An excellent, bluetooth speaker

An excellent, bluetooth speaker

Last Christmas my kids bought me a small, waterproof bluetooth speaker so I could listen to music while in the shower. It worked as advertised however, the sound quality was lacking (it didn’t have much bass) and the battery didn’t last very long. It seemed like I was recharging it about once a week or so. It also didn’t have much of a range, requiring my phone to be within 10 feet or so for a good connection. You may have seen this type before. They look like this one:


They don’t cost much, around $10 to $15 on Amazon, but you do get what you pay for.

A Better Option

I wanted better sound quality and a longer lasting battery. I found both in the Hydra, a water and shockproof, bluetooth 4.0 portable speaker from Photive.


The Good

The Hydra has good bass, mid-range and highs for a small, portable, wireless speaker. It’s waterproof so you can keep it in the shower or bring it out on the patio and not worry about it getting wet. The battery must be pretty big because the it weighs more than you’d expect which to me means that most of the weight is the battery. That’s good because the battery lasts a really long time. I use my Hydra every day for perhaps 10 to 15 minutes at a time and I literally can’t remember how long ago it was that I recharged it. I’d say it lasts at least a month but probably closer to two months.

Pairing the Hydra to your smartphone or computer is simple since it shows up as discoverable device. Once you turn the Hydra on, there’s a button on the back that will connect it to your device quickly. Just a single press and you’re ready to go. There are also buttons to increase/decrease the volume, skip to the next track or go back to the previous one. These buttons, despite being on the back of the unit, are easy to reach as the unit is designed to point upward with both the front and back at 45 degree angles.

When you do need to recharge it, the unit comes with a USB cable that connects to a port protected behind a rubber cap on the right side of the unit.

The Bad (well, the somewhat bad)

There are two downsides to the Hydra. First, the on/off switch is also behind that rubber cap which means you have to remove it to turn it on and again to turn it back off. I can’t imagine why they didn’t make the on-off switch a pushbutton like the rest of the buttons. This isn’t a huge deal as it only takes a few seconds to pop the cap off, press the on/off switch then pop the cap back on. Still, it’s one thing they could improve. Second, some wireless, waterproof speakers allow you to answer a phone call. The Hydra doesn’t have this capability. If this feature sounds good to you, I’ll tell you that in reality, it’s not. I tried it with my the small, round speaker my kids bought me. It’s not that easy to hear the other person because of the noise your shower makes and it’s not all that easy for them to hear you. It’s also, believe it or not, a little awkward once they realize you’re talking to them from the shower.

The Hydra is not inexpensive. It’s $146 on Amazon compared to only $15 so for the small, round ones. However, the difference between them can’t be overstated. You really do get what you pay for. If you want quality sound from a speaker you can get wet and won’t need to be charged weekly, the Photive Hydra is a great choice.


Update: March 9th, 2017

After about 10 months the screws that hold the front speaker screen on began to rust. I contacted Photive and they offered to replace them if I sent them the speaker. I asked if they could just send me the screws and they did so at no charge. It look me a total of 5 minutes to replace them. I appreciate their customer service.


The Chip Card Disaster

The Chip Card Disaster

Credit cards have never been terribly secure. I’ve eaten at a restaurant on a Friday night and by Sunday realized I left my card there and the waiter had taken it to the bar district that night. From the charges, I’d say he bought a round for everyone.

These one-off fraud cases aren’t the real problem though. The problem has been the large retailers who store customer credit card numbers by the millions with less-than-ideal security. The hackers break-in and everyone needs a new card.

So the credit card industry decided a more secure card was the answer. Today’s chip cards no longer provide your number to the retailer (despite it still being written in large, friendly numbers on the front of your card). Instead, the chip card has encrypted data on it that is transmitted to the vendor’s credit card processor. The vendor themselves never gets your card number.

Almost a year ago, here in the US, we were supposed to be switching to these new chip cards that have been in use in Europe for several years. While I’m seeing more and more of them these days, about half are like the one above, with the chip reader taped off and a message telling us to swipe instead. If you wonder why, you’ll know once you try using one.

When they do work, the user experience is nothing short of awful. First, why do I have to insert this card and then wait? Who thought changing the way people have been passing their card info (swiping) was a good idea? Swiping wasn’t a great idea to begin with since it’s not obvious which way you should hold the card when swiping it. We eventually learn of course but it’s not obvious.

