Archive for the Products Category

Review: Ello

Posted in Products with tags on November 16, 2014 by itnerd

Ello is a new social network that has a bunch of things going for it. Most notably the fact that it is ad free and doesn’t sell your data to third parties. It’s an interesting social networking platform that is in beta and is only accessible via an invite from an Ello member. I was fortunate enough to get an invite which gave me the ability to look at Ello.

The first thing I noticed about Ello is that it’s pretty stark:

ello

This is the exact opposite to Facebook which can be insanely busy in terms of the look and feel. This is likely deliberate as Ello really wants to contrast themselves against Facebook.

Several elements of Ello’s design are smart:

  • Your profile photo shows up within a circle, and you can follow other users by dragging their circular icons into either a “friends” or “noise” category, and recategorize them at any time.
  • You can view a feed of updates from either category, with the “noise” one sporting a somewhat compressed, Tumblr-esque layout that makes it easier to glance at many posts at once.

One thing that really annoyed me was that it was really easy to delete a friend’s comment on one of your posts by clicking a tiny gray “x” next to the comment. But other than that, it was easy for me to figure out how Ello works. One thing to note is that Ello curates content so that you can find really interesting content.

Downsides? First, it’s a beta. So you can expect that there will be bugs and oddities. Second, the fact that it’s an invitation only means that the user base is likely small. The third thing is how Ello will pay for all this while still keeping out ads. They do say that it will soon offer “special features” that users can pay “a small amount” to get. It will be interesting to see what those are and if users will pay for them.

If you do get an invite for Ello, I’d say it’s worth trying out. I think as more people join Ello, it might be an interesting place to be. I’ll be keeping an eye on Ello.

 

Review: iStat Menus 5

Posted in Products with tags on November 13, 2014 by itnerd

I’m the type of person who likes to know exactly what’s going on with my Mac at all times. Such as which apps are using bandwidth or CPU power. Or the health of my battery and hard drive. Normally, I have to work pretty hard to get this info as it’s buried in things like Apple’s Activity Monitor or Disk Utility. But I’ve discovered a far easier way to get this info. I installed a copy of iStat Menus 5. The premise of iStat Menus 5 is simple. It places a series of icons in your menu bar that can be clicked to reveal dropdowns with information. You can customize this to get the info you want and it covers a variety of areas such as CPU, battery usage, graphic card usage and the like.

Installing it is pretty simple. Download the app and open it up. It will offer to install itself and then you can customize from there. It took me twenty minutes to get the info that I was interested in set up because there are so many options available to display. Here’s a list of what you have access to:

  • CPU — You get 7 display modes and multiple core support. You can also see the GPU that is in use on multi-GPU computers and see how its performing.
  • Memory — You get 4 display modes including page ins/outs and swap usage display.
  • Disks — You 6 display modes and SMART monitoring for internal hard disks.
  • Network — Monitor current and total bandwidth, peak bandwidth, IP addresses, and the ability to hide network connections you don’t want to see.
  • Temps — Monitor the temperature of your Mac. You get 2 display modes and the ability to hide sensors you don’t want to see.
  • Fans — Monitor and alter the fan speeds in your Mac.
  • Bluetooth — Control Bluetooth status plus monitor the battery level of your Apple wireless keyboard or mouse.
  • Date & Time — Date and time in your menubar. This includes a world clock display that  lets you see the time in multiple locations around the world.

I’d strongly recommend that you spend some time seeing what you have access to and don’t be afraid to play around with the setup. Once it is set up, this is what it looks like on your menu bar:

istat

You can see that I don’t use all the features that I listed above, but there’s more than enough info there for me and most other people. One of the things that I did was that I got rid of some of the duplicate items that OS X provides. For example I got rid of the battery icon as iStat Menus provides a much more informative one. Not only that, the array of things that it monitors is extensive. For example, you can see the status if individual temperature sensors in your Mac as well as get historical data on pretty much anything. This way if you’re trying to diagnose an issue, you can figure out when the issue might have started or zero in on when and under what conditions an issue might be manifesting itself. If however you need to use one of the Apple supplied tools, you do get quck and easy access to Apple’s Activity Monitor, Console, Terminal, System Profiler, and System Preferences.

Here’s the best part. This app is $16 which is a small price to pay to get access to all sorts of info. Now you could say that iStat Menus 5 is an app that will likely only appeal to power users and those who are really curious about how their Mac works. But I would argue that it would also be useful to someone who’s trying to diagnose an issue that is hardware or software related. That way they may be able to avoid a trip to the Genius Bar by identifying the cause. Or you can bring proof that specific components are failing which will make that Genius Bar appointment much more productive. If that’s you, I say that you should look into getting a copy of iStat Menus 5. The company offers a 14 day trial and I think you’ll be buying it long before the 14 days are up.

Review: Western Digital Black 2.5″ Laptop Hard Drive

Posted in Products with tags on November 12, 2014 by itnerd

Because of my recent run of bad luck with hard drives in my MacBook Pro, I decided to replace the most recent one that failed with a third party drive rather than use an Apple supplied drive. After some research, I decided on the Western Digital Black hard drive. The Black line of hard drives from Western Digital are their highest performing models as they run at 7200 RPM and they feature a 16 MB cache to speed things along. Now 16MB doesn’t sound like a lot, but it works. My MacBook Pro boots in under 45 seconds versus 1:30 for the 5400 RPM hard drive that was in there previously. Applications also start noticeably faster which is good as well. One thing that I did notice is that in a very quiet room, you can hear the drive if you’re right next to the notebook. Now that doesn’t bother me and I am pretty sure that you will not find it objectionable. But I thought I would mention it. Another thing to note is that all this extra power doesn’t seem to affect battery life. I did a couple of rundown tests and I noted a 11 minute difference in battery life versus what I noted with the drive that my MacBook Pro came with. In either case, I got at least 6 hours of battery life which is good as it would really suck if increasing your performance meant sacrificing battery life.

The drive itself is thin. It’s only 9.5 mm high which means it should fit into most laptops including ultra-portable ones. You can tell that Western Digital thought out the design of the drive because when you flip the drive over, everything is tucked away on the other side of the main circuit board. This will keep the surface mount components safe. In terms of mounting, you can use the four mounting points on the bottom of the drive, or the four mounting points on the sides of the drive. I needed to use the latter, but it’s great that you have that level of flexibility at your disposal. Another thoughtful touch comes from inside the drive. According to Western Digital, the recording head never touches the disk media. That means that your data is better protected and the drive is more robust from the rigors of transport. Seeing that I travel a fair amount, I’ll be able to put that to the test. Having said that, if your drive does go bad, Western Digital offers up a 5 year warranty which is unusual as three years is the general standard for warranty periods. Having said that, Western Digital does have an excellent reliability reputation and their drives have been the ones that I have recommended to my customers for some time now. Thus I’m fairly confident that I will not have to take advantage of their warranty.

Now the model I got was the WD5000BPKX which uses a SATA 6 Gb/s interface to transfer data to and from the drive. You can also get it in a SATA 3 Gb/s variant. The choice depends on what your laptop will support. It also comes in capacities from 160GB all the way up to 750GB. I chose 500GB as that’s all the storage I needed. In my case, the drive was under $60 before taxes which is a great price for a drive these days. But if I did want to go up to 750GB, it was only $10 more. That’s still a great price. From my perspective, if you want to upgrade the hard drive in your notebook, the Western Digital Black hard drive should be your first choice. It’s fast without affecting your battery life too much, and comes with a great warranty. Plus Western Digital has a great reputation when it comes to reliability. All of this means that you cannot lose if you choose this drive to be in your notebook.

Review: Asus Memo Pad 8 (ME181C)

Posted in Products with tags on November 6, 2014 by itnerd

Given the last few Apple events, you’d be forgiven if you think that the only tablets out there come from Apple. But Asus is a legitimate player in this market and the Memo Pad 8 is a good example of this. The ASUS MeMO Pad 8 features a nice design. The tablet has rounded corners and a matte-plastic, soft-touch finish over a subtle criss-cross pattern. It’s easy to hold, but if you want to hold it with one hand, you might have a problem if you have small hands. Asus sent me a review unit in black, but shoppers looking for a little color can choose from white, purple and gold as well. One thing I really like is fingerprints on the back don’t exist. However you will see fingerprints are on the screen. Speaking of the screen, it’s a 8-inch, 1280 x 800 IPS display with LED backlighting, providing wide viewing angles and a wonderfully bright screen.

In terms of specs, you get the following:

  • 1.33 GHz Intel Atom CPU
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 16 GB of flash storage expandable to 64GB via MicroSD
  • Android KitKat 4.4
  • 802.11 B/G/N
  • Bluetooth 4.0

The Memo Pad 8 brings a combination of Android KitKat 4.4 and a custom skin by Asus called ZenUI. Android basics such as swiping down from the top for notifications are still there, but ZenUI features a modern graphic design and the ability to quickly move between a customized list of quick settings and the notifications tab. It works very well. Performance is pretty good as well. I couldn’t get it to trip up over itself which means that you’ll be happy using this tablet every day.

The MeMO Pad 8 features a 5MP rear-camera and a 2MP front-shooter. The 5MP camera can also capture 1080p, 30 fps video. Now to test the rear camera, I headed to Pearson Airport in Toronto. First, here’s the still picture. Click to see it in full resolution:

Jpeg

The quality is not bad. Now here’s the video. Set it to full screen and 1080p:

The video quality isn’t bad. Though it did have autofocus issues. Also the microphone was overwhelmed by the slight breeze.

Battery life is outstanding. Asus says you should get about 9 hours. I got 10 when I tested it by surfing and playing YouTube videos. That’s one thing that may make you want to run out to get this tablet. Another thing that may make you want to get this tablet is the price. It’s $299 CDN or $200 US. That’s a great price for what you get. One thing to consider is that Asus makes a 7″ Memo Pad with the same specs that goes for about $50 less money. If it were me, I’d spring for the Memo Pad 8 as it’s only a nominal price difference that’s very much worth it. The Memo Pad 8 is very much worth checking out if you’re in the market for an Android tablet.

Review: Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Posted in Products with tags , on November 6, 2014 by itnerd

Telus has hooked me up with Samsung’s newest “phablet” the Galaxy Note 4. Now I’ve always been dubious of the whole “phablet” craze, but Samsung sells a whole lot of them. So it proves that I shouldn’t be in their marketing department. One of the things that sets the Note 4 from the rest is the addition of a stylus. It makes using the Galaxy Note 4 way more useful than most. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start with the physical aspects of the phone. The backing is slightly more textured. One thing I really liked is the fact that the Galaxy Note 4 is free of the cheesy faux stitching that was found on previous Samsung phones. The straight sides are comfortable to grasp and easy to hold onto. You can easily find physical buttons with your fingertips. In terms of size, it’s pretty much the same physical size of the iPhone 6 Plus. Fingerprints are minimal on the screen and non-existant on the case. The screen is a 5.7-inch display that is 2,650 x 1,440p quad HD AMOLED display. It’s clear and sharp and I would consider the screen to be right up there with the LG G3 and the iPhone 6 Plus.

In terms of specs, here’s what Samsung has brought to the table:

  • 2.7 Ghz Quad Core Processor
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB internal memory expandable to 64GB via MicroSD
  • LTE Connectivity
  • Android KitKat 4.4 with Samsung TouchWiz
  • dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.1 LE

The Note 4 is one of the most powerful devices on the market. It felt quicker than pretty much anything that I’ve tested recently and I think that the Note 4 will likely keep that title of “fastest Android  phone” for months to come. You get Android KitKat 4.4 and you get Samsung’s TouchWiz UI which makes the Galaxy Note 4 easy to use. There’s a new S-pen which is roughly twice as sensitive to pressure as the last one, capable of registering over 2,000 levels of sensitivity instead of 1,000. You still get features like Air Command and a ton of other features that make it useful in everyday use. It comes with the same software setup as the Galaxy S5. In terms of LTE speed on the Telus network, the Galaxy Note 4, put up some impressive numbers. I got 41.58 downstream and 15.18 upstream on average when I tested the phone using the Speediest.net app.

When it comes to the camera, you get a 16MP shooter in the rear with optical image stabilization, which is a first in any Samsung Galaxy smartphone. The front camera is a 3.7MP shooter for those selfies that you want to take. The rear camera also does 4K video and can be highly adjusted to suit your needs. That required a trip to Pearson Airport in Toronto to take some pictures. First here’s a still that you can click on to see at full resolution:

20141102_140823

The quality is quite good. But check out the video which was shot in 4K video:

The video is also quite good, but if you want to shoot at 4K resolution, you’ll need a MicroSD card. One thing I should note is the microphone. It was sensitive enough to pick up my breathing.

