Archive

Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Building a Smart Home: Episode 2, Alexa vs Google vs Siri

Who will win?

Looking back at my smart home requirements, it will need voice control capability. This blog will focus on picking the ecosystem with the best voice control.

Turns out, it is not a hard battle to eliminate one of them. I love Apple products because they historically ‘just work’. They have been having trouble lately though, especially with iOS 11. The glitches just make it frustrating. This is not about iOS 11 issues though, this is about Siri and how she has not kept up with Google Home or Alexa. Right off the bat, we are eliminating Siri as the controller of our smart home because she is just not updated enough and Apple cannot keep up with the competition from Google and Alexa. Sorry Siri, I wanted you to be my AI, but you’re not the droid I’m looking for.

Siri: “If you say so.”

Alexa vs Google Home vs Siri

This one is a tough one. However, my decision was made by default and I’ll explain why later. More objectively, I want to know which voice control most products support. Both Amazon and Google have made HUGE strides in getting people to adopt their technologies and it is definitely showing. In the end though, we all know which one has gained the highest mainstream following. You have to remove your ‘fanboy’ hat of either systems and really see which device systems are pushing:

Which one looks the most familiar? In my humble opinion, I have seen far more Amazon Alexa logos that Google Assistant/Home (Google Assistant and Google Home are basically interchangeable terms–Google Home is a product and Google Assistant is the brains in the product). Plus, we are people and Alexa gives us the more personal experience… its a NAME, not a title. It’s an instant connection.

However, earlier I said ‘objectively’. So lets be objective. I Googled (ha) ‘compatibility of alexa vs google assistant’ and noticed the first few hits were a bit biased. One of them had a head to head of these three voices and in the ‘Winner’ section, they didn’t even declare a winner but instead said how much they like Siri… and Siri is NOT the winner. I want her to be, but she isn’t.

Enter Tom’s Guide. They had a nice article laying out all of the information objectively. In the end, It basically came down to a tie between Alexa and Google Assistant, except I found a flaw in their results. They rated Alexa a ‘3’ in availability. Are you kidding me? BEHIND Siri? Siri is ONLY in Apple products and that is NOT available. I get it, they are counting Availability as “with you”. But we are adjusting this based on being in a smart home. More than once I call out for Siri across the room and she doesn’t answer. Alexa does, or Google Assistant does. I have adjusted the ratings accordingly:
voice assistant chart

With the adjustment for availability, you can see which one is the winner… Alexa. Google Assistant just doesn’t have the ubiquitousness (is that a real word?) as Amazon Alexa. HOWEVER, Google Assistant is smarter than Alexa. Google is able to better parse out commands and information from voice commands than Alexa who takes them command by command.

Final Showdown

When it comes down to Alexa or Google Assistant, after reviewing objective evidence and making personal opinions, my choice is Alexa. She has better compatibility with home products, has better aesthetics than Google Assistant devices, and has better human feedback (thought Google Assistant has better human thought compatibility). Google Assistant has better brains, but Alexa has better interfacing.

A final thing, I have been getting Alexa products as gifts from friends over the holidays. Alexa is proving to be a popular gift giving item, therefore since I have acquired a total of 6 Alexa products, we will be going with Alexa!

Choice: Amazon Alexa

 

Saving Money on Purchases During the Holiday Season

December 1, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s the holidays, therefore you are going to spend money. Lots of it. And by lots of it, I mean if you were watching your money flow on Mint.com and you habitually see green bars (obviously showing monthly net gains because we are all SAVING money), then for November and December you will see those heinous red bars showing monthly DEFICIT! Don’t worry, even though you may end up monthly deficit because you are stretching your purchasing powers, that doesn’t mean you can’t minimize the pain felt when you click “Buy”. That is the focus of this entry, saving the most you can on online purchases during the holiday season.

Step 1: Start observing price trends

In about August-September, start formulating a plan of what you want to purchase this holiday season for either yourself or as gifts. The reason I say this is because there will be several sales between that time and the holiday season, so you will know when Black Friday rolls around whether that item on sale is actually a good deal or not. One of my favorite watching sites is SlickDeals, it has a great following and posting population.

Xbox OneExample: Xbox One w/out Kinect normally costs $399. Starting November 1, they dropped to $350, and even bundle in two games (Assassin’s Creed Unity and Assassins Creed Black Flag). That is a great deal! But wait on it. Black Friday rolls around, and that price drops to $329.99. THAT’S a good deal.

So why didn’t I say to buy it on Nov. 1 when it was at $350? Because I know that around the previous February-ish, Microsoft ran sales for the Xbox One to cost about $350 during that time too. Whatever the sale is during the year, for electronics, it is likely to dip even further later on as Christmas draws closer. Same situation for memory cards, they go on sale all the time, and watching those previous sales, I know that they happen frequently, and Black Friday sales weren’t any better than normal sales so if I have the ability to wait, I can help keep my budget in the green by NOT purchasing unless I need those memory cards. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction with restraint. ;)

One last method to learn about price trends is to use websites like CamelCamelCamel.com. Go first to Amazon.com, find your product that you want, copy that web address, go to CamelCamelCamel.com, paste in there, and CamelCamelCamel will show you the prices that its had for a long time, so you can know whether you are getting a good deal or not.