Quite often I’m stuck in line behind some poor shmuck who is just trying to pay for his turkey sandwich and can’t figure out which of the four possible ways this card could go in to the reader is the right one. Swiping a card takes half a second. These chip cards take something like 10 seconds to authorize. I could literally type in the number, digit by digit, faster. And when you get the card in right, when finally unlock that achievement, you’re reward is a loud alarm sound  suggesting to everyone around you  that your card has been declined. What panel of experts thought this was an improvement?

It’s my guess that most of the chip card-enabled readers actually work but the retail staff are so tired of the problems they create, they just pretend they don’t work.

Let’s compare this with ApplePay, Apple’s iPhone-based payment system. I pull my iPhone from my pocket, position it near the card reader and rest my thumb on the Home button. My screen comes on showing my default card and a little animation appears indicating that it’s detected my valid fingerprint. It ends with a friendly checkmark on the screen and a happy bling! sound. The entire process takes 1 second tops. It’s simple, faster than getting my card from my wallet and just as secure as a chip card. I presume Android Pay is similar though I have no experience with it.

This chip card transition is like a Greek trajedy. Almost every aspect of it that could be done poorly, was. Fortunately, more and more retailers are taking Apple Pay and Android Pay. If you work for one that doesn’t, please urge your employer to do so post haste. Paying for my turkey sandwich should never be the most complicated part of the transaction.

Sony’s customer service continues to suck: Part II

I promised I would update you on what ultimately happened with my Sony saga and I’m a man of my word so here’s the conclusion to this sad story.

After I posted part one of the story, I was contacted via Twitter by Sarah Kepler, Sony’s Social Media Team Supervisor, saying that she would be calling me that same afternoon. I missed the call but she left a message with her number. By the time I called, the office was already closed. The message that told me this provided no way for me to leave a message. That’s odd for a division of any company involved in communicating with customers. So I called her back this morning.

At one point during the call, Sarah told me she reports directly to the Vice-President and President of Sony. I assume she meant Sony USA. I figured I’m now finally talking to someone that can really get something done and may even have the power to make policy changes or at least suggest them at the highest levels of Sony USA.

Sarah asked me to explain what happened so she can understand it from my perspective. That’s a very good start. As I told her the story of the camera, she start interrupting me to explain Sony’s viewpoint but I asked her to wait so that I could give her the complete perspective she asked for. I explained the entire story about the camera and how the boom box melted/warped after an hour in the sun. She asked if it was near a campfire. I explained that this was in the middle of the day in May in Austin, Texas and it was in my backyard so no, it wasn’t near a campfire. She said her engineers would never believe that this occurred after it sat in the sun for an hour. She said she’s had boom boxes out in the sun for many hours and never had a problem. I told her that until this one, I had the same experience. I told her that I could provide five or six adults that would testify to the fact that this one melted like ice cream on a hot summer day. She refused to believe me. She was basically calling me a liar without actually using the word. At this point the discussion about the boom box pretty much ended.

She was able to look up the original conversation I had with Sony that, as it turns out, was back in 2007. With very little sympathy for all the trouble I’ve had over this, she said that she could not replace the camera at no cost. She said there was no way Sony would do a zero cost transaction. She said my camera was four years old now and I certainly couldn’t expect to get the full value replacement for it. I explained that I had given up on this after my first try with Sony four years ago and have never actually used the camera. So I have gotten no value from it at all. She was willing to sell me the 2011 equivalent of the camera, which is normally $220US, for $94US. I explained to her that this was a gift and again pointed out that never got any use out of it. She reiterated that Sony was not going to do a zero cost transaction.

I told Sarah that at this point I was really mostly interested in seeing how Sony would choose to resolve the issues of an unhappy customer. I told her I take most of my pictures now with my iPhone so I don’t really need the camera anymore. What I wanted to see was Sony step up the plate and make me happy and acknowledge that they are always looking for ways to improve their customer service. That would have restored my confidence in Sony. That’s what I really wanted. But Sarah said that they make thousands of customers happy and that I was just mad because I wasn’t getting the answer I wanted. Wow. Wait, did she REALLY just say that? When I explained that I’m the CEO of a software company and how we really try to resolve problems that unhappy customers have even if that means losing money sometimes, she said, “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you lecture me on how to do my job.” Wow. She was defensive, argumentative, she implied that I was a liar and was saying things that it might be OK to think, but never to say especially to a customer! If she’s near the top of the food chain in a position of communicating with customers, she’s in the wrong job, IMHO.

