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The next generation of smart devices is here, to make your life easier, and more fun!


The joke among tech geeks at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the annual massive showcase of new gadgets, was “Does it work with Alexa?”

Indeed, Alexa will soon be commanding the market – or rather we will be commanding Alexa – and the innovators at the helm are the ones finding new and exciting ways to incorporate the voice controlled app into our homes and lives.


One of the most anticipated incarnations of this technology is TCL’s Xess, pronounced “excess,” the next generation of Amazon Alexa enabled devices, in the form of a tablet. Similar to Amazon’s Echo and its offshoots Dot and Tap, and Google Home, the device uses the Alexa wake word, or it can be programmed with the user’s chosen word, to turn respond to voice commands. In addition to following voice commands, the Xess 17.3-inch touch screen responds to hand gestures, which can control functions like scrolling, taking pictures and other tasks.


Xess also comes with a home security camera that can remotely monitor a room on 1/3 of the screen or on the full-screen, to keep an eye on kids, pets, or an area of a home.  Tapping on the camera icon can activate a video recording or capture still photos.


Using Alexa app on Xess I am able to turn lights on and off and dim them, and I can also raise or lower the room temperature of my Honeywell Lyric thermostat.  I can also listen to my New York Times or NPR news briefs, get the weather or traffic report, find my phone with a tracker, ask Alexa to tell me a joke, and even be inspired by a daily motivational quote or guided in meditation or lulled to sleep by various skills I have enabled for those purposes.

My favorite companion for Alexa is the Lutron app, which works with Lutron’s Caseta wireless lamp plug-ins and remote controls as well as other peripherals, such as Sonos.  At this time Xess and Echo and its offshoots are not Alexa-enabled to use voice commands to control Sonos, but using the Lutron app I can play music on Sonos using scenes.


Using programmed scenes on the Lutron app, which I can assign custom names and icons on the Lutron app, I can set lighting and music to match a desired mood or activity, such as dimmed lamps and mellow music for nighttime, or pop music and bright lights for my workout, which I can activate with the commands, “Alexa, turn on Sonos Chill-Out,” or “Alexa, turn on Sonos for Workout.”

Another terrific aspect of using the Lutron Caseta wireless platform is that the plug-in lamp dimmer acts as a range extender, which relays the wireless signal between smart devices, giving me an extra 30 feet for spacing devices.

At this time Xess is not integrated to use voice commands to play music from Amazon Music or read Audible books from Amazon and the like, but you can use these services on Xess just as you would on any tablet by selecting their apps on the screen and using the tablet interface.

One big difference between Xess and Echo/Tap/Dot and Google Home is that Xess can be controlled by hand gestures, such as an open hand to stop playback, a swipe motion to move screens or turn pages, a countdown with fingers for photos, and a shushing finger-in-front-of-the-mouth gesture to mute Xess.

Whereas the speaker-style Alexa enable devices are designed to be discreet, tucked away on a shelf or residing unnoticed on a countertop, the Xess is made to see-and-be-seen.


The Xess is basically a portable mini flat screen TV. It features a retractable carry handle and an adjustable stand, so it can be set down on any flat surface and set a variety of angles. It comes loaded with a couple very useful apps, such as Kitchen Stories, a step-by-step cooking demo app loaded with recipes, making it a great chef’s assistant.  It also has a pop out hub for connecting USB devices, headphones and inserting memory cards.


As an Alexa addict, I love having two dimensions in which to interact with the Alexa app. I still love my Echo, for its awesome seven-speaker sound capabilities, but Xess offers another dimension with its visual capabilities, plus it features JBL built-in audio for decent sound; and besides, when I am not using it to control my smart home, it’s a carry-anywhere oversized tablet, for homework, online shopping, or streaming video, like this great video series of Xess how-to videos:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnby6EE00VpVsaAP8pPR39Kgvddasgers.

If you would like a chance to own a Xess, compliments of TCL, valued at $499, please follow these easy steps to be entered into a random drawing, to be held April 6, 2017.

  • Like TCL’s Facebook page and on Twitter using the hashtag: #TCLXess.
  • Like this blog’s Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter
  • Post a comment on this post stating what feature(s) of the TCL Xess would get the most use in your home.

Extra chance:  Tweet and share this story on Facebook for one extra entry!

The recipient of the Xess giveaway will be notified by Twitter and Facebook. Good luck!



