Archive for the Products Category

Review: Asus ZenWatch 2

Posted in Products with tags on April 11, 2016 by itnerd

Meet the Zenwatch 2 from Asus:

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This is a well-built, sleek-looking wearable with a refined version of Android Wear on your wrist. It also sports compatibility with both Android and iOS which is a big plus. And it does all of that at a very competitive price.

Let me start with the design. The ZenWatch 2 is mostly stainless steel and comes in three different finishes: silver, gun metal, and a striking rose gold. The curved Gorilla Glass 3 looks great and the whole thing manages to feel elegant and sturdy at the same time. Asus has provided all you’ll ever really need from a smartwatch display. The 1.63-inch, 320 x 320, AMOLED screen features a 278ppi density. It looks great. It also doesn’t feel heavy on your wrist. Though that might be a your mileage may vary thing. You can customize the face with over 50 watch faces or you can get software to design your own.

In terms of capabilities, The ability to connect via Wi-Fi is new with the ZenWatch 2, allowing for updates and notifications even when the watch isn’t paired with your phone. And while the heart rate monitor is missing, the ZenWatch 2 will still track your steps and includes both Google Fit and Asus’ own Wellness app to keep you updated on steps taken, calories burned (though without a heart rate monitor, I am not sure how accurate that is) and distance travelled. Apps can now be accessed by holding down the crown button or swiping left from the home screen giving users the choice of how they want to interact with the wearable. If you do sports, you’ll be happy to know that the ZenWatch 2 is IP67 rated for water and dust resistance. That’s better than the Apple Watch. The most interesting new feature of the ZenWatch 2 is gesture control. If you’ve got a handful of notifications on your ZenWatch 2, you can flick your wrist in a certain direction to scroll between them all. This may sound a bit gimmicky but as a regular smartwatch user, the idea of not having to interact with the watch at all to see your notifications is great, especially when your hands are full. It feels zippy when you’re interacting with it so you’ll have no complaints on that front.

So, how does it perform on both Android or iOS?

On iOS, The Android Wear for iOS app provides you with your latest notifications, along with limited fitness tracking capabilities (that do not share with Apple Health by the way) and access to Google Now cards, but that’s about it. In short, it’s useful but it’s no Apple Watch by any means. It’s far more useful on Android where you can interact with your favorite apps at a glance. It features ‘OK Google’ support too, which will activate Google’s on-screen assistant whenever it recognises the phrase. With the ZenWatch Manager on your Android smartphone you can toggle a setting to have your watch vibrate if you get out of range of your phone, manage calls after you answer on your phone, and customize your smartwatch experience.

The Asus ZenWatch 2 has pretty good battery life as the company claims that it’ll last around two days on a single charge. I can see users actually getting that in the real world, although with the more-than-average usage in my case I saw just over a day on a single charge. It charges quickly though the charging cable only goes in one way which makes it a bit finicky.

So what’s the bottom line? At $229 CDN, it undercuts the Apple Watch and many other wearables by a substantial degree. The functionality of the ZenWatch 2 is about the same or approaching the levels of the much more expensive wearables which is a win for Asus. It comes in a number of designs so you can find something that fits your style. While I wished for better iOS compatibility and I believe that it could use a heart rate monitor to really put the nail in the coffins of other wearables, it’s a solid offering from Asus. It is very much worth looking at if you are looking for a wearable at a low price.

 

 

Review: The Car Hacker’s Handbook

Posted in Products with tags on March 9, 2016 by itnerd

I don’t often review books, but seeing as I had a 7 hour flight to the UK this week, I decided to use it to read The Car Hacker’s Handbook by Craig Smith. Now this is a topic that should be top of mind because of some high profile hacks of GM and Chrysler last year that show that your car may not be as secure as you, or the people who made it, think it is. Like a prosecutor, Smith lays out why that is the case. He starts with how the various computers in cars work in a fair amount of detail, then he lays out why cars and so hackable and how you can do it to either improve your car’s performance, or to exploit a weakness to “pwn”the car. It sometimes is technical and those who are not a nerd like me will get the most out of this book. But those who aren’t tech savvy should not shy away from this book as it will show you just how vulnerable your car is. I’m also going to suggest that people in GM, Chrysler, among other car companies read this as well as they need to get with the program and make their cars safer and less vulnerable from hackers.