When she realized that I wasn’t going to accept sending my boom box in so her engineers could tell me I’m delusional and paying Sony $94 to replace a camera I could never use, she suggested that the call was not going anywhere which clearly was her way of signaling that she wanted to end the call. Wow.

Sony you failed at customer service in almost every way possible. A hundred dollars or so in actual cost and the admission that you should have done better and will work to improve, would have turned this around. You would have restored my confidence and I would tell that story. Instead, you have lost me as a customer for LIFE. I’ll never again buy a Sony product even when it’s clearly the best because making the best product is not the end to the value I get as a customer. The other part of the value is how the company responds when something goes wrong.

I’ve had some great customer service experiences from Panasonic, Apple, Home Depot, Lowes, and many others. Home Depot corporate customer service took care of my problem on a Sunday and took a $500 hit to make me happy. Panasonic, rocked at customer service recently and Apple is always superb at it. Unfortunately, not Sony. I expect good customer service and when I don’t get it, I actually feel like I have been lied to.

Sony has a serious customer service problem and if Sarah’s attitude is indicative of Sony’s attitude towards customers that have a problem with one of their products, then Sony is a fish that stinks from the head down.

Regrettably, this is the story I’ll be telling about Sony for the next 40 or so years.

Sony’s customer service continues to suck

If you know me, you know that I’m a very positive person. My glass is half-full. I give people the benefit of the doubt. So with that in mind, read if you will my cautionary tale regarding Sony’s products and customer service.

A few years ago, I was given a small Sony digital camera as a gift by a friend in Japan.  It turned out that the camera, despite having a Language menu, only supported Japanese. The same camera here in the US, which also has a Language menu, only supports English.

I contacted Sony to see if the language could be changed somehow or if they would simply replace the camera with the English version. They said they couldn’t because the camera came from Sony Japan and they were Sony USA. Do I care about those distinctions? No. They are Sony. That’s all I care about. They suggested I write to their “Executive Review Committee”. Now you would think that if a customer takes the time to write to such a committee with a reasonable request, it would be granted. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The letter I received back said they would not swap out the camera. Despite being a long time Sony customer, they were not interested in solving my problem. At this point they lost me as a customer.

In June of 2010 I found myself in need of a portable audio player with iPhone connectivity. I went to the local Best Buy store and the best unit, regrettably, was made by Sony. Despite not wanting to give Sony another penny of my money,  I bought it anyway. Remember this is a portable unit. It even can run on batteries. It’s the kind of boom box you might take to the beach for example. Last month we had it out in the backyard during a birthday party for my daughter. It was outside for an hour. That’s when we noticed that the CD cover, the buttons, the handle and part of the case all had actually warped from exposure to sunlight! Amazing. The CD portion of the box no longer functions.

Here is what a hour in the sun will do to a Sony portable audio player:

Having recently had a stellar customer service experience with Panasonic (who totally rocks by the way), I tweeted about the fact that Sony sucks at customer service. That same day, SonyListens started following me on Twitter and then I received a tweet from SonyListens asking me to contact them via email to tell the story of what happened. I did so and received a reply (from a Senior Customer Service Representative – now we are getting somewhere!) asking me to call a phone number and give them an event ID (which they supplied in the email) presumably so the person I would be speaking to could read the email message.

I called this morning and after about 10 minutes on hold, my call was answered. The person answering it seemed to be reading the email and asked me to confirm the issue I had was with a camera. I explained that that was only one issue and that there was also an issue with a boom box as well. It was like he didn’t even hear that because he said he need to transfer me to the camera division.

