Archive for the Products Category

Review: Roku Express

Posted in Products with tags on October 14, 2016 by itnerd

Roku is serious about owning the streaming market. To do that, they have come out with a suite of new products at all levels. At the low end is the Roku Express:


In the box are the Roku Express, an HDMI cable and a remote control. It will do 1080p video at 60 frames and connects to the Internet via 802.11b/g/n WiFi. While I do wish that it did 802.11ac WiFi, previous Roku products did just fine with 802.11b/g/n WiFi. So I’ll give them a free pass on that. You power it via a USB port that is strictly for power. There’s also a strip of tape to stick it to your TV so that it is out of the way. 

In terms of capabilities, you get the full suite of features. Universal search is there and so is the Roku Feed. While there’s no voice search or headphone jack on the remote most of those features are available on Roku’s mobile app. In fact, I preferred using the Roku App rather than the remote control that comes with the Roku Express as the remote that’s included in the box isn’t the cool RF remote that I’ve seen on Roku products in the past that takes away line of sight issues. You also still get all the channels and streaming options that you expect from Roku which makes it a compelling choice to stream whatever content you want as the Roku platform is all about giving you the choice to get the content you want from your preferred source. 

The key feature of the Roku Express is the price. It’s $39.99 CDN which is dirt cheap and make it almost too hard to pass up if you want a low cost streaming device. If you want something with a bit more capability, you can check out the Roku Express + which adds RCA based AV jacks to the game for $10 CDN more. That way, you can add streaming capability to an older TV. If you want to start enjoying streaming content at a low cost, the Roku Express or Roku Express + have to be your first choice.

Review: Ninja Loop & Petite Loop

Posted in Products with tags on October 13, 2016 by itnerd

From the “it’s so simple, why didn’t I think of that” file comes these products:


On the left is the Ninja Loop. On the right is the Petite Loop from Loop. The idea is that you can use these to ensure that your phone is always secure in your hand. The reason why it’s simple is that it leverages the case that one tends to use to protect their phone. Installation is simple and I will use the Ninja Loop to show how simple it is.


Basically you take your case and sitck one end of the Ninja Loop on the inside of your case. Then you loop it through the camera hole, and then loop it through an opening on the bottom of the case and stick it on the inside. You want to leave some slack so that your fingers can fit through the Ninja Loop on the back. The net result is this:


As up you can see, the Ninja Loop allows me to slide two fingers in this case through the loop to securly hold the phone. I tried to get the strap to break over a couple of days and I couldn’t. Impressive! Now, the Petite Loop differs from the Ninja Loop in the fact that it is a loop that hangs down from the phone rather than the way that you see above. That way you can choose what works for you.

The best part is that both loops are beyond affordable. The Ninja Loop is $6.63 CAD, the Petite Loop is the same price and they are available in a wide variety of colors. As far as I am concerned, this is a slam dunk in terms of recommending this product. It’s easy to install and it works. What more can you want from a product?


Upgrading My Wife’s MacBook Pro With An SSD

Posted in Products, Tips with tags on October 7, 2016 by itnerd

My wife inherited my old MacBook Pro when I moved to a MacBook Pro With Retina Display. It works for what she needs to do. But I knew that I could do one thing that would make it better for her. Replace the old school hard drive with an Solid State Disk which is better known as a SSD. Now, what do I gain by doing that? Here’s a quick list:

  • Speed: SSD’s are insanely fast. They allow a computer to boot in seconds and not minutes. Applications will also start way faster.
  • Durability: With no moving parts, SSD’s can survive bumps and other rigors of life that would damage an old school hard drive, which makes them perfect for portable computers like the MacBook Pro.
  • Power Usage: With no moving parts, SSD can consume less power than an old school hard drive. That translates into longer battery life. How much longer depends on your use case.

SSDs have dropped in price to such a degree, that they are only a modest preminum over a old school hard drive of the same capacity. That makes them way more accessible than they used to be. For example, the computer that my wife has had an option for a 512 GB SSD for $700 CDN when it was new. Now you can get a SSD of that capacity for a third of that price. Case in point is this SSD:


This is a 500GB Samsung EVO 850 SSD. Its MSRP is $250 CDN, but you can find it for just over $200 if you look around hard enough. It’s highly rated by Mac users as being a great balance between price and performance.

First next step is to clone the data from the old school hard drive to the SSD. To help me with that is this piece of kit from Thermaltake. It allows me to connect almost any type and physical size of hard drive via USB to any computer. I use it to help my customers move data from their failed computers or old computers to new ones. But I used it to mount the new SSD so that I could format it and use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the contents of the old drive to the new one.

Now swapping out the drive is easy if you’re used to working on computers and you have the proper tools. The tools in question are a #0x25 Phillips screwdriver and a T6 Torx screwdriver. As for how you do it, here’s a video from Other World Computing that shows how to do it. It took 15 minutes for me to swap the drive out and I took the opportunity to use some compressed air to clean out the inside of my wife’s MacBook Pro as these things seriously collect dust. After putting everything back together, I then powered on the MacBook Pro and after a 1 minute delay caused by the fact that it had to account for a SSD being installed in it, it fired right up. I rebooted it cold a number of times after that to confirm that it was fine. I then reactivated Microsoft Office, renamed the new SSD to “Macintosh HD” from “Untitled” and fixed the Carbon Copy Cloner backup tasks that were still referencing the old drive. 

Speaking of booting, here’s a comparison of how fast my wife’s Mac booted with an old school hard drive, and with an SSD. In both cases, I had FileVault2 encryption enabled:

Old School Hard Drive: 1 minute and 4 seconds

SSD: 15 seconds

That’s quite the difference. I also test opened applicaitons and they opened instantly. I really think that when my wife sees this, I might get a really big thank you as it really starts to level the playing field between the two of us when it comes to the computers that we use.

One last note. Some people out there will ask about TRIM support. When an operating system uses TRIM with a SSD, it sends a signal to the SSD every time you delete a file. The SSD knows that the file is deleted and it can erase the file’s data from its flash storage. With flash memory, it’s faster to write to empty memory. But if it has to write to an area of the disk that has data, the data must be erased before it can be written to. This causes your SSD to slow down over time unless TRIM is enabled. TRIM ensures the physical NAND memory locations containing deleted files are erased before you need to write to them. The SSD can then manage its available storage more intelligently. I decided to enable TRIM for this reason and if you want to do it, here’s a document that explains how. Just make sure you have a backup when you do it. 

Take it from me. Besides adding RAM to a computer, an SSD can really take a computer that is a few years old (in this case, we’re dealing with a 3.5 year old computer) and breath new life into it. It doesn’t cost a lot and it’s not hard to do.

My 2016 Hyundai Tucson Limited – One Year Wrap Up

Posted in Products with tags on October 1, 2016 by itnerd

September 30th marks one year with the 2016 Hyundai Tucson. Before I give you my final thoughts, let me give you some updates. First of all, we’ve replaced the tires. The Tucson came stock with Yokohama tires which were not all that good as they are all season tires, which really means every season but winter tires. As I mentioned in my first update, we were planning on switching them to Nokian WRG3 all weather tires as these are tires that you can use in all four seasons and they have the severe service emblem which means that you can use them in snow safely and they are legal in places like the Province of Quebec. Now these tires are usually only available exclusively through Kal Tire in Canada. But my preferred tire shop is Tires 23 managed to source these tires for me at $300 less than what Kal Tire was asking for a set of four. My early impressions are that they are much quieter than the stock tires and they have great rain performance. The real test will be in the winter when my wife and I go skiing and we have to negotiate snow covered roads. The only thing that needed to be done is to get a four wheel alignment as that helps the tires last longer and wear evenly. Not to mention that it helps the vehicle drive better. In fact, I recommend that you do a four wheel alignment done yearly for those reasons. As I am typing this, I am watching the 4 wheel alignment being performed at Hyundai Of Oakville

Another change that I made was to get a tray for the center console storage area. Now Hyundai did a great job of having a great area to store stuff. The problem with that is that you just end up having to rummage through whatever is there to get to whatever it is you’re looking for. Thus having a tray for stuff you need to access frequent is handy. Now a member of the Hyundai Forums that goes by the name of “Didit” made some trays himself and sold a few of them to members of the forum. I bought one from him and here’s what it looks like in the Tucson:


I’ve got my gas cards, pens, and coins (handy for parking meters and for a quick coffee) all at hand. If I lift it up, the stuff that I use far less frequently is below this tray. It works quite well. The price was $35 US plus shipping. If you have a Tucson, I’d recommend one. Another thing that I’ve done is address the fact that the Tucson has only one USB port which is something that I brought up here. I’ve addressed that by using the Zus which is a high speed USB charger that plugs into your 12v outlet and gives you two additional USB outlets that can keep your devices charged. That’s important as the sole USB port in the Tucson doesn’t charge anywhere near as fast as the Zus and you can only charge one device at a time. It also has the additional trick of working with an app that is installed on your smartphone to capture the location of your car so that you can find it later. My wife and I were using that feature until iOS 10 came out as that has the same functionality as I described here. But we continue to use the charger along with a pair of ZUS Super Duty USB-A to Lightning Cables which are built to last.

I also had the chance to ride the PWC GTA Epic Tour 80K route. The Tucson was able to hold my bike along with a bag carrying my helmet, bike shoes, and a change of clothes with plenty of space to spare. The Tucson’s AWD system was also able to handle the fact that my wife and I had to drive on gravel and grass to park with ease. Plus it was a very comfortable place to relax for my wife while she waited for me, and for yours truly on the drive home after four hours of effort. Speaking of which, here are my stats using Strava of my 80K ride with roughly 3000 of my closest friends:


That’s not bad as my pace was a lot slower last year. One of the reasons why it took me four hours to complete this ride was all the climbing. How much climbing? Here how much:


You can see that I did 558m of climbing, but only 379m of going downhill. Now 558m is 1830 feet which is a lot of climbing. That’s really a lot of climbing on a bike if you don’t live in someplace like the French Alps.

Finally, I needed to have the Tucson detailed. So I took advantage that I had to do Jury Duty at the courthouse in Downtown Toronto to have it detailed at a place called @ Your Cars Service which is in the parking garage of First Canadian Place. The reason why I like this place is that they detail high end cars routinely. The day I was there an Audi R8, a Porsche Cayenne GTS, a Maserati, and a Lamborghini were being detailed. If they can do those types of vehicles, my Tucson shouldn’t be a problem for them. Interior cleaning along with a wash and wax cost me $180 plus tip. I always recommend that you do some sort of detailing as it will keep your car looking new, and help you to keep the trade in value high as the appearance of the car inside and out always matters when it comes to trading in your car. Here’s what the Tucson looked immediately afterwards:


So, after a year and all the experiences we’ve had with the Tucson, including a road trip to Prince Edward County, would we buy one if we had it to do all over again?

The answer is yes.

The Hyundai Tucson has really proven that Hyundai as a company has grown up and is now capable of producing products that are a great value and have a very upscale feel to them as our Tucson has lots of features that you find on luxury cars and it has great fuel economy (10 L/100 KMs or less is what we tend to average) for a very good price tag. It handles great, it’s roomy, comfortable and very versatile for all our adventures. Not only that, most people who see it think that the Tucson is way more expensive than it is. Also, it is often mistaken for something German. Hyundai can likely thank influence of Peter Schreyer who is the chief designer at Hyundai-Kia for that. 

Now are there areas where Hyundai can improve? Yes:

  • Hyundai Canada needs to step up its game in terms of parts availability as demonstrated when the BSD system went on the fritz. Waiting two weeks for parts when most of their competition can get parts in a day or two is a #fail in this day and age.
  • And they likely need to have greater attention to detail when it comes to avoiding a situation like when they didn’t enable the “welcome lights” on a bunch of Tucsons. Now to be fair, Hyundai finished third in this year’s JD Power Initial Quality Study ahead of BMW, Lexus, Audi and Mercedes Benz. But this was a hell of a miss on that front for them that doesn’t help them on that front.
  • One other area that Hyundai Canada could improve upon is their handling of the availability of upgrades to Android Auto and Apple CarPlay in their vehicles as that caused far more drama than it should have. To be fair, Hyundai Canada now seems to be getting a handle on that and I hope to be able to communicate some positive news on that front soon. Though, if you check the comments in the various stories that I have written on the topic, there’s a lot of unhappy people that Hyundai Canada are going to have to deal with, and it will not likely be pretty.
  • Two things that Hyundai Canada could do that would push the Tucson to being the choice in the compact SUV space would be to have tire pressure monitoring like they do in the American version of the Tucson, as well as having radar based cruise control which would allow the vehicle to slow down and speed upon its own depending on traffic conditions available as options.
  • Another USB port would be really nice.
  • One last thing that Hyundai Canada should consider is taking their more advanced safety features like autonomous emergency braking, and make it available at lower trim levels. I say that because some people that like our Tucson have been put off by the fact that autonomous emergency braking is only available in the “Ultimate” trim level. Compare that to Toyota who plan on making this among other safety features standard on their vehicles in 2017. The flipside to that is that other manufacturers do the same thing as Hyundai Canada in terms of keeping the really cool safety stuff for the top trim level. But with Toyota upping the ante, this will likely change and that may place Hyundai Canada in a space where it is perceived as not being competitive or forward thinking relative to those it competes against if they don’t change along with it.

But on the plus side, they have addressed three potential issues proactively which earns kudos in my book:

  • One was done three months in via a software update for the engine control module as 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 an error code which could result in the Check Engine Light being turned on. 
  • The other two were done recently which were to address an issue with the secondary hood latch and to update the shift logic of the dual clutch transmission. The latter one was a big win for Hyundai as some Tucson owners had complained about the performance of the dual clutch transmission. But as evidenced by this thread on the Hyundai Forums, most people who get the software update love the results.

In closing, our experience overall with the 2016 Hyundai Tucson has been very positive. In short, buying the Tucson was a good decision on the part of my wife and I. And it is a decision that we do not regret.

Review: ZUS Super Duty USB-A to Lightning Cable

Posted in Products with tags on September 30, 2016 by itnerd

Lightning cables suck. They tend not to last very long as I’ve complained in the past about, as have others. I’ve been trying to find cables that will last something longer than a few months and I think I have finally found one in the form of the ZUS Super Duty USB-A to Lightning Cable by Nonda. Let’s take a look at it close up:


The first thing that you’ll notice is the fact that the USB-A connector is angled at 90 degrees. That allows you to plug into narrow places where a normal cable either won’t go, or you have to force fit it. The housing for the USB-A connector all the way down to where the cable connects to it is made of a very rigid plastic that I feel will stand up to lots of use without an issue. The cable is woven as you can see and it is made of DuPont Kevlar & braised nylon. Underneath that, the individual wires that make up the cable are shielded with Aramid fiber which is typically used in aerospace and military applications. All of this combines to get you the following:

  • The cable can be bent over 15,000 times without breaking. That’s not marketing spin by the way. The company had TÜV which is an organization that specializes in testing the safety and quality of products to conduct the testing. So you know that these results are legit. 
  • No matter what I did, it would not tangle. That was very impressive as that another way the cable will last a long time.

Another plus is that the cable is 4 feet long. That is a great length for home, office or in the car. Plus is has a velcro tie so that you can keep things tidy. Finally, it is MFi certified, so you know that it will work with your iDevice. After using it for a few days in the car which has a habit of killing cables, I am completely unable to find anything to complain about which is rare. One more thing that I cannot complain about is the price which is $25.99 CAD on Amazon. For those of you who don’t have an iDevice, there’s a USB-C version of this cable for the same price. Apparently there’s also a mini USB version that’s in the works as well. All Nonda cables come with a lifetime warranty which underscores that these are quality cables that will stand up to the test of time. I highly recommend them to anyone who wants a quality cable that will last.


Review: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited – Part 5

Posted in Products with tags on September 25, 2016 by itnerd

So I have come to the end of the review of the Chrysler Pacifica Limited. I’m going to start off with how much this is all going to cost you and then work towards why you should consider it. The Pacifica starts at $43,995, but the Limited trim level that I had this week starts at $52,995. As equipped, the one that I had this week is $62,340 including destination. However, I will point out that it wasn’t fully loaded as it was missing the built in vacuum cleaner (made by Rigid by the way), and it was missing the ability to open the doors when you kick underneath them. If they were present, you can add another $495 to the price. But other than those items, every possible option was present.

