Sling TV — Valid Alternative for Cord Cutters?

With more people eschewing their digital TV subscriptions to take advantage of an Internet connection to stream movies and TV shows, new services hope to attract these potential customers by bundling some of the more popular Cable channels under one offering. Sling TV site, a subsidiary of the Dish Network, is a notable example of this new kind of television service.

Sling TV for cord cutter

Sling TV is available by using an app for nearly every computer and mobile operating system. It is also compatible with the Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and Chromecast — three of the most popular TV/Video players. If you are planning on joining the ranks of cord-cutters, here’s a closer at Sling TV’s programming and subscription options.

Many Popular Cable TV Channels Found on Sling TV

A basic Sling TV subscription costs $20 per month, and you also get a 7-day free trial period to see if the service meets your viewing needs. It is generally easier to unsubscribe to streaming services compared to Cable and Satellite TV providers, so be sure to take advantage of any free trials coming your way. Sling TV typically offers free or discounted video players (Roku, Chromecast, etc.) for new subscribers, so check out those deals when subscribing.

For the $20 monthly fee, Sling TV provides over 20 channels covering a wide range of subjects — sports, food, news, and more. ESPN, CNN, HGTV, and the Travel Channel are some of the channels included with a basic package. HBO — both live and on demand — runs an extra $15 per month — the same price as an HBO Now subscription.

If your television viewing tastes are focused on a specific subject, a variety of add-on packages are available for an extra five dollars per month. A Sports Extra package includes the SEC Network, Universal Sports Network, a host of smaller ESPN networks, and others — nine in total. Other extra packages focus on kids, lifestyle, and a variety of foreign channels.

Sling TV tries to aim for the a la carte channel model desired for years by many Cable and Satellite subscribers.

Make Sure your Internet Bandwidth supports HD Video Streaming

Speed test to ensure your Internet service is able to handle streaming HD video from Sling TV without buffering or other problems. Anything over 5 Mbps should be good enough, provided no one else on your network is also consuming bandwidth. In that situation, consider investing in a Router review to optimize your home network performance.

If you are looking at streaming services to use with a video player, Sling TV definitely belongs on your short list. Be sure to take advantage of any special deals if you haven’t yet purchased a device.

Comcast Data Caps — Cause for Bandwidth Concern?

Recently, the word about Comcast planning the expansion of its monthly Internet data caps to other markets filled the technology news. As one of the nation’s leading providers of Internet service, Comcast’s data cap policy might be implemented by other ISPs. If you are someone who leverages your home Internet service to download or stream HD-quality movies, videos, and TV shows, you need to pay attention to see if your ISP plans on implementing data caps.

Comcast Data Caps

Let’s take a closer look at the details concerning Comcast’s data cap policy.

Standard Comcast Data Usage Plans Allow 300 GB of Data per Month

Comcast recently announced plans to expand its data cap policy in a variety of markets as of December 1st. These cities include Little Rock, Arkansas; Houma, LaPlace and Shreveport, Louisiana; Chattanooga, Greenville and Johnson City, Tennessee; and Galax, Virginia. You can find a full list here. Chattanooga making this list is surprising considering the city’s own “One Gig” Internet service.

In the locations where Comcast has implemented a data cap, customers can expect to pay an extra $10 for each 50 GB of data used over a monthly 300 GB limit (250 GB in some locations). An option to pay a one time fee of $30-35 on top of your normal monthly service cost for true unlimited data exists in some markets. At this time, only 15 percent of Comcast’s customers are affected by a data cap, but that number is growing.

Comcast feels the data caps are about fairness, as their median customer only uses around 40 GB each month. Less than 10 percent of customers in data-capped service areas consume more than 300 GB of data in a month. Chances are data caps won’t affect you, provided your Internet activity isn’t over the top. A customer needs to stream around 75 two-hour movies per month to exceed a 300 GB limit.

The Future of Data Caps

As more users drop their Cable TV and Satellite subscriptions in favor of streaming options, Internet data usage is expected to grow, especially when 4K and Ultra HD formats are added to the equation. As Google Fiber and other Internet providers increase their national coverage, giving more consumers an ISP option, it becomes difficult for companies to implement a capped-data policy and stay competitive.

Ultimately, the customer must manage household data usage, especially by keeping any HD video streaming to “regular” instead of the bandwidth-intensive 4K or Ultra HD options. Always be sure to perform periodic speed tests to ensure your ISP is keeping up their end of the bandwidth bargain.

