Archive for the Products Category

First Impressions Of OS X Yosemite

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

I installed OS X Yosemite last night on a Mac that I don’t rely on so that if things went horribly sideways, I wouldn’t be shut down to recover. I’ve had way too much of that lately. Now keep in mind, I am running a beta. Thus what I am describing can change before it is released in the fall. But I think that I’ll be able to give you a hint of what is to come from Apple.

Look And Feel: If you like the look of iOS 7, you’ll like the look of Yosemite.  All of the built in Apple apps have flat looking icons and it’s a safe bet that other software houses will change their icons to match. Controls are flat as well. They’ve also made some subtle changes to how the user interface behaves. For example, the green button that’s part of the red, yellow, and green trio of buttons that control window size and minimization of apps now allows you to bring windows to full-screen. That’s a nice touch.  One thing that I wasn’t a fan of was translucent menu bars and apps.

Notification Center: Notification Center is way more useful now as it takes on an iOS feel to it, and you can install widgets to make it more useful.

Safari: Safari’s new found ability to give you a look at all tabs at once, complete with nested grouping of tabs from the same website and snapshots of what was last loaded in each is a huge benefit when you’re working with a lot of them open at once. That alone makes Yosemite worth the price of admission. But they’ve also added native HTML5 for video playback with Netflix and other supported sites. That will save some battery on your MacBook. Plus you can now use DuckDuckGo instead of Google for your search needs without a plugin. Nice!

Spotlight: Spotlight appears as a Google-like search bar across the desktop, and indexes results from Bing, iTunes, Maps, Wikipedia and more. I like that.

Messages: Finally, Messages looks and feels modern. You can name a group thread that has three people or more on it, and you can add new people to the conversation easily.

Mail: Much like Messages, Mail has gotten a much needed makeover. Besides the ability to send and receive large attachments easily, you can annotate messages as well without any extra plugins.

Calendar: Again, Apple borrowed heavily from iOS for the look and feel and Calendar and it works. It also integrates maps and weather into one place which is handy.

AirDrop: Apple has addressed a pet peeve of mine by giving AirDrop the ability to work between Mac and iOS devices. For bonus points they also made it work across multiple versions of the various operating systems as well.

Performance: I really didn’t note any performance gains over Mavericks. But that may change when the product is actually released.

I wasn’t able to test other features such as Handoff as I don’t have a spare iPhone lying around to install a beta of iOS 8. But from what I see so far. I like Yosemite. It makes Mavericks which was released last year look like it was from the 1980’s. Apple users should be prepared to be impressed when it finally ships later this year.

Review: Belkin Travel Power Pack 9000

Posted in Products with tags on July 17, 2014 by itnerd

If you want to strike fear into the heart of a smartphone user, put them in a location without an AC outlet nearby with a smartphone that’s about to go dead. You’ll see that they’ll freak out more than  Toronto Mayor Rob Ford a crack addict in rehab. Belkin wants to help those in that position by offering up the Travel Power Pack 9000. It’s a 9,000mAh lithium-ion power pack that is about the size of a deck of cards. It’s also light which makes it easy to stow in your bag. It comes with a pair of USB ports on it that you can use to charge two devices at the same time. One is 1A and one 2.5A. The instruction sheet (and it is just a sheet as there are no other instructions that come with it) states that you should use the 2.5A for tablets and the 1A for smartphones. Next to the power button on the side of the power pack are four blue lights that indicate how much charge is available on the pack. Four lights means it’s fully charged. It takes about 5 hours to charge and you can use the supplied micro USB cable to charge it from your computer’s USB port or an AC outlet using an USB to AC adapter that you’ll have to supply. I chose the latter.

