Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cox TV Flex Watch

Is this the future of cable TV?  A new package from Cox Cable makes a tempting offer for a cord cutter wanna be.  These days more and more customers are cutting the cord and relying on streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu.  Many more customers want to drop the bloated cable channel packages that force you to buy 200+ channels to get the 7-8 channels the average viewer actually watches but remain subscribers for either sports or a favorite channel like HBO.

Now Cox Cable is helping to close that gap with a special bundle designed to keep cord cutters as TV subscribers. The Cox TV Flex Watch package includes  their Internet Prefered package with 25 Mbps download speed, the TV Starter local HD channels, an interactive on-screen guide, on demand programming, 45 channels of commercial-free digital quality music, an HD receiver, plus HBO and Starz for $60/month to start and $80/month after the promotional period. That's the same as the price for just the internet to start and the extra $20 a month provides real channels I'm likely to watch.

Cox offer me my local sports channels and maybe ESPN for a reasonable price and I'm in

Saturday, June 7, 2014

"Cord Shaving"

People tend to forget that the easiest way to cut your cable bill is just to reduce the services you pay for. Sure you can take the “chicken challenge” and call your cable provider to cancel your cable service in the hope of getting a last minute deal. From the stories I've been hearing cable companies are playing harder to get these days, and most people would rather avoid these high drama exchanges.  I intend to try for a better rate myself soon but I’ll likely need to change cable operators to get a significantly better deal.  That said, when I do sign up with the new provider I’m planning to cut my service level to save even more money.

Subscriptions to HBO, Showtime, and other premium TV channels have declined over the past two years while Netflix and other subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services have gained in popularity. A recent NPD Group report noted a 6% overall decline in U.S. households subscribing to premium TV channels over the same period while households subscribing to SVOD services grew by 4%.

 I currently pay for HBO but how I got HBO is the funny story.  My wife fed up with the high cable bill says, “Give me the bill and I’ll get them to give us a better deal.”  That night, I find out the only deal they would give her is “free HBO” for a few months.  Hey better than nothing!  She tried but unless you’re ready and willing to cancel they often won’t budge. So now I have a $16/month HBO subscription I need to cancel.  I rarely watch HBO and for the same money I’d be better off buying the movies I really want off Amazon and I’ll just binge watch Games of Thrones at some later date.  No spoilers please!

Someday, I would like to "cut the cord" and cancel cable TV completely. For now, I'll settle for “cord shaving” while I learn to change my viewing habits to focus on more online content.  My first major move was to replaced my land-line.  Second, I’m dropping HBO.  And third I’m dropping those pesky little channel packages that seem like a deal at the time but really add up.  For me, I have the “Sports and Information” package which I thought I needed for local baseball coverage.  Turns out I didn't.  I’ll save $10/month just dropping that package and I doubt I’ll miss the NBA or Tennis channel.  In my case, I found over $70/month in net savings without even breaking a sweat. Best yet, I sure feel better when I pay the cable bill.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

FIOS is coming

Sometimes the fates converge and I think this is one of those moments.  Right after I started my recent efforts to reduce our cable/internet/phone bill, I noticed a large number of Dig Safe markings on the road and grass covered right of ways in my neighborhood.  The mystery was solved a few days later when we received a notice from a Verizon FIOS contractor letting us know they would be installing underground fiber on our street.

While I’m excited about the idea of fiber to the house, I’m much more interested in a new local cable TV market with two equal competitors.  The last time we called our current cable company looking for a better deal; our provider was unwilling to reduce our bill since I believe they realized we lacked any equivalent options.   I don’t find Satellite providers an acceptable alternative and Verizon had previously skipped our development due to its underground utilities but now we have options, good options.

Some of the recent Verizon introductory offers are impressive but are less so in our case due to our current configuration.  Of course, the most impressive deals include TV, internet, and phone but I’ve happily removed our landline from the control of my cable provider.  Not having to port your phone number every time to you change cable providers should greatly ease the process of switching to the cable provider with the best offer.  This is some ways is similar to never using the cable provider’s domain name in your email address.  Use a Gmail account or similar provider or use your own domain name like I do and you’ll save yourself a headache the next time you switch. Given that getting a good price on cable almost demands changing provides every couple years, it seems smart to plan ahead.

Deals for the two service FIOS TV and internet bundles have far less in the way of savings then the three service packages but are still much cheaper than our current cable provider.  Our issue is the added cost of each TV on FIOS.  Verizon requires a box for each TV and their set top boxes are also more expensive.  We still keep a number of old sets throughout the house: guest room, kitchen, treadmill, craft/sewing area but these extra box costs eat up most of the additional savings.  I’m considering dropping those outlets but I’d rather keep them.  Our decision to changes providers is still up in the air but I’m leaning toward FIOS at the moment. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Hello Ooma! Goodbye bloated Cox phone bill

I admit it ... I got "bundled" by my local cable company, Cox Communications.  While I've been pretty happy with our Cox service over the years, my cable bill has exploded and has simply reached an unacceptable level.  Sorry Cox but I'm just not that into you.

Since my only option at the time seemed to be bolting a hideous satellite dish to the house, I decided to see what I could cut and then I'd contact Cox to look for any type of a better deal. A close look at our TV, internet, and phone package led to the realization that Cox was charging well over 50 dollars a month for our home phone, with the total closer to $58 if I understand the "FCC access charge" and several of the other taxes.  I have crypto problems at work that are easier to break then a cable company bill.