It remains to be seen if Comcast data caps (or those from other providers) will ever see a wider rollout into markets where the ISP competition is fierce. Internet customers across the country — no matter their provider — need to stay tuned.

NewsON Delivers Local News Via Video Streaming

As more customers embrace video streaming as their primary source for television, getting access to local news has become a more difficult proposition. Enter NewsON, an app available for iOS, Android, and Roku. NewsON offers on demand news content from 118 TV stations in 90 different markets, allowing cord cutters a means to get their local news for free.

Breaking News Online

This has the potential to be a popular service in areas with broadband Internet access, but spotty over-the-air antenna reception. Additionally, it provides those who’ve relocated a chance to keep track of the news in their former location. Let’s take a closer look at NewsON to see if it makes sense in your Digital TV portfolio.

Easy To Use Video Streaming App

NewsON’s Android app is easy to use. The app defaults to the local TV stations in your current location. An interactive map is also available, allowing you to browse TV stations all over the country.

You have the option to watch the current news live as it airs, or a previous broadcast on an on demand basis. Access to older broadcasts is provided for up to 48 hours; this varies by station policy. Tapping on a playing video brings up a set of controls allowing you to rewind, fast forward, or jump to a specific part of the program. A commercial occasionally plays, which — considering the free price — shouldn’t be a problem.

The streaming video quality is generally good, but it is dependent on the stream offered by each individual station, so expect differences. As always, perform a quick speed test to ensure your Internet connection is up to snuff. Anything greater than 5 Mbps should suffice for HD quality.

Find Your Current or Former Local News Broadcast

Other app controls let you search by text for stations or filter them by their parent network (NBC, ABC, etc.). Tapping on the star next to the call letters marks that station as a favorite. You can also set an alert to inform you when a future broadcast is live or when a breaking news event occurs.

As NewsON grows in popularity, expect other news channels to join the service and the app to support other video players beyond the Roku. It offers an easy method to stay informed with the goings-on at home when traveling, while providing access to local news for cord cutters suffering from poor antenna reception. This is an app that belongs in any news junkie’s collection.

YouTube Red — Google’s Premium Streaming Service

Google recently introduced YouTube Red, the technology giant’s subscription service offering an ad-free YouTube experience. The service’s other major features include allowing you to enjoy downloaded content when not on the Internet and a background play function, which keeps the music going when you are busy with something else on your computer or mobile device.

A monthly Red subscription costs $9.99, while new users can try out the service for one month for free. It also includes a Google Play Music subscription, giving you access to an enormous music library of over 30 million songs. If you already subscribe to Google Play Music, you get YouTube Red as well. If you are an Android fan, YouTube Red may serve nicely as your major streaming service. Here’s a look at additional Red details.

Google's new You Tube Red

Premium Content Coming Soon to YouTube Red

While in its current form, YouTube Red can’t compete from an original content standpoint with other services like Netflix or Amazon Prime; however, Google plans on introducing more exclusive premium shows on the service next year. This includes both episodic series and feature-length movies and videos. It is also a reasonable expectation the company will bid on sporting events in the future, like Yahoo did with the NFL earlier this season.

Some of this premium content is expected to be available on the free version of YouTube after a period of time. Many entertainment industry pundits feel Red is Google’s attempt to become the new Netflix. If that’s the case, they have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to the breadth and depth of their content library.

If you choose to subscribe, access is easy, you simply sign on to your Google account whenever you want to use YouTube — either in a browser or in an app. An ad free viewing experience follows. As always, perform a quick speed test to ensure your current bandwidth can handle video streaming.

Are Service Subscriptions a Counter Move Against Ad Blockers?

Many online media companies are feeling the pinch in advertising dollars, since more users are leveraging ad blockers for a better online experience. This is another one of Google’s strategies in introducing a subscription version of YouTube. Considering the company’s strong dependence on ad revenue, diversifying their income stream makes sense.

On the other hand, Google needs to invest greatly in content licensing fees if it wants to compete on a level field with players like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Many users simply aren’t interested in paying a monthly fee for ad-free viewing of user created video content.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether or not YouTube Red will become an essential part of anyone’s streaming media diet, or if it will go the way of Google Plus. Acquiring an exclusive license to some essential premium content is probably the service’s best bet for success in the long run.

Pixel C — Google’s First Company-Built Tablet

Not to be outdone by Apple’s iPad Pro and the new Microsoft Surface Pro 4, Google is also getting into the tablet manufacturing game with the Pixel C. Aimed squarely at Android power users who also enjoy video streaming, this tablet features an attachable keyboard, just like its competitors out of Cupertino and Redmond.

While some tech pundits feel the tablet market reached its peak two years ago, these tech industry giants keep trying to find the sweet spot between a smartphone and a laptop. The Pixel C retails for $499 for the 32GB version, while the 64GB model costs $599 — the keyboard is a separate purchase for $149. Let’s take a closer look at its specs to see if the Pixel C belongs on your Holiday wish list.

Holiday Tablet

Lightweight Convertible Android Tablet

The Pixel C (the “C” stands for convertible, not “Chrome” or “Chromebook”) sports a 10.2-inch touchscreen. The optional keyboard connects to the tablet using a magnet, serving as a cover when not in use. A simple motion attaches the screen to the end of the keyboard, while setting it to the optimal viewing angle. This sturdy unit weighs about two pounds, and only one pound without the keyboard.

Some reviewers were surprised about the lack of a trackpad, but the Pixel C does support a Bluetooth mouse for additional control beyond the touchscreen. Most praise the feel of the keyboard, so this looks to be an Android tablet that lets you get some real work done, in addition to leisure time activities like rich media streaming (if your bandwidth handles it) and gameplay.

The Pixel C is powered by a quad core mobile processor and comes with 3GB of RAM — competitive specs in the world of tablet computers. The Maxwell GPU (graphics processing unit) enhances the tablet’s capability for video streaming and video gaming action. The tablet runs Android version 6.0 saddled with the unfortunate moniker, “Marshmallow.”

Lack of Business Apps Hampers Android Tablets

Still, building a powerful tablet to compete with similar models from Microsoft and Apple means little if your app platform doesn’t feature many business productivity apps. The fact that Microsoft Office is available on both the iOS and Windows (obviously!) platforms puts Google at a significant disadvantage when it comes to attracting business users to the Pixel C.

However, Android fans looking for a “best of the platform” tablet for watching TV shows, movies and video game action need look no further. Slated to hit the market in time for the Holidays, the pixel C is arguably the best tablet available for Google’s mobile platform.

The iPad Pro — Does Bigger Mean Better?

The long rumored “big” iPad finally arrived during Apple’s September event focused on the new iPhone 6s. The iPad Pro with its external, attachable keyboard and Apple Pencil reminds one of the Microsoft Surface, albeit with a more robust app market available through the iTunes App Store.

iPadPro with Apple pencil

With the new iPad Mini 4 and iPhone 6s Plus also boasting powerful tech specs and iOS app compatibility, is the marketplace really interested in a super-sized iPad? Let’s take a closer look at the details and see.

iPad Pro Features and Specs

The most notable feature of the iPad Pro is its 12.9-inch Retina display, capable of a resolution of 2732 x 2048 pixels. If you enjoy watching movies or TV shows on your tablet, this display is a great reason for upgrading to a larger iPad. Perform regular speed tests to ensure your Internet bandwidth can handle HD streaming with little buffering.

The iPad Pro also sports Apple’s A9X processor and a M9 motion coprocessor, making this the most powerful iPad model to date. The enhanced iSight camera features 8MP resolution as well as a host of features to please shutterbugs, although many users still prefer using their smaller smartphone to take pictures. HD video recording is supported as well.

Surprisingly, one new Apple feature not part of the iPad Pro is the pressure sensitive 3D Touch display available on both iPhone 6s models. Cost is probably the main reason for this decision when considering the much larger touchscreen of the iPad Pro. iPad musicians are probably the most disappointed, hoping for pressure sensitivity to be included in the next line of music creation apps.

The WiFi version of the iPad Pro retails for either $799 (32GB) or $949 (128GB). The one model with both WiFi and cellular connectivity is priced at $1079 with 128GB of storage. The attachable keyboard and new Apple Pencil cost extra. The new iPad is expected to arrive online and in stores in November.

Does a Larger iPad Pro Make Sense for Most Users?

In short, the iPad Pro is larger and more powerful than any previous iPad. Many Apple power users can simply purchase a lower end MacBook for essentially the same price, albeit without the new Pencil. Windows users are probably going to stay with the Microsoft Surface or a similar Windows tablet.

Will the iPad Pro succeed in a tablet market filled with smaller models that many users find are easier to hold and operate? While its large Retina display makes it the arguably preeminent tablet for streaming movies and video, is that enough of a market for Apple to deem the device to be a success? Expect the answers to these questions after this year’s Holiday season once the sales numbers have been tabulated.

Is Google Project Fi the New Wireless Standard?

With all the hubbub about Google Fiber, the search giant’s super fast Internet and Digital TV service, you might have missed the news about Project Fi, Google’s new wireless Internet service. So is Project Fi essentially the wireless version of Fiber? Perhaps, but if you were hoping for something faster than 4G LTE wireless service with unlimited data available in your town soon, don’t get your hopes up.

Google Fi

Google’s scope for Project Fi appears to be smaller than Fiber. And considering the slow as molasses speed of Fiber’s nationwide rollout, this appears to be more proof of concept than a wide commercial service.

A Closer Look at Google’s Project Fi

In its simplest terms Project Fi is a mobile wireless service only available — for now — on Google’s Nexus 6. It is designed to primarily provide voice and data over WiFi on public hotspots or from your home network. When unable to find an appropriate hotspot, it leverages the networks of Sprint and T-Mobile, seamlessly switching between the two as needed.

Google chose the “other” two major wireless carriers in the U.S., because they were the first to offer WiFi calling as part their service. Considering that Project Fi is primarily a hotspot-first type of wireless service, this move makes sense. The expectation is that a user won’t notice when they are being switched from WiFi to Sprint to T-Mobile — even during a voice call.

An Internet speed test conducted by CNET over 4G revealed Fi boasted download speeds that averaged around 6MB and upload speeds at a surprisingly high 9MB. While not super fast, they definitely compete with lower-end home Internet service.

Innovative Pricing Scheme

One of Google’s major reasons for introducing Project Fi is to trigger innovations in how wireless services bill their customers. As such, you pay $10 per each GB of data with no extra charge for tethering, and you get a monthly credit for any unused bandwidth. The basic service costs only $20 per month, which also includes unlimited texting in the US and over 120 countries.

How To Get Project Fi

Since Project Fi is still in an incubation state, spots are limited. First off, you’ll need a specific version of the Google Nexus 6 smartphone, model number XT1103. You also need a Gmail account, used when you request an invite from Google.

You will be asked to enter your ZIP code when requesting an invite, and if the service is available in your area, you’ll either be able to transfer your existing phone number or request a new one.

The ultimate hope for Project Fi is that it forces the major wireless carriers to also offer simpler pricing, including credit for unused data. Stay tuned!

Apple’s New Smartphone — The iPhone 6s — and Monthly Data Allowance

Apple’s latest pair of smartphones — the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus — bring more of an evolutionary change to the iPhone line, as opposed to revolutionary. While Apple definitely boasts a loyal fan base, as illustrated by the record 13 million new iPhones sold on its launch weekend, and a popular app marketplace, many Android fans feel Cupertino is simply playing catch up to the innovations of Samsung and other smartphone makers supporting Google’s mobile platform.

In fact, one more esoteric feature of the recently introduced iOS 9 is actually causing customers to use up the monthly data allowance from their wireless account — even on their home network.

Apple iPhone 6s

Let’s take a closer look at this issue as well as the features of Apple’s new iPhone 6s.

iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s Plus Features

The most intriguing new feature of the two new iPhones is something called 3D Touch. Essentially a pressure sensitive touchscreen, it allows users to perform new interface tricks provided the app in use supports 3D Touch. Most apps leverage the feature to pop up dialog boxes when a user presses on the screen — similar to the venerable right mouse button click in Windows.

The applications for 3D Touch for gaming, art apps, and the robust iOS music community are endless. Here’s hoping Apple introduces the feature in the next line of iPads. Touchscreen price considerations are probably the main reason the iPad Pro doesn’t support 3D touch.

Other new features of the iPhone 6s are primarily focused on technology. A faster processor and better camera resolution — including support for 4K video recording — highlight the improved specs. Apple usually saves more important upgrades for a new version number, so expect the iPhone 7 to be a bigger jump in functionality compared to the recently released model.

Watch Out for iOS 9’s WiFi Assist Feature

The new iOS 9 WiFi Assist feature garnered some bad publicity for Apple, when users noticed extraordinarily high data charges after installing the iOS upgrade. It seems WiFi assist switches to a cellular signal if it feels the WiFi connection isn’t strong enough. This is another good reason to regularly perform a speed test to ensure your home Internet (or hotspot when traveling) service is up to snuff.

Apple defaults WiFi Assist to on, so you simply need to go to your Settings app and find the WiFi Assist toggle under the Cellular (sometimes called Mobile Data) section and turn the feature off. If you don’t enjoy unlimited data, as most smartphone users, leaving the setting on could provide you with a nasty surprise when your next phone bill arrives.

