Thursday 29 September 2016

How Much Does Google Know About You?

If you're like most people you've been using a lot of Google's products because they are free, convenient, and usually pretty good. Gmail is very widely used, as is Google Maps, Chrome, etc.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself "How much does Google know about me?".

You should. By using their products at the default settings you are giving Google a great deal of insight in to your online activities. You actually consented to it when you clicked the "I accept" button on their terms of service. You know, that thing we all never read.

"Ok Homegeek, so what can I do about it?"

Well to start with, go take a look at what Google actually knows about you, I think you'll be quite surprised.

Go to and review the data. You may wish to switch to the Item view rather than the bundle view for ease of reading.

If you're using an Android phone  and/or tablet you'll see combined activities from your phone and your computer(s) there.

This is how Google is able to serve you up cards relevant to things you've expressed an interest in, but also how they have been able to provide targeted advertising to you.

Don't worry, you have the ability to delete or bulk delete any or all information they have recorded, but before you do a mass delete remember doing so will reduce how useful Google is to you.

Instead I suggest people review the apps and devices Google is gathering information from.

At that point you can tell Google to turn off information gathering for specific devices or apps, and you can delete some or all history associated with those items.

Perhaps you're more comfortable with location services not being recorded. Ok, but be aware things like recording where you parked your car, or using the turn-by-turn navigation system in Google Maps could be impacted.

You can of course just erase your complete digital footprint from Google's servers, but be prepared for the consequences. Most of the helpful features Google has been providing you will stop.

Personally I'm not too fussed about most of the items gathered, but I may wish to delete everything more than a year or two old as it's relevance is questionable.

Being aware of what information is gathered is always prudent. Adjusting what is gathered and retained will allow everyone to tailor Google's insights to a level they are comfortable with.

Remember, when the app is free that usually means you are the product.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 28 September 2016

Shop Your Cellphone Carrier - It Pays Off

Today's post is an example of why you should shop your cellphone business.

For a while now my personal cellphone has been with Rogers, and I was ok with it because I am a fan of how reliable their network is.

Yesterday I noticed my data use was high, this is the second month in a row where I was looking at possible overage charges, something I think is a bit of a cash grab by carriers that will eventually be phased out due to competition.

I called them to discuss my plan and they offered me 2 choices:

1) Add an extra 250mb of data (a negligible increase) to my plan but reduce me from unlimited local calling to a limited amount - the bill would remain the same.

2) Increase my data, doubling it for an extra $10/month.

Neither option was appealing. I had already checked a couple of other carriers and knew better deals were out there. When I mentioned this the rep suggested I contact Fido to see what they could do for me.

For those who don't know, Fido is owned by Rogers.

Fido offered to quadruple my current data plan and switch me from unlimited local calling to unlimited nation-wide calling for exactly the same price I was currently paying. I even get 6 months of Spotify (A $60 value) by switching to Fido! All other aspects of my plan remain the same.

The Fido rep even told me to mention I was going to Fido and ask for the unlocking of my phone to be free, because they routinely do this for transfers to Fido. (Rogers normally charges $50 to unlock a phone)

Of course I signed up, my new SIM card is currently on the courier's delivery truck and will be arrive today.

The only cost I incurred was $10 for the new SIM card. I will continue to still be on Rogers infrastructure because that's what Fido uses.

I'm pretty sure this process cost Rogers more than $10 in administrative costs when you consider the staff time involved at both Rogers and Fido, plus the processing procedures. Even more impressively they have made it easier for me to leave them completely down the road by unlocking my phone.

So why would Rogers do this instead of just offering me what Fido would offer me? They couldn't offer an explanation, but it's definitely less profitable for them.

Ridiculous? Of course. But it's something you might want to consider the next time you look at your cellphone bill. Carriers routinely bank on customer complacency to maintain profits.

EDIT: I completed my transfer to Fido this afternoon. Time elapsed between inserting the Fido SIM card in my phone until the number was ported = 9 minutes. The interruption to my regular usage was negligible at best.

A couple of calls can save you money and offer you a better deal. Isn't it worth checking out?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 26 September 2016

Using Linux Beside Windows - It's Not Scary

Last week I decided to take another look at running Linux on my laptop. It's been many years since I ran Linux, and I'm happy to say it's improved incredibly.