For about 10 minutes I waited on hold. During this time I listened to canned messages in English occasionally interrupted by canned messages in Spanish. What little Spanish I remember from college suggested to me that I had been transferred to the wrong number but I figured it was still Sony so they could either answer my questions or transfer me, yet again, to the right place. Finally someone answered in Spanish but he spoke English as well. I told him the entire story. This was now the fifth time I have had to tell it to someone at Sony and it was really disappointing and yet no surprise that his response was the same: Sony would not do anything about the camera. He suggested that the boom box, having been purchased in the US, could possibly be dealt with. Being curious as to just how badly Sony’s customer service would suck, I decided to pursue  the boom box issue so the Spanish Sony customer service rep transferred me to the boom box division.

And again I waited on hold. I’m not sure how long but it was at least 10 minutes. The woman that answered said her name was Jo and she would be happy to help me. I explained the story for the sixth time now. She asked me when I purchased the unit but I told her I don’t remember. She asked me if it was June 15th, 2010 and I said that was possible but I couldn’t be sure. She then proceeded to verify my physical address which means I registered the unit so she KNOWS I purchased it on June 15th, 2010! Jo said that I could send the boom box to one of Sony’s customer service centers for a free evaluation and that if any repairs where required, I would have to pay for them. I explained to her that most repair costs for consumer electronic devices under $100 are more than the replacement cost but in any case, this was simply poor design. I explained to her that Sony should be more interested in keeping customers and less interested in the occasional  additional cost of keeping a customer happy, especially at a time when the economy is bad and stories of poor customer service can spread so easily. She said that if I would wait on hold again, she would see what else could be done. I asked if she could simply call me back but she said she couldn’t because they are not allowed to make outbound calls. Wow, more poor customer service. But the fact that she was willing to check again to see what could be done led me to believe that Sony might be one of the companies whose policy is that if the customer yells loud enough, they will be taken care of. That’s a terrible policy but I was curious to see if it was Sony’s.

At this point I had been on the phone with Sony for 45 minutes. I waited another 15 minutes (I timed it this time) only to have Jo reiterate what she had already said with one change: it would be the repair facility that would tell me if I would be paying for the repair or not. She gave me the address to which I should send the boom box and asked me to write an order number on the outside of the box in which I shipped the unit. When I asked for the order number she said she was getting it. That took at least another 10 minutes of simply hanging on the line for her to get the order number. Finally, after 1 hour and 18 minutes on the phone, I had an order number I could use to ship (at my own expense) a poorly-designed boom box back to Sony for a repair that I might have to pay for myself.

At this point I’m simply curious how this story will end. To exactly what depth will Sony’s customer service suck? I’m going to send in the boom box (apparently the camera is a lost cause) just to see what Sony says. It’s really almost masochistic curiosity at this point. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Here’s the positive, upbeat side of me coming out again: The thing I learned from this experience that I find valuable, as the CEO of a software company, is just how important great customer service really is. One of my business books was pointing out what some well-known companies are known and not known for. It specifically mentioned that Sony was not known for customer service. I didn’t think must of this at the time as my issues with Sony had not yet arisen.

Sony, you need to change your attitude. You have a lot more competition than you have had in the past. The economy is poor. And badly-treated customers can spread their stories of woe at the speed of light to potentially millions of people. You really can’t afford to have customer service that is this bad.

Here are a few suggestions for you. If you choose to take my advice, the only payment I ask for is a digital camera with English and a boom box that won’t melt like ice cream on a sunny day.

  1. Make your policy that you will do whatever is necessary to make the customer happy.
  2. Don’t allow a customer to wait on hold for more than 2 minutes. Give your reps the ability to call the customer back so they don’t have to wait on hold.
  3. Hire customer service reps that can think and that get a warm fuzzy when the solve a customer’s problem. Enable them to do so.
These three simply suggestions will make a world of difference. And for those of you that are interested, I’ll be sending the boom box out tomorrow and will let you know via Twitter, Facebook and this blog, what ultimately happens.

Awesome picture frames?

I don’t usually have much of an opinion about picture frames. However, a local company was showing off their patent-pending picture frames at our local elementary school carnival this past weekend. They are really awesome. I like them not just because they are very contemporary, but also because they really are not picture frames at all. They are picture holders. They don’t frame the picture, the get out of the way so you can focus on looking at the picture itself.

What also makes them great is that they use magnets to hold up the pictures which makes it really easy to switch out your child’s artwork each week. They are not inexpensive but they sure are nice! Check them out here: