Archive for the Products Category

Review: Roku Streaming Stick

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

Roku has a new option for those who want to stream content to their TV. Called the Roku Streaming Stick:

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Inside the box you get the streaming stick which is just over 3″ long, a remote (which by the way is RF based and not line of sight IR which is very handy), a USB cable along with a USB to AC adapter and a pair of AAA batteries for the remote. Now sharp readers would say “What’s the big deal about this Streaming Stick? It has been out for a while.” Actually, it has. But this one is new. For example, under the hood there’s a quad core processor that put this streaming stick on par with your smartphone in terms of power. It’s also 8x more powerful than the previous Streaming Stick. Not too shabby. To install it, you plug it into the HDMI port of your HDTV. But, if you have your HDTV mounted on the wall and the HDMI port is in the wrong place (for example, if my TV was on the wall, I could not use this as the HDMI port points straight back which means that the Streaming Stick would point straight back which would keep the TV from being flush against the wall), this isn’t the Roku for you. Consider something like the Roku 3 instead. You can plug it in via AC using the supplied USB to AC adapter or via a USB port on your TV. I did the latter. Set up from there is dead simple. Using the supplied remote, you join it to your WiFi network (Strangely, it only saw my 2.4 Ghz WiFi network until it downloaded a software update and rebooted. Then it saw my 5 Ghz network), create a Roku account and link the device to it. Then you add channels to it. In short, anyone should be able to set it up.

Once installed, it is easy to access content and watch whatever you want. I had no issues using it and it never seemed slow. Speaking of content, here’s the biggest weakness of any Roku device if you live in Canada. The lack of Canadian content. While I can see local US TV of various descriptions and a pile of other channels that the Roku has access to including Netflix, Cineplex Store, and Crackle, I can’t see Canadian TV networks such as CTV, CBC, or Global. Nor can I get Canadian streaming services such as Shomi or CraveTV. That really needs to change. Oh if you’re reading this from the US, please ignore this mini rant. None of this applies to you.

Back to what it the Roku Streaming Stick can do. It runs Roku OS 7.1. and it enhances the search and discovery experience by adding new categories within Roku Feed that enable customers to view popular TV Shows and Movies in one place. A feature that is available exclusively for the new Roku Streaming Stick enables consumers to use the Roku Mobile App for iOS and Android on their phone or tablet to listen through wired or wireless headphones. The Roku Mobile App offers a companion experience and can act as a remote control, enable voice search or provide an on-screen keyboard. You can use the Play On Roku feature within the app to stream their personal videos, music and photos to the TV using the Roku Streaming Stick. One cool feature is the Hotel and Dorm Connect feature which makes it easy for consumers to connect to wireless networks that require sign-in through a web browser like those commonly found in hotel rooms, college dorms and other public locations. You simply connect the Roku Streaming Stick to the password-protected network, sign-in with their login credentials using the browser on their mobile phone, tablet or laptop, and you’re ready to start streaming.

If you want one of these in your home, the price is $59.99 which is a really low price in my opinion for what you get in the box. Even with the lack of Canadian content, which of course only matters if you’re Canadian, the Roku Streaming Stick is totally worth having in your home (or on the road for that matter) if you’re wanting to stream content to your HDTV.

 

 

Review: ORICO 20W Universal Power Plug Travel Converter & Adapter

Posted in Products with tags on May 16, 2016 by itnerd

I’m always on the lookout for stuff that can make my life easier when I travel. So when I saw the ORICO 20W Universal Power Plug Travel Converter & Adapter on sale for $14.99 CDN at my local computer shop, I grabbed it:

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As you can see from the front, you can plug in any AC from anywhere on planet Earth. It covers 100-240V which means that whatever you plug in will work. But it has one weakness:

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It only has a North American power plug. That really limits what you can do with it as you can’t take it overseas without an adapter. However, it does have one redeeming quality:

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It has four USB ports that will charge your devices at 5V and 2.4A per port. That means that all your devices will get charged quickly.

So, is this worth it? Maybe if you need to charge multiple devices or you need to use devices from overseas in North America. But it isn’t worth it if you travel in my opinion. But at $14.99 CDN which was down from $24.99, it won’t break the bank to have lying around just in case you need it.

Warning Lights, Sunroofs, And Other Oddities Of Life

Posted in Products with tags on May 7, 2016 by itnerd

It’s been smooth sailing with the 2016 Hyundai Tucson my wife and I purchased last September. That was, until four Wednesdays ago. I got into the Tucson after leaving a client and after starting the vehicle I heard two quick dings and then I saw this:

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BSD stands for Blind Spot Detection and the car thought it was malfunctioning. Since I keep the owners manual in the car, I flipped through it to find out what the troubleshooting steps were. There weren’t any as the advice was to take it to the dealer. Here’s where things got weird. The warning disappeared after a minute and the BSD system worked flawlessly. Still I made an appointment for last Friday with Hyundai Of Oakville. That also gave me time to gather more data. Specifically:

  • This error popped up only after a cold start. If the car was warm, it would not happen.
  • While the error is displayed, the BSD system will not work.
  • When the error disappears, the system worked flawlessly.
  • It took a minute or so for the error to disappear.

It’s important that if you have an issue like this that you gather as much data as possible about when the issue happens and how to reproduce it. That way, your dealer can (hopefully) zero in on the cause in short order.

I went to the dealer that Friday and after waiting a couple of hours as they were missing technicians and they were overwhelmed with customers, they found a code in the vehicle’s computer for battery over-voltage. They cleared the code from the computer and drove the Tucson around for a bit to see if the code returned. It did not. Thus they declared the Tucson fixed. Too bad the BSD error returned on the next cold start which did not surprise me as all they did was clear a code from the computer. So after calling the dealer to express my displeasure in a very professional manner because they simply cleared the code and they didn’t actually troubleshoot the issue, the dealer booked me in for the following Wednesday.

Wednesday comes and I again go to the dealer. They found the same code as last time, but this time they checked over the wiring and here’s what they did according to the work order:

SCAN AND TEST – 13.8 MAIN  13.2 SUB  ON START

INPUT BSD ECU HARNESS AND CHASSIS GROUND

APPLY DI ELECTRIC GREASE TO CONTACT

CUSTOMER TO MONITOR

I’ll translate. They tested the wiring and everywhere a cable related to the BSD system plugs into something, they added dielectric grease which is electrically insulating and does not break down when high voltage is applied. Dielectric grease is often applied to electrical connectors, particularly those containing rubber gaskets, as a means of lubricating and sealing rubber portions of the connector without arcing. So based on that, the theory must be that there’s a short someplace and this would hopefully fix it.

When the service advisor (which by the way was a different service advisor than I dealt with on the first service visit) gave me back the proximity key to the Tucson, he gave me his name and told said that he would not guarantee that the issue would not return. But if it did I was to call him and he would order a brand new BSD system. Once it arrived at the dealership, he’d book an appointment and have me come in to have it swapped out which would take about 2 hours.

Let me stop here and comment on this. The first service advisor that I dealt with basically blew me off by simply clearing a code. Now I know that for automotive techs, simply clearing a code and telling a customer to monitor things is a course of action that they can and often do take. But it doesn’t make a customer feel like their concerns are being taken seriously. Contrast that with the second service advisor who actually investigated the issue. Then he set clear expectations and communicated an action plan if this continued to be an issue. That made me feel like my concern was taken seriously. Thus kudos to Jay in Hyundai Of Oakville’s service department who took the time and effort to really look into my issue. Having said all of that, I was pretty sure that this was a hardware problem that was going to return. Sure enough, the problem returned 24 hours later. A call to the dealer and the parts were ordered. Too bad it took almost two weeks for the parts to arrive. That’s a major #fail as a car company the size of Hyundai should have a parts inventory that allows dealers to get parts quickly so that their customers can get their issues resolved in a timely manner. Hyundai has stepped up its game to make their cars ones that scare car companies in America, Japan, and Germany. But when it comes to parts availability, they seriously need do something about that if they want to be considered a top tier car manufacturer. In the meantime, the problem got worse in two noticeable ways:

  • It started to randomly generate the “Check BSD System” error message as I could be driving down the road and it would do display this error.
  • It also could take as long as 5 minutes for the error message to clear after it was generated. Or it could clear in a few seconds. There was no clear reason as to why it would do one or the other.

