Gadling Gear Review: iZon Remote Room Monitor

The iZon Remote Room MonitorHave you ever been away from home and wished that you had the ability to look in just to see what was happening back at the domicile? If so, then Stem Innovation has a product that may be of interest to you. Whether you’re in the room next door or halfway around the world, Stem’s Izon Remote Room Monitor is a simple, inexpensive way to monitor what is happening around your house.

At its core the iZon is essentially an always-on wireless webcam that is configured and controlled by an iPhone and iPad app. The unit is small and inconspicuous and once configured it only needs power to stay active. The camera’s built-in base allows it to be swiveled to just the right angle, while a single green LED light indicates that it is in operation.

The initial set-up of the iZon is fairly straightforward provided you follow the included instructions. That process begins by downloading the Stem:Connect app and installing it on your iOS device. From there, users create a Stem account, which is used to log in to the app and register your devices. Stem:Connect actually allows you to control multiple cameras and the personal account helps to keep track of each of them individually. Those different cameras can also be assigned unique names, such as “Bedroom” or “Office,” which makes it easier to differentiate them from within the app itself.

After installing Stem:Connect and creating a personal account, you’ll next need to connect the camera to your wireless network. That is also accomplished through the app, which gives you the ability to select your Wi-Fi network and type in the password needed to join. Once that process is complete, the iZon will restart itself and begin broadcasting video and sound.Once the configuration process is complete the app serves as the monitor as well, allowing users to see whatever the iZon sees. Logging into Stem:Connect gives you the option to select the camera you want to view and then begins streaming video directly from that device. The quality of the video is average at best and isn’t likely to wow you, although it does serve its purpose just fine. The images are definitely improved in well-lit environments and on faster network connections, just don’t expect high definition quality.

Besides simply broadcasting live video, the iZon has a few other tricks up its sleeve as well. For example, you can configure it to send you an alert when unexpected motion or sounds occur on camera. This is handy when you are using the device to monitor a baby’s room, for instance, and you want to know when the child has stirred. Stem has also given the iZon the ability to upload video directly to a YouTube account making it a breeze to capture and share some of the best moments you see on the cam. These options add versatility to a device that already provides quite a bit of functionality for its $129.95 suggested retail price.

The iZone certainly is an affordable option for those looking for a video monitoring system for their home or office but it doesn’t come without compromise. As mentioned, the video quality isn’t particularly outstanding and there is a pronounced lag between what happens in front of the camera and what is displayed on the screen. Even using it on my fast home network, I often experienced a delay of 30 seconds or more between when something actually occurred and when it appeared on my iPad. That delay is worse when you shift to a remote Wi-Fi network or are using a 3G or 4G connection.

Connecting from those remote networks can be a challenge too. The iZon is designed to be plug-and-play, and while it was easy to configure the device and get it working on my personal Wi-Fi network, I had issues being able to connect to the camera while I was away from home. What good is a remote monitoring system if you can only use it while you’re actually at home? Fortunately, I was able to resolve the issue by opening the proper ports on my wireless router, so a rudimentary knowledge of networking can help make the process easier. To their credit, Stem Innovation has released regular updates to both the device’s firmware and the Stem:Connect app, which have helped alleviate some of the challenges of getting the camera working. Just be prepared to dig in a bit deeper if the iZon doesn’t function as expected out of the box.

In terms of an inexpensive and easy to configure remote room monitoring system, it is hard to beat the iZon. It is small, works well with an iPhone or iPad and has a low cost of entry. If you can live with the compromises in video quality and broadcast lag, this is probably the best way to monitor what is taking place around the home without breaking the bank.


New App Delivers National Geographic News To The iPad

The New National Geographic Today app for iPadFor decades the National Geographic Society has been on the cutting edge of exploration and science, and its iconic yellow-bordered magazine has delivered news from those fronts into American homes for nearly 125 years. With the advent of the Internet age, the organization brought that wealth of knowledge online at NationalGeographic.com and has delivered daily updates on topics that included everything from space travel and the environment to scientific expeditions and beyond. Yesterday, the Society launched a new app for the iPad that delivers that same award winning content in a new and beautiful way.

The new app is called National Geographic Today and it is designed from the ground up to deliver daily news, videos, articles and more directly from the Nat Geo site. It does an excellent job of formatting all of that content for the iPad’s screen and includes support for the Retina Display on the New iPad. That means the text is crisp and easy to read and the high-resolution photos – a trade mark of National Geographic – simply pop off the screen.

Launching the app brings up a dynamic columnar view that lists dates for the past week and provides a brief glimpse of a photo from each of those days. Tapping one of the columns causes the others to smoothly slide out of the way, revealing the full image underneath. A pop-up window provides information on the photo itself including when and where it was taken. That image is just the cover shot for the day, however, and readers can access all the daily news, videos and other interactive content through an unobtrusive and intuitive interface that falls along the right side of the screen.

Of course, this is the age of social media and the app has its bases well covered there as well. All of the articles, photos, videos and various other content can be shared via Facebook, Twitter and email, and readers can also “Like” stories and post comments quickly and easily.

If you’re a fan of National Geographic and own an iPad you’ll definitely want to add this app to your tablet. It is absolutely free and will likely provide you with hours of education and entertainment. Download it now by clicking here.

Hipmunk makes travel planning easier with integrated calendar technology

hipmunkIn recent months and years, flight search technology has greatly improved (hello, Google Flights!), but it still isn’t a mind reader.

Launching today, travel site Hipmunk’s new Google Calendar integration aims to make travel planning even easier. The site has launched an upgrade that integrates your Google calendar directly into the travel-planning process, meaning that you’ll automatically be looking for flights that automatically leave after your night grad school class and get you back in town in time for that important business meeting on Monday.