Battery life is a strength of this phone. I got almost two days of usage out of this phone. That’s impressive. Telus is offering the Galaxy Note 4 for $300 on a 2 year term or for $800 outright. That makes it a great value when compared to the iPhone 6 Plus. Taking into account the speed, battery life, camera, and the fact it comes with a pen, you have to take a serious look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Take a good hard look at it if you are looking for a “phablet.”

In Depth: Citrix XenMobile

Posted in Products with tags on November 4, 2014 by itnerd

The IT Nerd team recently had the opportunity to attend Citrix Mobility in Toronto. This is a one-day event hosted by Citrix executives and product specialists, which provides strategic guidance on how you can enable mobile workspaces evolution for your organization. One thing that really got our attention is Citrix XenMobile which is their entry in an emerging application space that is referred to as mobile device management or enterprise mobility management. Both could be described as the administration of mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops when linked to a corporate network.

What XenMobile does for you is help to configure, secure, and support mobile devices in your company. You can also protect company data on any device or corporate asset and selectively wipe any device if lost, stolen or out of compliance. This is important because mobile devices are becoming the norm in corporate environments. That includes smartphones and tablets. If your organization doesn’t have a plan for managing these devices, you’re asking for trouble.

Now we hope to have a full review of Citrix XenMobile posted soon. But until then, Ernesto of Citrix was kind enough to demo XenMobile to us. Here’s the video:

Review: HTC Desire 510

Posted in Products with tags , on November 3, 2014 by itnerd

Rogers this week hooked me up with the HTC Desire 510. It’s an Android smartphone that as you will see comes with enough power for most for not a lot of money. From a size perspective, it’s pretty easy to hold and it will not slip out of your hand. The one that Rogers sent me was white so fingerprints were covered up everywhere except the screen. Speaking of the screen, it’s a 4.7-inch, 854-by-480-pixel TFT LCD. I found that the viewing angle is too narrow, and even from dead on, everything looks a bit washed out and grainy. Maximum brightness is average, which makes the highly reflective screen even more of an issue outdoors. In terms of the rest of the phone, the volume buttons are on the right edge, while the Power button is positioned on the top left corner, making it a pain to reach with one hand. The back peels off to reveal a microSD card slot and removable battery. Strangely, the speaker is on the back rather than the front which I would expect to find it on an HTC phone.

In terms of specs, here’s what’s under the hood:

  • 1 GB RAM
  • Quad-core 1.2GHz processor
  • 8 GB internal storage expandable to 128GB via MicroSD
  • Android KitKat 4.4
  • LTE connectivity
  • 802.11 B/G/N
  • Bluetooth 4.0
Performance with this setup is decent. You won’t set the wold on fire, but you won’t feel that the Desire 510 is slow. In short, it’s performance is acceptable. HTC’s Sense 6 skin runs atop Android 4.4 with a spattering of custom apps for Gallery, Music, and Videos. The BlinkFeed social and news aggregator is still enabled by default, but you can easily remove it if you want. Rogers has added a few apps of their own including Rogers Anyplace TV, Rogers One Number, and City TV Video. Speaking of Rogers, this phone achieved 34.05 downstream and 5.96 upstream on the Rogers LTE network when I tested it with the Speediest.net app.
In terms of the camera, at the back you get at 5MP shooter that does 1080P video. Up front, you get a 0.3 MP camera for selfies and video conferences. To test the rear camera, I took a trip to Pearson Airport in Toronto. First, let’s look at the still picture. Click on them to see it in full resolution:
IMAG0003
The image quality isn’t bad given that it’s 5MP. Now the video. Set it to full screen and 1080p:

The video quality is decent. I don’t think anyone will complain. Though I will note that there was only a slight breeze and the microphone was overwhelmed by it. In terms of battery life, you’ll get almost a day and a half out of it. More if you use the power saving modes that come with the phone. Either way, that’s very good. In terms of price, Rogers is offering the HTC Desire 510 for $0 on a two year term or $200 outright. At that price point, it’s a good choice for someone who wants their first smartphone, or doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on a smartphone.
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