My Experience Cutting the Cord, and the Service that Won in the End

Spoiler/tl;dr – Philo TV is an awesome service!

To clarify, this post is more focused on streaming Live TV, not just on demand…

Let me start by saying I DESPISE Cable TV. Paying a ridiculous fee for an obnoxious number of channels that will never be watched just seems ludicrous. When I decided to cut the cord, Sling TV had just recently come into being. I liked the idea of around 25 channels, most of which I would actually watch, only costing about $20.

This was also about the time that The Walking Dead was reaching the end of whatever season they were on at this time. This was a show that my wife and I watched religiously on Sunday night.

So, my first foray into streaming Live TV channels had begun…

For the most part, things went well. But then Sunday night came around and time to watch our show. I can’t begin to express how frustrating the buffering was. It was more annoying than I could deal with and I decided to change the channel, with the plan to watch it on demand the next day.

A couple more weeks went by, with each Sunday being the same ol’ story. Eventually, PlayStation’s Vue TV Service went live in my area. Sure it was a bit pricier, but it offered more channels that I would enjoy and offered better services with their Cloud DVR. I switched and was happy for quite a while. There was the occasional buffering, but nowhere near as consistent as I experienced with Sling. A few months later, they actually added one of our Local TV Stations to their service which was a huge win! But after some time, and I’m guessing more subscribers, the buffering started to get more and more common.

At this point, there were several other contenders in the Live TV Streaming game. First I gave DirecTV Now a spin. They had horrible apps for FireTV. Seven times out of ten, when I picked a channel from the guide, it would just get stuck on the loading screen. Then I tried Hulu’s TV service but was not impressed with the lineup and absolutely hated their user interface.

Now, I had kept my PlayStation Vue service all this time, as I was generally happy with it and really liked the DVR function. Unfortunately, they increased their prices so I was exploring other, cheaper options for comparison.

One day on Facebook, I saw a random add for Philo TV. Apparently they got their start when a couple of Seniors at Harvard University where playing around with Aluminum Foil. At that time, it went by the name Tivli. If you want to read more, here’s a like to the Wikipedia Page. It’s actually a really interesting read. Flash forward to 2018 and they are being backed by the likes of HBO and Mark Cuban, just to name a few.

So, given that there was an offer for a free trial, I thought, why not? At the time, there was an Android app available, but no FireTV app. I installed it on my Android phone as was immediately impressed by the ease of setup. You just input your phone number and they send you a code to log in. Equally impressive was their channel lineup and their user interface. I liked the guide screen view and the fact that you could “restart” the TV show that was currently on air.

I sort of hacked it onto a FireTV by installing Chrome Browser and using that to watch Philo on the big screen; not ideal by any means, but usable. In spite of that clunky setup, I found myself using it more and more and PlayStation view less and less. Oh, did I mention it was less than half the cost of Vue with pretty much all the same channels I actually cared about?

After a couple months using the FireTV/Chrome setup to watch Philo, I decided to give the new Roku boxes a try. That’s a story for another post, but let’s just say I’ve been impressed. The biggest selling point was that there actually was a Roku app for Philo. Now, I can say that we are happily streaming away Philo TV on the big screen with very minimal buffering/hiccups.

Philo might not be a feature-rich as PlayStation’s Vue service, but at such a lower cost with similar lineup, I’m not complaining one bit. See below for a breakdown of cost and lineup for each of the services discussed in this post.

What you will find with the below outline is that PS Vue and DirecTV are more comparable to each other, and to big Cable TV providers. These two are far more expensive. While Philo TV and Sling TV are cheaper options, both somewhat comparable to each other. But as you see, you get more for your buck with Philo TV.

Please excuse any typos or bad grammar…..I am, after all, typing this while buzzed
-James
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Philo TV
*Streaming on up to 3 Devices at Once
$16/mo Package Includes 40 channels (as of this posting)
$20/mo Package gets you all the above plus:
—————————————————————————————-
*Stream on up to 1, 3, or 4 Devices at Once, depending on Package
$20/mo “Orange” Package – 32 channels (as of this posting)
$25/mo “Blue” Package – 47 channels
$40/mo “Orange + Blue” Package – 53 channels
—————————————————————————————-
*Streaming on up to 5 Devices at Once
*Certain Restrictions based on Location (see here)
$39.99/mo “Access” Package Includes 49 channels (as of this posting)
$44.99/mo “Core” Package Includes 68 channels
$54.99/mo “Elite” Package Includes 89 channels
$74.99/mo ‘Ultra” Packages add two more channels; HBO and Showtime
—————————————————————————————-
*Stream on up to 2 Devices at Once
$35/mo “Live a Little” Package – 72 channels (as of this posting)
$50/mo “Just Right” Package – 100 channels
$60/mo “Go Big” Package – 128 channels
$70/mo “Gotta Have It” Package – 140 channels

My Experiences with the Sony QX10 “Camera”

Let me start by saying I bought my DSC-QX10 “Lens-Style Camera” at the end of February through Amazon. The first thing I did was update the firmware to the latest version. I also grabbed the latest version of the PlayMemories Mobile app form the Play Store. This “camera” has been the most useless device in in collection ever since.