We still like a land-line.  I guess we're just old fashion. Also, we live in a area with poor cellular reception so many other wireless options were out. For us, the solution was to buy an Ooma Telo device for $119 and signup for service. Ooma advertises "free phone calls" which isn't totally true since you since still need to pay certain fees and taxes.  For us those charges only total $3.84/month.  On top of that, I signed up for the Ooma Premier service for an extra $10/month to get Caller ID with name and to try a couple of the added features. Even with those upfront and recurring costs, I should break even after three months and save $40/month going forward.

I've been very happy with Ooma so far.  The calls sound great but maybe with slightly less dynamic range than using the Cox phone service.  There is no noticeable latency which I tested making calls to friends and family on the other side of the country. I also love getting a text message when someone leaves a voicemail and the voicemail system itself is easy to use. In almost every way, I prefer the Ooma solution over Cox so it was a no brainer for us. What are paying for phone service?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Providence Plastics Project Wallet

One of my newest wallets is from the gang at the Providence Plastics Project, a group of Rhode Island School of Design graduates who have set out to create useful products by "upcycling" waste and scrap materials.

Made from used plastic dry cleaning bags and scrap fabric, each PPP wallet or phone case is a unique creation. I selected a more modest color combination but I'm tempted to pick up a more extreme color combo just for fun.  Why not?  Unlike most products where people might feel they are wasting valuable resources, these wallet are already waste and you just giving these materials a useful second life.

This wallet isn't the sexiest I own or the best designed.  What it is is a reminder that recycling matters, that everyone should be open to using non-virgin materials, and that every plastic bag recycled is one less in our landfills, or heaven forbid, in our waterways or oceans. These items are fun little products and great conversation pieces. Who knew going green would be this much fun?

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Band-it Wallet Impressions

I was very excited when I saw the Band-it extra small minimal wallet on Kickstarter. It was such a novel idea and I liked the sheer simplicity of design. I ordered one of the non-leather versions as a change of pace and to experiment with other wallet materials.

Where the Band-it suffers is in the details of it's construction. The vinyl used for my Band-it was very thick and detracts from the ultra minimalist concept that should define this wallet. I was frankly hoping a synthetic material would thinner, not thicker, than the leather shown in the Kickstarter video.  This thickness is compounded by the method used to sew the opening which leaves a large gap between the front and rear cards.  The video noted this gap as a feature that could be used to store cash but I found that space impractical and it detracts from the Band-it's use as a tiny card holder.

The Band-it is a great conversation piece and a wonderful experiment in design.  Many Kickstarter wallet campaigns have returned with a second design and I very much hope to see a new and improved Band-it 2.0 in the future.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Ainste Multiple Wallet Review

I've been using an Ainste Multiple Wallet for the past two weeks and I have to say it's a excellent minimalist front pocket wallet. Surprisingly, I haven't had to compromise much to fit my needs into such a small package but I did remove a ton of useless material from my old wallet during the switch, mainly receipts and a seldom used stack of business cards.  On a normal day, I'm carrying eight cards and a six bills in an amazingly small package; the center bill holder squeezing the cash so tightly that it almost disappears.

I'm a guy who likes to use cash so I have been supplementing the wallet's cash holder with a money clip.  This arrangement has worked extremely well and is far more practical than it sounds.  How often do you reach for your credit cards and your cash?  I keep the bulk (literally) of my cash in one front pocket and my Multiple in the other with my credit cards and backup cash. This is a huge departure from the massive lump that was my back pocket without the moving that weight to the front.

If the Multiple has a downside, it's the tightness of the card pockets.  These pockets start so tight that the wallet is rendered nearly unusable and it's not until you spend a couple days working to break in the leather that you can extract a card without a struggle ... or pliers!  I wish the folks at Ainste would fix this but maybe this in required to keep the pockets tight for the life of the wallet. Think of it like breaking in a baseball glove and you'll be very happy.

So thumbs up to the people at Ainste for a wonderfully minimalist wallet that remains practical and is a joy to own.  I recommend this wallet highly but I wouldn't give this wallet as a gift until Ainste addresses the overly tight card pockets, or unless the person your giving the gift to understands that some work is required before the wallet is truly useful.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Minimalist Wallets

Lately, I've become somewhat obsessed with finding the perfect front pocket wallet. Like many of you out there, I have been guilty of approaching near George Costanza levels of wallet bloat and having a large wallet in my back pocket wasn't attractive let alone good for my back.

Once I emptied my current wallet I discovered two things: 1) my empty leather wallet was still pretty large and 2) I really don't need most of its contents. Those realizations were the start of my search for a practical front wallet solution and what a search it has become! What’s more, I find people everywhere I go on web on similar quests.

Since wallets are a very personal reflection of their owners and their owner’s lifestyle, there seems to be an endless number of wallet designs and even some radical solutions to this simplest of life’s choices. No place is the obsession with wallets more evident than the Kickstarter crowd funding site. There are dozens of wallet designs that have been funded or proposed over the last couple years with some raising fairly large sums but none highly successful. It’s an itch that people just can’t seem to scratch with a big build up and a seemly all too familiar let down in the project comment section in the months that follow. The most notable failure was the Crabby Wallet which raised over 308K but has been plagued by quality and durability problems. If your new wallet only lasts a month, you're going to be unhappy.

Thanks to some great minimalist wallet review sites, I have ordered a couple of new wallets and I'll write more as I live with them awhile. A wallet can seem perfect in photos or on video but  if that wallet isn't functional, it will quickly be banished to the dresser or desk drawer. Should be fun, stay tuned.