Why did I want to try running Linux? There are a LOT of very powerful free programs available in Linux, and as operating systems go it's much faster than Windows.

In fact it's so much faster booting up and running programs that I also installed it on an old laptop that I had previously retired because it was slow under Windows 10. It hums along just fine using Ubuntu and now I have another workstation if I need it.

For this trial I downloaded Ubuntu Linux to a bootable USB drive. This approach has the advantage of letting you run Linux directly from the USB to see if you like it before installing anything on your laptop.

Years ago installing Linux to dual boot between Windows and Linux was a complex process requiring some command-line skills. I'm happy to say the process is much more user-friendly these days.

When booting up from the USB key you just choose the "Install Ubuntu" option. Ubuntu will detect that you already have Windows installed and ask if you want to install beside Windows or overwrite the current operating system.

Choose "Install beside". Be very careful not to choose the overwrite option or you will blow away your current Windows instance.

At this point you are presented with a sliding scale that lets you drag to add more or less space from your hard drive for Linux to use. In my case I gave Linux 30GB of space.

Most of my media & documents are either cloud-based, stored on my network, or on my local Windows partition so I just needed space for the operating system and a few apps. (Linux can see your Windows directories and open/edit files from there if you wish) So far 30GB seems to have been around the right amount for my purposes.

The installer takes care of changing the hard drive partitions for you, the process gives you the option of installing all updates as you install the operating system (Something I wish Windows did to avoid the usual half-hour of updating after you turn on the machine) and that's really all there is to it.

Not long after you're taken in to the Ubuntu desktop. Unlike Windows your default taskbar is on the left side of the screen, but you can easily move it to the bottom to feel more like Windows if you wish.

Ubuntu comes with some great software pre-installed, including a full Office productivity suite that looks and feels a lot like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

These programs can open existing MS-Office files, and can save in MS-Office format, so you can still exchange information easily with non-Linux users. All these apps are free, as opposed to the $600+ pricetag from Microsoft.

 Instead of a "Start" button you have the "Search Your Computer" button. You can use this to find and launch apps quickly just by starting to type their name. I suggest pinning frequently used programs to your taskbar or putting them on your desktop.

The taskbar includes quick access to your system settings via the gear & wrench icon.  For web browsers Ubuntu comes with Firefox, but you can add Chromium, Opera, and a bunch of others, all free.

Speaking of free, most software you'd pay for in Windows has a free counterpart in Linux. I was able to easily find a project management app that is a great replacement for Microsoft Project, the icons and functions are quite similar so the learning curve is minimal. All this without the steep pricetag of $929 for a current copy of Project!

Using the Ubuntu Software button (It looks like an orange suitcase with the letter "A" on it) I've been able to find free programs to do pretty much everything I do with Windows. The big difference is in the savings. Just between Office and Project I would have to spend about $1,500 for software that is free in Linux.

I was easily able to find and install the program that lets me use my fingerprint reader to log in and unlock my laptop, so I haven't sacrificed any functionality vs Windows.

But Homegeek, what if you want to go back to using Windows? 
No problem, when I reboot my laptop a menu pops up asking which operating system I want to use. I just use the arrow keys to switch between the selections and press "Enter" to load that operating system.

As operating systems go Linux tends to be a lot more secure than Windows. Because it's open-source that means many thousands of people are reviewing the code constantly. Bugs and exploits are usually found a lot faster, in many cases before being released. If an exploit does make it to a release copy the update to take care of it usually is released faster than you'd find under Windows.

I've been running Ubuntu exclusively for a few days now and have done almost everything I've done under widows using it. (Including this blog post.) Since I use Office365 I still have access to native Microsoft apps online while using Linux.

As an added bonus if my Windows operating system ever got corrupted I can use Linux to access it and try to fix it.

If you're getting fed up with your Windows system or just generally curious I'd suggest giving Ubuntu a whirl. This way you can have the best of both worlds.

If your computer is on the older side this is a great way to breathe new life in to your hardware!