Step 2: When you are ready to buy, utilize cash back methods

There are several ways to go about this. The first one is the primary method to save cash and requires a little bit of elbow grease: using online referrals. When I say online referrals, I mean sites like Fatwallet, ShopDiscover, or even Upromise. Using ShopDiscover (if you have a Discover credit card), they typically give you 5% back on a lot of online retailers (Crate and Barrel, Best Buy, Microsoft, Apple, etc). Knowing they give 5% back, I then look to Fatwallet because periodically they have even MORE back. This past summer, Fatwallet had 8% cashback for online purchases, so I purchased a Surface Pro 3 during this time, and tagged a student discount on top of it for a grand total of 18% savings! Sometimes though, Fatwallet only gives 2% back, so I know in that situation, I’m better off using ShopDiscover. The money you get from these is not immediate, it typically takes a few weeks (around 6) for the return. In the case of Fatwallet, it goes to your Fatwallet account, then you can transfer it to Paypal, which you can then transfer straight to your bank account. ShopDiscover gives you cashback to use on any number of things, one of those being straight to your credit card balance. Boom, you just made your life a bit cheaper. If you don’t have a Discover card and don’t want to use Fatwallet, you can also use Upromise. The money you earn from this you can apply to your student loan. Don’t have a student loan? Have your family members who DO have student loans set up a Upromise account, get their info, and then the money you saved by using Upromise will go to them so they can apply it to THEIR student loan…. why how nice of you!

Step 3: Use credit cards, and know when to stop.

Everyone talks about how bad credit cards are. Yes, they can get you into serious trouble really easily, but when used wisely they can save you a lot of money. During this holiday season, Discover has 5% back on all online purchases. I emailed Discover to ask if that 5% discount can be stacked on the ShopDiscover discount to earn a total of 10% (sometimes more/less) cashback… and yes, you can:

From Discover:
You will earn the 5% Cashback Bonus from October 1, until December 31, 2014, when you sign up to use your Discover card for department store purchases and for online shopping.This program allows you to earn 5% on your first $1,500 in purchases, and it’s an easy way to earn up to $75 more Cashback Bonus.

And you can earn an extra 5% to 20% when you make your online purchases through our ShopDiscover page! This would be in addition to the 5% for this program

Purchases must be made by December 31. While your 5% Cashback Bonus is normally processed a few days after your purchase, we ask that you allow up to five weeks for it to post and appear on your statement. See Cashback Bonus Program Terms and Conditions for further details.

The 5% Cashback Bonus program runs yearlong with categories changing each quarter. You will be able to sign up or find more information about each new program as it becomes available in the Account Center.

Be aware of the discounts your credit cards offer. Right now I know that an AmEx is offering 2.5% back on groceries, a Mastercard is offering 5% back on gas, Discover is offering 5% back on online purchases, Amazon Visa offers 3% back on Amazon purchases (all the time) and 2% back on dining out. Knowing this information, I know which credit card to use and where/when.

The key with credit cards is to pay off your balance EVERY MONTH. Otherwise you just negated all your hard work to save money and you will actually end up paying more. If you look at your credit card annual percentage rate (APR), you will see it is likely anywhere form 12.5%-20%. At most, using the easy methods, you can save about 10%… so if you miss a payment you just ended up paying 2.5% more at best for that product… ouch.

Step 4: Pay credit card bills ON-TIME and continue watching prices

Just because you started watching around August-September, having a greater awareness of the price of items puts you in a stronger position to save more money. There are certain times of the year where you can save money on certain purchases, and utilizing these methods, you can save even MORE on those items. A hidden benefit of some credit cards is price protection. On the Discover card, if an item you purchase on your Discover card goes on sale within the next 90 days, you can capture/print/take a picture of that sale, send it to Discover, and they will cut you a check for the difference, IRREGARDLESS of where you bought it from.

Example: I bought an iPhone 5S at Apple.com and a few weeks later BestBuy.com had the exact same iPhone 5S on sale for $75 off. I printed that sale ad, contacted Discover, sent them the information, and a few weeks later I received a check for $75. After you buy a high ticket item like that, KEEP WATCHING FOR MORE SALES. Other stores like Target or Best Buy offer their own price matching. Target and Best Buy will give back the difference if within 7 days it goes on sale within their store. Eyes open people!

Closing Thoughts

Don’t forget about other discounts such as student discounts and military discounts. If you frequent outlet malls and are in the military, sometimes if you visit the outlet malls business office you can get a 10% off card for every store in that outlet mall, or the respective store will give you a discount. Same applies for student discounts, especially in college towns. If you went to college, keep your student ID because you can use it at other locations to get some handy discounts, depending on your level or honesty… but hey, its saving money so our morality can be a bit flexible with that, right? The biggest key, IMO, is to watch, wait, and strike when you can maximize your discounts. Its challenging sometimes to keep track of all of it, but that’s where CamelCamelCamel comes in with watching price trends and also the hidden price protection with credit cards or a store (like Target or Best Buy or whoever else) does the price matching post-purchase. Using these methods, you can save a lot of money. Credit Karma actually wrote a good article about maximizing credit card rewards that is worth quickly reading over if you have more time. Good luck and happy holidays!

Categories: Shopping Tags: