Banking App for Travelers – Revolut Converts Currencies Minus the Fees! Comments Off on Banking App for Travelers – Revolut Converts Currencies Minus the Fees!

Who isn’t familiar with this scenario? When you’re in a foreign country and you get cash from an ATM or pay with a card, you always have this uneasy feeling of having just lost money. A poor exchange rate and fees for foreign transactions are just part of the travel routine.

But there are other options! For several weeks, I’ve been using an app by Revolut, a London-based startup. Spending money is now really fun. Revolut doesn’t charge any fees for using their Mastercard either domestically or abroad, and on top of that, you get a fair exchange rate.

25 Currencies in Your Digital Wallet

In just ten minutes, I set up a Swiss franc account through the Revolut app. If you want, you can keep several parallel currency accounts: you can choose between 25 different currencies, including the euro, US dollar, British pound, Swedish krona, Turkish lira, Japanese yen, and Thai baht.

 

Since I wanted to use Revolut for both paying and withdrawing money, I immediately ordered a credit card that was linked to the app. As a Revolut user, you have the choice of a virtual or a physical Mastercard. With a standard free membership, you pay nothing for the first virtual card. For a physical card and each additional virtual card, you have to shell out CHF 7 or the equivalent. All credit cards are free with a paid premium membership (CHF 8.99).

You can have a total of two physical and five virtual cards. The advantages of a virtual card are that you can’t lose it and you can use it right away. Not that I had to wait that long for the plastic Mastercard – three days later, it was already sitting in my mailbox.

Credit Card Without the Credit Check!

Before ordering the card, I had to top up my account with a minimum of 10 Swiss francs. The Revolut card works on a credit basis, which is why there’s no need for a credit check. Lately, customers from Germany have had to add a minimum of 50 euros.

Meanwhile, as a confirmed Revolut user, I immediately made a single deposit of 1500 euros while in London. After first playing around with the app for a bit, I now wanted to hit the road with a little more money. This time, I added the money via transfer because I wanted to test whether I could manage without my bank credit card. The money transfer via SEPA went smoothly and without any fees, since Revolut lets you set up your own IBAN account in euros. My Swiss bank’s poor exchange rate from CHF to EUR can sometimes be annoying.

If you want to send Swiss francs without changing currencies, you have to make a so-called SWIFT transfer to a Revolut joint account. However, this will usually incur transaction fees by your bank. Payment with an external credit card to replenish your Revolut account may also result in paying fees to the credit card issuer.

When Currency Is No Longer a Factor!

When you’re abroad and you pay with a credit card or withdraw money from an ATM, your Swiss franc (or other currency) has to be converted into the foreign currency from your credit card account. What you then usually get is the bank’s own lousy exchange rate.

Revolut does it differently. The London startup gives its customers the more favorable wholesale exchange rate for more than 120 currencies – a rate that the banks themselves indulge in. The app shows you the current rates. If the exchange rate for the currency of your vacation destination happens to be good, you can change your Swiss francs or euros into the destination currency weeks in advance, although the app only allows advance money exchanges for 25 currencies, for which you can also have an account.

With a standard membership, you can change up to CHF 6000 free of charge – as long as it’s in the context of card payments, transfers, and in-app currency exchanges. Outside of that, there’s usually a fee of 0.5%. Premium members can take advantage of unlimited free money exchanges in over 120 currencies. On weekends, there are small surcharges, since wholesale trading is suspended at that time.

Sending Money to Your Friends? A Few Seconds Is All It Takes

For ATM cash withdrawals, Revolut charges nothing for up to CHF 200 per month. For premium members, the limit is CHF 400. If you exceed those limits, you have to pay 2% per transaction amount. For SEPA bank transfers in euros, in-store credit card payments, or sending money to friends via the app, Revolut charges absolutely no fees.

By trawling through the saved contacts on my smartphone, the app shows me which of my friends and acquaintances are already on Revolut. As soon as I send money to one of these contacts, the sum is immediately credited to the recipient’s Revolut account.

Buying Cryptocurrencies with Virtually No Fees

 

Users of the premium service can enjoy an additional feature: the purchase of Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. Revolut charges an additional 1.5% fee of the rate given by the cryptocurrency exchange Bitstamp. This is inexpensive compared to Coinbase, whose rates are almost 3.4% more. At eToro, the rates are about 3.75% more.

Buy Bitcoin Litecoin Ethereum at RevolutYou can pay your bills only indirectly using digital money. If all other currency accounts on the app are empty, Revolut will resort to credit card payments or the withdrawal of cryptocurrencies, and it will change these back into the relevant currency. The only ways you can use Bitcoin, Ethereum, und Litecoin directly is by sending sums in these currencies to your friends or by changing them back to Swiss francs or your own currency at the right moment. But be forewarned: the general terms and conditions prohibit speculative transactions.

I Am My Own Head of Security

What impresses me most is the control I have over my credit cards. Using the app, I can lock and unlock the cards without having to pay a fee. To increase the security of the cards, I can also simply deactivate specific features: magnetic strips, contactless payments, ATM withdrawals, and/or online purchases.

At any time, I can change my monthly spending limit for credit card and automatic payments, and I get additional protection through the “location-based security” feature. For instance, if my smartphone’s location is Zurich but my credit card details are being used in New York, the transaction will be stopped in the USA because of suspicion of fraud!

Will We Be Paying with QR Codes in the Future?

With Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Twint (the big Swiss banks), we now have powerful companies entering the ring with the aim of ultimately replacing the use of cash at the store counter. Payments are made with your smartphone through an audio chip (NFC), magnetic transmission, Bluetooth, and QR-code scanning. Revolut hasn’t decided yet which system it wants to use.

Claudio Wilhelmer, country manager for Switzerland, recently told IT Finanzmagazin: “We can assume that 2018 will bring relevant products to the market. NFC-based methods will no doubt be at the forefront, but we’re also looking at other methods. There are, for example, such exciting solutions as WeChat Pay.”

The last option fits well with Revolut, since WeChat Pay generates a QR code on your smartphone. The cashier can then scan the code to complete the payment. Unlike contactless payments via audio chip, magnetic transmission, or Bluetooth, the QR-code variant lets you retain a bit of control.

A lot of users in the Revolut forums have expressed the desire to use Apple Pay as a means for spending their credit. For more than a year, there’s been speculation about when Apple Pay will be introduced. Revolut is still not saying much. They’re working on it, but it will be a few weeks before they can say anything more specific.

Conclusion

For digital pioneers who want to free themselves from their nationally based bank, the Revolut app is a real blessing! Now there’s finally a way to pay with a credit card abroad without the burden of a bad conscience. The exchange rates are unbeatable, and there are no fee traps.

I’ve now returned all my Swiss credit cards because also in Switzerland, I have no problem using the Revolut card. The community is growing, and Revolut is likely to become the WhatsApp of digital payment transactions. WhatsApp has effectively eliminated the SMS charge. Revolut is putting an end to currency exchange fees.

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Kevin
Kevin Kyburz ist Blogger, Social Media Exponent, Kolumnist, Sportsmann, Coffeejunkie, Kitchengroover und wohnt in Zürich.

Testing the Apple HomePod: Its Speaker Is That Good Comments Off on Testing the Apple HomePod: Its Speaker Is That Good

The Apple HomePod has been available for sale for several weeks, and even if you can only buy it in the US, Britain, and Australia for now, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring one home with me on my last trip to California. In the past few days, I’ve been able to put the Apple speaker through some extensive testing.

HomePod Design – Pretty, Big, and Heavy

Since I’ve already had Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home speaker at home for a while, I was really surprised when I picked up the HomePod the first time. Even if it was still in its packaging, its weight didn’t change much after taking it out. At 2.6 kilos (5.73 lbs.), it’s definitely a heavyweight. In addition, I noticed how big it was compared to other smart speakers or even the Sonos One. But the other thing I noticed was that the workmanship on the HomePod is very high-quality and, as is typical of Apple products, comes across as high-end. What’s nothing more than plastic on the competition’s products is a cloth-like material on the HomePod. Anyone who’s familiar with Apple products will also quickly realize that the power cable has a cloth covering, which is otherwise not standard.

HomePod Apple textile

Operation – Easy, As Usual

Since I could hardly wait to start using my HomePod, I unpacked it and put it through its first test while still in California. As I was already used to this from the AirPods, I just held my iPhone X next to the HomePod, and it recognized and installed it immediately. After a quick question by the “Home app” about which room the HomePod was located in, Siri also already wanted to do a couple of language exercises to show me how easy it is to use them.

Sound Quality – Gets First Place

At home, I currently have a Sonos One, Google Home, and Alexa sitting around in addition to the HomePod. In terms of comparing the sound from the four brands, the HomePod is the clear winner, followed by the Sonos One and Alexa. As far as the Google Home is concerned, I have to say that I was really disappointed from the very start. One Friday, I took the liberty of turning the volume on the HomePod all the way up to 100%, and every piece of music—whether with lots of bass or high notes—played back perfectly even then. To read more about the HomePod’s sound, check out this in-depth AppleInsider post.

HomePod and AppleTV – The Perfect Combo

Since the HomePod speaker is so good, I didn’t hesitate to connect it to the AppleTV. With the Audio setting, you can set up the HomePod as an output source and listen to movies or TV shows through the speaker.

In my case, the speaker is so much better than the one that’s built in to the TV that for the moment I’m very happy with my HomePod, even if it only simulates stereo. If AirPlay 2 becomes available through an update, you would also then be able to use Multiroom to simultaneously control several HomePods, or just place one to the left and one to the right of the TV to get a real stereo sound.

Siri – Not the Perfect Voice-Recognition Assistant

HomePod Apple Siri above
A lot of us already know that Siri is not the best voice-recognition assistant, because there’s just no match for Google. Siri does a good job answering simple questions and even has funny expressions down, like on the iPhone or iPad.

I was amazed at how well Siri can listen. At almost normal volume, Siri—while sitting in the living room—could hear me from the bedroom, and I was able to get the music to play. What initially annoyed me somewhat about the playback volume was the voice control. With Google or Alexa, you have “Volume 1–10,” while the HomePod has “Volume 1–100.”

The Apple Ecosystem with HomePod

One of the criticisms you always hear about Apple is that its ecosystem has no room for other manufacturers or services. With the HomePod, for the moment I’m missing some radio stations that I enjoy listening to on my Sonos. The only way you can manage Tuneln is via the iPhone app. Spotify fans also won’t be able to do any voice commands. Luckily, I switched to Apple Music two years ago and am completely aware of and used to the Apple ecosystem so that it’s now no longer an issue.

My Upshot for the HomePod

With the HomePod, Apple has demonstrated its love for music. Five years of development have made it possible for Apple to put an awesome and great-looking product on the market—one that I really like.

Even if Siri is not as good as the Google or Alexa assistants, that’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a software update. At a price of $349, the HomePod is definitely not one of the cheapest smart speakers, but when compared with the big players on the speaker market, it can hold its own in terms of price and great sound quality. If future updates also manage to add multi-user support and AirPlay 2, then the HomePod would be perfect in combination with Apple TV or for a family.

When the HomePod will show up in Switzerland is still an open question. In the spring (so now, actually) it will be available for sale in Germany and then probably also in Switzerland through Digitec.

5 Top Smartwatches Compared Comments Off on 5 Top Smartwatches Compared

The first part of this series dealt with the most important criteria to consider when buying a smartwatch. In this article, I’ll introduce five top smartwatches that you should definitely consider before buying.

Apple Watch Series 3

Apple Watch Series 3 Nike
Apple Watch Series 3 Nike
  • Compatibility: The Apple Watch uses the watchOS operating system. One disadvantage of this smartwatch is that you can only use it with an iPhone. That puts the Apple Watch out of the running for Android phone owners.
  • Features: The new Apple Watch definitely impresses with its range of features. The only thing missing is WhatsApp. It already has a built-in heart-rate monitor and pedometer. It also has GPS and NFC, which allows you to use Apple Pay. This watch is suitable for swimmers, being waterproof to a depth of up to 50 meters. In addition, it’s equipped with an eSim so that you don’t even need your smartphone to accept phone calls.
  • Operation: As with previous models, you operate the watch through the combination of a touch screen and two function buttons.
  • Display: The Apple Watch Series 3 has an OLED Retina display. Depending on which model you choose, the watch has a resolution of either 272 x 340 pixels (38 mm) or 312 x 390 pixels (42 mm).
  • Design: As with all Apple models, the design has been kept relatively simple. Wristbands are exchangeable, although you will need special Apple wristbands. Unlike its predecessors, the new model with LTE feature has a red dot on the operating button.
  • Battery: Apple’s official word on the battery life for this watch is 18 hours. But in my own experience, with my daily usage habits, the battery has lasted much longer.
  • Price: You can get the Apple Watch through Apple for either 369$ or 469$ (with LTE).

The Apple Watch Series 3 offers a wide range of features. Most of all, if you place a high value on capturing health data, then the Apple Watch is a good fit for you. If you’re prepared to spend CHF 369 or more and you own an iPhone, you’ll be getting a good smartwatch for that price. You can already access a comprehensive Apple Watch Series 3 test report here on this blog.

Fossil Q Explorist

Fossil Q Explorist Smartwatch
Fossil Q Explorist
  • Compatibility: This watch is outfitted with Android Wear, and it’s compatible with both the Android smartphone (4.3+) and the iPhone (from iPhone 5 / iOS 9+ up).
  • Features: The watch has a built-in microphone so that you can take calls, but you can’t insert a SIM card. That’s why you can only accept phone calls if you have a connection to a smartphone. Users also have to do without GPS and NFC. The watch can withstand spraying or splashing water (as with hand washing or light rain), but it’s not suitable for swimming.
  • Operation: Operation is via touch screen and a button that can be used for menu settings or Google’s speech-recognition assistant, for instance.
  • Display: The watch has an LCD display with a resolution of 454 x 454 pixels.
  • Design: You can use any 22-mm-wide wristband with this watch.
  • Battery: Fossil is said to have an average battery life of up to 24 hours.
  • Price: This model is available for around 250$, depending on the version.

The Fossil Q Marshal is significantly cheaper than the Apple Watch, the downside being that users have to sacrifice the larger range of features. If you can do without GPS, NFC, and a SIM card, you can still get a good smartwatch for the price. An obvious advantage is the ability to use a standard wristband.

Samsung Gear S3 Frontier

Samsung Gear S3 Classic Smartwatch
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier
  • Compatibility: The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier comes with Tizen, Samsung’s own operating system, which explains why the full range of this smartwatch’s features only works with Samsung devices. Some features have limited usability with Android devices or an iPhone.
  • Features: The watch is waterproof and dustproof, and it’s suitable for uninterrupted submergence for 30 minutes at a depth of 1.5 meters (IP68 rating). The watch has GPS and NFC technology, making it possible to use Samsung Pay. The LTE variant is equipped with an eSim.
  • Operation: Operation is via touch screen, bezels, and two function buttons.
  • Display: The display uses AMOLED technology and has a resolution of 360 x 360 pixels.
  • Design: This watch can be used with any 22-mm wristband.
  • Battery: According to Samsung, the battery lasts for up to four days.
  • Price: The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is available for 440$

The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is above all a good choice for Samsung smartphone users. It features important technology like GPS and NFC. But compared to the models by Asus and Fossil, the watch is a bit pricier even though the model and, consequently, the technology are still from 2016. Samsung did not introduce a new model at IFA 2017.

TAG Heuer Connect

Tag Heuer Connected Modular Smartwatch
Tag Heuer Connected Modular ∅41 mm and ∅45 mm
  • Compatibility: The TAG Heuer Connected comes with the Android Wear operating system.
  • Features: This watch has the most important technologies, such as GPS and NFC. It’s waterproof at depths of up to 50 meters, making it suitable for swimmers. You’ll have to do without a SIM card, though.
  • Operation: Operation is via touch screen with a function button.
  • Display: The watch has an AMOLED screen with a resolution of 400 x 400 pixels.
  • Design: The watch’s design is customizable. Not just the wristband but also the holder and watch module are exchangeable, although you will need to get special wristbands and holders from TAG Heuer.
  • Battery: According to the manufacturer’s specifications, the battery lasts for up to 25 hours.
  • Price: The price for the TAG Heuer Connected varies depending on the model and starts at 1490$.

The TAG Heuer Connected is by far the most expensive smartwatch on the market. At the same time, the technology is only minimally distinguishable from that of other Android smartwatches. One advantage is that you can even exchange the watch module, which allows you to convert the watch to an analogue model. In addition, TAG Heuer gives you the option of replacing the watch with an analogue model once the warranty has expired. If you’re prepared to pay a high price for premium workmanship and manufacture by an established Swiss watchmaker, this model will be a good choice for you.

 

Sony SmartWatch 3 SWR50

Sony SmartWatch 3 SWR50

  • Compatibility: The SmartWatch 3 SWR50 is equipped with Android Wear.
  • Features: It includes such basic features as GPS and NFC, but you’ll have to do without a SIM card. The watch is waterproof, with a rating of IP68. The built-in microphone lets you take incoming calls as long as you have a connection to a smartphone.
  • Operation: Operation of this model is via touch screen and a function button.
  • Display: The watch is equipped with an LCD display with a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels.
  • Design: Wristbands can be replaced with special watchbands by Sony.
  • Battery: According to the manufacturer’s specifications, this smartwatch will last four days in standby mode and two with standard usage.
  • Price: At a price of roughly 120$, the SmartWatch 3 SWR50 is inexpensive compared to the other models.

If you’re in the market for a cheap smartwatch, this is a good model for you. The SmartWatch 3 SWR50 is by far the most affordable model and includes the basic features that are important in a smartwatch.

Conclusion

Currently, the market has a range of top smartwatches that you should definitely consider before buying. Which one is the best smartwatch is hard to say. In general, the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S3 Classic have the largest number of features. These are a good choice for iPhone or Samsung smartphone users who are prepared to spend 400$ or more. The Fossil models presented above offer a cheaper alternative, though with a limited range of features.