving this 4 stars out of 5, because I had been hoping that there would be a bit more user control to the product. It really is just plug and go, and let the light make whatever patterns it wants to. It would be really nice to have some buttons or switches to be able to set the colors, patterns, or speed at which the light patterns change. This would be a great addition to pretty much any party, especially with kids, and I could see it being a big hit in any college residence.

I’m very glad that I was able to order this as a free promotional sample in order to evaluate and provide my honest review.

My Feelings Box by Feelings Magnets

Get this great product here: My Feelings Box by Feelings Magnets

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My almost eight year old daughter is extremely sensitive and lately has been having some emotional difficulties at school and with some of her other activities.  I’ve been trying to figure out ways to help her through all of this, so when I saw the My Feelings Box, I was really intrigued and wondered if this might help her to express what is bothering her.

The box itself is a fairly simple concept.  There is a sturdy metal hinged box, and all the surfaces (inside and out) of the box are magnetic.  Inside the box are the sets of magnets that are the key to how this works.  First of all, on the inside of the lid are three key magnets, already put in place.  There are two with text that read “I am feeling…” and “I want to feel…” and an image of a thermometer.  The rest of the magnets each have individual emotions on it, and are color coded by classes of emotions: yellow for happy, blue for sad, green for disgust, red for anger, and orange for shame.  There is a really nice range of detailed emotions here, so you can really get specific about how you’re feeling.  The idea is that you can use the “I am feeling…” and “I want to feel…” labels to list emotions related to certain topics, and the thermometer one to show how strong those emotions are.

I broke apart the emotion magnets on my own and then showed it all to my daughter.  We read through all the emotions together (some of them are words that are a bit hard for a 2nd grader to read) and then I suggested that we use them to think through some of what’s going on right now with her.  She loves playing the drums, but lately has been getting frustrated as she’s getting into more and more advanced things to practice, so I asked her to think about what emotions relate to drumming for her.  We talked through it all and I think listing the emotions gave us a really good chance to have an in depth conversation, while emphasizing that it is fine to feel any emotion, that emotions themselves cannot be bad, and that the good or bad comes in how we choose to respond to those feelings.  She really enjoyed this process and we also related it to the movie Inside Out, which also gave a good chance for discussion of emotions.

As my daughter and I kept talking, I asked if she’d be interested in having me use the magnets to describe my own feelings, and she really liked that idea.  So I decided to use the My Feelings Box to look at how I feel about my work.  I have to admit that this was a somewhat enlightening process even for my as an adult, thinking through really what all my motivations and stresses are in the workplace.  What I think was even more valuable though, was giving my daughter the chance to see that even I struggle with things like frustration and can feel overwhelmed.  Realizing that she is not alone in emotions like this I think was really comforting to her.

We’ve gone through a couple more topics together, trying to figure out her feelings about some issues at school, and then how to respond to those feelings to try to help move towards the “I want to feel…” side.  It’s not an easy thing to face fears and such, but I do feel that the My Feelings Box has given us a useful tool to get started in the process.  In fact, I don’t think I can say it any better than my daughter did, when she said, “Sometimes it can be hard to say what you’re feeling, but this helps to get it out”.

I have to say that while I’m really pleased with this so far for my daughter, it does seem surprisingly expensive for what is essentially a box with a set of word magnets ($42 as of when I’m doing this review).  I’m looking forward to continuing to work with this with my daughter to help her through all the ups and downs that come with her sensitive mind.

I’m very glad that I was able to receive this as a free promotional sample in order to evaluate and provide my honest review.