Green House & Healthy Family


As Earth Day, April 22, approaches, it’s time to green your life, inside and out.  Everyone knows about CFL light bulbs, low-flow showerheads and reusable grocery totes, but there’s lots of other ways to green up your world, like using these household and personal care items that can make your life greener, cleaner and healthier.


Round the Green House


Green Wash

Clean your clothes using less detergent and no harsh chemicals with the Robby Wash Laundry Ball by Oransi, an eco-friendly and hypoallergenic laundry detergent ball that can do the work of 75 lbs. of traditional laundry detergent and lasts up to 12 months and is safe for baby’s laundry. Safe enough for newborn laundry.  Oransi.com  $32.95.


Good Air Day

Everyone at home can breathe easier with the energy efficient ultra-quiet Blueair Air Purifier, which continuously monitors and removes 99.97% of all airborne contaminants such as pollen, pet dander, mold spores, smoke and dust.  The new E-series air purifiers come complete with a built-in digital display and remote control.  Bed Bath and Beyond. Prices start at $449.95.  

Off-the-Hook Green Phones

Top-ranked phone-maker VTech’s commitment to conservation rings true with its new line of phones that are EnergyStar certified and packaged with environmentally conscious materials and ink, such as the sleek and user-friendly VTech LS6225-2, with latest in DECT 6.0 digital technology for great sound quality, security and range.  vtechphones.com. $79.95.

Great Good-for-You Snacks

Ice Ice Yummy

I scream, you scream, we all scream for alternatives to sugary treats and soft drinks for kids.  Now there’s Power Ice, a delicious, healthy frozen snack that helps quench thirst and replace electrolytes with 0 grams of fat and cholesterol and no caffeine, high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.  Lime Kicker and Orange Blast flavors come in packs of three for $1.99.  Available at drugstores and supermarkets nationwide.

Happy Trails


Bear Naked Granola and Trail Mixes contain all-natural whole grains, fiber and protein for energy and nutrition that’s easily portable in two-ounce packs perfect for throwing in a backpack or jacket pocket for healthy boost on strolls, bikes, hikes or camping trips.  For a special treat by the fireside, bake up some delicious Bear Naked Heavenly Chocolate S’mores12 oz. mixes from $3.50 to $5, 12 two-ounce bags $15. Available at grocery stores nationwide or bearnaked.com.

Strip Up

Kids can enjoy the taste of fresh fruit wherever they are with Stretch Island Fruit Strips.  They’re  easy to carry along on a stroll, shopping trips, at sports games or wherever you might want a nourishing snack.  For a pick-me-up for moms and dads, all natural FruitaBu Rolls Fruit Rolls by Stretch Island Fruit Co. offer a whole serving of fruit and are perfect for a healthy deskside snack.  As a bonus, your purchase of Stretch Island fruit snacks helps fund The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation and “Fruit Tree 101’s” which as planted 1,000 fruit trees and shrubs at  schools across the country.  $13.99 for a 30-ct. pack of Stretch Island Fruit Strips or $.49 each.  $3.60-$3.99 for box of six FruitaBü Rolls.  Costco, Kroger, Walmart, Target  or at stretchisland.com or fruitabu.com.

Sweet Squeeze


All-natural, low-fat and dairy and allergen-free Jolly llama Sorbet offers premium frozen whole fruit in individual 3 oz. squeeze-up tubes four flavors (strawberry, blueberry, acai, and mango) naturally sweetened with pure cane sugar and averaging just 75 calories each. Ages 1+.  Find stores or order online at Jollyllamasorbets.com.  $1.69 each or $36 for a 24-tube case plus $12.50 shipping/handling. 

Eat Your Greens

Munch on a between-meal snack that even Mother Nature would love.  Amazing Grass Organic Green SuperFood Whole Food Energy Bars are packed with unprocessed and organic nutrients such as antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds in delicious flavors. Whole Foods Markets.  12 count box $35.99.

Best Foot Forward


Happy Feet

Made by hand, Soft Star shoes are crafted from natural materials to be light, roomy and breathable, by a wind- and solar-powered company committed not only to footwear that is flexible and comfort but to and local sourcing, biking to work, recycling and reusing.  Styles for babies, like the Laguna Sandal ($42), to adults, like the Grippy Suede Roo Chocolate ($63).  softstarshoes.com.


