Archive for the Products Category

In Depth: Nautique Surf System

Posted in Products with tags on February 6, 2016 by itnerd

First, a quick explanation of what wakesurfing is, so that I can set the stage as to why a boating related activity is being mentioned in a technology blog.

Wakesurfing is a water sport in which a rider trails behind a boat, riding the boat’s wake without being directly pulled by the boat. After getting up on the wake, typically by use of a tow rope, the wakesurfers will drop the rope, and ride the steep face below the wave’s peak in a fashion reminiscent of surfing. Wakesurfers generally use special boards, designed specifically for wakes. But you also need boats that have ballast in them. Such as water, lead weights, concrete, or other heavy objects in different sections of the boat in order to weight the boat down and create a larger wake. The best weight configuration for wakesurfing is to place the majority of the weight near the back corner side on the side you’re surfing on. The deeper the boat is in the water, the bigger the wake will be overall.

Sounds very cool doesn’t it? But the coolness factor doesn’t change the fact that this is on the complicated side for many people. When something is complicated, it doesn’t catch on very fast. Nautique is out to change that with the Nautique Surf System. Here’s what Nautique has done to make wakesurfing accessible to the masses.

For starters, Nautique has put control of the wave into the hands of the surfer with the Nautique Surf Switch for one-touch transfers exactly when the surfer desires. For total customization, the Nautique Surf Select app for the Pebble Watch features the ability to fine tune the behavior of the boat to get the wake that you’re looking for. That way, the surfer can make the wave as challenging as they want. And it happens instantly without the need to offload ballast. Oh yeah, the app also controls the music in the boat too. So let me recap, you as a wakesurfer can control every aspect of your wakesurfing fun via a Pebble Watch in almost real time without needing a Phd. Impressive!

Speaking of boats, you of course need a both that supports the Nautique surf system. Fortunately, Nautique has five of them to choose from. Starting with the G21, and moving up to the G23, G25, 210, and 230. That way you can choose a boat that fits your needs.

So, how does all of this come together? The best thing to do is to show you what kind of fun that you could have. Perhaps this video may make you want to look at adding wakesurfing to your summer activities:

 

 

Review: Parrot Zik 3 Headphones

Posted in Commentary, Products with tags on February 6, 2016 by itnerd

I’m going to do something very different with this review and tell you what I think of the Parrot Zik 3 headphones right up front.

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They are simply outstanding. Here’s why.

First of all, they look and feel classy. Not a shock as they’re designed by famed designer Philippe Starck. The ones that I got were a tan leather that felt very soft both in my hands and on my ears (for the record, seven colors and textures are available). I could also smell the leather and the fit on my head was very light and comfortable. Second, these are noise cancelling headphones. Almost nothing gets through from the outside world. That was impressive.

The Zik 3 headphones have a capacitive panel on the right earpiece that allows you to control your music by swiping backwards and forward to skip tracks, up and down to change the volume, and tapping to play and pause. It does work, but in my testing I would sometimes accidentally stop the music when I adjusted the headsets on my head. Fortunately, you do have the option of using your Apple Watch or Android Wear device to control the Zik 3 headphones. Don’t have a smartwatch? No problem. There’s an app that you can download for your iOS or Android device that allows you to tweak the sound to your liking. And there’s a lot of options for you to tweak. Thus, if you’re a “control enthusias”, you’re going to love that. Another cool feature, there’s “head detection” sensor. Music pauses automatically when you remove the headphones and resumes when they are back on.

Parrot bills the Zik 3 headphones as being completely wireless. What does that mean? You listen to music via Bluetooth connection (alternatively, you can use a headphone jack or USB port). Thanks to the replaceable battery, which I got 7 hours of wireless listening via Bluetooth. But here’s the other part of the wireless story. You can charge wirelessly as the Zik 3 headphones are compatible with most certified Qi inductive chargers.

But sound quality is where the Zik 3 headphones shine. At least when playing music. I played everything from Diplo to Miles Davis on them and found the sound to be outstanding. Every aspect of whatever I was listening to was reproduced perfectly. And as mentioned earlier, you can tweak it to make it perfect for you. You can also receive phone calls. The Zik 3 uses two dedicated microphones to reduce noise and it does so pretty well. Under my test, road noise was still audible but the speakers sounded clear enough. But voices can sound distant, probably due to the design and the distance between microphone and mouth. When you have an incoming call, the “Text-To-Speech” synthesis system announces the name of whomever is calling if they’re in your address book.

