A Little Heresy

It’s been a while since our last newsletter, both because there hasn't been much we found newsworthy and because I've been obsessed with light bulbs (more on that later). 

But crawling around under the furniture recently hunting for an errant Roomba, I reallized that it might also be useful to report on technology that DOESN'T live up to its promise.  We are always trying new devices and services, very few of which we recommend, but you may benefit from our mistakes. 
 
The iRobot Roomba
Technology that eliminates tedious chores is a great business, and what’s more tedious than vacuuming? While robotic vacuum cleaners are not quite mainstream yet, it’s a hotmarket: iRobot, MieleLGSamsungNeato and others all offer models.   After reading a glowing review in the NY Times, I invested $700 (not a typo) in the latest Roomba 880.

In a word: wait, unless you have a pet hair issue and money to burn. While it's fun to watch it hum around the room, and it extracted significant quantities of dust from under beds and other difficult-to-reach spots, it fails on a number of counts:
  • Not a full replacement for a traditional vacuum cleaner (corners, baseboards)
  • Gets stuck occasionally, so not ideal completely unattended
  • Rooms that are large or have many obstacles are too much for its battery
  • At these prices, I expect perfection!

ThirdLove Bras
In theory, many women are wearing the wrong size bra, and technology should allow us all to have clothing that fits perfectly—no more mass-produced sizes.  (3D printing the perfect jeans? How cool would that be?). So when I read that a former Googler had created an iPhone app to bring us “perfect fitting luxury bras”, I was willing to test it out.

In practice, I can’t in good conscience encourage any woman to share photos of her chest, from several angles, over the Internet---even in a bra or tank top, and with all kinds of promises about encryption and privacy. It felt deeply creepy using an iPhone app to try this out, and although the resulting bras were attractive and did fit fairly well, I found the straps too flimsy and the shapes unflattering.  

If only they were making shoes. . . 
 
The new Amazon Fire phone
We haven't had our hands on one yet, but there’s been a lot of mixed press about the just-launched Amazon phone; it’s another entry in the crowded high end of the market, and while it has some cool features it seems designed mostly to make it easier to buy things from Amazon. 

But there’s one innovation in the phone that I am really excited about, and which I hope sets a precedent for other manufacturers: live support directly on the phone. It’s like having Apple’s genius bar built into your phone. If it works, which remains to be seen, it could be a game-changer for frustrated consumers.  Stay tuned on this one, it's only the first generation.
 
And finally, a success story. 
 
The Light Switch! project:
A bit out of our ballpark, but worth sharing.

As incandescent bulbs are phased out, many people tried inexpensive compact fluorescent light bulbs (the curly ones), HATED them, and raced to stockpile the old familiar bulbs.  But there are lots of great new options among the much better LED bulbs in the last few months, and prices have plummeted.  Since New Yorkers pay nearly double the national average for our electric power, and air conditioning season is upon us, switching out your bulbs now can save you money, time and effort; changing a single 60 watt bulb can save you $60 over five years of normal use.  Multiply that by the number of light bulbs in your home, and it’s real money!
 
Switching your bulbs is good for bigger reasons, too; it helps reduce pollution and the risk of blackouts or brownouts.  We've got a whole lot of great information available to help you switch, developed with Environmental Defense Fund, so if you’re interested just let us know.