What I’m Using – January 2019 Edition

I like to change up my setup and process on a regular basis. Android, iPhone, Windows, Mac, Apps & Services, etc. Here is what I am using, January 2019 Edition

Devices

Phone – iPhone Xs Max 256 Gb AT&T running iOS 12.1.2. Backup: OnePlus 2 running the latest Android OS it allows.

Work Machine – MacBook Pro 15 in 2015 Edition (no dongles required!) running macOS Mojave (Beta). Bonus: Windows 10 Enterprise Oct 2018 edition VM in Parallels.

Home Machine – Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10 Insider Edition. Have an OLD 2011 iMac that is on it’s deathbed.

Bonus: iPad Air 2 used for reading books to myself and the kids, and just playing with iPad stuff

Gaming

Nintendo Switch – playing Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Mario Tennis Aces, Mario Kart, Mario Party, as well as NES games on Nintendo Online. Looking forward to new Mario game and Metroid! I am Supernova on Nintendo Online

Playstation 4 – playing God of War, Last of Us. Just finished Red Dead Redemption 2 recently. Have Spider-man on queue for the winter! I am ScaleOvenStove on PS Network.

Xbox One – haven’t been playing much here. Unravel. Was doing the Telltale Walking Dead series, waiting for the last chapter to come out after the layoff drama. I might get Red Dead Redemption on Xbox as there is backward compatibility. I am ScaleOvenStove on Xbox live.

Other – SNES classic – been playing some SNES Zelda as well. on iOS played a little Fire Emblem Heroes but haven’t gotten much into it.

Entertainment

Apple TV 4 – this is my go to entertainment device. We have cable since we moved into our new house but I don’t watch cable, I just hook up all the apps on the Apple TV to stream. Mostly sports there.

YouTube is my main viewing channel though, I do have YouTube Premium as I hate ads!

MoviesAnywhere is also a great service as I have videos on Google Play, Amazon and iTunes, but can watch them anywhere.

Apps & Services

Home: iMessage, Gmail, Google Photos, Google Maps, Dark Sky, Nest, YouTube, Apollo (Reddit), Twitter, Apple Music. Lots more niche or specific apps, these are just the highlights.

Work: Slack, Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Outlook, OneDrive and a few others.

Notables: Deactivated Facebook and Instagram. Deleted the apps, and Snapchat app. WeChat as well. Facebook has too many privacy issues. My phone battery life and my attention span thanks me. Maybe someday I will go back.

Wishlist: Apple Music on Google Home devices. I used Google Home devices around the house, and Google Play music is OK, but their implementation on iOS is bad.

Summary

There are a bunch of different devices and services out there, I like to move things around. Going full on Android might be something soon, with a Pixel 3 or something, but iMessage is such a pull back into iOS. A little cross device and platform compatibility would really make things easier for people that aren’t tied to any platform. We can only hope one day things are better for consumers!

The State of Parental Controls going into 2019

Kids are now growing up in a digital age. Screens are part of their lives from day one. As they grow, they want to use devices and play games and do whatever everyone else is doing. I am not going to debate if this is a good or bad thing – but it is a reality. 

Major tech companies have taken notice and they have been (and still are in progress) releasing ways for parents to keep tabs on their kids’ device and screen time usage. 

Of course, the big three – Apple, Google, Microsoft – have their solutions. Also other players like Facebook, Nintendo, Sony have solutions for their products as well.

Apple

Let’s start with Apple. There are few different things Apple has had and now just recently came out with to help parents. Up until iOS 12 they had “Family” groups you could create – not so much for managing screen time, but for creating a group where family members can share purchases, location, etc.

As a parent you can set up an Apple/iCloud account for a minor and then incorporate them into your “Family”. A parent also had to set up “restrictions” in iOS settings for each device for a kid. Kids can ask permission to install apps, and parents devices get an alert to allow or deny. 

What NOT to do: I have seen too many parents just sign in as themselves and give their kids a device. Please DON’T do this! Kids can really mess up your accounts. Another thing would be just giving kid unmanaged device with no account. You lose a lot of shared benefits of having an account for your kid under your family.

With the latest release Apple came out with “Screen Time” – for users to manage their own digital wellbeing on their own devices, but this also lets parents manage screen time on kids devices under the family group. 

Screen Time - Kid Device Management

You then get a weekly report of Screen Time for your kid and can change settings etc through Screen Time on what apps are allowed, etc. 

So, what’s missing? Well – for one – some devices have TouchId or FaceId – how does a parent set that up and still get into a device physically? Up to you. For now on my family devices, no passcodes or 2 factor auth – it is just too much overhead and messy to manage with kids. 

Google

Google has something similar for managing kids devices – it is called “Family Link” – but you need to install and configure it. Similarly to Apple screen time you can manage what apps and time spent and other settings on devices. It works on Android devices so if you are running a Google Android device but your kid has an old iPad or iPhone you are out of luck. 

Google Family Link App

Recently they announced you can run Family Link on Chromebooks (ChromeOS) as well – but I have yet to get this working. It is supposed to work similarly to Android where you can manage the apps and see usage, set screen time etc.