With the interesting new 3D Touch feature and a pressure sensitive touchscreen combined with other incremental tech improvements, the iPhone 6s looks to be a winner for Apple fans. Just make sure you turn WiFi Assist off if you don’t have unlimited data.

AT&T WiFi Calling Added to iPhone and iOS 9

Armed with a waiver from the FCC, AT&T recently introduced functionality that adds the long-awaited WiFi calling feature to newer iPhones capable of running iOS 9. Unfortunately, owners of the iPhone 5 and earlier models are out of luck.

The new WiFi calling functionality became available on October 8, so if you are interested in making calls over your WiFi connection, check out this CNET article that shows you how to enable the feature. It may take a while for the WiFi indicator to display after activation.

Here’s a closer look at AT&T’s new WiFi calling functionality.

WiFi Calling Helps When Carrier Signal is Weak 

WiFi Calling is a godsend for many travelers encountering a weak or nonexistent carrier signal, but are able to access a WiFi hotspot.

AT&T WiFi Calling now available

Additionally, if AT&T’s 4G or 3G signals aren’t strong inside your home, you can now leverage your residential Internet account to make calls. Bandwidth usage is minimal — especially compared to video chat — but run a quick speed test to ensure everything is running smoothly.

The person receiving your call doesn’t need a third-party app or any similar WiFi calling feature. It works like any normal mobile phone call. You are able to call a landline or mobile phones with no issues, provided your Internet signal is active.

AT&T Following T-Mobile and Sprint’s Lead with WiFi Calling

T-Mobile and Sprint previously introduced WiFi calling on their networks. AT&T’s recent launch of the feature leaves Verizon Wireless as the only major American wireless company holding out. Google’s nascent Project Fi phone service focuses on WiFi calling, but it piggybacks on top of T-Mobile and Sprint’s networks if a suitable hotspot isn’t available.

AT&T complained that the FCC was unnecessarily delaying the approval of the required waiver. The company wanted to introduce the feature with the rollout of iOS 9.

With customers now expecting WiFi calling as a standard feature on their smartphones, Verizon is likely to add similar functionality soon. Big Red had hoped to rollout the feature this summer, but missed that date. It isn’t a big priority for them, considering the company’s status as the largest 4G LTE network in the country.

There’s no denying that more and more calls will be using WiFi bandwidth over the next few years. App-free video calling is likely to follow with no Skype or Facetime needed.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 — Best Windows 10 Tablet Yet

If you are interested in a Windows 10 tablet for both business productivity and fun, look no further than Microsoft’s latest tablet, the Surface Pro 4. While the Pro 4 is more expensive than Google’s new Pixel C tablet, it’s priced close to the iPad Pro in its basic configuration — $899. Upgrade options abound, however, and a top of the line model (Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, and 1TB of storage) can runs $2,699.

Since Windows 10 is essentially an operating system caught in two minds — tablet and desktop — the Microsoft Surface line remains the best way to experience this latest Microsoft OS. Let’s take a closer look at the Surface Pro 4 features to see if this five star tablet experience makes sense for you.

5 star tablet

Surface Pro 4 Options

As noted earlier, the Surface Pro 4 offers a host of options so you can essentially build the tablet you need. Intel processors include everything from the lower-end Core M3 to the powerful Core i7. The onboard RAM ranges from 4GB to 16GB, and the onboard storage runs from 16GB to the massive 1TB of SSD storage in the most expensive Surface Pro model.

If you want the most powerful tablet computer on the market, a fully tricked-out Surface Pro 4 is your best option. Its 12.3-inch touchscreen display is capable of a 2736 x 1824 resolution; more than enough to view HD movies. Can your Internet bandwidth handle it? The built-in WiFi compatibility also works nicely with dual band routers.

The display is slightly thinner improving the experience of the Surface Pen, which costs an extra $49. The combination keyboard cover (known as the Type Cover) runs another $129.  If you already own one of the earlier Surface models, understand these latest accessories are designed exclusively for the Pro 4.

A True Microsoft Windows Tablet

The biggest advantage of the Surface line of tablets is their compatibility with Microsoft Windows programs. That makes the Surface Pro 4 a viable option for business users who want something for both work and pleasure. While you can download a version of Microsoft Office on the iOS platform, the Surface offers compatibility with thousands of other programs.

The tablet’s support for 16GB of RAM allows it to easily handle processor intensive programs and video streaming with nary a hiccup. If you want an industry-leading tablet to take back and forth from the office to the couch, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is an option worth exploring. The tablet is expected to hit the market in late October.