Sony’s marketing of the device is very “optimistic” and misleading. They have a video showing a few really happy-looking individuals seeming to really enjoy using the camera with their smartphones.
Sony’s marketing of the device is very “optimistic” and misleading. They have a video showing a few really happy-looking individuals seeming to really enjoy using the camera with their smartphones.

This is a complete farce! On the RARE occasion where I can get the “NFC/Wi-Fi® allows simple, one-touch connection with smartphones” to actually stay connected to my phone for more than 15-20 seconds, the ability to compose any kind of shot with the “live-view” on the smartphone is non-existent. There is such a tremendous amount of lag in the display that even stationary, landscape shots are maddening at best. Taking any kind of photo of a moving subject (as portrayed in at least one of their promo videos) is completely impossible. If you happen to frame your subject and get a shot off in the split-second between lag you’d better go play the lottery because you are the luckiest person I know.

EVERY TIME I try to give this thing the benefit of the doubt and give it another chance, I get burned. I have missed many great impromptu shots because of the device consistently disconnecting from my phone, the lag preventing me from framing the subject, etc, etc, etc. I ALWAYS end up getting so frustrated that I put this thing away and revert to using my phone’s built-in camera.

I have tested this device with several phones, Including the Motorola Nexus 6, Samsung Galaxy S4, and even my Sony Xperia Z3! NONE of them provide a usable, much less enjoyable experience. I can only hope that someone thinking about purchasing this product will see this post before they make a huge mistake.

For Reference, here is a link to Sony’s marketing page for this device….a shining example of misleading advertising.

Sony DSC-QX10

A Little time with Verizon’s Nexus 6 (aka Xperia Z3v versus Nexus 6)

Yesterday, the communications rep at my place of work advised me she had a few pre-release Verizon Nexus 6 units on hand. You see, for the past 6 years or so, I have been the go-to for putting new Android devices through the paces before opening the floodgates for every Jo and Jane Schmo to request one for themselves. This is, however, the first time I’ve done so with a phone that wasn’t “officially released” yet.

A couple of things I can confirm:

  • The Verizon Nexus 6 has got Android 5.1 Lollipop. 
    • Our rep stated all she did was put in the sim cards and power these on; she did not perform any type of system updates.
  • There is none of the usual Verizon bloatware/crapware pre-installed on this device!
    • No Verizon/VZW Apps
    • No Softcard (which is technically about to be put to pasture anyway)
    • Not even that damned NFL Mobile App!
Spoiler Alert: The above two points, I imagine, are really the only Verizon-specific aspects of this mini-review. The remaining topics will likely be no shocker since the Nexus 6 itself has been around in the wild for quite some time on other carriers.
Battery
Today is the first full day/full charge I have with the Nexus 6. Keep in mind, my current daily driver is a Sony Xperia Z3v (on Verizon). That phone has really impressed me with it’s battery life. So far, the Nexus 6 seems to be about on par with the Xperia. I have moved to using the Nexus 6 exclusively today. I took it off the charger at 8am and it is now 11:44am. With light to moderate usage, the Nexus 6 is currently at 84%. My Xperia that has been sitting idle (except for background data) is currently at 90%, so this looks pretty promising for the Nexus 6 battery life. I fully expect, like my Xperia, for it to have AT LEAST 50% left on the battery when I get home around 6:30 this evening.
Overall Performance
While my Xperia is certainly no slouch, so far this Nexus 6 seems somehow more snappy and responsive. There are occasionally times with my Xperia where it does not seem to perfectly register my touch to the screen. This is definitely not the case for the Nexus 6. So far it has been incredibly responsive/sensitive to my touches. 
The Nexus itself feels snappier, too. Even with my Transitions and Animations scaled down to half-speed on the Xperia, the Nexus still seems more buttery smooth. I attribute this to the fact that is it running the latest and greatest Android 5.1 Lollipop build. Additionally, the lack of Verizon bloatware likely has something to do with the difference in speed between the two devices. The Xperia is currently running Android 4.4.4 KitKat, but is slated for the Lollipop upgrade pretty soon (fingers crossed).

