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Review: 2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD – Part 5

Posted in Products with tags on April 14, 2014 by itnerd

So I’ve come to the end of this review. What are my final thoughts? I thought the S60 is a great sedan. It’s a great daily driver. But if you want to have some fun, it’s got the handling and power to do that too. Plus it’s got a ton of technology that makes your life simpler and safer.

One thing I should do is show you is the shot of groceries in the trunk to illustrate to you how much space this trunk has:

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As you can see, this trunk is huge. There is a lot of space left over when we put our groceries into it.

The final fuel economy that I got was 12.1 L/ 100 KM. I could have done better, but I made liberal use of the 300 horsepower and 325 pound feet of torque that was available to my right foot. I have to admit that having that much power is fun to have. Though it will cost you at the gas pump.

What is all this going to cost you? Well, the particular S60 T6 AWD variant had a lot of option boxes checked. Thus it came up to a grand total of $57,350. But if you want something at a lower price point, the S60 starts at just under $37,750 with FWD and a Drive-E 5 cylinder engine under the hood. How does that stack up to the competition? At the start of this review, I listed the following as competition:

  • BMW 3-Series
  • Lexus IS
  • Mercedes-Benz C-Class
  • Audi A4
  • Cadillac ATS

Having driven everything except the Audi A4, I can say the following. I think the S60 performs and handles better than the Mecedes-Benz C-Class and the Lexus IS as those cars are slanted slightly more towards a luxurious ride rather than balancing that ride with performance. That’s not to say that they are soft. But the S60 in a performance situation is better than those two while giving the ride that people expect in this segment. When it comes to the Cadillac ATS BMW 3-Series, I think it matches up well against them as those two cars and the S60 have the balance between ride and performance right. From a technology standpoint, I think the Volvo beats them all because of City Safety. Once you’ve experienced the sort of safety that this or any Volvo model comes with, it makes it hard to go back to any vehicle that doesn’t have it. That’s its ace in the hole.

Now having driven the 2013 version of the S60, I can say that the 2014 model has evolved nicely and I believe that drivers will appreciate all the changes. Starting from the paddle shifters all the way to the new Volvo styling, It’s a good improvement to an already good vehicle.  If you’re in the market for a luxury sport sedan, take a trip to your local Volvo dealer and test drive an S60. Plus have them demo City Safety for you and take some time to look it over in detail. I truly think you’ll be putting your hard earned money down for one.

 

Review: 2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD – Part 4

Posted in Products with tags on April 11, 2014 by itnerd

This Volvo is packed with all sorts of technology that does everything from navigate you from point A to B to potentially avoid an accident. Let me give you a rundown of what you get starting with the safety features:

