Archive for the Products Category

In Depth: Tablo TV

Posted in Products with tags , on September 9, 2014 by itnerd

Over the air television? Sounds old school. But it isn’t.

You can get a tremendous amount of local TV programming over the air. The best part about it that the picture is sharp, the sound is great, and the price is free. Combined with set top boxes like Apple TV and Roku, you can completely cut the cord with your local cable company. The thing is, you can’t record anything. At least not as easily as the set top box that your cable company supplies. Not to mention that the experience of finding programming is pretty primitive.

A Canadian company is out to change that with their new digital video recorder called Tablo TV. Here’s what it has going for it:

  • It is available in a two-tuner version, or four-tuner version
  • It can record anything broadcast over the air
  • It can stream the broadcast to a computer, mobile device, or compatible media hub.
  • The Tablo has no onboard storage, but it has two USB ports. You connect a hard drive to add as much DVR space as you want.
  • You can use a web portal on a computer, iOS or Android apps, to show the channel guide (with large icons or previews), or watch TV.
  • You can also watch your recordings away from home by using Tablo Connect

I spoke with Grant Hall, CEO of Nuvyyo which is the company behind Tablo TV and he thinks the moment is now for the Tablo TV to be a hit. In the US, cord cutting is nothing new with thousands of Americans dumping their cable companies last year. In Canada, cord cutting is kind of new. But as Canadians become more aware of the trend, and what is available to them for over the air TV, Hall thinks you’ll see the trend take off here. The fact that the CRTC is talking about reforms to how cable companies deliver TV to Canadians is proof that this trend is starting to happen. Though, it may be coming under threat. The CRTC is holding public consultations yesterday regarding the future of television in Canada, including the possibility of allowing broadcasters to discontinue transmission of TV signals over the air (under Fostering Local Programming, refer to #69, question Q24). That would be a shame as I think Canadians need some sort of affordable alternative to the cable companies for the television that they want to watch. It’s a safe bet once the CRTC gets out of the way, Tablo TV will be the choice of many Canadians to get over the air broadcasting.

But if for whatever reason that Canada doesn’t work out, there’s a huge market in the US for them to play in.

 

Review: Canon EOS Rebel SL1 with EF-S 18-55mm IS STM Kit

Posted in Products with tags on September 8, 2014 by itnerd

My wife and I got an invite from 500px.com to participate in their Global Photo Walk here in Toronto. The last time we attended one of their photo walks, I was testing the HTC One (M8) from Telus. But this time I wanted to have digital SLR as most of the people who participate in photo walks are taking photos using digital SLRs. So I reached out to Canon, and they were nice enough to send me the EOS Rebel SL1 which came with their EF-S 18-55mm lens. Physically, it’s impressively small by digital SLR standards. That makes it very easy carry and pack. Though the size does have one downside. The left side of the camera doesn’t have a lot to hold on to. For those who like to take pictures on the move and wish to have some extra stability, that might be an issue. It wasn’t for me when I was using it, but you should likely try it out in the camera store of your choice to see if it is an issue for you.

You get a ton of physical controls packed into this small camera on top of the touch screen to adjust certain settings. On the top panel you’ll find a three-stage power switch (it has settings for off, on, and video recording) that’s integrated with the mode dial, which has scene settings in addition to more advanced shooting modes. In front of that is a dedicated ISO button, the lone control wheel, and the shutter release. The Menu and Info buttons are around back, to the left of the eyepiece. To its right, there’s the button that enables Live View for stills, or starts video recording when the camera is set to video mode. On the far right you’ll find an AF point selection button and the exposure lock button. EV compensation gets its own button, as do image playback and delete. At the center of the directional pad is the Q Set control; it activates a rear menu from which you can adjust the bulk of available settings. The 3-inch rear LCD is just as sharp as the 1,040k-dot screen on the T5i, and supports touch input including swipe and pinch to zoom gestures. The good news is that it is sharp and clear unless you are in bright sunlight where it can wash out.

One advantage of this camera is it can be left in automatic mode where the camera makes all the decisions for you, or you can fully control items such as aperture, ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, flash compensation, image effects, white balance, bracketing, brightness and contrast, the metering pattern, the drive mode, the self-timer, the autofocus mode, and image quality. Thus it makes the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 perfect for any type of photographer. To illustrate that, here are pictures from the 500px.com Global Photo Walk which were taken at 18 MP which is the maximum that the camera is capable of. Please click each picture to see it in full resolution.

First we started at 500px.com headquarters in downtown Toronto:

IMG_3499We then went onto King St. West which had been shut down for the Toronto International Film Festival. Along the way, we came across the new Ford Mustang:

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We also came across a human sized chess game:

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We then headed down past the Metro Toronto Convention Centre where we came across this building that is under construction. I caught this shot of the CN Tower reflected in the building:

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We then went on to the roundhouse where we came across some old railway rolling stock:

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Within the roundhouse is a narrow gauge railway for kids and their parents:

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I got a chance to test out the EOS Rebel SL1’s ability to record video. It records in resolutions up to 1080p and you have the ability to set a multitude of options including frames per second. Here’s a quick clip shot at 1080p. Set it to full screen and 108p:

Other than some autofocusing at the start of the video, it was pretty good.

We then headed west along the Toronto Terminal Railway corridor and got some interesting pictures. Starting with this memorial to the Chinese workers that Canada forcibly imported to build the railway:

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We then went under a bridge at Spadina Avenue where I got this very interesting shot:

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The bridge also had these interesting lights:

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I also caught a shot of one of Toronto’s new light rail vehicles going over the bridge. More on that in a bit:

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There’s a brand new pedestrian bridge that goes over the Toronto Terminal Railway corridor where I got this artistic shot:

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Plus I got a picture of this VIA Train entering Union Station via the Toronto Terminal Railway corridor:

IMG_3560Along the way, we came across some cute dogs:

 

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From there, we headed south to the lakeshore. That meant we got to see traffic on the Gardiner Expressway:

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Once we reached the lake, I captured this shot of the Canada Malting Silos:

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Plus I used the burst mode that the EOS Rebel SL1 comes with to capture this shot from a game of basketball:

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At this point the photo walk was over. So my wife and I headed home. We headed to Spadina avenue and got lucky. We managed to catch one of Toronto’s new light rail vehicles. They’re bigger than the current streetcars that Toronto is using, accessible, quiet and very cool. They will eventually replace all the streetcars in the city:

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It has a state of the art payment system inside (which is paired with fare enforcement officers who will serve up a hefty fine if you don’t pay):

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Here’s a shot of the length of the light rail vehicle:

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Here’s a shot of the accessible area. You can flip down the seats to sit on, or flip them up for people with mobility aids:

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You’ll always know where you are as it displays the upcoming stop (you also hear it as well):

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It has multiple doors and you can enter and exit the light rail vehicle from any door. Here’s the back door:

IMG_3579Riding the new light rail vehicle was an unexpected bonus that gave us an extra opportunity to really test out the Canon EOS Rebel SL1. It really performed well with whatever situation I tossed at it. By the time we got home, I checked the battery status and it had barely moved. Given that between the two of us we took 150 pictures and several videos that’s impressive battery life. I should note that it uses a unique battery and an external charger. Because of that, you may want to get a spare if you travel.

The Canon EOS SL1 with the EF-S 18-55mm IS STM Kit goes for $779. But if you shop around, you can find it for as little for $600. It’s small, light, and a very capable camera that is well suited for all types of photographers. If you’ve grown out of your point of shoot camera, this should be on your list to look at.

 

Review: Rogers Home Phone

Posted in Products with tags on September 2, 2014 by itnerd

When my wife and I made the move to Rogers, we moved our home phone service to them. Now I have reviewed Rogers Home Phone back in 2010. But now that I had it full time, I figured that I should update the review.

The first thing that I need to update is the hardware that Rogers installs in your home. When I test drove it a few years ago, you got a very big and bulky box. These days, this is what you get.

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You get this device as part of the deal. It’s thin and light and looks stylish.

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At the back of this device you get 2 phone jacks on the left, USB and Ethernet ports for an unknown purpose as well as a connector for your Rogers cable line.

IMG_0409 This is a access cover that houses the backup battery that powers your home phone in the event of a power failure. It is replaceable. More on this battery in a bit.

Installation was easy and only took minutes. The Rogers tech that came out ran a separate cable line to the box and I connected my phone. He then did some work on his laptop and we had home phone. When I did some test calls, I found the call quality to be slightly better than what I was used to. For example, with my previous phone service I had difficulty hearing people who were calling us to be buzzed into our condo. With Rogers Home Phone, I found I had a much easier time hearing them. Bottom line, call quality is not an issue.

Now Rogers Home Phone has some unique features:

  • TV Call Display: When someone calls in, you see a pop up at the bottom of the screen with the number and name. You can then use your Rogers remote control to send the caller to voice mail, clear the pop up, or choose options.
  • Home And Away Voice Mail is a feature that has three options:
    • Voicemail to Text enables your home phone voicemail to be sent to your mobile device as a MMS. Receive MMS messages and listen to the audio file or read the transcribed text.
    • You can manage voice mail in a similar manner as Apple’s Visual Voicemail. You can also receive your voicemail messages on your mobile device as MMS.
    • You can have up to 5 mailboxes
    • You can see prompts that you have voice mail on your TV.
  • You can get call logs as well as see if you have voice mail on your TV.
  • Home And Away Online Manager: You can forward your calls, change your ring settings and manage your phone privacy settings from any computer with Internet access.

That’s on top of a number of features that you can choose from. You also get a variety of long distance plans to choose from whether you need to call in North America or someplace else on Earth.

Are there any downsides to Rogers Home Phone? There’s one that you have to take into account. Unlike Bell Home Phone service which has power coming through the phone line even in a blackout, Rogers Home Phone requires a battery backup to keep the phone going in the event of a blackout. You can expect the battery to last 5 hours and it is replaceable. For some people, that might be an issue. In my case, it was a factor. But I overcame that by using  an APC BackUPS 650 uninterruptible power supply as I have a number of them lying around. Given that the device that powers Rogers Home Phone draws 0.5 amps, I should be able to stretch another 45 minutes or more before things go dead.

Rogers Home Phone has a number of plans that start at $34.41 a month and depending on the plan you can choose the features and long distance plans that suit your needs. Though you might be able to do better if you bundle your services. Thus it pays to spend some time with a Rogers call centre representative to see what kind of deal that you can work out. If you compare what Rogers offers with what Bell offers, Rogers is cheaper and you have more features to choose from. If you can get Rogers Home Phone in your area, it is worth looking at for your Home Phone needs.

Review: Alcatel Onetouch Pop 8

Posted in Products with tags , on August 29, 2014 by itnerd

Today we have the second of two Alcatel devices from Telus. This one is the Onetouch Pop 8 which is a 8″ tablet running Android. Here’s the specs it comes with:

  • 8″ 1280 x 800 IPS screen
  • 1.3GHz quad core processor
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 4GB of storage upgradeable to 64GB with a MicroSD card
  • HSPA+
  • 802.11 A/B/G/N WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean
  • 2 MP rear camera
  • 0.3 MP front camera

Now 8″ for a tablet is an interesting size for me as I find it a nice size that is not too big and not too small. It’s easy to hold in my hand. The 8″ 1280 x 800 IPS screen is bright and sharp. While it does attract fingerprints, they don’t interfere with ability to view the screen. The back does not appear to be removable. So the SIM card and the MicroSD card have to go into the sides of the tablet. The protective flaps that cover those two card slots on both sides come with an unorthodox design. They are completely flush with the metal rim around the phone, with only a small “pimple” protruding at their upper parts. The tablet comes with a tool that allows you to flip the flaps open which is the same as the Onetouch Idol X+. My suggestion would be to never lose that tool. It felt solid in my hand and well built.

The OneTouch Pop 8 runs on Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with a light and minimalist custom skin on top. It’s flat like iOS 7 and Alcatel’s changes are cosmetic and enhance the look of the user interface. There are also little touches like the e-mail setup wizard which is easier to use than most. In daily use, just navigating around the interface and running basic apps like browser and email, it runs fairly smoothly, almost without a stutter. However, since this tablet has HSPA+, don’t expect to set the world on fire when it comes to mobile Internet connectivity. I managed to get 5.12 Mbps downstream and 1.78 upstream on the Telus network which isn’t bad.

Now, let’s make it clear. The Alcatel OneTouch Pop 8 is not a camera-centric device. It does feature a barebones 2-megapixel main camera, and a 0.3-megapixel front camera. With that in mind, I headed out to Pearson Airport to see what they could do. First, let’s look at the still pictures. Click the picture to see it a full resolution:

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It is on the blurry side, but it’s not bad. Now let’s look at the video which maxes out at 1080p. Set the video at full screen and 1080p:

As you can see, the video is kind of blurry. Thus it makes this camera better suited for video chats rather than being a camera replacement.

The OneTouch Pop 8 battery that is not user removable. I managed to get six hours out of a charge which is not bad. But it’s at least a couple of hours off the iPad Mini with Retina display. Having said that, I don’t think the target audience who are budget minded users will care. Speaking of budgets, expect to budget $0 on a two year term or $240 outright to get one from Telus. If you’re in the market for an affordable tablet that gives you the ability to use WiFi and HSPA+, the Alcatel OneTouch Pop 8 is certainly worth a look.

 

Review: Alcatel Onetouch Idol X+

Posted in Products with tags , on August 28, 2014 by itnerd

Telus this week supplied me a pair of devices from Alcatel. The one I was writing about today is the Onetouch Idol X+ smartphone. Now Alcatel is a name that you might not be familiar with. But Alcatel-Lucent is a massive French telecom company that’s a more of a player than most people realize. They have interests in networking hardware, IP technologies, software, and services. Oh, and they make mobile phones too.

Here’s what the Onetouch Idol X+ is running under the hood:

  • 5” IPS 1920 X 1080 screen
  • 2GHz 8-core processor
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 16GB Storage expandable to 64GB via a MicroSD slot
  • 802.11 A/B/G/N WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 13 MP Rear camera
  • 2MP Front camera
  • HSPA+

The Onetouch Idol X+ is plastic with a metal ring around the edges. It’s easy to hold for the most part and it looks classy and feels solid. The back does not appear to be removable. So the SIM card and the MicroSD card have to go into the sides of the phone. The protective flaps that cover those two card slots on both sides come with an unorthodox design. They are completely flush with the metal rim around the phone, with only a small “pimple” protruding at their upper parts. The phone comes with a tool that allows you to flip the flaps open. My suggestion would be to never lose it. The 5” 1080×1920  is pretty bright and has an anti-reflection coating. So when I used it outside, I didn’t get any annoying reflections. Though it did wash out in bright light. The display is also very sharp which is something that I did not expect.

Alcatel supplies a OneTouch Android interface overlay on top of 4.2.2 Jelly Bean with the Idol X+. It’s flat like iOS 7 and Alcatel’s changes are cosmetic and enhance the look of the user interface. There are also little touches like the e-mail setup wizard which is easier to use than most. It’s also fast. The 8 core processor is quick. The interface is fluid, and the phone ran any app thrown at it, including heavy 3D games. I was impressed. However, the phone is a HSPA+ phone. Which means that it’s not going to be speedy when it comes to mobile data. I got  5.61 Mbps downstream and 2.17 upstream on the Telus network which isn’t bad.

Now when it comes to the camera, it’s top shelf on paper. The rear camera is a 13 MP shooter which also does 1080P video. The camera interface allows one to customize the camera to suit their needs in a variety of ways. But it is still simple to use for someone who wants to point and shoot. To find out how well it works, it meant a trip out to Pearson Airport. So, here’s the still pictures for you to look at. Click it to see it at full resolution:

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The detail level in the photo is exceptional. Now here’s the video. Set it to full screen and 1080p:

Although it did have auto focus issues, the video is sharp.

The Onetouch Idol X+ is a real winner on the battery front as well. I got almost two days before I had to recharge. That’s impressive by any standard. What’s even more impressive is the price. It’s $0 on a 2 year term and $350 outright which is an outstanding price. Alcatel has come to the table with almost the perfect smartphone. The lack of LTE connectivity is the only area where it falls short, but other than that, I cannot find anything negative to say about it. If you’re looking for a smartphone, and you don’t want to spend a lot, take a look at the Onetouch Idol X+.

Tomorrow, I’ll be reviewing Alcatel Onetouch Idol Pop8 tablet. Stay tuned!

First Look: Kobo Aura H20

Posted in Products with tags on August 26, 2014 by itnerd

My wife and I attended a Kobo press event tonight in Downtown Toronto that allowed us to get up close and personal with the new Kobo Aura H20 eReader. What makes this eReader different than anything else on the market is this:

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It’s waterproof. As in IP67 certified waterproof. That means you can keep it underwater (no more than 1 meter) for up to 30 minutes with the port cover closed.

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Here’s a look at it on dry land. The screen which is a 6.8” Carta E Ink HD infrared touchscreen with a resolution of 1430 x 1080, 265 dpi. I found it to be very sharp when I was reading The Hunger Games on it. It was also easy to read regardless of the lighting conditions. So I don’t think you’ll have a problem reading books on it indoors or outdoors. It comes with 4GB of RAM and it’s expandable to 32GB so you can store all the books you want. Plus it has 802.11 B/G/N WiFi as well as Micro USB so that you can add to your digital library. As for battery life, it tops out at two months. That’s not a misprint.

My wife and I both test drove it and we both liked it. My wife in particular who reads a lot and isn’t a fan of eReaders because she prefers the feel of paper books was quickly converted to the other side because of how light it was, how sharp the screen is, and the fact that it was waterproof. The latter was a big selling point for her as it meant that she could read anywhere. In the hot tub, on the beach, while taking a bubble bath among other places.

The Aura H20 will retail for $179 CDN online and in-store, starting October 1st in Canada, the US, the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain with more countries to follow. Beginning tomorrow, select retailers will offer pre-orders, and as of September 1st, pre-orders will be available at Kobo.com in Canada, the US, and the UK.

Review: ZTE Grand X

Posted in Products with tags , on August 25, 2014 by itnerd

ZTE isn’t a phone company that you’re likely familiar with. But they aren’t small. ZTE is one of the top five largest smartphone manufacturers in its home market of China and in the top ten worldwide. They’ve come to Canada with the Grand X on the Bell network. Let’s see if they’ve come to play with the big boys like Motorola.

Here’s what it comes to table with:

  • Quad Core 1.2 GHz CPU
  • Android 4.3 Jelly Bean
  • 5″ 1280×720 220 PPI screen with Gorilla Glass
  • 1 GB RAM and 1.3 GB of storage which is expandable up to 32 GB via a MicroSD slot
  • 5 MP Auto focus rear camera with flash
  • 1 MP front camera
  • 802.11 b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • HSPA with a max speed of 21 Mbps

The phone is largely plastic. But it feels solid in my hands. The back is easily removable and so it the battery which is a good thing. It’s fairly thin and easy to hold in my hand. Though fitting it in your pocket may be a bit of a stretch. The screen is very sharp which is something that I didn’t expect from a phone that’s in the budget category. Neither is the fact fingerprints on the screen don’t affect the viewing quality. It comes with a largely stock version of Android Jelly Bean. Other than the addition of some Bell apps, it really seems that ZTE hasn’t done much to it. That’s a formula that will work for them. Just ask Motorola with the Moto G and Moto G LTE. Users will find it easy to adapt to. Plus with the quad core processor it is reasonably quick. However, because it’s a HSPA phone, it’s not quick when it comes to mobile data. Using Speedtest.net, I got an average of 4.45 Mbps downstream and 2.70 Mbps upstream on Bell’s network. However, someone who is buying a phone at this price point isn’t going to care. Plus, the’ll likely leverage WiFi as well.

Now when it comes to the camera, it’s a 5 MP shooter. The user interface for the camera is well thought through giving you a surprising level of control. You can customize ISO, white balance exposure and contrast among other items. That’s something that I wasn’t expecting from a phone that’s classified as a budget phone. It also does 720p video. So to test both out, I went to Pearson Airport to photograph planes landing. First, here are the stills. Click the picture to see it at full resolution:

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For a 5 MP camera. It’s pretty good. Now here’s the video. Set it to full screen and 720p resolution:

It was pretty decent though it did have problems trying to keep the focus perfect when tracking the plane. Still, I think for most people, this will be fine as long as you don’t take action videos.

Finally there’s battery life. I got just over a day of usage which is very good as that’s what you want from a phone regardless of what price point it’s at.

What’s the bottom line? The ZTE Grand X brings a quad core processor and lean implementation of Android along with a decent camera and decent battery life to the budget phone market. It’s $0 on a 2 year plan or $149 outright. Clearly, ZTE is serious about playing in the budget end of the market and you should take a look of them if you’re in the market for a smartphone at that end of the market. Also, Motorola might want to keep an eye on them as well as ZTE is clearly going after their turf.

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