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Review: Arlo HD Security Camera

Posted in Products with tags on November 26, 2015 by itnerd

The last of the three cameras that I am reviewing today is the most intriguing of the bunch. The Arlo HD Security Camera bills itself as the only 100% wire free HD camera with day/night capability that can be used indoors or outdoors. The test unit that I got was made up of four cameras and a base station. So… How does this work? The camera’s are battery powered using four CR123 lithium batteries. Those cameras are connected wirelessly to the base station which connect via Ethernet to your home router. This all should give you the flexibility to place cameras wherever you need them to be. Sounds good in theory. But how well does it work? Well, except for one thing, pretty well actually.

First, the setup was painless:

  • Download the app which is available for iOS, Android, and the Kindle Fire
  • Plug in the base station via Ethernet to your router
  • Pop the batteries into the cameras
  • Press the sync buttons on the base station and on the cameras and wait for the cameras to sync and pop up in the app.
  • Place the cameras wherever you want. Magnetic mounts are included and you can get a desktop mount separately.
  • Declare victory and have a beer.

In terms of video quality, here’s what you get:


It is a good quality wide angle lens that gives you a good view. It also looks pretty good at night as well.

Next up is battery life. When I was testing the Arlo cameras indoors, the cameras still had a full charge. Interestingly, though, when I took the fully-charged cameras outside in below-freezing weather, the battery status indicators dropped swiftly. When I returned inside, the status bars go back to their previously fully-charged setting.

The app is easy to use. You can set up rules to manage motion detection and alerts. You get 7 days of video storage in the Arlo Cloud. But you can pay for longer periods of storage for more cameras.

What’s the only thing that I had a problem with? There’s no audio. From personal experience, I find having one way audio, or better yet two way audio to be a huge help when talking to people such as condo maintenance people. It will also help to scare off an intruder. If they can figure out how to get one into the Arlo, this would make it the perfect setup.

The four pack of cameras that included the base station goes for $549 CDN at your local Best Buy. But they also have other bundles that will get you the exact number of cameras that you require. Plus you can pick up single packs of cameras as well. If you need to have the most flexible camera setup to protect people and property, take a look at the Arlo HD security camera.


Review: Canary

Posted in Products with tags on November 26, 2015 by itnerd

The second of three cameras that I am reviewing today is the Canary. Here’s what this camera brings to the table:

  • A HD quality night-vision camera. More on that in a second.
  • Temperature sensor
  • Two way audio
  • Humidity sensor
  • Air quality sensor
  • A 90 dB panic siren
  • A cool privacy mode. Flip it over and Canary will go to sleep, ceasing all video and audio recording.

Setup was easy. Mostly. I powered on the Canary and entered my Wi-Fi info into the app. It stole that info off my iPhone which was using a 5 GHz network which the Canary didn’t see, thus the setup failed. So I had to switch my phone over to a 2.4 GHz network and it worked. I then plugged Canary into my iPhone using a yellow cable that plugs into the headphone jack. Canary will then “listen” for the Wi-Fi info that I entered into the app. After a few minutes and a firmware update later, I was live.

Let’s start with the camera part. Here’s what you get to see:IMG_1915.PNG

It’s a very wide angle lens that allow one to see everything clearly. You won’t have any complaints here. When it comes to the sensors, here are my thoughts. Via the app, you can tap on the home screen’s temperature and humidity readings to access “Homehealth” graphs of the conditions in your home. During my tests, it offered accurate readings of the temperature and humidity. When it comes to air quality, the air quality graph doesn’t distinguish between different toxins. It instead lumps everything together on a graph that charts between “normal” and “very abnormal.” How do I know this? I got one the few smokers that I know to blow smoke towards the Canary to get this result. Having said that, I do believe that this can prove useful for someone who wants to make sure their house is free of carbon monoxide or isn’t on fire.

Another feature of the Canary is that it will get smarter the more you use it. The learning mechanism here is a tagging feature. Pull up a clip from your timeline, and you can tag it to tell the system what triggered it. The idea is that eventually, Canary will start to recognize what’s happening in a specific clip, and whether or not it’s relevant to your security concerns. In theory, that means fewer false alarms the more you use it. Speaking of alarms, you can receive them via push notifications on your smartphone and then you can activate the alarm or watch video live. It also uses the location of the phone to arm and disarm itself. Out of the box, you can store videos for 12 hours for free in the Canary Cloud. If you want to store clips for longer periods of time, Canary has a number of paid plans that may suit your needs.

Canary goes for $249 CDN at your local Best Buy. It’s a very interesting camera that does a whole lot. My feeling is that it will find a market with those who want one device to fully secure their home in every way possible.

Review: Piper NV

Posted in Products with tags on November 26, 2015 by itnerd

Seeing as I was the victim of a break in a few years ago, I have a keen interest in security cameras for the home. Thus I will be reviewing three cameras today, starting with the Piper NV security camera. Piper NV has a ton features going for it, including the following:

  • It has a camera that has a wide viewing angle. More on that in a moment
  • A siren
  • A microphone
  • A speaker
  • A Z-Wave hub that allows it to communicate to Z-Wave devices like smart plugs, sensors, locks, thermostats and more
  • Motion, sound, temperature, humidity and light sensors
  • Battery backup via 3 AA batteries

The Piper Android and iOS apps allow you to arm and disarm the system, set custom alerts, watch live footage on a single or four-panel screen, view the free saved clips triggered by your own settings preferences, check out graphs showing all of the changes the sensors detect over time. I used the iOS version and it was quick to figure out and easy to use.

Setup is easy. It took me about 7 minutes to get it done. All I had to do is plug in the Piper NV, connecting it to Wi-Fi network and then entering the details for the local Wi-Fi network. Plus waiting for the camera do some firmware updates. One note, during the setup process, you will be asked for a phone number which you can receive alerts over. Thus you should pick your mobile number. From there, I set custom rules for Home, Away and Vacation mode. In Home, Away and Vacation mode, motion, sound and indoor temperature changes can trigger a response from the Piper NV. Within each mode and for each specific trigger, you can opt in and out of recording a video clip (it typically records an event for about 35 seconds), getting alerted via push message, phone call, email and/or text, notifying your trusted circle (you can add family and friends using your phone’s contact directory) and sounding the siren.

In terms of the quality of the picture, here’s an example of what the camera is capable of:


It’s a 3.4 MP HD camera capable of pan, tilt, and zoom with a very wide viewing angle. You will have no problem seeing anything you will need to see. You also get night vision as well. That worked well during my testing. Finally, it comes with all the gear you need to mount it

So what will cost you? The Piper NV goes for $299 CDN at your local Best Buy. They also sell a variety of Z-Wave switches and sensors. That way you can build a security system that fits your needs. If you want a camera that does more than take pictures, the Piper NV is very much worth a look.


Review: ZTE Axon

Posted in Products with tags on November 22, 2015 by itnerd

When I reviewed the ZTE Grand X, I had this to say:

Clearly, ZTE is serious about playing in the budget end of the market and you should take a look of them if you’re in the market for a smartphone at that end of the market. Also, Motorola might want to keep an eye on them as well as ZTE is clearly going after their turf.

Then when I reviewed the ZTE Grand X Plus, I had this to say:

The ZTE Grand X Plus checks off a lot of boxes and as a result it has to be on your list if you’re looking for phone at a low price. It’s also a phone that will force the competition to up their game before ZTE takes their breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Finally, when I reviewed the ZTE Grand X 2, I had this to say:

Given everything that I see here, you have to think that other phone companies may start looking over their shoulders as ZTE is quickly catching up to them and maybe even passing them as the ZTE Grand X 2 is one phone that is going to get a lot of attention from buyers.

You see a trend here. I really think that ZTE makes good phones at a low price. But those phones have been at the entry level of the spectrum. That changes now with the introduction of the ZTE Axon which is exclusively available on the Fido network. Let’s start with the specs:

  • Android 5.1.1 Lollipop
  • 2.3GHz quad-core processor
  • 5.5-inch display with 1080 x 1920 resolution with Corning Gorilla Glass 3
  • 2GB RAM
  • 32GB internal storage – Non Expandable
  • 13MP + 2MP rear camera with 4K HD video capability with dual-LED flash
  • 8MP Fixed-Focus front-facing camera with 720p HD video recording
  • Hi-Fi audio
  • LTE, 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Non-removable Li-Ion 3000 mAh battery

These are not low end specs, and that’s the point. The ZTE Axon is aimed directly at the iPhone 6S and the Samsung Galaxy S6. A lofty goal. But does it succeed on that front? Well, the short answer is yes. Here’s the long answer starting with the design.

The phone I got was a black one and it looks very high end and classy. The build quality is excellent as it feels very solid. That’s helped by the fact that the back is not removable and the casing is made of metal. It is a bit thick and it isn’t exactly small or light. But I can live with the size as it is easy to hold. In terms of controls, the top has the headphone jack, the bottom has a micro USB port. On the right is a power button as well as a button that invokes the camera. On the left is the volume controls. The display is is big, bright, and beautiful, with accurate color reproduction, and great viewing angles and contrast. I found it usable in most lighting conditions.

Next up is the software. ZTE brings a variation of Google’s stock Material Design aesthetic on top of Android 5.1.1 Lollipop. You’re likely saying at this point, “what, no Android 6.0?” Relax, it’s coming according to ZTE. Though they could not say exactly when. I like the feel of the Android UI as it is free of bloat. Because this is a Fido phone, it comes with a ton of Rogers software like Fido Navigator and City Video.

One of the key features of the ZTE Axon is the sound quality. It has two Digital-to-Analog converters (DACs) that upscale all audio to a crisp 24-bits. Sounds complicated, but it works. I listened to the same song (Adele’s “Hello” for the record) with the same set of headsets on an iPhone 6S, a Samsung Galaxy 6, as well as the Axon. The ZTE crushes the other two in terms of sound quality as audio is a lot fuller, with depth especially along the mids and lows. I’m not talking about a minor difference between the three phones. It’s more along the lines of it wasn’t even close. If you’re an audiophile, you will love this phone.

Speed is another area where this phone shines. Opening, closing, and switching between applications are all smooth. Multi-tasking is a non issue. Playing graphically intensive games caused no trouble at all. This department is an easy win for ZTE as it easily competes with the competition from Apple and Samsung. It’s also fast on Fido’s LTE network where I averaged 99.73 Mbps downstream and 26.62 Mbps upstream when I tested it in Downtown Toronto. Slow this phone is not.

The next area where this phone stands out is the camera. The main camera on the rear is a 13 MP shooter with optical image stabilization, but there is also an additional 2 MP camera for capturing depth information. If this scheme sounds familiar, it should. HTC tried this with HTC One M8. It worked well for them and it works well for ZTE. To do something different, I spent a Sunday walking around Toronto taking some pictures. Here’s a variety of shots from the College St. and Spading area. Click to see the images in full size: IMG_20151122_105517 IMG_20151122_104644 IMG_20151122_104953 IMG_20151122_104502

To test the low light capabilities, which ZTE made a big deal about when the phone was introduced, I took a trip down to Line 2 of the Toronto Subway system. Note to the kids at home, don’t try this at home. I got the permission of a Toronto Transit Commission Special Constable to get this shot:


Bottom line, you can check this box off as it this camera works well in low light. In fact, it worked well period for still pictures.

And now the video which was shot in 1080P. Set it to full screen and 1080P:

There is wind noise, and it took a second to focus properly. But once the Axon did focus, the quality is very good.

The camera UI is simple, and navigating through the various elements involves swipes across the viewfinder to switch between modes. Selfie lovers will be happy with the 8 MP front-facing shooter with a wide angle lens, that should provide for some great self portraits, and also allow users to easily fit additional subjects into the frame. Oh, it will snap a selfie if you smile. Cool.

The final item is battery life. It is good enough to provide a full day of use and have enough charge to go into the next day with ease. But if you do need a charge, you can leverage the fast-charging capabilities via Qualcomm QuickCharge 2.0 to keep you going.

So, what is ZTE’s flagship phone going to cost you? It’s $0 on a 2 year term  or $400 outright. Here’s the bottom line. The ZTE Axon gives you flagship phone features and capabilities at bargain basement prices. This phone must be on your list if you are in the market for a smartphone. As in you are nuts if you don’t consider it because it is simply that good. ZTE is clearly on it’s way from being a top shelf phone manufacturer that will scare the dickens out of Apple and Samsung.

CharmCam: World’s First Baby Thermal Video Monitor

Posted in Products with tags on November 14, 2015 by itnerd
A new Indiegogo campaign has launched to make a better baby monitor:

Called the CharmCam, it equips parents with the same thermography technology as you see in airport and border. The embedded long wavelength infra-red (LWIR) detector measures your baby’s body temperature, and you can configure notification to alert you when your baby has elevated body temperature, or notify you when your baby’s body temperature returns to normal. CharmCam can determine whether your baby’s face is covered, and alert you to your phone with live video.You can select the music file or playlist using our app, and CharmCam can play it along to your baby. You can set timer to turn off the lullabies, or to set a timer to turn it on as a wake-up notice to your baby. A good mixture of twinkle LEDs and lullabies can be your new tricks to soothe your baby to sleep! CharmCam has both front and rear cameras. Each CharmCam carries air quality detector, which can measure the levels of oxygen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. You can click on the app to see the front and rear view.
Check it out on Indiegogo.

In Depth: Microsoft’s Focus On Small/Medium Business

Posted in Products with tags on November 13, 2015 by itnerd

I recently had the opportunity to chat with Andy Sanborn, Senior Business Strategy Manager at Microsoft in regards to Microsoft’s focus on small and medium business. This is a topic of interest to me as I run a small business, a lot of the clients that I serve are small and medium sized businesses, and small and medium sized businesses drive a significant portion of our economy.

Now, I have been around long enough to remember that the only way that you got any attention from Microsoft directly was to be a big business. As in, you have hundreds or thousands of employees. Plus, the only solutions that they brought to the table were ones with William H. Gates III stamp of approval. But after speaking to Mr. Sanborn, I now see that Microsoft is a very different company. For example, Microsoft now has solutions tailored for small business. I can highlight the following as examples:

  • Microsoft is platform agnostic. Seriously they are. That’s best highlighted by the fact that Microsoft solutions and services are available on any device. For example, you can use Office 365 on your PC or Mac, but store and access your files on OneDrive on your Android, iOS or Windows Phone device. That way you can choose to use the devices that work for you rather than be forced into a particular ecosystem. Thus they’re no longer the company that popularized the term “embrace, extend, extinguish.”
  • You get multiple channels to access Microsoft. Whether it’s via phone, online via, or in a Microsoft Store location, you can pick the path that works best for you. Regardless of which channel you choose, you’re going to get advice that is focused on a business audience before you purchase which I consider to be very valuable. Plus you’re going to get access to a suite of phones, tablets, software and computers from a variety of vendors.
  • Microsoft can help you to be leverage all of this to make your business more agile and kick it up to the next level. Be it cloud, Windows 10, or Windows powered hardware.

All the above points are true whether you’re someone like me who is running a company by themselves or you’re a growing business. At the end of our conversation, it was clear to me that Microsoft really wants to make this work. I think that once Microsoft gets some momentum going behind this, other companies (read: Apple) will have to step up their game in terms of how they handle small and medium businesses because this approach will make Microsoft the destination for small businesses wishing to leverage technology more efficient. Kudos to them for providing the resources that businesses need to be successful.

Review: Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4×4 – Part 5

Posted in Products with tags on November 13, 2015 by itnerd

So I’ve come to the end of the review of the Jeep Renegade. First let me wrap up a few loose ends. At the end of my week with it I registered 10.3 L/100KM in mixed city and highway driving, a lot of which was in rush hour traffic. Now, given that this is a vehicle that has a 4×4 system driving the wheels, that’s actually not too shabby.

So what is the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk 4×4 going to cost you? As equipped it was $38,825. But the Renegade starts at $19,995 with lots of options in between that and what I drove. So you can find likely one that fits your budget. If I were to cross shop it against similar vehicles, I’d pick the Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke and Chevy Trax, Buick Encore, and the Mazda CX-3 that I reviewed earlier this year. However, none of those vehicles has the off road capabilities of the Renegade, which makes the Renegade unique in my opinion. It also brings a lot of utility to the table in a small package, including the ability to carry four humans in it, or a healthy amount of cargo. That’s not a minor point if you need a vehicle of this size that is capable of doing absolutely everything you need it to. If you’re looking for a sub compact sport utility vehicle that actually delivers on the utility part the Jeep Renegade has to be on your shopping list.


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