I have found that Google support around Family Link is more responsive than other Google support I have tried to reach out to, but I still cannot get it working on my daughters Chromebook.

One thing to note as well, and maybe I can follow up on this one after I get it working – but you need to create a google account for your kid (just like Apple). If you manage it, it should be okay. But – your kid might already have a Google Account through their school district. It starts getting tricky here. You as a parent cannot “manage” that account. I think there is a way to link them. So the kid would login to your Chromebook with their kid google account, and then still be able to get to google classroom or login to chrome (google docs, etc) with the school account. Time will tell. It is messy right now.

YouTube (owned by Google) is another story. YouTube is really a cesspool of crap if you get down the rabbit hole. There have been many articles and cries for help to Google/YouTube to let parents better regulate what their kids see. YouTube STILL doesn’t let you block entire channels. This is a big miss.

Also, if you have shared devices (like an Apple TV, etc) with YouTube and you login as the adult – the kids sees your recommendations. What kids watch screw up your recommendations. Switching between accounts is not easy (Netflix does this pretty well).

YouTube Kids is an app that is made for “kids” – and is supposed to filter out junk – but it isn’t foolproof. Parents are usually going to take the easy route, and YouTube website/main app etc are going to be the go to. In my opinion – the filtering on YouTube and parental control is one of the big problems Google needs to tackle, and soon.

Google also has a bunch of features, not so much parental controls, that they are coming out for around Google Home around reading books with your kids, stories, etc. Try them out sometime if you can, they are pretty cool. With four kids in the house, reading to one of them, while one reads themselves, while the other says “Hey google, tell me a story” is a lifesaver, especially when one parent is away for an evening.

Microsoft

Microsoft has very similar setups to Apple and Google – but of course a little different. With Microsoft, you can setup an account for your child and tie it to your “family” – but you can use an existing email (so if you have a gmail or icloud from Apple or Google you can use that).

Microsoft Family Home Page

The only real devices you can manage from Microsoft are Windows devices and Xbox.

You can allow a child to login to a Windows device and restrict time and apps. One big miss here though is that you can only manage web browsing with Edge, and not other browsers. My kid uses Chrome – because they are used to it with Google Chromebooks at school, but I cannot manage their browser usage, etc. Big bummer

Managing Screen Time for Microsoft Devices

With Xbox you can manage screen time and game limits and ratings, etc. Works pretty well

Nintendo

Nintendo has an app you can download and tie it to your Nintendo switch. You can use it as parental control and set time limits and game limits etc. I don’t use it for that as I manage that pretty close directly with my kids but a nice feature of the app is it tracks play time, and that is good even to see for myself!

Nintendo Parental Control App
Nintendo Switch – Play Time

Facebook

Facebook. Not sure on this one as I deactivated my account recently and I am about to jump ship due to their creepiness, scandals, privacy issues, etc.

I did try out Facebook Messenger for Kids this summer. It lets your kid sign up just for Messenger for Kids, not Facebook. They can add their friends, but both kids parents have to allow it. Also, parents can limit usage time and also install the app on their device and see all messages, etc.

This app works well if your kid wants to message their friend from their old iPhone using iMessage – but their friend has their parents old Android device and it won’t work.

Netflix & Hulu

I mentioned it earlier, but Netflix does have a way to create a “profile” that is deemed “kids” and is pre-filtered to kids specific shows. You can set it for “little kids” or “older kids and younger”. This works fairly well in practice.

It is easy enough for kids to just change profiles though. Maybe having non kid profiles pin controlled would be a good addition? Also, we have one for “Family” that has things we might all watch together vs just Paw Patrol episodes 🙂

Profile for Kids in Netflix
Edit Profile – Kids – Netflix

Hulu has a very similar setup. Profile for kids, can see kids shows.

Choose Profile Screen on Hulu – Web
Set Programming to “Kid Friendly” – Hulu

Sony

Sony has a way to set up parental controls on Playstation. You can set up a profile for your kid – but you need an email address. You can restrict games and screen time, etc.

I have a Playstation but haven’t set these up myself as my kids don’t play on it. Yet.

Amazon

Amazon has a way to set parental controls, I really can’t speak to them as I have no real Amazon devices where you set this up – but here is a link to assist if you’ve read this far.

Summary

Okay, so there is a lot going on here. Your mileage may vary. Your family is going to be different than mine. More or less kids, different ages. Also, your tech profile won’t be the same. Different devices, platforms and operating systems.

As you can see, for the big companies, you need to set up an email address for your children and manage their profiles, and connect them to your family. Then they offer you ways to restrict time on devices and also different types of content, etc.

There are also ways some of the smaller or ancillary players let you manage children use time and parental controls. I hope you found this useful, hit me up in the comments with any questions!

Next Generation Gaming Consoles, Sony vs Microsoft

I am going to try to outline in some way here the next gen consoles and why I would choose one over the other. If for no other reason than I can get more than 140 characters here and it is easier to point to a response once when I need to… this might get long..

What I am not going to do? Run down the specs on each side down to the details. Other tech sites have done or are doing that already.

