Tech Savvy: Tech that warms the heart - and the car

Apple TV is listed among numerous reviews as the best video streamer for a premium user experience. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

Since this is a month about hearts, it seemed appropriate to talk about favorite things and what may be coming in the near future to make hearts grow even fonder.

It’s no secret I’m an Apple person. I love the design, the ease of use, the way the products fit into my life — be it my iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad or now Apple TV. That’s not to say I don’t mix things up or spend plenty of time with Alexa and those Amazon Fire sticks and Fire TV since my parents have those; and Echo Dots at my house keep track of the weather, handle reminders and timers and work my lights every day.

Some readers can remember the day when remote controls first moved into the entertainment world. There were those tethered remotes that could barely stretch to the best seat on the couch and allow control of the TV channels — all three of them. Before that tethered remote it was what now seems an incredible experience of getting up and walking to the TV to make a change with a dial that turned with a resounding thud between ABC, NBC and CBS and maybe, if you were lucky, PBS. In those days people picked a channel and stayed there. There wasn’t a lot of channel surfing.

Things have changed in astounding ways in a short amount of time on many fronts. So being able to turn the TV on and off by voice and move between streaming devices and cable is pretty slick. My dad does this with his Amazon FireTV. It’s like living in the future, and it’s useful.


Apple TV can be confusing to some who think, by the name, it means a television instead of the small device that can fit in your hand allowing you to stream movies, TV programming, and play games. It also allows you to show your photos and video from your iPhone on your big screen. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

It’s not as intuitive as it could be, however, as Alexa can be very picky on pronunciation and how precisely something is phrased. She has a language users have to learn to make it work and, if you don’t say things as she is expecting, she can’t adjust much yet. While she can tell me my address, in the next moment she won’t be able to tell me the weather outside because she says she doesn’t know my location.

But she’s learning. She recently surprised me by launching into a general conversation. What Alexa excels at in my house is turning on lights with a simple request. And while my brother would say the switch was fine without having to tell a device to turn it on for you, there are many instances where this technology is, without apology, simply fantastic. Never enter a dark house. Never fumble for a light switch. Ready to turn in for the night? Just tell Alexa to turn the light off in 10 minutes. Done.

A Christmas addition this year came in the form of two Philips Hue light bulbs. They work with Alexa and can be turned on or off with a voice command. In addition, the Hue light bulbs — super handy when there isn’t room for a smart plug — can also dim the light or put it in a night light mode.

So when settling in for a scary movie with popcorn and blanket in hand, you can simply ask Alexa to dim the lights and it’s movie time. The Philips Hue smart lights can also change lighting for the mood, daylight, warm or cool white light, or change light color.

And since we’re on TV, Apple TV and Apple TV+

The Apple TV+ streaming service, at $4.99 a month, has original programming like “For All Mankind” with an interesting concept and high production values. Imagine if the Russians landed cosmonauts on the moon first. How different would the world be today and how would the space race have turned out? And there is M. Night Shyamalan's “Servant.” It’s creepy and addictive and builds foreboding as it reveals a family tragedy around a couple that “opens the door for a mysterious force to enter their home.

AppleTV, generally $179.99 for 32 GB to $199.99 for 64 GB depending on how much storage room for downloading, comes with a year of the AppleTV+ streaming service, with the original programming and access to programming from nearly every other service as well.


The Apple TV screen saver, with scenes from nature to cityscapes, can be mesmerizing all by itself. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

PC Mag’s review lists the AppleTV 4K as its top video streamer pick for Apple fans and those who don’t mind paying extra for its advantages of Dolby Vision HDR for a “premium user experience. … In other words Apple TV 4K just keeps getting better.”

CNET reported “The Apple TV 4K is so good, it even makes sense if you're not an " Apple person." CNET noted the price isn’t that expensive considering the cost of high-end TVs and audio equipment. “With its breadth of 4K, HDR and audio format support, sleek design and constant upgrades, the Apple TV 4K earns our Editors' Choice award.”

“Plus, Apple TV has some of the coolest screensavers around,” Cordcutters noted in a review. “The aerial views are worth watching on their own. Apple TV is one of those rare Apple products that isn't just for someone who only uses Apple products.”

Universally, reviews said to splurge for the 4K model instead of paying for the older Apple TV version.

Apple Watch

“The Apple Watch is a great smartwatch, consistently enjoyable to use, through every version.

And Apple Watch Series 5 is the culmination of Apple’s journey towards a smart, capable timepiece that’s useful, accurate and a joy to wear,” Consumer Tech writer David Phelan wrote in an Apple Watch review for Forbes. Adding last month that “The Apple Watch Series 5 is easily the best smartwatch on the planet.”

I see more Apple Watches on wrists all the time and can’t imagine doing without mine, a series 4 which is now discontinued, although I can see a series 5 in my future. The addition of the cellular version, which can be turned off and not used as needed, means the watch is independent from the iPhone.


It can make and receive calls, pay for groceries, track health and fitness, remotely trigger the camera on your iPhone, play music, provide news and weather updates, record meetings, set timers and alarms, track sleep, act as a walkie-talkie, keep track of your investments and the markets, handle reminders and your calendar, let you know if the ambient noise is dangerous to your hearing, email and messages, a compas, and even help you identify constellations in the night sky. It’s really quite endless. You can simply speak and a text message neatly types to your voice. There are a plethora of interchangeable bands. Series 5 cost starts at $399 (check for sales and discounts) for the smaller version 40mm and $429 for the 44mm — with the series 3 available for $199.

The series 5, offers the option of being on all the time so you don’t have to lift your arm or tap the watch to activate it, with the ability to turn the watch face off if desired. And, of course, a series 6, is on the horizon, probably by September.

Apple Pay

Want to send your nephew $20 for a treat at his college? A tap on your iPhone will deliver it to him in seconds right in Messages. The money comes from a debit or credit card in your wallet. On the receiving end, the money goes right to an Apple cash card in your wallet where it can be used in stores, in apps or on the web, or be transferred to your bank.

A list of transactions means you can easily keep track of transactions. Need a snack from the vending machine? You can use Apple Pay on your Apple Watch or your phone to make the purchase. Shopping for groceries at the store? Apple Pay lets you pay with your watch or phone. Apple already has TouchID using your fingerprints and FaceID for security. Access Apple Pay and it’s just a matter of a double tap and holding your wrist or your phone by the reader. In big cities, Apple Pay can be used to pay for public transit.

Apple TV+ offers original programming along with access to nearly every other service out there and new movies. Renee Richardson / Brainerd Dispatch

“When you make a purchase, Apple Pay uses a device-specific number and unique transaction code,” Apple states. “So your card number is never stored on your device or on Apple servers, and when you pay, your card numbers are never shared by Apple with merchants.

“When you pay with a debit or credit card, Apple Pay doesn’t keep transaction information that can be tied back to you.”


NerdWallet also noted that Apple Cash transfers are serviced by a bank. “When you register your Apple Cash account, your money is federally insured up to $250,000, just as it would be in a traditional bank account.”

When it first came out, the places where Apple Pay could be used were limited. That’s no longer the case. Look at the checkout station the next time you are at a store, grocery or retailers and don’t be surprised to see the Apple Pay sign.

“When a payment goes through, you feel a satisfying haptic clunk,” PCMag stated in a review. “It's quick, simple, and painless. You don't even need to unlock the phone. The Apple Pay app lists all your transactions for later review. I also got an email from my bank making sure I was the one who set up Apple Pay with my card.”

PCMag notes the Apple Wallet app also stores boarding passes, movie and game tickets, gift cards, and information about loyalty programs all in one spot. “There's a link to a section of the App Store where you can browse for apps that take advantage of Apple Wallet, such as Fandango, Southwest Airlines, and Target,” PCMag reported.

The Southwest Airlines one came in handy during a recent trip to Colorado and the boarding passes stored neatly in my Apple Wallet for a simple scan of my phone to get on the plane.

Cool options ahead

This month, Forbes reported the 2020 iPhones will “deliver some of the range’s best technological upgrades in years.” And Forbes stated Apple is looking at radical design with a foldable phone design without a crease and potentially using glass instead of plastic with a new hinge mechanism coming after that.

In 2020, Apple is expected to release up to six new iPhones.

“With the iPhone 12 line-up, once again, appearing similar to the iPhone X and featuring additional ( if 'modest’ ) price increases , the appeal of smaller, budget-friendly (yet blazing fast) budget models is clear,” Forbes reported in January.


“That said, for those prepared to pay more, internally the iPhone 12 range will deliver Apple’s biggest iPhone upgrades in years with a host of cutting edge features. These include a long-range 3D camera , 120Hz ProMotion displays , an in-display Touch ID sensor and 5G coming to every iPhone 12 . The Lightning port may also be on the chopping block .”

Technology continues to make life interesting, and after the last couple of days one of my favorite pieces of tech is the remote starter on my car.

Renee Richardson is managing editor at the Brainerd Dispatch. She joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 1996 after earning her bachelor's degree in mass communications at St. Cloud State University.
Renee Richardson can be reached at or by calling 218-855-5852 or follow her on Twitter @dispatchbizbuzz or Facebook.
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