I tested the Belkin Travel Power Pack 9000 by using the 2.5A to charge a Motorola Moto G which was only 39% charged. By using the 2.5A port (which you should only use if your device supports it), it went from 39% to 54% in 20 minutes. In 30 minutes it was up to 62%. By the time an hour rolled around, it was 86% charged. It was fully charged after 90 minutes. Thus if your phone can support charging from the 2.5A, you can get your phone fully charged quickly. My next test was to plug my wife’s iPhone 5 (88% charged) and my iPhone 5S (48% charged) at the same time. The former into the 1A USB connector and the latter into the 2.5A USB connector. I didn’t time how long it charged this time as I wanted to see how much charging power the Belkin Travel Power Pack 9000 would have after this test. By the time that both phones were charged, there were two blue dots indicating at least a 50% charge on the Belkin Travel Power Pack 9000. Next I took a fully discharged Transformer Pad that I reviewed recently and charged it with the remaining charge left in the Travel Power Pack 9000. It got to 48% before it finally ran out of juice. Clearly the Belkin Travel Pack 9000 can charge fast and charge often without you having to hit a power outlet.

Downsides? The Belkin Travel Power Pack 9000 only comes with a micro USB cable. There’s nothing else to plug it into your computer or AC power (hint: the Apple 5W USB Power Adapter works well for this purpose) and Belkin would do well to supply something to allow it to be plugged into the wall. Other than that, I think this is a must get if you travel. Simply supply the cables that you need for the devices that you want to charge, and you’ll be good to go without having to worry about the battery in your smartphone or tablet going dead.

Review: Asus Transformer Pad TF103C (Model K010)

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

You’ve seen a couple of reviews of the Asus Transformer Pad from me over the last few months. But the ones that I’ve reviewed were all running the Windows 8.1 OS. The Transformer Pad I am going to write about today which is the TF103C runs Android. Specifically Android 4.4.2 KitKat. But I am getting ahead of myself. Here’s a look at this Transformer Pad:

IMG_0272

Like other Transformer Pads, you can detach the keyboard and use it as a 10″ tablet:

 

IMG_0273

Detaching the screen from the keyboard is easy. Simply press the button and it detaches easily. It also reattaches easily as it simply clicks into place once you line things up. In terms of connectivity, it’s got what you need. It has micro USB port and a MicroSD slot as well. Not to mention Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.0 and GPS too which is an interesting addition. The 10.1-inch, 1,280-by-800-pixel LCD is bright and while not the absolutely sharpest that I’ve seen, is sharp enough and I doubt you’ll complain. There are two rear-facing speaker grills on the left and right side and they’re decent when it comes to sound quality.

In terms of the keyboard, the keys can feel a bit cramped, but it didn’t take long for me to get used to and it’s better than using any on-screen keyboard. The trackpad is responsive and supports gestures like two-finger scrolling. Though there are some oddities such as the fact that if you want to reposition the cursor, you tap the trackpad rather than click it. That will throw some users, but you’ll get used to it.

Now under the hood you get the following:

  • Quad-core 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3745 processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • 16GB Storage
  • 2-megapixel camera rear camera
  • 0.3-megpaixel front-facing camera

Performance is pretty good with the processor that this Transformer Pad comes with. Nothing that I threw at it slowed it down. Now the 16GB of storage is a bit on the light side given that you can only use 11GB of it, but at least you can expand it via the MicroSD slot. The cameras are average. You can use them for videoconferencing and my tests found the quality in that application to be acceptable. The battery life on this Transformer Pad topped out at 7 hours which is decent for most people.

Asus has packaged KitKat with their custom skin on top. That makes some aesthetic changes and adds a few features on top of the stock Android experience. Icons, settings menus, and default apps are colorful and flat. There’s an Audio Wizard app for tweaking the sound signature, which only really has an effect if you’re wearing nice headphones or using an external speaker. Also onboard is a display color calibration tool, which lets you adjust color temperature and saturation. One handy feature that I didn’t test is that there are a few power saving modes, which limit network connections and background data to varying degrees to maximize the battery life. Being an Android tablet means that you get access to the Google Play library of apps which can be an advantage as you get a large suite of apps to choose from.

So, let’s get to the meat and potatoes. What will you pay for the Transformer Pad TF103? You can expect to pay under $300 USD. Unless you have an allegiance to Windows 8.1 I can’t see a reason why you shouldn’t consider the Transformer Pad TF103. It’s a perfectly suitable tablet with the option for a keyboard that’s targeted lower-end user. Not that that’s a bad thing. In fact, I think it should find some buyers because of that.

 

Review: Belkin Mixit Lightning Cable

Posted in Products with tags on July 15, 2014 by itnerd

Frequent readers of this blog will know that I am not a fan of Apple’s Lightning cables because their very questionable quality. And a reader shared his experience with their cables as well. Belkin reached out to me and sent me their new Mixit Lightning Cable. Now these cables are not your average cable as illustrated by this picture:

20140712-103947-38387676.jpg

The first thing that you notice about this cable is the fact that the Lightning connector is made of metal. The second thing that you’ll notice is that the cable is braided. Both of those features are there for more than looks. They make the cable durable because braided cables are much less likely to fray, and the metal connector is less likely to separate. Two issues that plague Apple Lightning cables as evidenced by my experience and the experience of the reader who wrote to me. Another feature I like is the fact that this cable is four feet long. That’s a good length as it is not too long and not too short. Finally it’s a MFI certified cable, so you know it will work with all of your iDevices.

The Belkin Mixit Lightning cables come in three colours and go for $25 CAD. If you want a quality Lightning cable, this is it. It’s easy for me to recommend that iDevice users run out and get them to replace the Apple Lighting cables which aren’t nearly as good as these.

Review: Motorola Moto G LTE

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

Motorola seems to own the low end of the smartphone space with phones that don’t seem low end. Exhibit “A” is the Moto G which when I reviewed it last year, I thought it was a great smartphone. Sure it lacked LTE connectivity and there was no Micro SD slot to expand the memory, but the majority of people who were the target audience didn’t care.

Fast forward to summer 2014. Let me introduce you to the new Moto G LTE that Rogers was kind enough to provide me. Here’s what it has under the hood:

  • Android OS 4.4 KitKat
  • 1.2Ghz quad-core processor
  • 1GB of RAM
  • 4.5-inch display (1280 x 720 resolution)
  • 5MP camera with a 1.3MP front-facing camera
  • 8GB of internal storage
  • Micro SD Slot
  • LTE, WiFi, Bluetooth

So, if you compare these specs haven’t changed that much with the exception of LTE connectivity and the Micro SD slot which allows you to add another 32GB of storage space. Externally the phone is the same as well. It’s still slightly bigger than an iPhone 5/5S but it’s still easy to hold. The rubberized back plate makes sure you have a good grip on the phone. I should note that you can get the back in different colours so that you can make the phone reflect your personality. Though, just like the original Moto G you’ll have a tough time removing the back. Even though you can remove the back, you still can’t remove the battery. Another thing that hasn’t changed is the screen. It’s still bright and sharp and is truly the star of show. It is a 1280 x 720 display with a 329ppi pixel density. To put that in perspective, it’s a bigger, higher resolution, more defined display than the iPhone 5S. Pretty impressive for a phone that is designed to be basic. It feels solid just like the original Moto G and it is still running a largely stock version of Android. This time in KitKat form. The only tweaks are as follows:

  • Motorola Protect which acts like Apple’s Find My iPhone. You can remotely locate the phone, lock the screen, change passwords and more.
  • Motorola Assist which is like Apple’s Do Not Disturb feature. It silences your phone either when you’re sleeping (after you set that up of course) or when you’re in a meeting. The latter it figures out by itself if you use Google Calendar. There’s also a handy auto-reply feature.
  • Finally, there’s Motorola Migrate, which helps transfer data from your old phone over to the Moto G. But only if you have another Android device.

Now one big change is the move to LTE from HSPA+. When I tested it on the Rogers network, I got an average of 40.15 Mbps downstream and 7.79 Mbps upstream. That’s quick!

Back to what hasn’t changed and that’s the camera. It’s the same 5 MP shooter that the Moto G had with the same user interface from the It has the same interface as the Moto X and Moto G. Swipe from the right of the screen and you can browse the pictures you’ve taken. Zooming in and out is a one finger operation. Place you finger in the middle of the screen and swipe up and you zoom in. Swipe down and you zoom out. It has the ability to automatically turn on HDR automatically which may be handy for those who want to make sure that they get the perfect shot. Since we’re talking about pictures, that means that it was time to take a trip to Pearson Airport to photograph some planes. This time to take pictures of planes taking off. Here’s a shot of a plane getting ready to take off. Click it to see it at full size:

IMG_20140713_130516889

That’s pretty good from a phone that’s supposed to be a budget phone. And here’s a 720p video of the same plane taking off. Set it to full screen and 720p resolution:

You’ll notice the wind noise overwhelming the microphone. But it does pick up sound pretty well and the video is pretty good… Other than the wind making it difficult to hold the camera straight. That illustrates the lack of image stability. But this is a budget phone and you’ll have to cut it some slack.