  • Adaptive Cruise Control: When you turn this on the car will not only maintain a set speed, it will adjust the speed relative to the cars in front of you and keep a distance that you can choose between the two of you. If the car in front of you slows down, the Volvo will slow down. If the car in front of you speeds up, the Volvo will speed up.
  • Distance Alert: You pre-set a distance that you consider “safe” for you to be following another car. If you drive closer than that distance, a red light will appear in bottom of the windshield within your line of sight (in other words, your passenger will likely not see this) and the red light will become more intense the closer you get. That’s a hint that you’re too close and you need to back off a bit. If it thinks that there’s a potential for an avoidable collision, the red light will flash and you’ll hear beeping. I had this happen to me and it does really get your attention. If it thinks a crash is unavoidable, the brakes will activate.
  • Blind Spot Information System: It will warn you when there’s something in your blind spot by turning on an amber light inside the car. As I noted in part 3 of this review, the light is well placed inside the car so that you are always aware of what is around you.
  • Cross Traffic Alert: You will find this handy if you’re backing out of a space and you cannot see what is on either side of you. It’s handy for trips to the mall and to Home Depot. When I tried this, it not only picked up cars, but it also picked up a cyclist that I didn’t see. Nice!
  • Lane Departure Warning: The cameras in the windshield constantly monitor where the S60 is relative to the lane you’re currently in. If you start to stray outside that lane, you get a warning. If you continue to wander across lanes and you have the cruise control on, the car will disable the cruise control. That of course slows the car down if you don’t have your foot on the pedal which forces you to take control. You then have to turn off the car and turn it on to re-enable cruise control. All of that is part of the Driver Alert System which is invaluable on long drives.
  • Road Sign Information: The camera in the windshield will read the speed limit signs and display them in the gauge cluster. If you go more than 10% faster than the speed limit. The display will flash. Handy for avoiding speeding tickets.
  • City Safety With Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian Detection: Now I wrote up an explanation of City Safety With Full Auto Brake and Pedestrian Detection a while back and videotaped how it worked when I tested the 2013 S60. But it’s been enhanced for 2014. It now detects cyclists. In a city like Toronto, that is a very welcome improvement.
  • There’s dual xenon headlights that turn in the direction that you turn the wheel. That way you can virtually see around corners. Also worth noting, the headlights and taillights are of the automatic variety. Thus you never have to worry about when to turn them on or off, or if you’ve left them on by accident.
  • In the event a frontal impact, the engine is designed to slide under the passenger compartment and the steering column is designed to collapse. That way the driver will not be crushed by either.
  • In the event of a side collision, the occupants are protected by Volvo’s unique Side Impact Protection System. The steel framework of the car – including the front seats – is designed and reinforced to help displace the impact of a side-collision away from the occupants to other parts of the car body and help prevent intrusion into the cabin.
  • In terms of airbags, you get 6. Front airbags for driver and passenger along with side impact airbags. Plus you get head curtain airbags.
  • There’s whiplash protection called WHIPS included to protect you from the negative effects of a rear impact.
  • In the event a frontal impact, the engine is designed to slide under the passenger compartment and the steering column is designed to collapse. That way the driver will not be crushed by either.
  • In the event of a side collision, the occupants are protected by Volvo’s unique Side Impact Protection System. The steel framework of the car – including the front seats – is designed and reinforced to help displace the impact of a side-collision away from the occupants to other parts of the car body and help prevent intrusion into the cabin.
  • In terms of airbags, you get 6. Front airbags for driver and passenger along with side impact airbags. Plus you get head curtain airbags.
  • There’s whiplash protection called WHIPS included to protect you from the negative effects of a rear impact.
  • The hood of the S60 is designed to lessen the impact forces on a pedestrian if you are unlucky enough to hit a pedestrian.
  • There’s a backup camera included in the 7″ screen. It works quite well as you can zoom in on objects and helps guide you into parking spaces. As you approach objects such as other cars or curbs, it will let you know where they are so you can avoid hitting them both visually and audibly. It picked up low curbs as little as a couple of inches in height which is the best that I’ve seen from a system like this. There is a CAM button on the center console that allows you to activate the camera at will. I used it a few times while parking to confirm that I was fully in a parking space. One thing to note is that the camera is exposed to the elements, so one wonders how well it will work in winter.

All of these features mean that the Volvo S60 gets a (IIHS) Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick+ award.

The audio system called Volvo Premium Sound System is nothing short of impressive. Those I shuttled around all week long commented was the best car audio system they’ve heard. You get USB and 1/8″ audio inputs. That’s tied to the infotainment system called Sensus which among other things allows you to pair your phone via Bluetooth (which is an easy process) for hands free calling and connect your iPod or iPhone via the USB ports to play music. In the case of the latter, I simply plugged my iPhone 5 into the USB port and I had complete access to my playlists and everything else. Any song be it a MP3 or a AAC file purchased from the iTunes store worked. Plus I got the track info from each song displayed on the 7″ screen located in the center console. I could also stream music via Bluetooth and get the track info displayed on the screen. But I would have to select the song or songs I wanted to play from the iPhone which is typical for these systems.

The 7″ screen isn’t a touchscreen. Instead, you control it via a scroll wheel which is similar to one that you find on a mouse along with an exit button on the steering wheel. There’s a redundant knob with buttons on the center console as well. You use the wheel or the knob to highlight the option you want and then you either click the wheel or press OK on the knob to choose it. To back out of a menu option, hit the exit button in either case. The menus are logically laid out and it will only take you a few minutes to figure out where everything is.

The infotainment system also allows you to use voice commands to control it. Now there are two things that stood out for me when it comes to that. First there’s a brief tutorial that explains how the system works. That saves you having to crack open the manual (which is a very good one by the way and as usual, I do recommend you read it). One note, it only works while the vehicle is in park. That’s a very nice touch. The other thing is that there is voice training that allows up to two people to train the system to better recognize their voices. That helps to improve the accuracy of the voice recognition and accounts for accents. Speaking of that, I found it easy to use the voice navigation. For example I could enter addresses into the navigation system, though you have to do it the way the system wants you to do it. For example if you want to go to 1234 Main Street, you have to say 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 for the street number. That’s not a bad thing as it guarantees a high accuracy rate. Another thing to note is that as you use your voice, the screen as well as audio will provide you with suggested choices. If you use it enough times, you’ll be able to eventually use it as your main way to control the infotainment system. My advice, spend an hour or two in your garage playing with it until you get comfortable with it before trying to use it on the road.

The navigation system was very competent in terms of it’s routing and it even displayed traffic and construction ahead of me. It is capable of displaying accidents as well. That allows the system to quickly re-route you if required. I noted that quite a few times, it would offer up a route change on the 7″ screen and if I was smart enough to take it, it would usually save me time. The navigation system is also highly customizable. You can set up a single screen, or split screens with their own views and zoom levels. It should be noted that Volvo owners get two free updates for the maps. I must admit that the navigation systems inside the Volvo cars I’ve tested are quickly growing on me.

Finally, you get keyless entry using Volvo’s Personal Car Communicator. You simply walk up to the car, grab the driver’s door handle, get in, hit the start button and drive away. You can customize this behavior to open one door or all doors. You can also tie the settings for the mirrors and the seats to the key fob. Plus each key fob can have it’s own unique settings. That way the car will automatically set itself up to that driver. The fob itself will lock or unlock the doors. Turn on the headlights to allow you to find the car in a parking lot, or confirm from a distance the car has been locked properly or the alarm was set off. Not to mention the always popular panic button along with rear trunk opening and closing functions. There’s one other thing. When you get out of the car, you close the door and simply touch an indent on the driver’s door. The car locks and you know it’s locked because it will beep and the side mirrors fold in if you have the latter set up to do that. Net result: You never actually have to take the key fob out of your pocket to get into, drive and lock the car.

The safety technology is nothing short of cutting edge and impressive. If you want a car that will keep you safe, look no further. As for the infotainment system, it’s great at what it does and is well executed. If you put in the time to learn how to use it, you’ll find that it works very well for you. Other technology is there to make your life easier. It’s all put together very well.

The final part of this review will tie up some loose ends and I’ll give you my final verdict.

 

Review: 2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD – Part 3

Posted in Products with tags on April 10, 2014 by itnerd

Volvo interiors have always impressed me because they are simple yet functional. The interior in the 2014 S6 T6 AWD is no exception. Let me hit the highlights:

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The drivers seat, which I’ve raved about in every Volvo I’ve driven, held me in place during spirited driving and it is highly adjustable (8 way adjustable… Though it feels like it has way more adjustability than that) including having knee bolstering for comfort during long drives. Put in the time to adjust the seat to suit you and you will never complain about long drives again. The seat also has three memory settings so that once you have that perfect position, you can make sure it’s always available. As a bonus, the front seats have pockets which is a nice touch. The front seats are heated.

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The rear seats are a great place to be. There’s lots of room and they are comfortable. Plus they have one extra feature that back seat passengers will like…..

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…. The back seats have heating as well as a 12 volt outlet.

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If you don’t need to seat three in the back, you can flip down the middle section to use the built in cupholders. There is also a storage area behind the cupholders that flips up.

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A unique feature in Volvo vehicles is the fact that the HVAC vents in the rear are on the B-pillars. Other vehicles have them on the floor which means that your feet either roast or freeze.

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Above the occupants is a rather large moonroof.

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Back to the front. All the window and mirror controls are on the driver’s side door. The woodgrain looks nice as well.

IMG_0889Next to the steering wheel are the controls for the lights, gas door, trunk, the electronic parking brake.

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The indicators for the blind spot information system is INSIDE the car rather than being located on the side mirror. That allows it to be within your field of vision which I really like and I think you’ll like as well.

 

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The steering wheel is heated and feels nice in your hands since it is leather wrapped. Controls for cruise control as well as audio and infotainment. You can also see the paddle shifters that are metal with a back that is rubberized so that they don’t slip in your hands.

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You get push button start along with a place to put your key in if you so choose.

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Here you can see the centre console that controls the HVAC system (which is dual zone by the way and you can direct the air using the picture of the person on the dash) and the infotainment system. Plus you can see the shifter that in the 2014 lights up.

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The centre console is Volvo’s signature floating console that has a space to pop your phone.

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You get a good sized glove box that is lit.

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You get two cupholders that will hold any coffee size that you can put in it. They can be covered if you don’t want to see them. Plus you get a 12 volt outlet.

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Behind the cupholders is a deep storage area that has a 1/8″ audio jack and a USB port for your phone or MP3 player.

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One of the cool features is that you can customize the gauge cluster as it is a TFT display rather than being mechanical. What you see above is the “elegant” setting…

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But for those who are more ecological, there’s the “eco” setting which can help you to save gas….

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… But I prefer the “performance” setting which gives me a power gauge on the right hand side. Each of these three setups can be further customized to show as little or as much info as you want. Plus info from the navigation system gets replicated here as well. This gets my award for coolest gauge cluster in a car. The gauge cluster was visible in most lighting conditions. The only exception was having sunlight being directly aimed at it.

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The trunk is absolutely HUGE. Plus it has a new feature for 2014….

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This panel flips up to hold your bags of groceries in place. Nice touch!

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There is a handle on the trunk to keep your hands from getting dirty, but it’s in an awkward position for me.

 

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There’s a ski passthrough. Note the release switch at the top. To get to it, you either have to drop the right side of the seats, open the pass through and put the seats back up (which is what the manual recommends), or dive into the trunk to get to it (which is what some males owners will try because they won’t recall what was suggested in that part of the owners manual…. Assuming they read it at all). Volvo might want to come up with a way to open the pass though from inside the car without dropping the seats.

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Finally, here’s the hardware that’s required for the City Safety system. It doesn’t block your vision in any way which is good.

Notes:

  • The visibility is great for the most part. I can see in any direction very well and there are no blind spots. Combined with properly adjusted mirrors, there should never be any reason why you can’t see what’s around you. The headrests can block rear vision. But there’s a button on the centre console that can remotely flip them down if that bothers you.
  • Headroom is excellent with the moonroof. That’s a +1 in my book as headroom in vehicles equipped with moonroofs is often an issue for me.
  • All the surfaces have some sort of low gloss soft touch material. It feels like it will stand up over time.
  • The build quality of the interior is top notch. No gaps, no rattles, nothing that could be considered a negative was found during my examination of it.
  • Four full size adults fit inside the S60 with no issue and were fully comfortable. Even the person who was sitting behind me was fine as I tend to push my seat back which affects the room that the person behind me has available to them. You can get a fifth person in there if they’re all friends.

The interior in this S60 is a great place to live. It is well put together and it’s a great place to take a long drive in. It oozes quality from every aspect and is well executed for the most part. The interior is a win for Volvo.

In part four, I’ll cover the technology which is very extensive. Stay tuned.

Review: 2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD – Part 2

Posted in Products on April 9, 2014 by itnerd

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The Volvo S60 T6 AWD is powered by a a turbocharged 3 litre inline six cylinder that generating 300 HP and 325 pound feet of torque. Now, frequent readers of this blog will know that when I tested the XC60 and the 2013 S60, I had this same engine with some software from Polestar installed which allowed it put out 325 HP and 354 pound feet of torque. So one must logically assume that this engine will be somewhat of a letdown after having all those extra ponies and torque at the disposal of my right foot. But it isn’t a letdown. Far from it in fact. There’s more than enough power here to put you into license suspension territory very quickly. Power delivery is instant, there’s little if any turbo lag, and torque which shows up for work at 2100 RPM just keeps building and building. Volvo claims a 0-60 time of 5.9 seconds. Something that was backed up by the app Dynolicious which I use to test these sorts of things. The power gets to the ground via Volvo’s Instant Traction All-Wheel-Drive system which can alter the torque from front to rear to make the car go forward as fast as possible and eliminate torque steer. It also includes torque vectoring which shunts power from side to side to almost eliminate understeer. The latter makes this car handle exceptionally well in turns. Speaking of handling, it’s very sharp and the car feels light on its feet and steering is direct and well weighted. The suspension is on the stiff side which helps with that. But I will note that speed bumps and roads with potholes (and there are lots of the latter in Toronto at the moment) will result in some “clunking” noises from the suspension. But it never makes it to your rear end which is good.

The S60 T6 AWD has a six speed automatic transmission that can be run in three modes:

  • Shift it to “D” and the transmission is very smooth. Except at very low speeds, I could not feel it shift at all.
  • If you slide the gear shift left so that it is set in “S” mode and leave it there, the transmission shifts on its own a more aggressively. In this mode, you can feel the car shift gears, but it is not objectionable.
  • In that left most position, you can shift it yourself by pushing the gear shift up or down, or by using the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The latter addresses a criticism that I had about the 2013 S60. By the way, the paddle shifters work exceptionally well. Unlike some other vehicles that shifted gears slowly (because I was never really in full control of the transmission), this transmission shifted the instant that I pulled on the paddle shifters. Volvo tweaked the software that controls the transmission to deliver up to 30% faster shifts than the outgoing model. It’s very impressive for those who like to shift gears themselves. Another note, the paddle shifters work regardless of what position the gear shift lever is in which is something that you can’t do in every vehicle that has paddle shifters. That way you can hold a gear when you need it.

Other than tire noise and occasional wind noise, there’s nothing that makes it way into the cabin in terms of sound. Even engine noise is largely muted, unless you put your foot down. You can easily use the accelerator to crawl through stop and go traffic and on the open road you can deliver the right amount of power to get the speed you want. The brakes are easy to modulate and bring you to a stop smoothly. In terms of fuel economy, I’m averaging 13.1 L/100 KM at the moment. But that’s with very liberal use of the “go fast” pedal. That should improve as the week goes on.

The next part of the review will look at the interior which is in typical Volvo fashion, is exceptional in every way. Stay tuned for that.

 

Review: 2014 Volvo S60 T6 AWD – Part 1

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

I have a very unique opportunity this week. I get to drive the Volvo S60 T6 AWD just months after driving the 2013 version. It’s unique because I will get a chance to see how Volvo improved on what was already a great luxury sedan. First, here’s a shot of the S60:

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I really like the styling direction that Volvo has taken. It proves that you don’t have to be polarizing from a design standpoint to have a car that stands out.

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What I noted immediately was the fact that the dual tailpipes are integrated into rear end of the car. That’s very similar to the XC60 T6 AWD that I drove recently and provides a better look when compared to last year’s S60 T6 AWD R-Design Platinum that I drove.

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The ten spoke wheel design is interesting…..

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…. And from a distance they really give the car a very cool look.

Volvo is aiming the S60 squarely at the BMW 3-Series, Lexus IS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A4, and the Cadillac ATS among others. To find out if it has what it takes to go head to head with them, I’ll be posting a multi-part review that will cover the following sections:

  • Engine, transmission, handling, fuel economy, and driving comfort
  • Interior
  • Technology in the vehicle
  • Wrap up

So lets see if Volvo can make anyone else in the luxury sedan space nervous.

 

Review: Asus Transformer Book T100

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

When I took the Asus Transformer Book T100 out of the box, my wife said “It’s so small. Can you actually use it?” Let me address the size question. I’ll use my MacBook Pro as a reference point:

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As you can see, the Transformer Book T100 on the left is absolutely dwarfed by the MacBook. But, it is actually usable. The keyboard is big enough for touch typists to use. The touch pad though is on the small side and is a bit stiff when you press it. That makes doing gestures on the pad a bit challenging. Good thing that the screen is touch sensitive which makes up for that. Speaking of the screen, it’s a 10.1-inch, 1366 x 768 IPS display that provided bright colors and wide viewing angles. Not to mention that it was very sharp.

When it comes to the overall package, with the keyboard and screen attached to each other it weighs under 3 pounds. That makes it easy to carry. The size also makes it easy to stow in a backpack.

Here’s an overview of the specs inside the Transformer Book T100:

  • 1.33-GHz Intel Quad Core Atom CPU
  • 2GB Of System Memory
  • 64GB Of Flash Storage
  • microSD Card Reader
  • 10.1″ IPS Display With A Resolution Of 1366×768
  • 1.2 MP Camera
  • Asus SonicMaster Audio
  • microHDMI, microUSB, and USB 3.0 ports
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • Windows 8.1
  • Microsoft Office

You’ll note that it comes with Windows 8.1 and not Windows RT. That means that you can run any application that you want on it. Plus there’s a copy of Microsoft Office. That combination makes the Transformer Book T100 usable right out of the box. It also comes with Netflix and Kindle applications. There’s also some preloaded software from Asus as well. Windows 8.1 is well suited to the Transformer Book as you can supplement the keyboard with the touch screen and take full advantage of the Metro interface.

It also has one other trick:

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You can detach the keyboard from the screen and use the screen as a tablet. This is a similar setup as the Transformer Book TX300 that I recently reviewed. At 10.1″, it is a good sized tablet that is easy to hold. However, the back is smooth and it attracts fingerprints. Plus I can see how it would be hard to hold if your hands are greasy. One thing that I will note is that Asus has refined how the screen is removed. Press one button on the hinge and the screen comes off. And you can easy pop it back with minimal fuss.

One thing I really like is that it comes with a standard micro-USB cable to charge the battery. That cuts down on the cables that you need to carry on a trip. But you won’t be using this cable often because you’ll get lots of battery life. Asus quotes 11 hours of battery life for the Transformer Book T100. I got just over 10 hours. That’s impressive given that it runs a full version of Windows 8.1. Nothing I did seemed to slow down the Intel Atom processor that’s inside the Transformer Book. Clearly you get a powerful but power efficient processor as part of the package.

Gripes? The only two were that I had was that it did not sit flat on any desk or table that I put it on. The other thing was that because the guts of the Transformer Book T100 are in the screen (rather than being in the keyboard), it throws the balance off a bit which makes it tricky to balance on your lap. Both of which really don’t detract from the usage of the Transformer Book T100.

My verdict? If you’re looking for an ultra portable Windows 8 notebook that can be converted into a tablet, the Asus Transformer Book T100 should be on your shopping list. It’s going to appeal to someone who likes Windows 8. It offers solid performance for the money as it comes with Windows 8.1 and Microsoft Office. Plus it has impressive battery life. If you buy the Transformer Book T100, you won’t regret it.

Review: Asus VivoTab Note 8

Posted in Products with tags on March 31, 2014 by itnerd

Asus wants a piece of the tablet action that seems to be owned by Apple and Samsung at the moment. Their weapon of choice? The VivoTab Note 8.

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First of all, let me hit the specs:

  • Pressure-sensitive Wacom stylus
  • Quad-core Intel Atom processor
  • 1280 x 800-pixel IPS display
  • 2GB of system memory
  • ASUS SonicMaster Audio
  • 32GB of internal storage
  • WiFi
  • Bluetooth
  • A microSD slot that supports up to 64GB capacity cards
  • A 5-MP rear camera and front HD webcam
  • Windows 8.1
  • Microsoft Office

Two things that you’ll note right away are that it has a stylus that’s made by Wacom. That’s important because Wacom are the best at making styluses and related accessories for artists and anyone who needs to use a pen on a computer in a serious way. In this implementation, the stylus supports up to 1,000 levels of pressure making it function and feel more like a real pen. That way you can use it for taking notes, or for drawing pictures if you have that talent. In short, it feels like a real pen. Combine this with apps such as Evernote or OneNote and Windows 8.1′s handwriting-recognition keyboard, you have a note-taking tablet with plenty of potential. The second thing that you’ll notice is that it comes with a full version of Windows 8.1 (which means that you can run any application you want on it) and a proper home button on the left side. The combination makes this tablet a lot easier to use. The inclusion of Microsoft Office means that you can use this tablet right out of the box for home or business purposes. It also comes with Netflix and Kindle apps pre-installed.