Let’s start with some history…

I have played games on computers/consoles for I dunno, almost 30 years. NES, Apple II, SNES, N64, Sega Genesis, Early DOS, PC, Gamecube, PS One, 2, 3, Xbox, Xbox 360. Wii. Some others in there. Basically have owned or played on all major systems (yeah, Dreamcast, Atari, etc).

Currently I have a PS3 and an Xbox 360. I would say I have completed/played/done more on the Xbox 360 than PS3. I own many more games, accessories, etc.

I think the main reason I have a PS3 is that I had some Gamestop credit and it was the best blu ray player around at the time. I do have some PS3 games that I have played/beat. I used to have like 40 games for PS2. I think we played PS2 through college more than anything (well, N64 was up there in the first two years)..

Looking at the current gen Sony vs Microsoft… gripes on both consoles.. every time I turn them on, most of my time is spent “updating” the main system or apps that are downloaded, or before I can play a game, etc.

Xbox 360 UI “interface” has changed 3+ times since I first had one (this is my second console, my first one from 2006 – I wore out). The PS3 hasn’t changed much to me.

Seems that PS3 has removed features that made it unique (running Linux? – I wrote about this 5 years ago).

Both consoles again, things like Hulu Plus, Netflix – are there – but to me, backup. Apple TV or Roku seem better suited for that. Recently I have been using Chromecast more and more – which works well too.

Friends: I have more friends with Xbox 360 than PS3, or at least on the “networks”. This makes things more enjoyable.

Games: For the most part they have the same games. The titles that are specific are ok but nothing that makes me say I would go with one over the other.

Like I mentioned, PS3 has the blu ray. I think if MSFT would have added blu ray to the 360, I wouldn’t have a PS3.

Now, onto the new consoles. PS4 and Xbox One.

8-10 years ago, I played games. I would get a PS2 game and play it/beat it. I would get a Xbo 360 game and get all the achievements. Time was in abundance. Fast forward to present. Working tons of hours. 2 kids. Family. House. Other engagements. There is no time to play a 150-200 hour game, at least for me. I find myself playing more of the arcade type games quick and out. Fruit Ninja Kinect. Trials HD, etc. Skyrim? I tried, I really did. Time gets in the way. Then coming back to it later is like “a child wandering into a movie

Back in the mid-2000’s, Apple TV wasn’t really around. Roku/Chromecast, etc – nothing. Xbox 360 or PS3 were the only way (easy way – besides hooking up a computer) to get things on your big screen. Back then they were the only thing hooked up to my composite or HDMI, now, they are fighting for slots.

I think looking at the two options for the next generation leave me at this.. If I do get a console, it will be the Xbox One.

Why?

First off, price comes up. To me they are the same. Xbox 360 comes with new Kinect, Sony doesn’t come with camera, that costs $100 extra, so price is pretty much the same.

Second, if history repeats itself, more of my friends will be on Xbox Live. One thing is that people that are already on Xbox Live would be on Live once they got a Xbox One.

Sidebar: Backwards compatibility. Sad story for both consoles. If either of them had backward compatibility it would totally change the game when it comes to people picking up the new consoles. This one issue and how they handle it is putting me off from getting either of them for a while. My current games and system works, why get a new one? Until there is a game or reason outside of a game to get new console, I probably won’t.

To me, the Xbox One is more of a “media center” system that plays games, whereas the PS4 is a gaming system that lets you do some media functions.

Now, being where I am at in life, mid-30’s, little or no time for gaming, etc etc – the Xbox One appeals. Give me direct integration into my TV. Let me play with Kinect. Let me Skype with family. Oh, and you want to play a game? Sure. And you can watch blu-ray or rent/download movies, it will integrate better with your Microsoft desktop and Windows Phone, etc etc.

What does Sony have? (to me): it is a third party device trying to integrate into ecosystems that are pretty much getting cemented already (Apple, Microsoft, upcomer Google). Nintendo and Sony are on the outside looking in. It doesn’t matter to me that it might play games better, or the nitty gritty details on whatever else someone who is choosing a PS4 will use as their “argument” that it is better. In all honesty, my thought is if you consider yourself a hardcore gamer, you should be getting both consoles anyways.

What don’t I like about the Xbox One from what I see? Size. The thing is huge. While everything else is getting smaller in tech, the Xbox One gets bigger.

Now, based on my current (well I guess now “previous”) generation PS3 and Xbox 360 experiences, I don’t really need another device sitting around that the majority of the time spent on it is just running updates. I would hope either of these new consoles handle this better. Also it makes my choice favor a system I would use more than for just gaming. Based on the current (or soon to be realized) functionality, my head leans to Xbox One.

I am sure I am missing this or that in comparisons and there are going to be fanboys on either side saything this or that, but I just haven’t gotten any “feeling” that is telling me I should get or consider a PS4. Microsoft has been good with the Xbox, 360 and Xbox Live, the are just going to get better. I like where they are heading. Sony just seems like an outside system to me. So no matter what your choice, have fun. I am not trying to convince anyone either way. When it all boils down, I will probably just end up playing more games on my phone anyways 🙂

So in the end: Xbox One. But guessing if I do get it, it will be after the price drops for both consoles, as they always do.