Camera
A few months ago, when I was trying to decide what new phone I wanted from Verizon, I went to the Verizon store and played with all the current-gen (at the time) top-tier phones: the Galaxy S5, the Moto X2, the Droid Turbo, and the Sony Xperia.
Going in, I had already ruled out the LG phones as I’ve never been a fan of theirs (other than the Nexus 5 of course). I was also pretty set against the Galaxy S5, as well, as I had been through several of their models in the past (Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S3, and S4) and I was quite bored with them.
Also, it was a deal-breaker if there was no Wireless Charging. I know the Turbo Charge is the wave of the future, but I’m already heavily invested in the Wireless Charging ecosystem. That means the only real candidates were going to be the Droid Turbo and the Xperia Z3v.
I’m getting to the camera, trust me. All this talk is leading up to it!
You see, when it came down to it, the Camera was the deciding factor. I really liked the size and feel of the Droid Turbo. It was also super powerful (more so than the Xperia). But the camera suffered from a great deal of shutter-lag that I knew I just couldn’t deal with.
The Xperia, on the other hand, has an incredible camera. There is no noticeable shutter lag, the burst mode is INSANELY fast, and in Manual mode, you can take 20MP shots! Plus the hardware shutter button was a very nice touch. In the store I was so impressed that I decided on the larger Xperia over the Droid Turbo.
By now, you all are like, “Who gives a damn about these two phones!? Tell me about the Nexus 6 Camera!” Well, I’m telling you all this because it goes a long way to indicate just how awesome the camera on the Nexus 6 really is.
TLDR: I was blown away but the Xperia’s Camera. The quality was the best I’d seen in a smartphone and the Camera Software was quite robust and full of options. That being said, when I started taking some sample shots with the Xperia pitted against the Nexus 6, the Nexus walked away with it, hands-down. Sure the stock Google Camera is a bit lacking in terms of features, but that’s what the mounds and mounds of third-party camera apps are for. What it really comes down to is quality and performance. In those aspects, the Nexus is far superior. 
Camera Samples:
Yesterday evening, I was in my back yard and decided to take the same shot from each of the phones, once with the Auto settings, and once with Auto-HDR. Below you will see the sample shots along with a blown-up crop to show detail. I repeated the shots again as it got darker and a last time after it got completely dark out (with just my porch lights giving off a subtle glow).
(click to enlarge)

Xperia Z3v around 7pm (Auto Mode)
Nexus 6 around 7pm (Auto Mode)

From the above two samples, you can see that the Xperia tends to favor a slightly more washed out version while the Nexus tends towards the more overly-saturated. To the naked eye, this scene falls somewhere in between the two, but I have to say I much prefer the more rich, saturated image from the Nexus 6 camera. Also, on the cropped portion of the photos, you can see the Nexus images seem to have more clear details, with some of the highlights being more washed out from the Xperia.

Next up are the same shots from each device using the built-in HDR mode….

Xperia Z3v around 7pm (HDR Mode)
Nexus 6 around 7pm (HDR Mode)
With the HDR images above, the Xperia seemed to gain a very slight bit more detail and dynamic range compared to the Auto Mode, but it seems quite negligible. The Nexus, on the other hand, provided very true-to-life contrast and dynamic range (if a bit overly-saturated).

I continued to snap the same scene a couple more times throughout the night. I won’t go into a whole lot of detail, but below you will see the shots from each camera side by side.

Xperia Z3v (HDR)

Nexus 6 (HDR)

Xperia Z3v (Night with Flash)

Nexus 6 (Night with Flash)

From the above set of photos, you can see the Xperia does seem to pull a little more detail out of the darker environment. Looking at the EXIF data, it seems the Xperia tends to go with a slower shutter and lower ISO while the Nexus tends towards a faster shutter with a higher ISO. This leads to a bit more grain in the Nexus photos, but the slower shutter for the Xperia means it is much more susceptible to camera shake in low light conditions. You can even see a bit of ghosting in the Xperia HDR image above caused by the slight change between the HDR exposures.
Conclusion

From my brief time with the phone I can say this is a clear contender for the best phone Verizon has to offer (or WILL have to offer, soon). As you can tell, I’m most impressed with the camera. But I’m also really impressed with the fact that Verizon hasn’t crammed it full of bloatware. Only time will tell what happens between now and when they actually release the Nexus 6, but I’m hopeful they won’t make any changes. The battery life seems on par with my Xperia Z3v which is good since that has had the best battery of any Android phone I’ve owned to date. I will update once I’ve had a few days to really feel out the battery life.
I plan on spending the weekend seeing if Verizon has done anything to make this more difficult to unlock/root, but I’m hoping it will be just as easy as any other Nexus. I will update this post with my findings. 