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 22 September 2016

Careful Using Google's Allo Chat App

Normally I write about cool technology for you to use at home, but today it's going to be the opposite. I'm going to post about an app I suggest you don't use.

The number of chat apps out there is huge and constantly growing. Some people are die-hard Hangouts fans, others love Snapchat or Whatsapp, but with all the information we put in to our chats did you ever stop to consider privacy?

Google's upcoming chat app Allo is an example of trading convenience for privacy. The app claims to learn your style over time and be able to suggest entire message responses for you.

Wait, it's going to learn this over time? How?

To answer that question I'll refer back to some information Edward Snowden pointed out. Google is going to store all of your chats on it's systems indefinitely.

Ok, beyond the creepy factor, I just don't want Google knowing absolutely everything about me and the people I chat with, then monetizing that information.

Of course all your chats could also be requested by law enforcement or other entities with a subpoena, but I'm more concerned about an increase in targeted advertising and having that include my messaging app. I already get the occasional spam text, no need to invite more.

Let's go one step beyond for a moment. What happens when Google gets breached and has your chats stolen? Would you be ok with your chats being posted to the internet? I know a lot of people who would be either personally or professionally embarrassed if that were to happen.

Oh that won't happen, no one can break in to Google!

Right. The number of really large corporations that have been breached in recent years is staggering. Even the NSA can't keep their information secure. Why do we believe Google to be any more secure than the NSA?

If you're willing to purchase a new messaging app with your privacy as payment that's your option, but many people aren't aware of the possible ramifications.

Personally I'll be sticking with Signal. Not because there is anything to hide, I just don't need any more ads directed at me.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 21 September 2016

Test Your WiFi Speeds With WiFi SweetSpots

You've probably noticed that your WiFi speeds vary a lot, depending on where you are in your home.

There are many factors that can affect your speed, including WiFi router placement, the construction materials of your home, and pollution from neighboring WiFi routers or appliances.

In some cases you might want to know what areas receive better signal speeds than others, this can be exceptionally helpful for determining where to put a streaming tv/video box (like Amazon FireTV), or a gaming console.

There is a simple and free app that will measure the WiFi speeds you are getting in any location using your smartphone, it's called WiFi SweetSpots by Assisa Inc.

The app is easy to use and can provide information quickly.
You can get WiFi Sweetspots for Android here or iPhone here. This handy app will start measuring the speed between your phone and your WiFi router.

WiFi SweetSpots does not test your internet speed, which is fine because if your WiFi speed to your router is good, your internet speeds should be good.  (If your speeds from the router to the internet are a problem you need to call your internet provider.)

In this case we are interested in how fast can your phone send/receive data to the router, as that should predict how good your overall WiFi experience will be.

The app will give you the current speed every second, or provide you an average for as long as you hold down the "Record" button. Recorded averages are automatically logged with names like "Spot 1", "Spot 2", etc.

This can be really useful for walking to different locations and determining the connection quality in those areas.

If you find that the signal is generally poor throughout most of your home, or in a location where you need a fast connection it may be time to consider upgrading to a new WiFi router, or embracing a home WiFi mesh solution like Luma.

Using the app I was able to check the speed in all the bedrooms and can rest easy knowing that while one child will have a faster connection than her siblings, all of them have decent speeds, at least by today's standards.

Overall WiFi SweetSpots is a great free tool that you don't have to be a techie to use. It can help you relocate your WiFi devices for a more optimal experience, or indicate it may be time to upgrade without a lot of arcane techno-speak.

I get a lot of people asking me what they can do to improve their home WiFi, and I'll be adding WiFi SweetSpots to the list of things I suggest they check.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Luma WiFi - 2 Weeks Using It

If you've been following this blog you know that I got my Luma WiFi system a couple of weeks ago, and have been using it exclusively ever since.

I have to say I am loving the experience, my WiFi has never been close to this fast. Throughout most of the house the speeds are amazing.

It's enhanced the performance of my Amazon FireTV boxes incredibly, buffering seems to be a thing of the past. Streaming music is snappy, and of course gaming and web surfing on the various laptops, tablets, and phones is a great experience.

Today Luma rolled out three improvements to their app. While the Eero crowd might say "Hey, we did that first!" I'd respond "Not much earlier."  It's important to remember Eero costs $100 more, has had longer to work on their software, and doesn't support MU-MIMO.

Here are the improvements:

1) You can now limit the amount of time individual people spend online. You want to tell your kids they can only spend 3hrs a day playing Minecraft? It's now a quick setting inside their profile to say how much time they get, after that their devices are offline until the next day. Each profile can have it's own settings so you can custom tailor your controls to your family's needs.

2) You can now pause individual people's internet connections. Need to get the kids off Facebook for dinner but you need to still do some work? No problem, it's no longer an "all or nothing" setting, you can pause individual profiles with the tap of a button.

3) You can rename devices in the app. This was a big one for me, some of the cryptic names the devices broadcast themselves as are almost impossible to decipher. It's much easier now to use a friendlier name like "Jane's iPad" when you want to manage devices and profiles.

These are all great steps in the right direction for Luma, and it shows that the product will continue to improve and evolve over time.

There were a couple of challenges I found along the road, and I wanted to share what they were, as well as how to resolve them.

1) When you install Luma you do not get the option to set what DNS servers to use. 

This is only an issue if you're using a smart DNS service like Getflix to watch video content that isn't normally available in your country.

I tried putting my old router back in-line between my internet service provider's (ISP's) modem and the Luma so I could work around the issue but the network began experiencing problems so I took it out again.

Later I switched my ISP's modem out of bridge mode and assigned the DNS servers there. It all started working as it should, I was suddenly able to watch Amazon Prime video whenever I wanted. This would be my suggested workaround for anyone experiencing a similar challenge.

The problem I experienced using my original router was possibly due to running DD-WRT as the operating system instead of the manufacturer's OS, or it could be an issue with the particular hardware in my router. Either way it's not an issue any more.

 After this I did notice the Luma app started reporting my download speeds as being less than half of what I was expecting, but when I ran speed tests from the actual devices the speeds were what they should be. I suspect this is just a small reporting bug in the app's calculations and believe it will be corrected in the future. The important thing is my speed wasn't negatively impacted, so it's a cosmetic issue rather than a substantial one.

2) When adding a device using WiFi from a Samsung phone you get an error message. 

This one actually rests on Samsung instead of Luma. When you set up a Luma over WiFi instead of bluetooth it creates a temporary network so your phone or tablet can talk to it for configuration. Obviously this temporary network has no internet connection, it just exists between the new Luma and your phone/tablet.

Samsung's "Smart Switch" technology will pop a warning when you connect to the temporary network saying it has no internet and it will always continue to connect to this network in the future.

Sounds dire, right? I thought so too originally and hit "Cancel". That was a mistake. The temporary network is temporary, it vanishes once the Luma is set up, so you need to hit the "connect anyway" button.

Once I figured that out I had no other issues getting my Luma units up and running. If you're not using a Samsung phone/tablet you shouldn't experience this issue, but given the market share of Samsung it's worth mentioning.

Those are the highlights so far. Overall it's been a great experience, my WiFi is fast & reliable. I've had no complaints from anyone of problems, and the increased speed was welcome. In other words, it just works.

If anyone has any questions or comments please leave them below, I'm happy to discuss my experience, and will post updates when they become available.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Monday 19 September 2016

Protect Your Texting Privacy For Free

One of the items routinely intercepted and logged are our text messages. This provides a rich source of data to various eavesdropping entities, possibly including your work if they have provided you with a phone, or required you to install some management software to use your phone with work systems.

To avoid this I installed Signal by Whispersystems. Signal is a free app that will encrypt your messages to/from other Signal users. It has the added bonus of being able to also act as your default text messaging app, so you only have one place to check for all your standard messaging needs.

Signal can import your current texts from whatever app they are in, as well as your contacts, so you can continue to text people as you normally would. 

The bonus comes when you text another Signal user; the app automatically knows they have Signal and end-to-end encrypts the information, even the staff at Whispersystems can't read your messages.

As an added bonus, messages between Signal users use your phone's data rather than incurring texting charges. If you're connected to WiFi this means you have unlimited free communication between Signal users.

Signal will also support sending attachments or conducting video calls, all encrypted and using a data connection.