Green My Ride

Out-of-the-Box Seating

New car seats for kids usually come in huge, wasteful cardboard boxes, but not the Cosco Scenera Convertible Car Seat, packaged in the first-ever eco-friendly travel and storage bag.  The carry bag has eliminated over 65 tons of paperboard waste, saving an estimated 2,700-plus trees a year, and cut warehouse and transportation costs by 33 percent.   The seat features a 5-point internal harness system and detachable cup holder.  Fits children 5-35 lbs. rear-facing and 22-40 lbs. forward-facing.  Target.  $54.99.

Just for Little Sprouts


Flower Power 

For fashion that makes a statement, check out the Organic Floral Peace T-shirt by Trendy Twin and Kid Shop, made with super soft 100% organic cotton and adorned with a floral cotton peace sign. 2T-4T. Trendytwinshop.com.  $28.95. 

Back to Nature


Gear up little ones with an adorable 100-percent eco-friendly EcoGear Ecozoo Backpack, made of organic cotton, non-toxic dyes, and sustainable components in four cute designs: Pig, Puppy, Panda, and Elephant. Ages 1+. ecogear-products.com.  $29.99. 

Shoe In

Start toddlers early with a good sense of eco-style with the cuter-than-cute “Noodle” by Simple Shoes, made with washable suede from an eco-certified tannery and lined with fuzzy certified organic cotton fleece.  Toddler sizes 2-9.  simpleshoes.com.  $40. 

Feel Good Clothes

Kids with allergies and sensitivity to tags, seams, buttons, zippers and other clothing trims and textures don’t have to give up style for comfort with Soft Clothing for All Children, a kids fashion line made with vegetable dyes, natural enzyme washes, and water-based prints that won’t irritate and distract children who have these sensitivities, designed by a special educator and designer and a mom advocate for individuals with Autism. XS (age 4) to XXL (age 12).  Classy to casual styles, softclothing.net.  $10 – $25. 

Clean & Green Diapers

Disposable diapers may be convenient, but they pose a threat to our environment and can contain chemicals and materials that are not good for baby’s health.  Here are some safer and less wasteful options to consider:


Wood-pulp processed Seventh Generation fragrance- and chloride-free diapers offer softness for comfort, stretchy leg gathers for fit, resealable closure tabs for ease and non-toxic and hypoallergenic absorbent polymer to keep your baby dry.  Comparable in performance to traditional premium diapers but a whole different look with a plain, neutral beige rather than the white cartoon-embossed covers of most commercial diapers.   Whole Foods, Walgrens, Babies R Us.  Ages 0+.  Newborn (up to 10 lbs.), 40 count, to size 6 (35+ lbs.), 22 count,  $10.99.

Earth-friendly Earth’s Best TenderCare dye-free, perfume-free, chlorine-free diapers are made with annually renewable resources such as corn and wheat that lessen the use of petro-chemicals to reduce your baby’s environmental footprint.  They feature breathable sides, moisture barrier cuffs and refastenable tabs for comfort and ease of use. No cutesy cartoons on the outside but great performance.  Ages 0+. Available in seven sizes from newborn (40 count) to size 6 (22 count).  Babies R Us.  $11.99.   

Distinguished by a tiny leaf pattern and a unique center channel, the best looking of the Earth-friendly disposable diapers, hypo-allergenic Nature Babycare ECO unbleached, latex-free, frangrance-free and chlorine-free diapers are constructed of 60% natural materials such as soft absorbent pulp from sustainably harvested Scandinavian forests.  Less plastics provides more comfort without sacrificing protection.  Ages 0+.  Size 1 (40 count) to size 6 (20 count).  Diapers.com, Amazon.com, Target and Babies R Us.  $12.99.

An eco-alternative to disposables is KUSHIES Ultra-Lite organic diapers which feature a snug designer-style waterproof adjustable shell on the outside and washable liners of 100% soft cotton flannel or a flushable, biodegradable diaper liner inside.  A built-in flap can be folded up for boys or down for girls for extra absorbency where they need it most.  Pre-soak and machine wash and dry.  Ages 0+. Infant to toddler sizes.  Kushiesonline.com.  Trail pack of two diapers $32.99.  Toddler five-pack $68.99.

Big-brand Huggies hopped on the organic bandwagon with Huggies Pure & Natural hypo-allergenic and fragrance-free diapers, with an outer cover that includes organic cotton and aloe and vitamin E.  Ages 0+.  Newborn (30 count) to size 6 (20 count). 
Target, Babies R Us, Diapers.com.  $11.99.

