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Do live TV streaming services make cord cutting worth effort?

Are you thinking about cutting the cord? Is it cost really worth the effort?

Streaming live TV services are definitely seeing a heyday right now with more pay TV channels allowing smaller companies to add content to their programs. Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV, Playstation Vue, Direct TV Now, and the upcoming YouTube TV all offer no fewer than 40 channels, and some of them have a lot more. Cutting the cord and going cable-free is more of a viable option for people than ever before.

But when you take into account discounts offered by internet providers when you subscribe to a package deal, as well as the time and effort it takes to find your ideal live TV streaming package — plus figuring out how to use it on all of your devices — it can also feel like cutting the cord may not be worth the cost and effort.

I've been a cord-cutter my entire adult life, but in researching live TV streaming services, I've spoken to a lot of friends and family members that all have different opinions about whether leaving cable behind is worth considering.

The cost

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One of the biggest arguments against cutting the cord is cost. If you subscribe to a package deal — cable, internet, and phone — you can keep the cost of all three of them down. Cable costs can be as low as $50 when combined with other provider subscriptions. This doesn't always take into account fees, taxes, and equipment rentals, but the price is lower than if you were to subscribe to cable as a stand-alone service.

Streaming live TV services can add up. Some offer add-ons to packages, which can increase the monthly cost to as much, or even more than a typical cable bill. Even Sling TV, which has the least expensive starting tier, can get out of hand if you add on all the extra channel packages.

The decision to replace cable for streaming live TV services becomes harder when the cost to stick with cable is only slightly more than (or just about) the cost of switching.

One major reason friends I've spoken to give for why they would leave cable is they don't need all of those extra channels. But, if you end up paying slightly less money for 50 channels, versus about 200 channels, aren't you getting a better deal for the price?

This is where a true à la carte option would make a difference. If it were possible to select 10 or 15 channels that you want, and pay only a couple of dollars for each, the cost difference would be worth cutting cable. Right now, I'm not sure it's worth it for people that get the benefit of a package deal with cable, internet, and phone.

On the other hand, you do have more options and customizations with the content you choose to pay for with streaming live TV services than you do with cable, and you can keep the costs way down. For example, if you subscribe to DirectTV Now and have an Unlimited data plan, you're essentially paying about $10 per month for 60 channels. Sling TV's lowest tier package only costs $20, and even if you add on a few channel packages, most of them only cost $5 per month, so you're still coming in significantly lower than a cable subscription.

There is also a large portion of the population that don't have the option to combine cable TV with internet and phone services, and are therefore not getting any kind of discounted price. Switching from cable to a streaming live TV service is a definite money saver in these cases.

The time

Researching different streaming live TV services can be daunting. Although they mostly offer the same content, with some exceptions, each one has different packages with different price ranges, and different sports and regional content.

Once you finally decide on a streaming live TV service, you then have to take the time to figure out how to use all of the features available to you. And, what if you end up not liking one service and decide to try a different one. There is a lot of time spent just making the transition.

Plus, the further away you are from what's considered "tech savvy" the more time consuming learning a new way to digest entertainment becomes. It could be downright exhausting for someone that doesn't understand the difference between cable and streaming live TV (Subtle hint: Don't convince your parents to make the switch unless you're willing to move back in with them until they figure out how to use this dang thing].

On the other hand, the initial time it takes you to research the right streaming live TV service is a small price to pay in order to get something that suits you perfectly. I know I'd rather spend hours going to different stores, trying on outfits, until I find the perfect fit, than just grabbing something off the rack without trying it on and hope it's not too tight in the waist.

The effort

Switching from cable to streaming live TV can be time-consuming, but it can also take greater effort to use the latter than to just stick with the status quo.

A friend I spoke with noted that she is able to pay her cable and internet bill together instead of separately. Another friend commented on how easy it is to get support help from his cable provider if something goes wrong. There aren't different apps or different support channels to go through.

Streaming live TV services come in the form of apps that you download on various devices across different platforms. If Playstation Vue stops working on Apple TV, even though it works just fine on your PS4, who do you call for help?

You might think there is little-to-no setup involved in switching to a streaming live TV service, but you have to take into account the different devices you have to download the app to and then sign in to. Let's not even talk about app updates or having to change your account password.

You may not have to set up equipment or have someone install a dish to your roof, but there is more effort that you might realize in setting up a streaming live TV service.

However, once you've set everything up, the convenience of having a streaming live TV service can be better than cable. For example, you don't have to download 10 different apps, and then sign in to each of them, in order to watch all of your favorite shows across different channels. Everything is in one app with one interface. It's much easier to use after the initial setup.

So, is it worth it?

This question is unanswerable because everyone has a different need and comfort level for change and technology. However, if you're thinking about cutting the cord, here are a few things to consider.

Are you concerned with cost? If your biggest priority is saving a few bucks, then switching from cable to one of the lower-tiered streaming live TV services will make a noticeable difference in your budget. Just don't go overboard with add-ons or you'll be right back where you started.

Do you care most about channel variety? If you want all the basic pay TV channels you can possibly get, you're probably not going to end up saving any money by switching from cable. It isn't really worth the effort when you have to sign up and order packages and add-ons, just to end up paying close to (or as much as) you're already paying right now. Stick with what you've got.

Are you tech savvy? If you know your way around an iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV (or your preferred set-top box), ditching the dusty old cable box for a start-up that is looking to the future is definitely an upgrade when it comes to your experience. The user interface of streaming live TV services are just better than those of cable counterparts.

Are you decidedly not tech savvy? If you're the type of person that calls up your son or daughter whenever you can't figure out how to upgrade your iPhone's operating system, you shouldn't mess with streaming live TV services. You have that clicker and that box, and that's all you need. Old dog, new tricks, etc., etc..

Have you never subscribed to cable?

If you're a dedicated cord cutter who either severed ties with cable years ago or have never paid for cable, then streaming live TV services are not for you. You've probably already figured out how to access everything you want to watch for free or very little money, and if you can't get it, you've learned to live without it. Paying for streaming live TV is more like "cable lite" and less like true cord cutting.

Your thoughts?

Are you thinking about cutting the cord? What are some of your concerns with leaving cable behind? Have you already cut the cord? What's your media entertainment replacement? Let's talk about it in the comments.

The Week in iOS Accessories and Cases: Pictar gives your phone a DSLR grip

Amazon Echo vs. Google Home: Which works best with your Apple products?

Need help deciding between Amazon Echo and Google Home? If you're an Apple product user trying to choose your in-home voice assistant, this one's for you!

You've got a home full of Apple products: an iPhone in your pocket, a Mac on your desk, an Apple Watch on your wrist, and an iPad in your backpack. Lately, however, you've noticed a hole in your life; your home … it's too quiet, too disconnected, too lonely. Suddenly it hits you: You're ready to take the next step in connected home living! What you need is an always-on, voice-controlled assistant to keep you and your home company.

Although we may soon see a voice-controlled home hub from Apple, it's still only a rumor for now and that means you're left with two viable options, Google Home or Amazon Echo. So which one's right for you? Read on to find out!

A brief introduction

Amazon Echo and Google Home are both always-on smart speakers, devices that play media and feature intelligent assistants that respond to voice commands. The Amazon Echo is a tall, cylindrical tube with built-in 360º omni-directional speakers and seven microphones touting "far-field voice recognition" that allow the device to hear you no matter where you are in the room. Google Home is a shorter, squatter device that looks more like home decor than its taller counterpart. It packs in a hi-fi speaker and microphones with "far-field voice recognition" as well as a touch surface on the top of the device for controlling the system with your hands. The Amazon Echo features Amazon's intelligent assistant, Alexa, which gives the device access to an ever-growing list of smart home technology and other integrations. Google Home touts the Google Assistant, an intelligent assistant powered by Google's knowledge graph, AI chops, and integrations with your personal data. The Amazon Echo typically retails for $149.99 and Google Home goes for $129.

We're going to take a look at several different factors that might affect your decision to buy an Amazon Echo or Google Home. For each deciding factor, I'll mark a winner based on how well the device holds up in that category. Hopefully you'll be able to walk away with a decision!

Amazon Echo - See at Amazon

Google Home - See at Best Buy

Basic compatibility: It's a draw

Because most of your interactions with Google Home and the Amazon Echo should be happening with your voice, compatibility with your iOS and macOS devices shouldn't be too important. That said, you'll need a base level of compatibility in order to set up your smart speaker and perform non-voice interactions. Both smart speakers are compatible with your Apple devices.

Amazon and Google both offer third-party iOS apps for setting up and controlling the Amazon Echo and Google Home, respectively. You'll use the apps during the initial setup process to get your smart speaker connected to your home Wi-Fi network and from that point on to add integrations (music, home automation accessories, IFTTT, etc.) and control your device without needing to use your voice.

There's honestly not a lot to say about the smart speakers' basic compatibility with your Apple devices. Setup can be clunky for both the Echo and Home and the speakers' apps can be difficult to navigate at times and finicky at others. If the goal is to get you using your voice to interact with the devices as much as humanly possible, Amazon and Google are doing a good job of discouraging users from using their respective apps.

Music listening: Amazon Echo

Let me be clear: This piece is meant to help you decide on a smart speaker based on how well it integrates with your Apple products. Given that's the case, this category has a clear winner. While both the Echo and Google Home offer music streaming integrations with Spotify, Pandora, and their own music streaming services (Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited), only the Amazon Echo lets you stream your music over Bluetooth.

You can use the Amazon Echo like you would any portable Bluetooth speaker: connect with a device and stream any and all audio content your heart desires! Google Home works a little more like Sonos: If you want to listen to music, you've got to use the services it offers. If you listen to music via an Apple Music subscription, you're definitely going to want to go with the Echo.

Smart home: Amazon Echo

Smart home integrations aren't strictly about Apple device compatibility, but they're something you should consider before deciding on a smart speaker. Why? Controlling your smart home accessories with your voice is the best reason to have an always-on, always-ready smart speaker. The Amazon Echo wins this category because Alexa's smart home compatibility list is monstrous and it continues to grow. There's also quite the overlap between HomeKit-enabled accessories and Alexa compatibility.

These smart home accessories work with Amazon's Alexa and Apple's HomeKit

Here's a list of compatible home automation products for Amazon Echo and Google Home:

Amazon Echo

Switches and Bulbs

  • Philips Hue Bulbs, Lights, and Lightstrips
  • Lutron Caséta Switches & Dimmers
  • LIFX Bulbs and Lightstrips
  • Insteon Lighting
  • TP-Link Switches and Bulbs
  • GE Link Bulbs
  • Haiku Home Select Lighting
  • Stack Bulbs

Outlets

  • WeMo Plugs
  • TP-Link Plugs
  • iHome Smart Plug
  • D-Link Smart Plug
  • iDevices Smart Plugs

Locks

  • August Smart Lock
  • Schlage Touchscreen Deadbolt
  • Schlage Connected Keypad Lever
  • Yale Assure Lock
  • Yale B1L Lock
  • Yale Key Free Deadbolt
  • Yale Push Button Deadbolt
  • Yale Push Button Lever Lock
  • Yale T1L Lock
  • Yale Touchscreen Deadbolt
  • Yale Touchscreen Lever
  • Kwikset SmartCode Deadbolts
  • Kwikset SmartCode Levers
  • Kwikset SmartCode Touchscreen Deadbolts

Note: Most of Amazon Alexa's lock compatibility comes by way of its integration with the Samsung SmartThings Hub and Wink Hub.

Thermostats

  • ecobee3 & ecobee3 Lite Thermostat
  • Nest Learning Thermostat
  • Lyric T5 Thermostat
  • Sensi Emerson Thermostat
  • iDevices Thermostat
  • Honeywell Lyric Thermostat
  • Tado Thermostat
  • Carrier Côr Thermostat

Appliances and Misc.

  • Racho Smart Sprinkler Controller
  • Samsung Robotic Vacuum

Google Home

Switches and Bulbs

  • Philips Hue Bulbs, Lights, and Lightstrips
  • TP-Link Bulbs and Switches
  • LIFX Bulbs and Lightstrips
  • Some switches and bulbs available to Samsung SmartThings and Wink Hub 2

Outlets

  • Insignia Smart Plug
  • TP-Link Plug
  • WeMo Plugs
  • Some outlets available to Samsung SmartThings and Wink Hub 2

Sensors

  • First Alert OneLink Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm
  • First Alert OneLink Environment Monitor
  • Some sensors available to Samsung SmartThings and Wink Hub 2

Cameras

  • Vivint SmartHome Cameras

Locks

  • August Smart Lock

Thermostats

  • First Alert OneLink Thermostat
  • Nest Learning Thermostat
  • Honeywell smart thermostats
  • Some thermostats available to Samsung SmartThings and Wink Hub 2

Appliances and Misc.

  • First Alert OneLink Safe
  • IFTTT integrations
  • Frigidaire smart appliances
  • Rachio Irrigation and Sprinkler Controllers
  • Other appliances and accessories available to Samsung SmartThings and Wink Hub 2

Automations: It's a draw

Thanks to IFTTT integrations, if you want your Apple devices to work more closely with your voice assistant, you can usually make it happen. Both the Amazon Alexa and Google Home have IFTTT integrations that will help you do any number of things using voice commands. I can, for example, say, "Alexa, trigger find my phone," and IFTTT will call my phone. I can also, for example, say, "Ok Google, add a reminder to my iPhone" and IFTTT will add the reminder to Reminders for iOS.

Overall: Amazon Echo

Looking strictly through the lens of Apple device compatibility, Amazon Echo takes home the trophy for Best Smart Speaker for Your Apple Home. Thanks to Amazon's "come one, come all" philosophy for Alexa and Amazon Echo, the device is essentially universally compatible. Google Home, in contrast, works best with Android devices and has limited smart home integrations. It works fine in an Apple home (I have one), but I can't help but notice how much better it works with the Huawei Mate 9 I have sitting near it.

Even after all the compatibility considerations, it's important to note one thing: These smart speakers have fancy built-in microphones for a reason and it's not for interacting with 'em via apps. As long as your smart speaker reacts to the sound of your voice and provides your desired features and interactivity, compatibility considerations matter less.

Questions?

If you have any questions or would like to have other considerations added to the list, be sure to leave a comment below or fire off a tweet!

How to update the firmware on your AirPods

How do you update the firmware on your AirPods? You can't! You can, however, check which version they're running.

Back in February, Apple quietly rolled out a firmware update for AirPods, the company's wireless earbuds. Early adopters scrambled to the internet, as they do, looking for ways to manually update their firmware from version 3.3.1 to version 3.5.1 only to come away disappointed. It seems Apple hasn't provided a way to manually update the firmware on AirPods, opting instead for an automatic update process.

All that said, Apple won't just install the firmware update willy-nilly (if your AirPods died mid-update it could cause all sorts of problems); you'll need to make sure of the following:

  • Your AirPods must be in the charging case.
  • The charging case must be plugged in and charging.
  • An iOS device that's been connected to your AirPods must be nearby.

Once all of those conditions are met, the firmware update should automatically begin at some point (yeah, it's that vague).

Now, while you can't trigger a firmware update with a button press or tap, you can check what firmware version your AirPods are running and view some other interesting information about the wireless earbuds. Here's how!

How to check your AirPods' firmware version

  1. Make sure your AirPods are connected to your iOS device (open the charging case or put your AirPods in your ears).
  2. Launch the Settings app on your iOS device.
  3. Tap General.
  4. Tap About.

  5. Scroll down and tap AirPods.
  6. Check the number next to Firmware Version to see what firmware version your AirPods are running.

If your firmware version says something other than 3.5.1, your AirPods need an update! Put 'em in their case, plug it in, place your phone nearby, and keep your fingers crossed for that automatic update!

Questions?

If you've got questions let us know in the comments below!

How to Create a Conference Call on the iPhone Under iOS 10

Ever need to talk on the phone to more than one person at a time, and all you have handy is your iPhone? No worries, it’s easy to create a conference call with your iPhone, here’s how.

How to Create a Conference Call on the iPhone Under iOS 10

How to Create a Conference Call on the iPhone Under iOS 10

  1. While on a phone call with the first caller, tap the ”+ Add Call” button, then find the number for the second party you wish to include on the call in your contacts list. (Or you can simply dial the number of the new participant.)
  2. The original caller will be placed on hold while the second number is called. Once you are connected to the second party, tap the “Merge Calls” button. This will add the new party to the initial phone conversation.
  3. Repeat the above steps to add any additional parties to the conference call.
  4. If you’re already on a call and another party calls you, tap the “Hold and Answer” button that will pop up on the screen and then tap the “Merge Calls” button to add the new caller to the conference call.

Easy-Peasy!

Note: CDMA networks may not be able to add, swap, or merge calls in certain situations. See the iPhone user guide for more details.

For more tips and tricks on how to make better use of your Mac, iOS device, Apple Watch, or Apple TV, be sure to visit the “How To” section of our website.

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