Given that the tablet is 8″ in size, that makes it easy to hold. Speaking of holding it the rubberized back makes it easy to grip and it will keep scratches to a minimum. The only negative is an exposed SD card slot. It has no protective cover or tab which means that if you put it into your bag, there is a slight risk that you might break something. Plus dust and crud can get into it. I found the IPS display to be very bright and sharp. I was able to use it comfortably in any lighting conditions. It also has clear and crisp colors as well. This competes well with the top tablets out there. So does the sound quality which is right off the top shelf. If you want great audio in a tablet, the VivoTab Note 8 is the tablet for you.

One thing I really like is that it comes with a standard micro-USB cable to charge the battery. This means that this tablet will charge off a standard cell phone charger. That cuts down on the cables that you need to carry. Related to charging the VivoTab Note 8 is the battery life. Despite running a full version of Windows 8.1, when the device went to sleep it only drained 6% overnight. That means you could go a few days between charges as I did with only moderate usage of the tablet. Nice! When it comes to performance, the VivoTab Note 8 felt snappy regardless of what I was doing.

My verdict? The VivoTab Note 8 is a viable player in the tablet market that should get the attention of Samsung and Apple. Granted, it will largely appeal to Windows fans. But it’s easily the best Windows tablet out there and is good enough that it should earn looks from people who are looking at of the the two tablet leaders. You should drop by your local Microsoft Store and have a look at it. I think you might take one home.

 

 

Review: Asus Transformer Book TX300

Posted in Products with tags on March 27, 2014 by itnerd

Many people own a laptop computer and a tablet. Thus they have to make a decision whether they should carry one or the other, or perhaps both. Asus says that you shouldn’t have to do that and as a result, they came up with the Transformer Book TX300. It’s a 13.3″ notebook that can be “transformed” into a tablet that runs Windows 8. Now I when I took it out of the box, I thought I saw resemblance with another laptop that’s very popular right now. Let me show you:

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On the right is my MacBook Pro. On the left is the Asus Transformer Book. Clearly we know where where Asus got their inspiration from. But perhaps Apple could take some inspiration from Asus:

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Unlike the current MacBooks, it has built in Gigabit Ethernet. Apple might want to get a Transformer Book and figure out how they can provide Ethernet without users needing an Ethernet to Thunderbolt dongle. In terms of connections, it comes with two USB3 ports, a DisplayPort connector, and an SD Card reader.

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When you use it as a tablet, you get a stereo headset jack, micro HDMI output, and a micro SD card slot. In both cases you charge the battery using a magnetic power adapter that is similar to Apple’s MagSafe power adapter, only bigger. If you’ve seen a Surface Pro power adapter, it’s roughly that size. I will note that it seems out of place as the actual connector is large given the overall size of the Transformer Book. Finally you also get Bluetooth and WiFi in case Ethernet isn’t available. Since the screen is 13.3″, it’s bigger than most tablets out there. The screen resolution is 1920×1080 and it’s sharp and bright due to the fact that it’s an IPS display. Though in tablet mode, or anytime you leverage the touchscreen features, it does attract fingerprints. Despite being bigger than most tablets out there, it’s easy to hold. The total package is thin, but it’s not exactly light at 4.2 pounds. Still it is easy to carry around either in laptop mode or in tablet mode. To go from laptop mode to tablet mode, simply slide a latch on the hinge to detach the screen from the keyboard. It click back into place when you want use it as a laptop. Though the hinge where you connect the screen does look kind of flimsy to me. Plus lining up the screen and hinge is kind of tricky, even with an alignment guide on the hinge. Once you get the hang of it, reattaching and detaching the screen is no problem.