Inviting your contacts to Signal is exceptionally simple, the app pops up an "Invite to Signal" box when you select a contact that isn't already using it. You just select the box and it pre-populates a message to the recipient explaining you use Signal and offers a link to install it.

Signal is available for Android and iPhone devices (Sorry Blackberry die-hards), installation is fast and painless. As a messaging app it's as intuitive and good as the app you're probably using now.

But HomeGeek, how do you know it's secure?

As far as I know Signal is the only open-source messaging app out there. This means all it's code is posted on Github, available to anyone for inspection and it routinely goes through peer review.

I don't have any great secrets to hide, but I'm also not a fan of giving personal information to entities I know little about and control even less. With that in mind I decided I wanted some enhanced privacy on my texts, at least where I could have it.

If you're skeptical that your digital information is being routinely monitored or logged I suggest watching "Citizen Four".  Whatever your personal stance on Edward Snowden's actions, it is eye-opening.

It's free, so what have you got to lose, except maybe being monitored?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Thursday 15 September 2016

LED Bulbs - Are They Worth It?

Over the last 10 years we've seen technology advancements in home lighting, specifically in light bulbs.

Currently there are 4 main categories to choose from: 
  • Incandescent
  • Halogen 
  • Compact Fluorescent (CFL)
  • Light Emitting Diode (LED)
Incandescent bulbs still hold a surprising space in many homes. When I moved in to my current house a couple of years ago it was filled with 50W halogen bulbs, and a scattering of other incandescent bulbs throughout.

I made it a priority to source LED bulbs for the whole house for a number of reasons, but the main ones were long term energy savings and reduced annoyance replacing burned out bulbs.

So is it worth going to LED? If you have incandescent or halogen bulbs, absolutely. Here's the math:

Average cost to run one incandescent 60W bulb for 1 year: $7.21
The average house has 50 bulbs, so your average lighting cost is $360.50/yr.  (Based on 3hrs operation per day @ $0.11/kwh)

Now let's switch that to LED.

Average cost to run one LED bulb for 1 year: $1.14
Using our 50 bulb average your annual lighting cost is $57

An average household will save $303.50/yr by making the switch. Obviously there are costs to initially purchasing the bulbs, but given how prices have fallen it shouldn't be much of a roadblock. You can get 40-packs of LED bulbs at Costco to replace 60W incandescents for $84.99 ($2.12/bulb)

In year 1 you fully recover the cost of the 50 bulbs and save $197.50. Subsequently you save $303.50/yr. (or more if electricity rates continue to rise.)

With an average lifespan of 7 years, your potential savings is $2,018.50

There are other incremental benefits. Incandescent and halogen bulbs give off a lot of heat. During the summer when your lights are on your AC unit has to fight both the weather and the heat from your light bulbs. If you have a lot of bulbs in the house, especially halogens, this can drive up your energy costs even more.

It's hard to see downside given the math.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 14 September 2016

Using Android Device Manager

Most people have heard of the "Find My iPhone" function Apple rolled out years ago, but did you know Google provides similar functionality for Android devices?

It's called "Android Device Manager" and if you're not using it with your android devices you should be.

Android Device Manager (ADM) is more than just a safety net for your devices (although it is that too), it can be a handy service to have if you've misplaced your phone while it's on silent, as you can make it ring regardless of the silence setting.

In addition to helping you dig the phone out of the couch, ADM has a few features which make it a must-have for all android devices.

You can remote lock your device and display a message on the home screen. This is handy if you need to secure the phone contents, and want to try and communicate with whoever has found the device.

You can provide a phone number for someone to reach you at if they want to help return the phone. It's rare, but it does happen.

You can remote-wipe the phone. This option removes all personal data and account settings, ensuring no one will be able to digitally snoop on your device.

To check if you have ADM enabled on your device open it's "Settings" app and go to the "Security" tab.

In the Android Device Manager area ensure "Remotely locate this device" and "Allow remote lock and erase" are set to on/allow.

To access ADM from a computer open a browser and go to You may need to log in to your Google account to access ADM.

Another way to access the functionality of ADM is to open Chrome and type "Find my phone" in to the search box.

Both methods will provide you the functionality to remotely secure or wipe your device(s).