If you were cross shopping the Pacifica against other minivans, the list is short. Honda has the Odyssey, Toyota has the Sienna, and Kia has the Sedona, and there’s the Dodge Caravan as well. That’s not a very long list. But here’s why the Pacifica should be on your shopping list. It actually looks good from the outside as it doesn’t look like another box on wheels. The interior is great, and the best thing is that despite the fact that this is a minivan, you get great fuel economy. I got 10.5 L / 100 KMs this week in mixed city and highway driving. That’s simply outstanding. But if that isn’t enough fuel savings for you, there is a hybrid version coming. Yes, a hybrid minivan. Don’t bother checking because nobody else makes one. It’s also has a ton of technology from safety to entertainment. It simply is above and beyond everything that it competes against. That shouldn’t come as a shock as Chrysler did invent the minivan back in the 1980’s after all. Thus if anyone can take a run at this market and make an impact, Chrysler can. And based on the fact that they sold 401 of them in August in Canada and 923 so far this year in Canada after only having been on the market since the start of the summer, it is clear that they know what the market wants. Which is why I suspect you’ll be seeing a lot of Pacifica’s on the road very soon.


Review: 2017 Chrysler Pacifica Limited – Part 4

Posted in Products with tags on September 24, 2016 by itnerd

The technology in the Chrysler Pacifica is simply mind blowing. It covers safety, entertainment, and it will even answer the age old question “are we there yet?”

No, seriously. It really does that as you’ll see in a bit. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let me start with the safety technology and work from there. One of the really cool safety features is this Surround-View camera system  which gives you a 360 degree view of what is around you:


There a five cameras in the Pacifica. Two in the front, one in the rear, and one in each rear view mirror. Those cameras along with some fancy software allow you to get this view. This view makes it really easy to park the Pacifica and you can change the views from front to back as well. Take it from me, you have to check this option box as you will find this really useful.

Another safety feature is the KeySense system. The goal of this system is to put limits on speed, audio volume, SiriusXM satellite radio channel selections and more, as well as activating safety and security settings for additional drivers. That way, your teenagers drive safer. All of these preferences can be easily assigned to the programmable key fob through the Uconnect touchscreen.

Besides the ability to detect a possible collision and brake for you if you don’t take action, the Pacifica has the ability to park itself. By that I mean parallel parking and perpendicular parking. I tried both and I have to say that once you trust that the this system isn’t going to hit the Audi next to you, you’ll find that it works and it works well.

A really cool feature is adaptive cruise control system that is capable of crawling through traffic for you. I tried this on the 401 during rush hour and  it moved forward and came to a complete stop on its own for the most part. If it stayed stopped for more than a couple of seconds, it would beep and make me take full control of the Pacifica.

Now lets get to the entertainment. I will start with the fact that the Pacifica that I am driving this week comes with a Harmon Kardon sound system with 760 watts of power and 20 speakers. If you’re into audio, you’ll love this system and it sounded great regardless of where I was sitting. Backing up this system is the always great UConnect system which you interact with via a 8.4″ in touchscreen which attracted fingerprints like crazy. But having said that, using the system was dead easy. Paring my phone was trivial and interacting with it either from the touchscreen or from the steering was dead easy. The user interface has also been refined to look better and make the operation of the system easier. It also comes with Siri Eyes Free which allows iPhone users to use Siri to send text messages and the like. Though to use it, you need to keep the voice command button on the steering pressed at all times which can be awkward if you’re turning the wheel at the time you’re using Siri Eyes Free. I point that out because I have seen other implementations of Siri Eyes Free that don’t require that. Now, the only real pet peeve that I have is the fact that you need UConnect to drive items like the heating for the steering wheel or the controls for the heated and cooled seats. There should really be redundant buttons for that sort of thing. But having said that, there is one really cool thing that this iteration of UConnect does. It comes with UConnect theater. If you’re in the second row, you can watch a Blu Ray movie on one of the 10″ screens that are mounted on the headrests of the front seats. You also have USB and HDMI connectivity as well so you can use your own devices and media. Plus on top of that, there’s a pair of wireless headphones and a pair of remote controls to allow second row passengers to control their entertainment experience and listen privately. Finally, this system comes with a bunch of apps including the “Are We There Yet?” app, which shows the distance remaining and estimated arrival time to a destination. That alone makes this feature worth it for parents as they will never have to answer that question again.

This is easily one of the most tech laden vehicles that I have driven. If you like your technology, the Chrysler Pacifica is for you. Tomorrow I will wrap up this review and give you my final thoughts.