How does it perform? The one that I got my hands on had an i7 processor in it with 4GB of RAM and two storage devices. In tablet mode, you get a single 128GB SSD. But in notebook mode you also get a 500 GB hard drive. You also get Windows 8 as part of the package. I’m not fond of Windows 8, but it’s more than usable thanks to the touchscreen and the big touch pad. Though I didn’t run any benchmarks on it, my seat of the pants feel was that it was reasonably quick. Anything that I tried on the Transformer Book wasn’t a problem whether it was a video on YouTube, or Microsoft Word. Another thing that got my attention was the sound. Asus put a Bang & Olufsen ICEpower audio system with four speakers and MaxxAudio technology on the software side into the Transformer Book. It works as the audio doesn’t disappoint. On the video side, you get two cameras. A 5MP / 1080p rear camera and a front-facing HD webcam. That will make Skype sessions very cool. In terms of battery life, my tests got an average of 4.5 hours. Asus claims 5 hours and I usually tend to take vendors battery life estimates with a grain of salt as they usually have no real world relevance. Thus it was a good surprise that my tests were close to what Asus says I should get.

So what’s my verdict? If you’re looking for a Windows 8 tablet and a Windows 8 notebook and you want a small package, check out the Transformer Book from Asus. Even if you mostly use it as a notebook, I think you’d find it useful as you can “transform” it into a tablet when you need to. That way you can have just one device for all your needs. That’s a value proposition that’s hard to beat.

Review: AVG Antivirus For Mac

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

AVG has been around the antivirus game for a very long time. So when they quietly released a Mac focused antivirus product, it got my attention. I just had to try it.

Installation was simple. A few clicks, enter your password, done. It doesn’t get any simpler. Once you install it I recommend that you scan your Mac. It will take a while, but it will make sure that you’re threat free. Now once you know that you’re threat free, AVG Antivirus For Mac will work in the background to make sure you stay threat free. Now if you’re suspicious about something, you can open up AVG Antivirus For Mac from the menu bar and drop the suspect item onto it to get an instant answer as to how safe it is or isn’t. All the controls are simple. Perhaps a bit too simple. There’s not a whole lot of options here other than on and off for the real time scanning and drag and drop scanning. More advanced users may be disappointed, though I will not that it doesn’t make the product any less effective. Another thing to note is that it apparently does updates in the background, but you cannot force it to update on demand. The most that you get in terms of knowing that are up to date is a notification saying that “protection is up to date.” In terms of speed, the first scan is slow. But first scans of your entire computer regardless of antivirus product or platform are always slow. I did note that in everyday use with the real time scanning enabled, I noted that my Mac was a touch faster when compared with having another antivirus application installed. That’s a good thing as an antivirus application that slows down your computer is a #fail. The most important thing is how it protects your computer. Using the European Institute for Computer Anti-Virus Research (EICAR) test file, I found that AVG Antivirus For Mac instantly blocked it. That’s good as if it will stop the test file instantly, it will stop any other threat that could harm you.

Would I recommend it? Yes I would for users who need a simple but effective antivirus product for their Mac at home. Check out AVG Antivirus For Mac if you need to put an antivirus product on your Mac. Which you should if you want to be safe.

Review: RFID Blocking Passport Billfold From ThinkGeek

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

I recently renewed my Canadian passport. The good news that they had a 10 year renewal option which gives me one less thing to think about. At least for the next decade. The bad news is that is came with an RFID chip in it. Seeing as there have been cases where these types of passports have been easily cloned from a distance, I figured that I shouldn’t take any chances. Thus I went to ThinkGeek and got myself an RFID Blocking Passport Billfold. It is made of leather, but it has a lining that keeps people from using RFID scanners to steal your personal info. Besides having a section with clear plastic to hold your passport, it has for slots for other ID such as a drivers license or insurance card, as well as a pocket for money. It fits nicely into any of my suit jacket pockets and I don’t really notice it. Plus it’s easy to remove anything that I need to use. Most importantly, it looks and feels like a quality product. But the real question is does it prevent your RFID enabled passport from being read? The answer is yes. I put my passport in it and I used a RFID reader to try and read it. It was unable to, thus this works as advertised.

These days, you don’t have to be Edward Snowden to worry about your personal info being stolen. This should be a concern for everyone as RFID is a pervasive technology. Thus in my mind, if you take your privacy seriously, you should take a look at ThinkGeek’s RFID Blocking Passport Billfold. It works and at $17.99 USD, it’s a great deal.

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