So, what do the Parrot Zik 3 headphones cost? They’re $399 US. Not cheap. But quality audio is never cheap. If you demand quality audio, you need to listen to the Parrot Zik 3 headphones. They’re simply the most outstanding headphones I’ve ever reviewed.

2016 Hyundai Tucson 1.6L Limited AWD – A Three Month Follow Up

Posted in Products with tags on December 24, 2015 by itnerd

It’s been just over three months since my wife and I purchased our 2016 Hyundai Tucson, and I wanted to give you a update of what the ownership experience has been like and add additional details to the original review and the follow up that I wrote. Let me start with what I call minor annoyances as they do not detract from my decision to get the Tucson:

  • Sirius XM was our biggest pain point. We got a three month trial as part of the purchase of the Tucson and the music part of it worked fine and my wife and I really liked that. We also liked the fact that we could listen to Sirius XM on our smartphones. But our three month trial was also supposed to supply traffic info to our navigation system. That would have been handy as the navigation system simply plots either the fastest or most direct route between points “a” and “b” without taking traffic into account. But it never worked and attempts to get this remedied were unsuccessful. Plus the customer service that we got while trying to fix this has been really, really bad as the standard responses from Sirius XM Canada were “we’ll send a command to refresh your radio” which never worked and promises of getting their tech support involved never materialized. Thus we’ve decided to let the trial lapse without signing up. That sucks for Sirius XM Canada as we were considering signing up and now because of this they’ve lost a potential customer. Related to this, we also found a major security hole with Sirius XM Canada’s online portal and the way they create new accounts that can leave people wide open to bad guys on the Internet doing bad things. Hopefully they’ve remedied that. But if they haven’t, they’re likely to get pwned sooner or later. On a related note, Sirius XM Canada is extremely aggressive about trying to get you to sign up. They’ve made numerous calls to my wife and I, sometimes while we’re having dinner which is an excellent way to annoy those you are calling. There’s also a lot of e-mail and snail mail that gets sent to us as well. One thing that I do note is that the offers to sign up kept getting better every time as each offer was a significant discount off their regular monthly rate for a limited time, or a significant discount if you signed up for a year. Read into that what you will.
  • There’s only one USB port. That’s a problem on long road trips seeing as this vehicle seats five and everyone has a smartphone these days. To fix that, we’re likely going to have to resort to 12v to USB adapters to keep devices charged on long road trips. The upshot to that is the USB port has no problem charging high current draw items like tablets.
  • At startup, the infotainment system connects to your phone over Bluetooth. When it finds it, it then says “The contact download is starting. Some phones require additional confirmation. Please check your phone and confirm the download if necessary.” The problem with this is that it not only interrupts any other audio that is playing, including navigation commands (or if you have audio turned off, it will still say it), it also displays this text on top of any graphics that are on the touchscreen with the exception of the backup camera. Fortunately, there is a workaround that stops this from happening that I found on the Hyundai Forums. Simply delete the phone from the infotainment system, delete the infotainment system from the phone’s Bluetooth section, and re-pair the two. But what really needs to happen is that there needs to be an option to disable this message both audibly and visually so that you never have to see it. Perhaps a future software update will address this.
  • While the infotainment system in general and the navigation system specifically is pretty much idiot resistant, I will note that if you are searching for a street name with the word “highway” in it, such as “Highway 7” which is a major route just north of the City Of Toronto, you have to enter “Hwy-7” as it will never find “Highway 7.” That’s something that will drive users nuts. Perhaps a future software update will address this as that’s not idiot resistant.
  • The welcome lights issue that I reported on haven’t been addressed yet. However, according to this post on the Hyundai Forums, there is a fix that is available to US customers. Hopefully Hyundai Canada gets this fix to Canadian customers ASAP.

Now over to the things we like:

  • Though the Tucson is smaller than the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV-4, at least on paper, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the amount of interior space that you get. I had to pick up a pair of people from Pearson Airport after they flew in from the United Kingdom and they had no problem getting in and relaxing after a long flight. I should also note that they were both over 6 feet tall and they commented that there was “loads of space” in the back.
  • There’s a lot of cargo space in the back for stuff with the seats upright. I was able to fit multiple large suitcases with ease back there when I had to pick up those people from the UK at the airport.
  • Fuel economy is pretty good. It tends to be between 9 and 11 L/100 KM’s which is very good as far as I am concerned. Plus if you use ECO mode, you can get your fuel economy down to the low 9 L/100 KM’s range or lower easily. Though the driving experience isn’t nearly as fun.
  • The backup camera with rear parking assist and cross traffic alerts is a welcome feature to have as I am certain that this avoid us hitting something in the parking lot of a grocery store or Home Depot. I should also point out that the clarity of the camera in all lighting conditions is excellent.
  • The hands free liftgate is a brilliant. If you have your hands full with stuff, you don’t have to fumble for the fob, nor do you have to wave your foot under the bumper (good luck with that if you have balance issues or you’re on uneven ground) to get the rear liftgate to open. Simply walk up, stand there for three seconds and the liftgate opens. This feature alone is worth the price of admission.

One thing that we didn’t get with the Tucson was a privacy cover. It’s an option, but in our opinion it should be standard. So we ordered it and a rubber mat for the cargo area from Hyundai Of Oakville and here’s a look at the result.

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Now over to a question that I’ve got from a reader. They want to know the details on the all-wheel-drive system as there isn’t a whole lot of info on it. The system that Hyundai using comes from Canadian auto parts supplier Magna who supplies the all-wheel-drive hardware to car companies like BMW. Dubbed Dynamax, this is a very sophisticated system that provides you with traction in all conditions. Rather than wait for a slip to occur and react to it, the system anticipates events and adjusts to them in almost real time by sending and receiving information to the control electronics of the car. That way, the system tries to be one step ahead of the car, which means you get ideal torque and traction at all times. To add to that, the system has torque vectoring capabilities which I’ve found to be useful in situations such as taking an on or off ramp a bit too quickly (which for the record I’ve done and this system has bailed me out of that situation). In this application, a mechanical differential splits front-rear power distribution. The left-right power split is via inside-wheel braking, which under-drives the inside wheel relative to the outside wheel traveling the greater arc. All of this works and works pretty well. We’ll have a good chance to test this system this winter. Assuming that winter ever makes an appearance in Southern Ontario as it hasn’t thus far. I’ll report back as to how it does in those conditions.

Another question that I got from a reader is how do I deal with the fact that this trim level doesn’t come with a CD player. My answer is that it doesn’t affect me or my wife for three reasons:

  • We listen to a lot of AM and FM Radio. Plus while we had a trial of Sirius XM, we listened to that too.
  • The music that we want to listen to is located on our respective iPhones.
  • You can use a USB stick full of MP3s to play music from. If you need help doing that, I’ve wrote a post on the Hyundai Forums on this topic here.

I should note that lower trim levels do come with CD players.

There’s another item that I’d like to highlight. There is a rumor that Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is coming to the 2016 Tucson in the form of a software update. I think that’s great if that’s true and I hope it is a free update as Hyundai charges for their software and map updates. Thus it would really suck if they charged for this one. I’ll post a story on the update process and my experience with CarPlay/Android Auto if that update appears. Having said that, there’s already a software update that includes updates to the maps for the navigation system. But at $235 US, it’s a steep price to pay to make sure that you don’t drive off course.

Speaking of software updates, the Tucson got a software update at my first oil change which was at 6000 KM’s. The software update is for the engine control module. Apparently there was an issue where the engine control module thinks that the engine is not warming up quickly enough, and therefore it would throw a error code which could result in the Check Engine Light being turned on. I haven’t had this issue, but it is nice to know that it is not going to happen in the future. Speaking of oil. Thus far, I can find no evidence that the engine consumes oil unlike our previous vehicle. That’s something that my wife and I are thankful for.

Finally, we’re looking at replacing the Hankook all season tires that came with the Tucson with all weather tires. Let me explain the difference between the two. All season tires are tires that work in three seasons. Spring, summer, and fall. Below 7C they don’t provide optimal levels of traction. Since we live in Canada, that’s bad. Now many people use dedicated winter tires, but there’s the expense of extra rims, tire pressure sensors, and the cost and hassle of swapping tires twice a year and storing them. Thus there’s a new class of tires that called the all weather tire that works in all four seasons and is winter rated (which is denoted by a picture of mountain with a snowflake inside it on the sidewall of the tire). That takes away the hassle of swapping tires and storing them while giving you traction in any condition. The specific tire that we’re considering is the Nokian WRG3. Seeing as this is the company that invented the winter tire and they are from Finland which gets a fair amount of snow, we feel that this is the best choice for us.

I’ll be posting another update in three months and I should have some more things to say about our experiences with the Tucson, along with anything else my wife or I encounter. Please keep an eye out for it. Also, if you wanted to see the original review of the Tucson, click here for that along with the follow up that we did after we bought it.

UPDATE: The “welcome lights” have been fixed. Click here for details.

Review: Parrot Jumping Night Drone And Jumping Race Drone

Posted in Products with tags on December 5, 2015 by itnerd

Last year I reviewed several drones from Parrot. Recently I got the chance to see a sneak peek of their new and updated drones. Starting today and for the next few days I will reviewing these new drones, staring with these:

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On the right is a Jumping Race drone. On the left is a Jumping Night drone. The differences? Other than cosmetics, here’s what’s different between the two of them:

  • The Jumping Night drones are equipped with two powerful LED lights with adjustable intensity. That allows you to pilot them in low light conditions.
  • The Jumping Race drone is capable of quick acceleration with 8 mph bursts of speed.

In either case, here’s the key specs:

  • Wi-Fi 2.4 or 5 Ghz connectivity via the free FreeFlight 3 application for iOS or Android.
  • Embedded camera: they are equipped with a wide angle camera that streams live, immersive views on the screen of the piloting smartphone or tablet. They take pictures and videos which are directly stored on the internal 4GB flash memory.
  • Embedded speaker and microphone:
    • They talk: Depending on their mood, they ‘bip’, ‘ziiip’, ‘groutch’.
    • Walkie talkie: You can talk and listen through them.
  • A patented spring-mounted system: They can jump up to 2.5 ft. in height and length.
  • Automatic movements: the Jumping perform acrobatics, without the need for training: spin around, jump, roll upside down, push or hit an object.
  • Retractable wheels: large or compact mode to adapt to all driving styles.
  • A programmable road plan: a ‘road plan’ enables you to program a course and actions. The itinerary appears on the app among the predefined movements. You just have to click on it to see the Jumping Drones maneuver autonomously.

I tested them on my iPhone 6 and after downloading FreeFlight 3 and updating the firmware, I was able to connect to them over WiFi and pilot them. It doesn’t take long to figure out how to control them well given the fact that you get a first person that allows you to pilot them effectively. You can take photos and videos via FreeFlight 3. Here’s an example of the quality that you can get:

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It’s pretty good and I feel that you won’t have any complaints in this area. These drones are powered by small lithium polymer batteries that last about 20 minutes. That doesn’t sound great, but they charge in 25 minutes if you get the 2.6A charger. You can also get extra batteries cheaply.

I found them to be very fun to use and they would do well with kids and those who are kids at heart. I’d consider them for a really good gift this holiday season. Expect to pay $239 CDN for one.

The IT Nerd Award For The Best SUV Of 2015 Goes To: Hyundai Tucson Limited

Posted in Products with tags , on December 4, 2015 by itnerd

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SUV’s, crossovers, whatever you want to call them, they are insanely popular. And there were a lot of new challengers in this market this year. I reviewed challengers from Mazda, Jeep, Hyundai this year. But in my opinion Hyundai has a winner in the form of the 2016 Hyundai Tucson. I reviewed the Limited trim level and found it to be a vehicle that brings a healthy amount of luxury, performance, fuel economy, and capability to the table for a competitive price. It stood out to such a degree over its competition that my wife and I bought one. Though as I noted in the follow up on my review that my “welcome lights” which is Hyundai speak for door handle lights that light up when you approach the Tucson didn’t work. Hyundai apparently forgot to add that feature to vehicles made before September 2015 and they are working on a fix for that, one which I hope comes sooner rather than later. But that doesn’t detract from how good this vehicle is as it shows that the fact that the Hyundai Genesis won an IT Nerd Award last year wasn’t a fluke. And that Hyundai has gone from the car company that made the Pony to a car company that is coming out with products that are game changers. Quite simply, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson is a very deserving winner of the best SUV of 2015.

 

The IT Nerd Award For The Best Car Of 2015 Goes To: Buick Regal Turbo

Posted in Products with tags , on December 3, 2015 by itnerd

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The 2015 Buick Regal Turbo was a car that really blew my mind and shattered any pre-conceptions that I had about Buick. When my wife and I got it for a one week test drive, my wife referred it it as an “old-man’s car.” But by the end of the week we found that it was driving a quick, agile and very refined sports sedan that easily competes against luxury competition form Germany and Japan. Not to mention that it was a far from being an “old-man’s car” as you could possibly get. If this car is what we can expect from Buick in the future, then their future is bright. If you’re in the market for a luxury sports sedan, you need to head to your local Buick dealer and test drive the Regal Turbo as it is a very worthy winner of the best car of 2015.

Review: Linksys RE6700 AC1200 Range Extender

Posted in Products with tags on December 2, 2015 by itnerd

I live in a 850 sq. FT condo and I have my router located in my den as that is the best physical location for it. As a result, WiFi signals have to go through a concrete wall in either direction to cover my condo with WiFi. That creates dead zones. Now I have tried to address this by using Linksys High Gain Antennas, and that has improved things. But what I really need to do is to use a range extender. What range extenders do is take a WiFi signal and repeats it so that it covers a greater area. My choice  to accomplish this task is the Linksys RE6700 AC1200 Range Extender. It has this going for it. It supports the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands with speeds up to 867mbps via 802.11ac which makes it perfect for me since I have 802.11ac at home.

Here’s what it looks like:

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It’s pretty compact and doesn’t look a piece of networking gear. It plugs into an AC outlet and has an AC pass through so that you don’t lose the use of that outlet.

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Underneath you get a Gigabit Ethernet jack which allows you to run an Ethernet cable to the range extender to provide Internet access to a device such as a game console if you so choose. There’s also a 1/8″ audio jack on the left that allows you to serve up audio wirelessly from your laptop, smartphone or tablet. In my case, once I had the device live on my network, I could see it via AirPlay on my MacBook Pro.

Setup is easy:

  1. Plug the extender into a three-pronged wall outlet somewhere between your router and wherever you have trouble getting WiFi.
  2. When the light turns solid green, connect to the extender with your wireless device (in my case, I used my iPhone 6) and enter http://extender.linksys.com into your browser.
  3. A setup wizard will start and that that will look for your network and ask you to connect to it on both 2.4 and 5GHz bands.
  4. Next, the Spot Finder feature will show you what kind of signal strength you have between the extender and the router via a graph that has the ideal range in green. If it’s not in that green area, then you’ll have to relocate the extender to another location that gives better results.
  5. Give the range extender a password.
  6. Done! Declare victory and have a beer!

Once it’s set up, you connect to it using your existing network names. That way your devices just work as they normally would. The only difference being is that they get much better signal strength. Which I was able to verify by going onto my balcony, which never got WiFi prior to the arrival of the range extender, and just outside the door of my condo where WiFi never worked. Music playback worked perfectly after I plugged in a pair of powered speakers into the 1/8″ jack and used AirPlay to play music from my MacBook Pro.

Now if you’re a nerd like me, you’ll appreciate the fact that range extender has a ton of management capabilities including:

  • Quality of Service (QoS)
  • Security (WEP, WPA, WPA2) settings
  • A site survey page which lets you view all available networks, as well as their frequency band, signal strength, and security protocol.
  • A crossband page allows you to enable automatic band switching or you can manually turn crossband on and off for each band.
  • An administration page lets you back up and restore configuration settings, run diagnostics, change passwords, and view traffic logs.
  • The Status page displays Ethernet and wireless LAN statistics and network address (IP) information.

Most people will plug it in and forget about it though. Having said that, it’s nice that it has these features in place in case you need to tweak something.

One final item. I tested this with a Linksys WRT1900ACS, but this range extender is compatible with virtually any WiFi router or gateway including hardware from Internet service providers. Plus there’s no need to adjust your router’s settings when installing the extender.

The Linksys RE6700 AC1200 range extender goes for $120 US and if you have challenges getting WiFi to certain parts of your home, it’s very much worth a look. It is easy to set up and it works as advertised.

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