When you log in to ADM it will locate your device(s) on Google maps, usually within 20m accuracy.

ADM is free, and for the piece of mind it offers there really is no reason not to enable it.

Happy surfing!

The Home Geek

Tuesday 13 September 2016

NFC - Your Smartphone Needs It

Earlier today I took my daughter to the dentist. It was a bit of a rush to get out of the house, and only after I parked and was walking to the dental office did I realize I'd forgotten my wallet at home.

I started to worry - how was I going to pay for parking? Then I recalled seeing NFC readers on the terminals at the exit and relaxed.

NFC stands for "Near Field Communications" and it's use is growing exponentially. Most credit cards and personal banking cards have NFC chips built in, and some loyalty programs (The Esso Speedpass for example) are making use of the technology as well.

NFC is exceptionally convenient, and when used on the appropriate platforms, presents no risk to the user.

"But HomeGeek, what if your phone got lost or stolen? Aren't you worried about racking up huge charges?"

In a word, no. This is where the "appropriate platform" piece comes in to play. Firstly my smartphone is protected by a password, and times out when not in use in under a minute. This means a potential crook would need to get my phone while it was unlocked, know to keep cycling through activities on it to prevent it from locking, find my banking app and guess the password to log in to the app, all before I noticed it was gone.

In Canada I am further covered because I'm not responsible for fraudulent charges on my credit card.

If I did find my phone was missing I'd get to a computer and log in to Android Device Manager, lock it immediately, then decide if I thought it was lost or stolen. With ADM I can flash a message on the screen asking whoever finds the phone to call a number (I'd arrange for them to hand it over at a local police station for a small reward) or I can remotely wipe the device. Either way, that phone isn't going to be much good to anyone.

When it was time for us to leave I drove up to the unmanned kiosk, inserted my ticket, and fired up my banking app. When the request for payment popped up on the kiosk I waved my smartphone in front of the reader and we drove out, the amount being automatically charged to my credit card.


This isn't the first time I've forgotten my wallet, but was potentially the most problematic. In the past I've forgotten it an not realized the oversight until I left the office to grab lunch. Ooops. Fortunately the same technology saved me then. Many of the local merchants support tap-and-pay terminals, so I was able to use by smartphone to buy lunch.

If your current smartphone doesn't have NFC as a feature I suggest adding it to your requirements list when it's time for an upgrade.

After all, no one ever plans on forgetting their wallet, but it happens. Why wouldn't you want the added piece of mind NFC brings?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Wednesday 7 September 2016

Luma WiFi - Hands On

A while ago I wrote about some new players in the home router space. Since then I pre-ordered my Luma 3-pack and have been anxiously awaiting delivery.

Last week I finally got my Luma and wasted no time deploying it. This is a bit of a long read but will give you the information to make a better decision if you are considering Luma. Here are my first impressions and experiences, good and bad:

Set-up: You don't set up a Luma system as you would a normal router, connecting your computer directly to it and typing in a default IP address into a web browser. Luma uses a mobile app (iPhone or Android only) to get things up and running. This approach should be a lot friendlier for the average home user. (Both Luma and Eero use this approach)

The app itself is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. You don't need to be technically inclined, and it will configure all the Luma units you own one at a time in a methodical manner.

What is unique to Luma is it asks you what kind of residence you have (Apartment/condo, townhouse/semi, or detached house) as well as how many floors your residence has.

Luma asks you to position where your modem is on a map it provides to understand where the first Luma device is. From there it will recommend locations for the other units to provide the best coverage for your home using a mesh network. (Mesh means the other Luma units don't need to be wired to your internet connection, although they can be). The Luma's connect to each other wirelessly, without sacrificing speed as you would typically see with a range extender.

Luma does a good job in suggesting locations, however in my case I had other considerations that made me adjust slightly. First off, I couldn't put one of the units in my 5yr old's room if I wanted it to survive, so it went to a different spot on the 2nd floor.

I don't do much that requires connectivity from my basement (yet) so instead I decided to put a 2nd Luma on the main floor as that's where the majority of our heavy lifting over WiFi happens.

Even with the Luma's distributed this way the basement coverage is as good or better than I had with my old router.