The Car Hacker’s Handbook should be available online and in fine bookstores everywhere by the time you read this review. If you are interested in what goes on behind the scenes when you drive your car, and how exploitable it is, this is a book worth reading.

Review: Ufile For Windows

Posted in Products with tags on March 9, 2016 by itnerd

It’s tax time in Canada again. There are many options out there to get your taxes done if you want to do them yourself. One of them is Ufile For Windows and it’s a good option for those who are comfortable doing their taxes and those who are new at it.

So, first let me speak about Ufile as a company. They’re not small as they’re part by Dr Tax, and Dr Tax is now part of Thomson Reuters who is one of Canada’s biggest companies. That means this isn’t some “mom and pop shop” that’s putting out this software. They have the experience and the backing to do this right.

I tried Ufile For Windows out on my Windows 7 virtual machine and a few things jumped out to me:

  • You can  import your TurboTax (desktop) or H&R Block (desktop) tax file and use it in Ufile For Windows. That way, you can use all the info that you have from previous tax apps and pick up from where those programs left off. Clever!
  • I’m a computer geek and not an accountant which means that I’m not up to date on all the latest tax laws. Fortunately Ufile For Windows has a simple and flexible interface that makes preparing your tax return largely painless. By working your way through an interview process, they guarantee that you’ll get the most money back in every scenario. The wizard is very clear and easy to understand and anyone can follow it.
  • A cool feature that I loved was having Ufile For Windows download all my info from the CRA so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time filling in a lot of blanks and I can focus on doing my taxes.

All of this makes Ufile For Windows tax software that you should consider using before the end of April which is the deadline for getting your taxes done. It will cost you $19.99 CDN to get up to 4 returns done. That’s not a high price to pay to make sure you get as much money back from the taxman as you can.

Review: Linksys Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router

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

Linksys has once again brought a router that is capable of making you want to toss your current router in the trash. This time it’s the Linksys Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router:

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From a looks perspective, it doesn’t look outrageously designed. Thus it will not attract too much attention. I do note that it has lots of ventilation holes which will make sure that this router stays cool under pressure.

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Around back you get a USB 3 and USB 2 port for printers and USB storage, plus four Gigabit Ethernet Jacks and a Gigabit jack for your Internet connection. Again, nothing that really attracts any attention. The story behind this router is what’s inside. It has a 1.4 gigahertz dual core processor and it supports MU-MIMO. Let me explain what that is. Chances are that your current router doesn’t support MU-MIMO which stands for Multi-User, Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output. That means that while you think it’s talking to multiple devices at the same time, it’s not. What’s really happening is that the router is having a conversation with each device on your wireless network individually, and switching between each device on your wireless network as quick as it can. This isn’t a big deal if you’re just grabbing e-mail. But if multiple devices are streaming Netflix at 4K, or even in HD, then you are going to get performance that isn’t up to par. That where MU-MIMO comes in as that supports having multiple conversations with multiple devices at the same time at the same speed if every device supports MU-MIMO. Thus the router is no longer the bottleneck on your network. It sounds cool in theory, but does it work?  I’ll tell you in a second.

Setup was next to painless via Linksys Smart WiFi which allows you to set it up manually if you know what you’re doing, or have a wizard guide you. Once it was set up, I was able to start testing it. I covered two areas:

Range: I was able to get coverage in most areas of my condo which is typical for most routers that I test as they have to deal with concrete walls and other routers to provide wireless service. Connections tended to be very stable. Though I did note that the signal strength on the 2.4 GHz band was particularly on the weak which is again typical in my environment. Your mileage may vary depending on the environment that you’re in.

Performance: I did a couple of tests on this front. First I tested backing up the same amount of data from my MacBook Pro W/ Retina Display which supports triple stream WiFi to my QNAP TS-431 NAS over 802.11AC to both this router and a Linksys WRT1900ACS. The WRT1900ACS wins in this scenario, but not by much. Backing up 1.4 gigabytes of data showed less than a minute of difference between the two in the favor of the WRT1900ACS taking 14 minutes and the Max-Stream AC1900 taking just under 15 minutes. But when I did the same test while streaming video to a Roku 3, the Max-Stream AC1900 proved to be more adept. Under those conditions, the Max-Stream AC1900 still took just under 15 minutes while the WRT1900ACS was the router that was just under a minute slower in the same conditions. That surprised me as the Roku 3 doesn’t support MU-MIMO as far as I know. But the results imply that if you have a busy network and at least one device that supports MU-MIMO, the Max-Stream AC1900 can help that device get the best from the network. Another thing to consider is that in the very near future, any device such as a smart TV or streaming device that does 802.11AC WiFi will likely support MU-MIMO by default. This is something to consider if you want to future proof yourself as this router will allow you to be ahead of the curve.

Downsides? First, the AC adapter is a large outlet hogging brick that blocks any other outlet that’s near it in something like a UPS or a power bar. That’s a #fail. Second, If you’re looking for DD-WRT firmware support or the ability to create a virtual private network using the router, forget it. This isn’t the router for you. If you need those capabilities, and quite honestly not many of you reading this do, Linksys will happily sell you a WRT1900AC or ACS router. However, for those who want a solid router that can handle multiple high bandwidth devices that support MU-MIMO at the same time, then the Linksys Max-Stream AC1900 MU-MIMO Gigabit Router is the router for you. It just started shipping a few days ago and you can expect to pay $200 USD for one.

Review: Inateck BH1105 Headsets

Posted in Products with tags on February 23, 2016 by itnerd

I’d like to introduce you to a pair of unique headphones. The Inateck BH1105 Headsets:

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One thing that you’ll notice right out of the gate is that these headsets are partially made out of wood. Why? It helps to produce the best quality sound. It also looks cool, but you don’t care about that. You care about how good they sound. Right? Well, they sound very, very good. The audio is very clear as long as you don’t crank up the volume too loud. The bass is so present, you may have to tweak your audio settings to lower it. They’re noise isolating which means that you can remove enough of the outside world to enjoy your music. To aid in this, you get three different sizes of silicone ear tips. Overall, you’ll be very impressed with these headsets as I was.

Downsides? It doesn’t come with a carrying case. It also doesn’t include a microphone. The latter is not a big deal in my opinion as you get great quality sound. Especially at the price that you have to pay which is $29.95 CDN which is a very good price for what you get. You can pick up a pair at Amazon.

Review: Tech Armor Apple Macbook Pro Retina 15″ Privacy Screen Protector

Posted in Products with tags on February 17, 2016 by itnerd

The displays in Apple MacBook Pros are great. But they suffer from three problems:

  1. They pick up smudges.
  2. They suffer from glare.
  3. Anybody can see what you’re doing.

To combat that, a company called Tech Armor has something for you. They have the Apple Macbook Pro Retina 15″ Privacy Screen Protector which promises to solve these problems. The company sent me one to try out on my 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

Installation is easy as the instructions come with the screen protector. You also get a small microfiber cloth as well. Now you need to clean the screen before you apply this, but it does not come with anything to clean the screen with as you simply can’t clean a MacBook screen with anything that you have lying around your home. If I could make a suggestion to Tech Armor, they should include some sort of cleaner with the package.

So, what does the results look like? Here’s what my screen looks before the screen protector:

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And here’s what it looks like after the screen protector:

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While it does cut down on the brightness of the screen (if that bothers you, simply crank up the brightness of the screen), I didn’t have a problem using my MacBook Pro. Oh, in case you were wondering, that’s a picture of Joaquim Rodríguez winning stage 12 atop the Plateau de Beille in the 2015 Tour De France. Glare and smudges were much less of an issue. And as for the privacy part, see for yourself:

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My wife commented that when she was sitting next to me, she couldn’t see a thing. Thus it appears that the screen protector lives up to all its claims. You can get one for $31.95 on Amazon or at techarmor.com.

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:

 

 

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