Battery life wasn’t affected with the addition of LTE. I fully expect you to go beyond a day of usage before needing a recharge. Again, this is something that you don’t expect from a budget phone.

Speaking budget, if you sign up for a two year plan, you can get it for $0. Alternately it’s $224.99 outright. That is beyond affordable for those wanting to either buy their first smartphone, a parent who wants to get their child a phone, or someone who needs a low cost phone. Motorola has addressed what was missing with the original Moto G and you truly have no excuse not to put the Moto G LTE on your shopping list. You will not regret it.

 

Review: InvisibleShield Glass For The Apple iPhone 5s

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

Smartphones have great looking screens. However their screens can be scratched which ruins their good looks. Thus you need to protect them with a screen protector. At the top of the list of screen protectors is the InvisibleShield Glass by Zagg. Made of high-quality tempered glass, it protects your screen from scratches without taking away from the looks of the screen. It also features a oil-resistant coating that repels natural skin oils. That way the screen stays clear and is easy to clean. It doesn’t affect the clarity of the screen nor does it affect the touch sensitivity in any way. Finally, it’s even shock resistant which is added protection that we can all use. Thus this is what I went with for my iPhone 5s.

Now I wanted it installed by an expert because installing screen protectors can sometimes be a tricky exercise. Fortunately for me, Zagg has a kiosk in Toronto’s Fairview Mall. Chances are they have a location near you. I simply handed over my phone and watched as the person expertly cleaned my phone and removed any traces of dust from the iPhone’s screen. Then he applied the InvisibleSheld Glass perfectly and handed my phone back to me. The installation job was impressive and the results were equally as impressive. The InvisibleShield Glass lives up to its billing in every way and it does not look like you have a screen protector on.

The only downside? Price. The InvisibleShield Glass is $34,99 USD. That’s pricy. But good protection doesn’t come cheap. Thus once you get past the price, I would recommend it. I should also note that there are other models of the InvisibleShield that cost less and offer different levels of protection for many types of phones. Take a look at their lineup and pick the protection that’s right for you.

Review: Rogers NextBox 3.0

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

As part of my migration of phone and Internet services to Rogers, I got an almost free Rogers NextBox 3.0 as part of the deal. So, what’s a NextBox 3.0? It’s a set top box made by Cisco Systems (it’s model 9865HD) that not only allows you access to Rogers Cable TV, but it’s a 1 TB PVR. That’s roughly 120 hours of storage. My old Rogers PVR (which was a Cisco System 8642HD) had 160GB of storage which worked out to about 19 hours or HD recording so the extra space is welcome. Compared to other Rogers PVRs, such as the original NextBox that this one replaced, it physically has a smaller footprint so it eats up less space in your audio/visual shelf. It also boots way faster. My old PVR took about 20 minutes to boot. This one takes about 5 minutes. That’s something I really appreciate.

One of the key features that the NextBox 3.0 has going for it is the fact that it has 8 tuners in it. That means that you can record 8 programs at the same time. Now I can never conceive of ever doing that, but the fact that I can record two or three things at the same time will keep myself and my wife happy as we won’t have to argue over what gets recorded again. In terms of the user interface on the NextBox 3.0, there does not appear to be many changes made to the Programming Guide. But everything is much faster. Changing channels is faster and navigating through the Programming Guide is faster as well. My last PVR had apps that were installed on it. This one has similar apps. Specifically weather, an app for my Rogers Home Phone that has call logs and controls for voice mail among other things, a search app, an app that shows different mixes of shows such as sports for example, and an app that allows me to subscribe to additional channels. Speaking of apps, you can program this PVR remotely from your smartphone using the Rogers Anyplace TV Home Edition app for iOS and Android so that you don’t miss the latest episode of True Blood.

Any downsides? Well, my old PVR had more connections such as an S-Video connection that are simply absent on the NextBox 3.0. That may not be a big deal if you connect it via HDMI (which is what I would recommend). But if you have some old school TV hardware, you’re going to be stuck with RCA jacks and the signal quality (or lack thereof) that they provide. There is also the omission of the AC outlet that was on my previous PVR. That was handy to power other audio/video equipment. But chances are unless you’re some sort of audio/video geek, none of that will matter to you.

The NextBox 3.0 is $500 to buy and $25.07  a month to rent from Rogers. Though if you’re renting an older Rogers PVR, you might be able to swap it out for a NextBox 3.0. Check out Rogers.com, your local Rogers retailer as well as Future Shop and Best Buy to get your hands on one.

 

Review: Asus S1 Mobile Projector

Posted in Products with tags on July 5, 2014 by itnerd

If you’re in a business that requires you to make presentations on a regular basis, you are often at the mercy of whatever audio/visual setup your client or potential client has. So you might make the decision to carry your own projector. If that’s you, then you should take a look at the Asus S1 Mobile Projector which has a number of things going for it.

First of all it is tiny. Here’s a picture of it next to my MacBook Pro:

IMG_0265

As you can see, the Asus S1 going to be easy to carry in your laptop bag as it will not take up a lot of space. It doesn’t weigh a lot either. With the power adapter, it weights 1 pound. But you might be able to leave the power adapter at home as it has a battery. The battery can project for up to 3 hours, and can also charge a mobile device that has a USB micro-B port. It also comes with a carrying case that holds the projector, but strangely not the power adapter. In terms of connectivity, the Asus S1 has an HDMI port, which doubles as Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) for use with compatible Android devices. It also has the USB Type B port that I mentioned earlier and an audio-out jack. What’s nice is that you get a HDMI cable, an HDMI-to-USB micro-B cable for MHL connectivity, and a USB Type B-to-USB micro-B cable in the box. One thing that I missed having was a old school VGA port. One person also commented that it could use a DisplayPort as well. The flipside to not having those ports is that it keeps the projector small.

The Asus S1 is a Texas Instruments DLP based projector and is rated at 200 lumens of brightness. It has native WXGA (854-by-480) resolution, which is very nearly a 16:9 aspect ratio. Its LED light source is rated to last for up to 30,000 hours. In short you’ll never have to change it. How well does this work? I was able to get an image that I measured at 55″ diagonally from 5.5′ away. It was good but it didn’t blow me away as I think that’s the limit of what the projector could do. I got to within 5′ and the image quality was much better. Text in particular was much better. I would use this projector in a small room that is as dark as possible. There’s also a speaker built into the projector. It’s a small speaker that you might have difficulty hearing in a larger room. Another reason why this projector is best suited for a small room.

My verdict? The Asus S1 Mobile LED projector is a capable and snazzy mini projector, with some nice touches like MHL connectivity, an internal battery, and the ability to charge other devices. It has a very appealing price tag of less than $400. It’s best suited for smaller rooms, but it works well enough that you’ll want to put this in your laptop bag.

 

In Depth: SkiePhone

Posted in Products with tags on July 5, 2014 by itnerd

Michael Kirlew had a problem. He needed a business phone number that gave him a professional image by having things like personalized greetings, extensions and departments. It also had to allow him to forward numbers to his cell phone for example. But when he looked around for a service that would give him what he needed, none really fit his needs.

So he created one and it’s called SkiePhone (pronounced “sky-phone”). Here are the key features:

SS-HoO

You can create custom call navigation menus as well as hours of operations.

SS-Call-Navigation

 

You can easily route incoming calls to one or more people.

SS-Billing-History

You can easily keep track of how much you’re spending.

 

SS-Plan-Usage

And you can see how you’ve used the service. You also get these features as well:

  • SkiePhone works with any existing phone. Cell phones, landlines, etc.
  • It gives you a dedicated business number that gives you a professional image.

You get all of this for as little as $5 a month. That makes it perfect for startups and businesses who need to watch every penny.

Now the project is currently in a crowd funding stage via Indiegogo. The crowd funding campaign starts on Tuesday July 8th and you can join it by clicking here. During the Indiegogo campaign they will be asking funders for feedback on what other features they would like to see in SkiePhone. They will try to implement as many of those features as they can before launching SkiePhone in October 2014.

Oh, there will be SkiePhone swag as well.

After talking to Michael Kirlew about this project, I really feel that this is a product that will not only ship on time, but get noticed in the marketplace as he’s addressing a need that a lot of startup and small businesses have. I would advise that you keep an eye on SkiePhone. I truly believe that it’s really going to garner a lot of attention when it launches later this year.

In Depth: Mazda Connect

Posted in Products with tags on June 30, 2014 by itnerd

In my review of the Mazda3 Sport GS, I got the chance to try the Mazda Connect infotainment system, and I had this to say during part 4 of my review:

After several days of using Mazda Connect, I am going to declare that this infotainment system has replaced Chrysler’s UConnect system as the easiest to use infotainment system on the market today. If I were Mazda, I would take this system complete with the HMI and use it in everything that they make. I would also promote it to death and get people to use it. They will find it to be simple to use and it works exceptionally well. Kudo’s to Mazda for coming up with this system.

I say that because Mazda came up with a system that is quick to learn and very easy to use. The system comprises the following components:

2014 Mazda3

 

A touchscreen that is mounted to the top of the dash as is the case here. This particular screen is 7″ in size.

2014 Mazda3

Then there’s the HMI (Human-Machine Interface) Commander Switch behind the shift lever. The controller is surrounded at the front by five buttons: Audio, Home, and Navigation along the top, and Back and Favorites on either side. Next to the commander is a rotary volume knob that can also be pushed in to mute the audio system.

The user interface for Mazda Connect is suited to the use of the HMI commander switch:

2014 Mazda3

As you can see, it has five icons on a curve which is a natural metaphor for the use of the HMI commander switch as you can use the HMI to move to the function that you need without having to think to much about it. The functions that you get are:

  • Applications: When I tested this system in the Mazda3 Sport GS, it had a HD Traffic Map, fuel economy monitor, an app to let you know when to service the car, and another app that gives you guidance on any warnings that the car generates. Other apps can be added to Mazda Connect once they become available.
  • Entertainment: When I tested this system in the Mazda3 Sport GS, it had Aha Radio (which allows you access to Facebook and Twitter), Stitcher Radio along with Pandora. All of these work with apps that are installed on your smartphone to bring you Internet radio to your car. You also get Bluetooth audio as well as the ability to plug in two USB devices such as a pair of iPhones so that you can have lots of music on long drives.
  • Communication: This function allows you to make or receive phone calls, or grab messages from supported phones. This is also where you can pair your phone to the system via Bluetooth and it takes seconds to do.
  • Navigation: This function which is powered by TomTom Nokia HERE will help you get from point A to point B easily.
  • Settings: This will allow you to customize the system to suit your needs.

Below each icon are one or more menus that are easy to navigate in a up and down fashion. Plus you can use the HMI as a joystick by pushing the entire knob in whatever direction you need to quickly navigate through sub menus. The net result is that this is a very natural way to navigate a system that could easily be complex and overwhelming for the average user. Besides the HMI Commander switch, you can also use the 7″ touchscreen to do what you need to do as well. However all touch functions are disabled when the car is in motion. That’s a very good safety feature. There’s also voice commands that are quick and easy to learn as well.

Anyone I exposed Mazda Connect to was able to figure out how to use it in a minute or two and they never had to open the manual to do so. That highlights how well designed this system is as one of the top frustrations from car owners is how complex infotainment systems can be. Another thing that Mazda gets points for is how smooth and fluid the system is. All the graphics move smoothly and everything is quick whether it be moving between menus or plugging in your iPhone to play tunes. It is clear that Mazda put a lot of time and effort to make sure that every aspect of this system is perfect.

Mazda has a winner in the form of Mazda Connect. It’s only available in the Mazda3 as far as I am aware, but one hopes that it will make its way into other Mazda vehicles soon. It’s truly something that will drive sales towards Mazda vehicles when protective customers try it out.

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