The Luma does a speed test periodically and updates the results in the app so you can see what sort of connectivity it is getting from your ISP.

As with any speed test when it leaves your ISP's network to reach a test server (and many do) the results might display slightly slower speeds than you were expecting. I'm pretty pleased with the speed I'm getting, and I have run tests on individual devices where I've reached almost 300MB download.

As promised by Luma I was able to create profiles for my kids and then assign their devices to those profiles. Once that was done I just adjusted the category of websites they were supposed to have using the easy slider scale, and Luma kicked those restrictions in to effect almost immediately.

I did find that using a "G" rating was actually too restrictive, my 5yr old's Leap Pad couldn't access the Leap Pad approved kids content on Youtube, so I had to adjust her up slightly to PG sites. (If you're listening Luma, the ability to input manual exceptions would be nice.) 

So where does Luma fall down, and where is it missing features offered in an Eero? Let's see.

Not all features promised on the website actually work at this point.

Luma's site promises that you can approve or reject devices from joining your internal WiFi with a quick swipe. This sounded like a fantastic feature but I couldn't find it in the app. When I asked support they indicated it is roadmapped but they don't have a release date yet.

Luma's website also promises you can see what websites people are going to (presumably your kids) and either approve or deny requests for sites that fall out of the category set for their profile(s). When I asked support where I could access these settings I was again told it was roadmapped but no release date was set.

It's misleading to market the product as having these features when they aren't live yet. Hopefully they get released soon.

There are a few more techie issues with the Luma. Most people won't care but just to be thorough:

1) You cannot change the IP range. Luma uses an address set at and there is no ability to change this. (Yet) This was an annoyance as I have a few devices like my NAS using static IP's so they had to be manually changed.

2) You cannot program DNS servers. The Luma takes whatever DNS servers your ISP provides from the modem, it will not let you set your own. This is a problem if you are using a smart DNS service like Getflix to access geo-restricted content, it means the service can't work.

3) Luma doesn't play nicely with other routers. To work around the DNS issue I tried putting my old router in front of the Luma and having it set the DNS. While this let me use Getflix, my speed dropped dramatically, falling to about 45MB from the 250MB I should have been getting. Eventually the Luma units started going offline. When I called support they indicated Luma's don't react well to other routers in front of them. After removing the router all the Luma's began functioning normally.

4) You cannot assign devices "friendly" names. (Yet) I emailed support to ask how I could set easier to recognize names for the devices on the network (Makes it easier for me to administrate rules) and was told again that this was a roadmapped feature but not available just yet.

5) No bridge mode. Unlike the Eero there is no option to put the Luma in to bridge mode. Bridge mode basically turns the Luma in to a wifi system but you would still need a router. I understand why Luma doesn't support this (yet), they are differentiating themselves from other solutions with their enhanced security and a bridge mode would negate most of that. Still, the owners should have the option of using bridge mode if they choose. I suspect Luma will add this function soon, along with a big pop-up security warning.

What Luma does really well:

1) Set up: Luma's app is well thought out for walking the average person through set-up. The instructions use plain language and are easy to follow. Pretty much anyone can set up a Luma 3-pack in under 10 minutes.

2) Speed: Luma can handle up to 1GB internet connections, and the WiFi you get out of them is FAST. Your laptops, tablets, etc should be humming along once connected to Luma. My Amazon FireTV used to get between 6MB-9MB connecting to Netflix. Now it's pretty steady between 85MB-90MB. That's a huge improvement, and it makes streaming 1080p content a snap, no buffering at all.

3) Parental Controls: The sliding scale follows rating categories like movies, making it easy to understand and simple to apply. If you want to completely "pause" the internet during meal times etc it's as simple as pressing one button in the app.

4) Guest WiFi: Turning on the guest WiFi is a one time switch-on where you also set the password. Getting your friends on to your guest WiFi is a snap, the Luma app has a button to invite people to your guest WiFi and will send them the SSID (The WiFi name) and password via email, text, etc. Very convenient.

5) Security: Luma watches all the devices on your network and makes sure they aren't phoning home to botnets or other malware command & control servers. If it sees activity like that it intercepts the traffic & blocks it. You get an alert in the app (and presumably via email although I haven't tried yet) letting you know there is a security concern with a device, and the relevant information about the device etc.