Ubuntu Touch on Nexus 7…

Last week I posted about the newly announced Ubuntu Touch edition designed for phones and tablets. I promised an update with my first impressions. Unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot to say just yet. Only a handful of the apps are actually functional (gallery, phone, camera, browser, media player, and notepad) and even fewer of those actual function properly on the Nexus 7.

What I CAN say, though, is that Ubuntu Touch has A LOT of potential. It certainly is a beautiful OS and the layout of the interface and the way you interact with it is quite intuitive. It makes use of all four edges of the screen, allowing you to swiped between running apps, access app-specific settings, system settings, and a quick-list of favorite apps (think the Unity Launcher, on your Ubuntu Desktop). The install image includes some sample content, including People, Pictures, Messages, etc, so you can see what using each of those apps looks and feels like.

All-in-all I would like to spend some time with a further functioning build before I decide if I love it or not, but the current build has certainly managed to pique my interest.

Oh Comcast….Why Do I Stick Around?

So let me start out by saying I am usually fairly content with my Comcast connection. I pay for the “Performance” package that states: “Get download speeds up to 20 Mbps and upload speeds up to 4 Mbps with PowerBoost®.”

My download speeds, according to Speedtest.net, are regularly in the 13Mbit – 18Mbit range, which I find quite acceptable. I can stream HD content from the web with easy, and I rarely have a hiccup with gaming online.

BUT…

In the last week or so, my Upload speeds have been dismal. I struggle to get 600kb according to Speedtest, and real-world tests are even worse! Trying to transfer a file from my home PC to my work PC via my home web server, I barely get 250kb! That is ridiculous!

A few months back I had an issue that affected both my Download AND Upload speeds. A technician came out several days after I contacted support and said there was a signal issue and he would have to come back the next day and repair some wiring on the outside of my building. That fixed the problem at that time and speeds returned to normal.

This time, I am trying to use Comcast’s “Chat Support” feature and, let me just say, WHAT A JOKE!  Twice, so far, I have typed my problem description into the Chat Window only to have the Analyst “leave the room” and subsequently “close the chat ” without so much as saying a word to me! The first time was a bit comical. I pictured the Analyst all like “Oh fuck that!” and peacing-out. But when It happened again a second time, with a second Analyst, well…. here I am asking why I bother with Comcast.

I suppose the real problem is a lack of options. In my area, Comcast is the largest provider. In the past I have tried both AT&T’s U-Verse as well as Knology. I was not impressed with either at the time. Mobile options such as Verizon are out of the question due to price and bandwidth restrictions, plus I’m just not sure I trust the connection for gaming.  So what other choice do I have; I suck it up, expect support to be a nightmare, and deal with Comcast…………..

UPDATE:

After publishing this post, I gave it another try, clearly stating that I have been dropped by two previous Analysts, and whaddya know….another facepalm. Keep in mind, the chat support requires you to enter your problem BEFORE you actually connect with a representative, so presumably, “Sandy” should have seen my comment about being dumped by the previous two Analysts, yet she does not address it at all. WTF?

UPDATE2: I was contacted through the comment below by a supervisor at Comcast. He then called me on a Friday. He had a tech come out on Saturday to check my connection. Everything checkout out fine. I can connect both of my laptops directly to the modem and they pull great upload and download bandwidth, according to Speedtest. For that reason, they determined that the problem must be somewhere in my setup; possibly a bad NIC on the PC I am using as a media server. I had no option but to agree, since connecting the laptops directly to the modem provided great Speedtest results. The tech left, and I set up my server on one of the laptops and connected it directly to the modem.

Well, Speedtest results be damned. They show 19Mbit Down / 4.5Mbit up, yet trying to download anything from the server to my work PC STILL only shows around 500kb/sec. I know it’s not my download bandwidth at work since I can grab a 600+ MB Ubuntu ISO in less than a minute.

So, back to the drawing board.

Android App Recommendation: FXGuru

Every once in a while, an app comes along that surprises the hell outta me. FXGuru is one of those apps! It lets you add impressive-quality special effects to your boring home videos. The app is free, and as of now, there are 4 effects that are offered free as well. Other effects can be purchased individually through in-app Play Store links. There is also a “MegaPack” that offers 13 effects for $8.99. For now, I’m having a blast with the freebies, but see the developers Play Store Trailer below for a rundown of some of the other effects.

Thanks to Droid-Life for pointing out this great app!