It’s a great idea – the idea of personalizing and customizing the search experience has greatly changed both the search landscape and traveler behavior in recent years – and the idea of being able to “sync” or share multiple calendars makes planning group trips much easier.

We can easily see the application – it would make it much easier to plan that girlfriend getaway, coordinate with a significant other’s work schedule, or even plan a last-minute meeting out of town that doesn’t interfere with other work events.

The program can even plot multiple destinations on a map and help you select a hotel that’s convenient to your needs – something we’ve seen on sites like Trippy and loved.

You can get live help via a chat feature, search by price, duration, departure, arrival and airline and also see the amount of layover time and which airport you’ll be connecting through, all in one easy spreadsheet-like feature. There’s also a funny “agony” button that allows you to see similar flights that are “worse than this one.” It’s also easy to use “flex” features that allow you to search within a one- to three-day window. You can’t book through the site, but you can easily click to book directly through the airline, with your search parameters already inputted into the query – you’re deposited directly into the payment screen.
On the hotel front, the site is fairly easy to negotiate, allowing you to search on a map, narrow according to attractions nearby, features and even hotel chain. You can also access the service via iPhone or iPad, which makes booking travel on-the-go even easier.

Limitations? The Hipmunk program only works with Google Calendar – meaning that someone like us, who uses Outlook, won’t be helped. If you haven’t tagged an event correctly – like a friend’s birthday that you’ve accidentally scheduled as a full day event, for example – the site won’t show your time as available. It also requires that you “share” your calendar with friends / colleagues to use it, meaning we’ll have to change “bikini wax” to “important medical appointment” on our schedules…

Still, the app and new integration are on the way to helping us plan our travel. And we’ll take anything that makes our lives easier.

Abercrombie & Kent creates iPad app

abercrombie and kentOne of our favorite parts about the “internetization” of travel (yes, we made that word up) is the feeling that you can travel the world without ever leaving your desktop. We reported earlier this year on flash sale darling Jetsetter’s iPad app. Now luxury travel company Abercrombie & Kent has joined the fray with a free application for iPad that allows users to plan exotic adventures, family travel, cultural explorations and nature/wildlife trips. With each tap of an image, users can explore a particular experience in depth.

One of our favorite parts of the app? “Virtual Visits,” 60 to 90-second videos with a day-in-the-life approach that capture the sights and sounds of a destination. Visits range from views of Cappadocia via hot air balloon, Pushkar Fair, a camel and cattle sale in a holy city and natural ice sculptures off the coast of Antarctica.

Users can also create a personalized travel map of countries they’ve visited and wish to visit. These destinations can be exported to Google Earth, which provides a satellite tour of each destination. There’s also easy integration with Twitter, Facebook and Abercrombie & Kent destination specialists.

New National Geographic app puts the world in your hands

National Geographic app The WorldIf you’re a fan of maps, then you’re definitely going to want the latest iPad app from Nat Geo. The new app, entitled The World by National Geographic, provides an interactive atlas that lets you explore the planet from your easy chair, while giving you multiple zoom levels, country facts, and wonderful photos from a variety of locations.

When you launch the app for the first time, you’ll be presented with a view of the Earth from space. If you’re anything like me, your first instinct will be to spin that globe, just like you would a physical one that exists in the real world. I was delighted to find that swiping a finger across this virtual representation of the planet did just that, with the animation running very smoothly. The usual array of iOS gestures work as well, and soon you’ll find yourself intuitively pinching to zoom, tapping on points of interest, and so on.

At the start, you’ll be able to easily identify the seven continents, with red lines clearly marking the borders between countries as well. You’ll also notice a number of yellow dots sprinkled across the globe that indicate that more detailed maps are available for that region. Some of those dots will be labeled, while others won’t indicate the area they represent until you tap on them. Double tapping will zoom the view in much closer, presenting a higher resolution version of that region that offers far more detail, including individual towns and villages, roads, rivers, and much more.

Along the bottom of the screen you’ll find alternative ways of navigating the app, including a “Maps” section that shows all of the individual regional maps that are available in the software. You can also search for countries by name or continent, which will show an alphabetical listing of those nations along with a graphical representation of their flag. In this mode, when you tap on the country you wish to find, the globe will automatically spin to that destination, while simultaneously zooming in to a more detailed level. You’ll also be presented with a number of facts about the country as well with such data as population, capital, currency, and much more placed at your finger tips.As you might expect, the “Photos” option presents a number of beautiful images from a number of countries, which are once again listed in alphabetical order. Tapping on an image displays a larger, higher resolution version and includes a caption to let you know exactly what the photo is and where it was taken. While you can spend a couple of hours flipping through the photos, I would have liked to have seen even more. As a fan of National Geographic’s trademark photography, I felt the offerings were sparse at times, with many countries having just one photo or none at all.

I’ve always been someone who has been fascinated with maps and atlases, so I found myself thoroughly enjoying The World, but if you’re not a map fiend, you may find yourself growing bored rather quickly. You’ll also discover that without an Internet connection, some of the higher resolution version of the maps won’t be available to you. That said however, this app isn’t designed to be a navigational aid, but more of a reference. In other words, you won’t be heading out on your travels intending to use this for finding your way around. Instead, you’ll curl up with it on the couch when the need to explore comes over you, but you just don’t feel like heading out the door.

The World is available now in the App Store for $3.99 and is yet another high quality app from National Geographic, who has put out a steady stream of them over the past year or so. Unlike most of their apps however, this one is only available for the iPad and won’t run on the iPhone or iPod Touch.