6) Port forwarding: Luma will let you set up port forwarding to the internet. This is useful for more technically-inclined users who are running servers or VPN's at home and want to be able to access them from the internet.

7) Stability: The WiFi provided by this product just works. Since setting it up (without a 2nd router in front of it) I've had no problems with any of my devices accessing the WiFi whatsoever. I was worried that I'd begin getting complaints from my family about problems but there have been none, it's been completely reliable.

8) Support: This is usually a sore spot but I have to say I have been really impressed with Luma's support. If you send an email it gets a response quickly, and when I called in I reached a person surprisingly fast. The support staff are pleasant and helpful. Luma's got support done right, which is so important. Support is like car insurance, you never think about it until you need it, but when you need it you really need it.

9) Newer Technology: Luma uses MU-MIMO (Sometimes called next-generation AC or AC wave 2), meaning it can talk to all WiFi devices at once. The older standard (Used by Eero and many other manufacturers) is SU-MIMO, which means the WiFi access point has to finish talking to one WiFi device before it starts talking to the next. As you begin to buy new devices they will likely have MU-MIMO baked in to their WiFi cards, making them even faster on a Luma network vs an Eero network. For more on the differences between SU-MIMO and MU-MIMO click here.

Like all products in this space Luma will continue to enhance and add features via software updates. This is a great approach because you're not stuck with the functionality as it was at the time of purchase.

It also means there's no need to try and perform manual firmware updates which almost no one ever does, resulting in security issues down the road.

I have no doubt  Luma will address the shortcomings mentioned earlier, and I'm hoping it happens soon because once done this will be a killer system. In my case I wish I had a 4th Luma unit to put in the basement, but that's hardly Luma's fault.

For the average home user who just wants fast, reliable WiFi throughout the home Luma is a great option. At $399 it's $100 cheaper than the Eero which makes it pretty attractive.

I'll post a side-by-side comparison on Luma vs Eero soon, but I'd have no hesitation recommending Luma to my friends for a fast and easy solution.

Got a specific question about Luma or Eero? Post it in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer it.

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Choose Your Email Provider Wisely

Most internet service providers (ISP's) offer their clients free email, and I know several people who have taken advantage of this because the ISP makes it so easy.

But it's a trap.

Once you start using the ISP's email, it becomes much more difficult to leave that internet provider, and the ISP's know. I've heard that when you attempt to renegotiate your internet package with your ISP (Something everyone should do on an annual basis, it can provide big savings) one of the things they check is to see if you're using the email account they provisioned for you.

If you are then they know you'll have to reach out to everyone you converse with, friends, family, businesses etc, and get them all to update their records if you decide to leave.

It's a huge pain, and often people will take a bigger bill or less consistent service because they just can't take on the hassle.

It doesn't have to be that way. Google offers gmail for free, and Microsoft offers a account for no cost, which is basically the latest version of the Outlook Web App.

Both have great features, solid security, support 2-factor authentication (2FA) and give you the freedom to use any ISP you like. Don't get bullied by things like "But we provide free anti-virus on your email!" from your ISP. Google and Microsoft do too, and probably to it better.

If you use an Android smartphone like 80% of the world does (Recent numbers have Android at 80% market share, Apple at 18%, and "other" at 2%) the integration with gmail for email, calendar, and contacts is quite impressive.

There are a bunch of other free providers out there, but as with most things on the internet, if the service is free that means you are the product. You'll have to accept a little targeted marketing in the side panels as the price of the account, which really isn't a big deal for most people.

If you're uncomfortable with that you can consider purchasing an Office365 account from Microsoft for about $4/month, or Google Apps for Business for about $5/month. f you're really security-minded you could even purchase a Protonmail paid level account starting at €5.00 /mo.

So if your current email address ends with something like,, or you might want to start making the transition to a new provider now. this will let you get people used to the new address while still having access to the old one for stragglers.

Internet providers and technology change so rapidly now that typing yourself to one specific provider can be short-sighted. Why not do what you can to give yourself a bit more choice?

Happy surfing!

-The Home Geek