That did not inspire confidence. But in any case, after the part arrived at the dealer and I got an appointment, it was trip number three to the dealer. I spent two hours there and they installed the part and road tested the Tucson. Here’s what was written down on the work order:

MISC: C/S: blind spot detection keeps activating – spord part has arrived

GENERAL REPAIR

95821D3000   UNIT ASSY

Correction: replace right rear blind spot detection unit – as per pre drag 316

op code 95821-B300

6

So they were able to figure out that only the right side BSD unit was at fault. Interesting. As usual for these sorts of things, we’re going to drive this for 90 days to ensure that it is fixed. But as I type this, the error has not returned. One other note about this issue. A Google search of the Hyundai Forums found a few other mentions of this problem on a few Hyundai models with the fix being to replace the BSD hardware. Also, on a thread that I started on the Hyundai Forums, one other person has reported something that sounds similar with their 2016 Tucson. There’s also another thread, where another person has reported something that again sounds similar with their 2016 Tucson. Read into that what you will.

Now all isn’t bad with the Tucson. My wife and I took advantage of one of the key features this past weekend as the weather was (finally) nice in Canada. We decided to go to Pearson Airport in Toronto and park the Tucson on the landing path that planes were using that day. Once we arrived we opened the panoramic sunroof and reclined the seats to enjoy the show and this was our view:

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It was pretty impressive actually as this sunroof is huge. Passengers who have seen it comment that they think it’s “cool”. Now, I’m not a sunroof guy and I was ambivalent about this particular feature when we got the Tucson. But now I am in the “cool” camp.

Finally, there are a bunch of little things that I’ve noticed or that I think are cool. They include:

  • If you reverse while you have the windshield wipers on, the rear wipers will come on to clear the rear window.
  • If you hold down the “Mode” button on the steering wheel that changes the mode of the infotainment system audio, it turns off the audio which saves you from having to reach across the dash to do it while driving and potentially taking your attention away from the road.
  • The Headrests not only adjust up and down but for and aft for better whiplash protection.
  • There’s a gas cap holder inside the flap that covers the fuel port to keep the gas cap from dangling and scratching the paint.
  • Even with the headlights on, the dash will automatically go to daytime brightness once the sensor detects sufficient ambient light.
  • The middle seatbelt in the back row can fit into a groove on the ceiling to prevent them from dangling about if you need it to be out of the way so that you can flip the rear seats down.

Clearly, someone put in some time and effort in to come up with some features that people will appreciate. Even if they are not in your face all of the time.

Now that spring is here, we plan to be out in the Tucson a lot more. For example, we’re using it to cart our bikes around to go riding outside of Toronto. I’ll post an update soon on how the Tucson works for us on things like that as well as road trips.

Review: OtterBox Statement Case For The iPhone 6/6s

Posted in Products with tags on May 5, 2016 by itnerd

I like OtterBox cases because of the level of protection that they provide. However I am not a fan of the bulk that they sometimes add. That’s why when I tripped over the OtterBox Statement Case, I jumped at the chance to try one on my iPhone 6.

First off, this case is slim. It adds very little bulk to my iPhone. That allows me to put it into my pocket comfortably. It’s accented with leather as well which adds a bit of class to it. But the key feature is that this case lives up to the OtterBox heritage as is Drop+ certified. Which means that even if you’re a complete klutz when it comes to the handling of your phone, you’re covered. It has redundant buttons that work perfectly. The only exception is the switch to mute the phone. I’m cool with that as that’s hard to do properly. The back is transparent, so the world can see that you have an iPhone. Finally, the bottom exposes the headphone jack, Lightning port, and speaker. In short, it’s a pretty good case design. The only thing that is missing is screen protection as that would make this offering from OtterBox perfect.

The OtterBox Statement case goes for $44.95 CDN at the Apple Store. If you want a case that will protect your phone from drops without adding bulk, it’s worth a look.

 

 

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.

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