Archive for the Products Category

In Depth: Parrot’s Next Generation Of Mini Drones

Posted in Products with tags on June 27, 2015 by itnerd

I attended a event put on by Parrot where they were showing off their next generation of mini drones. You’ll recall that I reviewed their first generation mini drones a few months ago. But this next generation step things up in a number of significant ways. Let’s walk through the lineup:

Parrot Jumping Mini Drones – For those who want to have a ground based mini drone, Parrot gives you two options to choose from:

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Parrot Jumping Night Mini Drones feature a pair of LED lights that allow you to pilot the drone at night.

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Parrot Jumping Race Drones are designed for high speed action as they are capable of speeds up to 8 miles per hour.

Either way, you get these features:

  • Wi-Fi 2.4 or 5 Ghz connectivity via the free FreeFlight 3 application.
  • 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.

Each model is available in three colors and will go for $239. Availability is slated for Q3 2015.

Parrot Airborne Mini Drones – Just like the Jumping Race Drones, you get two choices:

ParrotMiniDrones_AirborneNight_BlazeThe Airborne ‘Night’ which is built to fly during the day and night thanks to two powerful LED lights with adjustable intensity.

ParrotMiniDrones_AirborneCargo_MarsThe Airborne ‘Cargo’ transport drones are able to carry figurines or toy “bricks” meaning the building blocks that kids play with.

In either case, you get these features:

  • Ultra-compact and light-weight at 1.2 lbs.
  • Connectivity using Bluetooth Smart via the free FreeFlight 3 app for smartphones and tablets.
  • Removable polyamide hull to protect the propellers.
  • A 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis gyroscope measure and analyze each movement or inclination of the drone and, thanks to the autopilot, rectify the position of the Minidrone.
  • A vertical camera compares, every 16 milliseconds, an image of the ground to the previous one to determine the speed of the Minidrone. It also enables the Minidrone to take snapshots, which are saved on the 1 Gb flash memory. Perfect for aerial “selfies.”
  • An ultrasound sensor analyzes the flight altitude up to 13 ft. Beyond, a pressure sensor controls the Minidrone in altitude.
  • The Airborne’ can do high-speed flights: they rush up to 11 mph, turn right, turn left and perform flips with amazing fluidity and stability. A ‘swipe’ on the piloting screen and the Parrot ‘Airborne’ turn 90 or 180 degrees in a flash.
  • Toss them into the air and their sensors detect it instantaneously: engines start automatically and the ‘Airborne’ stabilize in the air.

The Airborne ‘Night’ is available in three colors and will sell for $159. The Airborne Cargo is available in two colors and will sell for $129. Both versions will be available in Q3 2015.

Parrot Hydrofoil Mini Drones

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A new addition to the Parrot mini drone family is this water based Hydrofoil mini drone which are flying Minidrones that can be attached to a hydrofoil. They rise out of the water to hover over the surface and hit speeds of 6 miles an hour in the water. Once the engines are on, the upper part of the Hydrofoil positions perpendicularly to the nautical structure. Thanks to the four propellers of the Minidrone, it slides through the water and stays about 2 inches above the surface with amazing stability and agility. Communication is via Bluetooth and the free FreeFlight 3. Two colors are available and it will sell for $229. Expect to see it in Q3 of 2015.

During the event that I attended, I got the chance to try out these new mini drones and I also managed to capture some videos of them in action:

I’ve requested them to review and as soon as I get them, you’ll see a review of these new mini drones online quickly.

Review: GTA Car Kits Pure Bluetooth Car Kit

Posted in Products with tags on June 19, 2015 by itnerd

Over the last little while, my wife and I have felt the need to replace our add-on Bluetooth kit in our car as it wasn’t working as well as it used to. Now because this was a tech related item, my wife delegated the task of finding a replacement to me. I didn’t really want to replace the factory stereo with an after market unit as the cost of that including installation would be high. So, after doing some research I came across a company called GTA Car Kits which sells iPod/iPhone integration kits and Bluetooth add-on hardware for cars that don’t have either but still have the factory stereo. We didn’t need iPod/iPhone integration so I decided on their Pure Bluetooth car kit. This kit promises the following:

  • Compatibility with almost any Bluetooth enabled Smartphone.
  • CD or better quality sound.
  • The ability to stream all of your music and have full control of said music through the factory stereo system and the steering wheel controls.
  • The ability to answer and hang up the phone through the factory stereo system and the steering wheel controls.
  • It includes an AUX audio port for non-Bluetooth devices and a USB port to charge the phone (data transfer is not supported). A microphone is also included.
  • Easy installation.

First let’s tackle what comes with the kit:

There is a main unit that interfaces with the factory stereo. You also get a bunch of cables:

  • One connects the main unit with the factory stereo
  • A 1/8″ cable that allows you to plug in a non-Bluetooth device
  • A microphone.

Please note that the image above comes from GTA Car Kits website.

Now let’s tackle the installation part. Assuming you have some skill and the right tools (more on the tools you need in a second), you should be able to install this yourself. One of the things that GTA Car Kits has done is provide videos to help you install these kits. While the videos are currently for their iPod/iPhone integration kits and are currently not available for the Pure Bluetooth car kit (although videos are starting to appear for some cars), they are still useful as the process is largely the same. It also makes up for the fact that the printed instructions are on the sparse side (and to be fair, deliberately so as I cannot see how they would be able to document every car make and model in a printed document). Here’s an example of such a video for the Toyota Matrix that I have:

Another thing that they’ve done is they make the tools that you need to install these kits available for sale along with a video showing how they are to be used properly. Thus you can get everything that you need to do this yourself. Now based on the feedback that I have seen, installation is achievable by most people. But if you’re not good at doing this sort of thing, you may wish to get a pro in a car stereo shop to do it for you. Alternately if you live in Toronto or the Greater Toronto Area, they can install it for you for a fee. That’s the route that I went and it only took them about 30 minutes to install it. One thing that I’d like to highlight is the placement of the microphone as pictured below:

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Clearly they were able to pop off the panel on the “A” pillar to route the cable for the microphone. Even though it is hanging off the “A” pillar, I’m fine with that. When I examined the car later, I found no dents or scratches on the dash or the “A” pillar. In terms of the electronics, everything worked when I tested the functionality of the in-dash CD player, built in AUX port, and any of the lights or switch gear (that would be the passenger airbag lights and the hazard lights switch) that they would have had to disconnect to install the kit.

Now, I did not leverage the AUX port option as my car already had one built in. I also did not leverage the USB charging option as that would require them to drill into the dash which I did not want them to do. Plus I will be getting this accessory from Garmin to charge my phones. Thus I was left with just having Bluetooth which is what I wanted.

The way the kit works is that it plugs into the CD changer port at the back of the factory stereo and basically fools the factory stereo into thinking it has a CD changer connected to it. Once you set it to “Disc 1″ here’s what you can do:

  • You can listen to music via Bluetooth as it supports the A2DP Bluetooth profile. You can change tracks using the car stereo and steering wheel controls. However you have to choose the playlist and start and stop the music from the phone. Preferably while you are parked.
  • If a call comes in, you can answer it by pressing the seek forward button. You can also hang up by using the same button. Now if you’re listening to music via Bluetooth, the music will stop and the call will come in. When you are finished with the call and you hang up, the music will start up again automatically. However, if you are listening to the radio or CD, then you will have to hit the AUX or CD button on your stereo before you answer the call as it doesn’t automatically switch over when a call comes in. That is understandable as the factory stereo wasn’t designed with this in mind and I am guessing that GTA Car Kits couldn’t figure out a way to make this behavior happen automatically when a call comes in.

The kit supports two phones and pairing phones is easy:

  • Put your phone into pairing mode and start the car.
  • Wait for a device called “GTA Car Kit” to appear.
  • When it does appear, simply pair the two devices. If it asks for a pairing code (My iPhone 6 did not ask for one), use “0000”.
  • Done. Declare victory and have a beer.

That is way easier than many factory stereo systems that I’ve tried lately where you have to do all sorts of stuff to pair a phone to it via Bluetooth. In my case I paired my wife’s iPhone 6 along with my iPhone 6. The key thing to keep in mind is that if you have both phones in the car at the same time, you need turn off Bluetooth on the phone that you do not want to be paired with your car (which should be the phone that belongs to the person who is not driving). Also, I note that the phone auto-connects quickly once it is paired.

In terms of the audio quality while playing back music, it was exceptionally good. No hiccups, distortion, or any other issues were noted in my testing. As far as I am concerned, it is CD quality or better. In terms of audio quality during phone calls, everything that I heard inside the car was clear and crisp. People who heard me speaking in the call commented that it was easy to hear with and at worst there was a bit of echo. On this front, I have no complaints.

Oddities? I noted that music would auto play sometimes when I put it into the Disc/AUX mode of the factory stereo or when my iPhone connected via Bluetooth. That’s not the fault of the Pure Bluetooth car kit as this is a long standing bug that has been present in iOS since iOS 7. I also noted that it sometimes had problems auto-connecting properly to my iPhone with the core symptom being that music was not routed from the phone through the factory stereo, but phone calls worked fine. A reboot of the phone fixed that issue which implies that this is another Bluetooth related issue with iOS. Finally, to properly hear anything over Bluetooth, you need to crank up the volume on your phone to the max. That’s not the fault of the kit as this is common thing that you have to do when you stream from a Bluetooth phone.

Wish list? How about the ability to invoke Siri? That would be cool as it would allow you to use your voice to pick playlists and send and read text messages among other things. In my e-mail conversations with GTA Car Kits, they did say that they were going to be doing some testing on this front in the next few weeks. If this functionality does appear and they tell me how to invoke Siri, I will update this review. Having said that, I did an experiment where I plugged a external battery pack into my iPhone 6 to simulate the phone being plugged into AC power and used the “Hey Siri” phrase which only works while on AC power to get Siri’s attention. That worked. But a button press would be better.

Now to how much this setup costs. The Pure Bluetooth kit for my Toyota Matrix was $159.85 and GTA Car Kits charged me another $100 to install it. The company makes kits for a number of car makes and models, thus I would suggest that you check their website to see if your car is on the list.

What’s my verdict? If you’re in the position of owning a car with a factory stereo that lacks Bluetooth and you want to add Bluetooth, this is a good option for you as it is way cheaper than swapping your factory stereo out for an after market unit. One thing to consider is that the company offers a 60 day refund policy. That way you can try it and see if it is right for you.

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD – Part 5

Posted in Products with tags on June 12, 2015 by itnerd

So I’ve come to the end of my week long review of the Mazda CX-3 GT AWD. It’s in a crowded field of sub-compact crossovers and I think that based on my week with it, it will hold its own against anyone in that class. It has great driving dynamics, a great interior, and as more tech than you can shake a stick at. I really liked it and this class of vehicle appeals to my wife and I because we both want a vehicle that isn’t too big, but still has the versatility of a crossover including having all-wheel-drive, while being good on gas. Speaking on gas, my final fuel economy was 8.2 L/100KM’s. Not the big drop that I usually get when I test cars for a week, but that’s pretty decent given I drove it in the city and on the highway in and outside of rush hour. Back to that crowded field of sub compact crossovers that it has to contend with. The list is one that grows as more carmakers enter it. Right now if you wanted to cross shop it, contenders would include the Nissan Juke, Chevy Trax and it’s corporate cousin the Buick Encore, and the upcoming Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V. If you wanted to expand this to the luxury space, you could toss in the Mercedes Benz GLA, Infiniti QX-50 and BMW X1 for good measure.

The Mazda CX-3 starts at $20,695 but the GT trim level that I had this week goes for $30,795 and it had pretty much every option box checked. Thus there’s a wide range to get as little or as much CX-3 as you need.

My final verdict, if you live in an urban environment and want a small versatile vehicle that is easy to park and maneuver in tight spaces, or you want to downsize to a vehicle that is “just right” in terms of size, you have to look at the Mazda CX-3. Mazda has ticked off all the boxes and its a winner as far as I am concerned. It’s also a winner with buyers. It’s only been available in Canada since late May and Mazda has already sold over 700 copies. Clearly, it’s also a winner with car buyers as well.

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD – Part 4

Posted in Products with tags on June 11, 2015 by itnerd

Even though the Mazda CX-3 GT is a sub-compact crossover which means that you’re giving up some size, you don’t give up technology to get it. At least not in the GT trim level. Here’s what it comes with starting with the safety technology:

  • Blind Spot Monitoring: This system keeps an eye out for cars in your blind spots so that you don’t hit them when changing lanes. It works well as the area of detection was large enough to keep me safe, but not so large that it created false positives.
  • Smart City Brake Support: Let’s say that you you do not react in time to a car that panic stops in front of you. This Mazda is capable of coming to a stop at low speeds, or slowing down to make the impact less severe. You can get more details on this system here.
  • Lane Departure Warning System: If you cross over into another lane, this system will buzz you on either the right or the left side. The buzz really gets your attention I must say.
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert: If you back out of a parking space in a busy shopping mall and you have limited visibility to your left and right, you’ll love this system as you will be warned of any cars that cross into your path.
  • Adaptive Front Lighting System and High Beam Control: I wrote about this previously and I have to admit that on some of the back roads that I drive at night, this feature comes in handy. I was always able to see what was in front of me clearly. I should also note that this trim level comes with LED headlights with LED daytime running lights that look cool. The lighting can be set to automatic so that you never have to worry about turning the lights on and off. I found that the levels where the lights might turn on to be better than most cars that I’ve driven as on a dark overcast day, the lights would come on. That’s something that would not happen in a lot of cars in similar systems.
  • You get anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, and electronic brake force distribution. Plus you get hill launch assist which keeps you from rolling backwards when you’re on a hill.
  • Finally, you get dual front air bags, dual front side air bags and dual side air curtains.

Now how about actually driving the CX-3? The GT trim level gives you a proximity key with push button start. Thus all you have to do is press a button on the driver’s door handle. Press it and the car will unlock. Get in, hit the start/stop button and drive away. One nice touch is that the start/stop button will light up with a green light if you press the brake pedal to start. That’s a nice touch to remind you to press the brake pedal to start the car. When you’ve reached your destination, press the start/stop button to turn off the car. Then get out of the car, close the door and walk away. You’ll hear two beeps. One after you close the door and one about 10 seconds later. When you hear both, the car is locked. You never need to pull out the key fob to do any of this. But the key fob does have the ability to lock and unlock the doors and it has the ever useful panic button. As an added bonus, it has a backup key inside the key fob should you need it.

While driving the CX-3 you get this handy piece of technology:

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This is the Mazda Active Driving Display. Hit the ignition button and the Active Driving Display screen pivots up from its place in the dash. It provides drivers with  vehicle speed, chosen cruise-control speed, information from the navigation system (including turn-by-turn directions, distance and lane guidance) as well as the operational status of the Mazda’s active safety systems. All of this is within the line of sight of the driver. which means you never have to look away from the road. Once I tweaked my seat position as well as the position of the screen, I found it to be extremely useful.

The best piece of technology that is in the Mazda CX-3 GT is the inclusion of Mazda Connect. The combination of the 7″ touchscreen  and the HMI (Human Machine Interface) Commander Switch gives the driver a easy to learn, easy to use infotainment system that I consider to be the gold standard in the automotive industry. I wrote about it in detail here, but take it from me, Mazda Connect is a winner from every aspect. Multimedia, navigation, even tweaking how the car is set up. There’s currently nothing better out there in the marketplace at the moment as far as I am concerned. The touchscreen also doubles as the screen for the backup camera. It was easy to manoeuvre into a space as its field of vision was very good. Though I will note that the actual camera is exposed to the elements. Having said that it rained during the week that I had it and the CX-3 did get dirty. However the camera did not seem to be affected by the dirt.

The Mazda CX-3 has an 7 speaker Bose sound system that I have to admit that regardless where in the CX-3 I happened to be sitting, the sound was excellent as the highs and lows were perfect and the audio was well balanced. Phone calls were clear on both ends of the conversation as well. For those of you who still use CDs, there’s a CD drive as well.

The Mazda CX-3 GT has a lot of technology packed into it. It can stop itself if you don’t react in time, it has great audio and a good infotainment system. It’s going to appeal to many who look at it.

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

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD – Part 3

Posted in Products with tags on June 10, 2015 by itnerd

The interior of the Mazda CX-3 GT has a very impressive interior. Let me detail what you get at this trim level:

IMG_1396The seats are covered in a combination of leather and cloth. It’s very classy looking and functional as it keeps you solid if you choose to have some “spirited” fun on a back road. Though some extra bolstering would be welcome. The seats are heated.

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Here’s the controls for the windows and door locks along with the side mirrors. If you look closely, you’ll see the faux carbon fiber trim.

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The doors have a mix of leather, suede, and plastic that looks very classy.

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Sound is provided by Bose in the GT trim level of the CX-3.

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From the top down you get the controls for various electronic overseers as well as the accelerator and brake pedals. Note the dead pedal to the left which is handy for long drives.

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The steering wheel is leather wrapped and has redundant controls for the infotainment system as well as controls for the cruse control. There are also paddle shifters on the rear. It felt good in my hands.

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The instrument panel is straight out of the Mazda3 and it looks very good. It can be customized on the right side to show the info that you’re interested in. One handy feature is that it can be switched easily from KM/H to MPH. Handy to have if you cross the border frequently.

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This is the Mazda Active Driving Display which puts relevant info right in your line of vision. I’ll talk more about this tomorrow when I look at the technology in the Mazda CX-3.

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Here you can see the center console which includes the 7″ touchscreen, HVAC controls and the transmission.

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Underneath the HVAC controls is a space with a CD player, a couple of USB ports, 1/8″ audio jack, and 12V outlet. One thing I really liked was the color scheme of the interior along with the stitching and faux carbon fiber trim was very well done and easily rivaled some luxury cars that I’ve tested.

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Here’s a closer look at the shifter and just below it is the sport switch that allows you to have some extra fun.

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Here’s a look at the cupholders and some limited storage behind the cupholders. There’s no armrest which I wasn’t used to when I first started driving the CX-3. Nor is there a storage area. So storage space is at a bit of a premium. You also see the HMI (Human Machine Interface) Commander Switch that controls the infotainment system.

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The cupholders fit my Venti Starbucks coffee. However the cupholders are not deep. So I have to wonder what happens to that coffee if you make an evasive maneuver of some sort.

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Since storage is at a premium, it’s a good thing that you get a good sized glove compartment.

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The power moonroof doesn’t cut into the headroom that the CX-3 provides. That’s a good thing if you’re tall like me.

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The back seats will seat two for sure. Three in the back may be possible for short trips but the person in the middle has to deal with the protrusion for the rear driveshaft. Seeing as I am exactly six feet tail, I set the drivers seat up for myself and got into the back seat expecting not to fit. But I did fit and I was able to get in and out with ease along with feeling comfortable while I was there. Thus, if you have to haul around four (not five) people on a regular basis and the people up front are six feet tall or less, the CX-3 can handle that.

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The cargo area has a handy privacy cover and actually has a fair amount of space. Plus it has one extra trick.

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You get underfloor storage which given that this is a vehicle that has limited storage space is a very welcome addition. The section that I am lifting up is removable as well if you simply want some extra depth to the cargo area. But if you want a flat storage area when you have the seats down, you need to have this in place.

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Grocery shopping was more than doable in the CX-3. As you can see here, we had no trouble getting our shopping into the CX-3 and we had room to spare. I should note that if you need extra space, the rear seats fold down in a 60/40 split.

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Here you can see the handle on the rear hatch that will help you to keep your hands clean.

Overall, the only thing that I can really complain about is the fact that storage space is at a premium. Other than that, the interior is well executed and well put together. Mazda really did a great job putting the interior together. I should also note that sight lines in a 360 degree view are great. I had no issues seeing anything that was around me while I was driving.

Tomorrow, I will be taking a look at the technology in the CX-3 which is very extensive. Stay tuned.

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-3 GT AWD – Part 2

Posted in Products with tags on June 9, 2015 by itnerd

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Here’s the Mazda 4 cylinder Skyactiv engine that powers the Mazda CX-3 GT compact crossover. It’s a 2.0L power plant that puts out 146 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic gearbox that you can shift manually using the paddle shifters or the gear lever. The power gets to the ground via a fully automatic all wheel drive system that is of the slip and grip variety. When I first saw the specs, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But I was wrong and I should have known better. Mazda consistently seems to be able to make their vehicles perform like they are more powerful than their specs suggest thanks to their Skyactiv technology. I didn’t have a problem dropping other cars off the line, nor did I have a problem merging with highway traffic or passing vehicles on the highway with ease. Though, occasionally I would have to put my foot down to make any of that happen. Thus I do wonder how the CX-3 would perform if it had Mazda’s 155 HP 2.0 engine under the hood.

It was very, very nimble and didn’t handle like a crossover as it behaved like a car. In fact, its road manners remind me of the CX-5 that I drove recently. I really have to highlight the fact that the CX-3 is easy to maneuver in an urban environment and easy to park too. That’s important given the target audience of the CX-3. The suspension fits that category as well as it was firm and responsive without punishing you on rough roads. Plus like every other Mazda I’ve tested, the steering is perfectly weighted and it is easy to figure out what the car is doing underneath you. If you really want to have more fun, click the Sport Mode switch. The CX-3 will shift quicker and the go fast pedal becomes sharper. You’ll give up some fuel economy by using it, but it makes an already great crossover even better on an open road or twisty back roads. In terms of noise, vibration, and harshness, I noted that there was only tire noise and wind noise wasn’t even noticeable unless you hit 120 KM/H. Even then, wind noise was minimal. That’s good. In terms of fuel economy, I’m currently getting 8.3L / 100KM’s in mixed city and highway driving, often in rush hour. That’s not bad and I expect it to get better as the week goes on.

Tune in tomorrow to see the interior of the Mazda CX-3 GT AWD. It’s one that will impress you with the degree of detail that went into it.

In Depth: Yappn

Posted in Products with tags on May 29, 2015 by itnerd

E-commerce for the most part has been “local” and confined to same language geo locations but with over 3 Billion people surfing around the world on desktops, tables and mobile devices, over 70% don’t surf the net in English. To save you from having to do the math, that’s over 2 Billion people and growing. Thus bridging the global language barrier and extending brands to other markets by providing browsing experiences in a persons native language is vital.

Yappn Corp. has altered this paradigm with an API (application programming interface) called the Windrose Global Ecommerce framework that renders any ecommerce site into a global site by enabling real time translation in up to 67 languages inclusive of the shopping cart checkout. The system integration enables entertainment companies, ecommerce companies and other enterprises reach global audiences in their native and sell to them. This happens instantly in 67 languages with very high fidelity and accuracy and without any human translation or intervention.

Focused on the ecommerce market, Yappn is the only language solution to support the entire sales cycle, from Online Marketing (advertisement, social wall and fotoyapp) to ecommerce sales (online store, catalog, shopping cart and check-out) all the way to the customer care (multilingual chat, live and global events, video captioning and online live chat). Yappn helps retailers to greatly expand their global reach by presenting, promoting and supporting  the sale of one single store in up to 67 languages, all in real-time. The net result is that we will have an Internet that is open and accessible to all regardless what language a person speaks.

The first appearance of the Windrose Global Ecommerce framework will be in a Shopify app which will be available in Shopify’s app store by late-June. Yappn’s Windrose Global Ecommerce application for Shopify is a Microsoft Azure cloud recurring fee based software-as-a- service (SaaS) deliverable that is a combination of native Shopify application (app) and a cloud-based portal. If you’re a vendor with an online presence, and you want to easily expand your reach, take a look at Yappn’s technology.

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