Beyond Bed and Bath

Green Dreams

Don’t lose sleep worrying about toxins in your baby’s synthetic-materials mattress.  Sleep well by putting your little one down for a restful night’s sleep on the handcrafted Coco Mat mattress for cribs or toddler beds made with breathable pure lambswool and other all organic materials.  Age 0+. Locate retailers at nauralmatusa.com. $399.


Potty Talk

When Mother Nature calls, and little ones gotta go, go green, with the Safety 1st Nature Next 3-in-1 Potty, which includes a potty, toilet insert ring and stepstool, featuring a locking lid for easy carrying, all made with bio-plastic.  Walmart.  $9.99.

Up with Bamboo

Budding environmentalists can sit up tall and proud in the Safety 1st Nature Next Bamboo Booster Seat, made from durable bamboo, a renewable resource that grows quickly and is able to rapidly replenish itself. The booster includes an easy-to-remove adjustable tray and 3-point safety harness.  Babies R Us, Sears, Walmart.  $39.99.

Growing Up Green


Beating the BPA Bottle


Green to Grow baby bottles are free of toxic bisphenol-A (BPA) plastic which is found in many baby bottles, and the grassroots company proves they care about the future of our little ones and our planet by using 100 percent recycled paper and soy inks in all of their packaging.  They also founded Bottles to Babies Initiative which provides donated used bottles and new nipples to non-profit organizations and women’s shelters.  Whole Foods Market and baby boutiques nationwide.  5 oz. and 10 oz styles, $9.99 to $10.99.

Raise Your Glass

Silikids Glass innovates the child’s drinking glass with a germ-free, mold and toxin free silicone sleeve that makes gripping easier and prevents breakage.  6 oz. glass.  Find stores or order at silikids.com.  $7.95. Enter silibaby for 10% reader discount.

Good Green Read

Read it and Cheep

Author Carol Zelaya has created the Emily the Chickadee series of children’s books to help youngsters appreciate the beauty of nature and what little creatures can teach us, inspired by a baby bird that lived in her own backyard.  Amazon. $12

Naturally Beautiful & Healthy

Green Hair Day

Instead of chemicals that damage hair and pollute waterways, eco.kid products are made from ingredients that are organically certified, plant-derived, wild-harvested, vapor-distilled, readily biodegradable and indigenous to Australia.  Safe enough to eat them, if you wanted to.   The line includes eco.kid Bubbalicious Smooth Hair Paste shapes and holds hair and even repels head lice.  ecokidorganics.com. $16.50

Eco-Chic Hair

Snip-its kid’s hair salon now has a line of all-natural hair products with formulations safe enough for newborns.  For water babies, try Snip-Its Swimmer’s Solution Clarifying Shampoo made with natural papaya and pineapple extracts to remove mineral protein, chlorine deposits and residue from hair. snipits.com.  $9.99.


Smile Bessy

Natural Dentist Healthy Teeth & Gums Whitening Plus Toothpaste (5-oz. tube $4.99) and Natural Dentist Healthy Teeth Fluoride Rinse (16-ounce bottle. $6.99) uses natural ingredients like grapefruit seed extract, menthol, peppermint, sage oil, bamboo powder and aloe vera gel to whiten teeth, remove stains and sooth gums without alcohol and chemicals contained in most toothpastes and rinses, and they are sold without cardboard boxes to reduce waste.  Whole Foods, Rite Aid and CVS.  


The Nose Knows

Everyone from Oprah to the guy in the next cubicle extols the wonders of the neti pot, the drug-free way to clear stuffy sinuses, and SinuCleanse Neti Pot has done the nasal washing vessel one better by making it a clear blue plastic so that the user can easily see if the saline solution is fully mixed for proper use.  For little noses, SinuCleanse Kid’s Mist provides quick relief with a gentle nasal spray safe for infants to relieve nasal discomfort.  CVS.  Walgreens.  Both $14.99.


Now You’re Talking Cool

When tiny tots have sore throats, Children’s Throat Cooler offers icy relief in the form of a non-medicated frozen Grape or Strawberry treats that cool and sooth with immune-boosting ingredients including pure honey and Vitamin C.   Sold in multi-packs of six pre-portioned single-serve .8 fl. oz/25 ml pouches.  Ages 2+.  CVS and Rite Aid.  $3.99 to $4.99.



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