Can this gadget help your game? Arccos Golf Sensors Reviewed

Arccos-Golf-App-Image-1I recently had a chance to test out the Arccos Golf trackers.  At $379, they’re not inexpensive, and may cost as much or more than a new driver.  So are they worth it, and what can you learn from them? I reviewed the kit over a couple rounds of golf for the Best Buy Plug in blog.

What’s in the box
From the packaging to the unboxing, the Arccos is a nice kit.  The sensors are individually laid out, and there’s one for each club for a total of 14. They’re not numbered, so you just add a sensor to the end of your club by screwing it in to the opening in the end of the grip. From there, you download the companion app for iPhone 4S or above, and you’re off!

rsz_arccos_screen_app_image(1).jpgHow Arccos Golf Works
The whole Arccos golf kit works seamlessly.  The sensors pair just once with your phone and then transmit data wirelessly. The sensors know when you’re taking a practice swing, and when you’re hitting. You never need to tell them you’re hitting a club, or that you’ve switched holes, they just know. That was impressive.
Also good to know is that all the sensors stayed put during the constant in and out of the golf bag during my tests.

What You Can Learn
Arccos Golf tracks a wide variety of stats, and can give you a lot of information about your game.  You can use your fingertips on the satellite maps of each hole to determine distance to the pin, to to an obstacle, or to a midway point on the fairway.

The full review was written for the Best Buy Plug In blog.  Read it here.

As an aside, if you’re looking for an inexpensive, or, ok, FREE way to get GPS and scoring, check out the free Offcourse Golf app. It’s what I use when I’m not testing other cool gadgets.

Review: Jabra Sport Coach – Wireless Bluetooth In-ear Headphones that give you fitness feedback

jabra man earphonesCords suck at the gym.  They get tangled in your equipment, wrapped around your arms, and generally get in the way. So I was happy to test out a new set of (mostly) wireless headphones this week from Jabra.  The Jabra Sport Coach headphones fit snugly in your ear, and lock in place with customizable rubber eargels that tuck into the grooves of your ear, to keep them from slipping and keep sweat and noise out. While the Sport Coach is billed as “wireless” and “Bluetooth” headphones, it’s worth noting that there is still a wire that connects the two earbuds together.  You wrap the wire behind your head, and it stays out of your sight while you’re wearing them.  The “wireless” part refers to the fact you don’t need to plug them in to your device. They’re also rechargeable, using a hidden port underneath one of the rubber eargels, and the battery level is monitored on your phone or tablet.

Headphones that are more like a fitness band

The Jabra Sport Coach pairs with an app for your phone, which is where these earphones diverge from the everyday.Jabra_Sport_Coach_red

The earphones have what Jabra calls its “integrated TrackFit™ motion sensor”, which makes these headphones work a lot more like a fitness band, than a set of headphones.  You can track distance, pace, steps, cadence and calories burned, all with the earphones as the sensor, displaying the stats on your smartphone.

The “Jabra Sport Life” app lets you track and analyze your cross training workouts and gives you what Jabra’s dubbed “in-ear coaching” while you work out.

What kind of Coaching?

I’m so glad you asked!  Two kinds! For starters, the Jabras will give you progress updates and occasional information alerts from a nicely accented female voice in your ear, telling you, “50% of distance goal completed!” or similar. It can basically give you pace, time and distance split times if you’re a runner, and you can adjust what info comes into your ear, and how often.

IMG_5141
Jabra Sport Coach headphones app

But, and here’s where things get interesting, the Sport Coach can also talk you through a cross training workout circuit. This genius feature allows you to select from a handful of circuits (CardiCore, BellyBurn, TakeOff, etc.), adjust the time or reps you want, and then once you hit ‘start’ the soothing voice talks you through a series of adjustable and customizable exercises (jumping jacks, push ups, burpees, sit ups etc.) and counts you down through each one.  While the exercises are simple, and sure, you could do them yourself, I actually found having someone in my ear telling me what to do, and what was coming up next kept me going. Another neat feature of the cross training coaching is that you don’t even need the app  on your phone.  The voice coach tells you what you need, and you can move to the next exercise when you finish one, by hitting the button on the left earbud, meaning you’re hands free.   But if you really want more help, the exercises are explained with pictures on the app.

Pairing & Bluetooth

The Jabra Sport Coach headphones were really easy to set up and pair.  I had them ready to go in minutes. It’s a simple matter of putting the headphones into pairing mode, and linking your phone, or tablet (or both!  The Jabras will pair to more than one device at a time!) then using them to play music, TV, Netflix… whatever you want! A small button integrated into the cord give you control over the music tracks and volume.

Likes and Dislikes

Wireless/Like– I really loved going wireless at the gym.  I run, and you don’t realize how much you fuss with cords until you don’t have one hanging down your front.

Fit/Like– The fit is great with the Sport Coach.  They seal out more than enough noise for me.  I was unable to hear the distracting gym techno while I was wearing these and playing my own tunes.

App/Like– The app was very easy to use and navigate.  Its simple design and soft colour scheme were easy on the eyes, and non-distracting even while hoofing it at a brisk pace. I also found the voice coach rather soothing.  (Note to Jabra: I also happen to think a Marine Boot camp coach voice would be fun too!)

Sound/Like-  The sound quality in these headphones is great.  Music and TV sounded crisp and clean, and wasn’t crackly at all, despite being wireless.

Coaching/Like– I found myself doing an extra round of exercises, thanks to the voice coaching.  It helped motivate me and keep me on track.

I guess I don’t really have any dislikes or complaints.  The Jabra Sport Coach worked great, sounded awesome, and were a perfect configuration for wearing to the gym.
Jabra Sport Coach headphones come with a zip-around softshell case, and replacement eargels, and are available at Best Buy in Canada for about $179. For more info you can also hit up Jabra’s website.

8 Great Gadgets & Toys for Camping – With VIDEO

erin tech talk julySummer is camping season, and there’s nothing better than getting out to the mountains, or the badlands. This month on Tech Talk on CTV, we’re showing you both high-tech and low-tech gadgets to make roughing it more enjoyable.

Watch the Video by clicking here!
I’ve blogged previously on each of these gadgets, but I’ll put links to each here just to make finding them easy for CTV viewers.

First up, this awesome Stanley French Press Coffee Kit I got at Campers Village. IMG_3278This versatile set up allows you to boil water in the compact narrow kettle pot, add your coffee (grounds are conveniently stored in the lid!)  then use the French press plunger grid to press fresh quality coffee, and transfer it to the thermos where it’ll stay hot for 24 hours. It also keeps drinks cold or iced if that’s your thing. I also thought it was really clever that the lid unscrews into two coffee mugs.

I also got a lot of use out of this kit by pairing it with a Biolite CampStove. More on that below!!

black diamond ember power light
Black Diamond Ember Flashlight

Next, I tested out a handy flashlight charger. The Black Diamond Ember Power light gives you light when you need it, which you always do when you’re camping, plus its USB port will also charge any gadget you have with a USB plug.  Dead camera?  No problem.  Phone out of juice? Easy to fix. I kept this gadget in my purse and also found it really versatile when we were short-cutting home through a park after visiting a neighbour after dark. My husband’s also been stealing it for everything from finding some papers in his truck after sunset, to recharging his phone on the golf course.

Speaking of light, I also love these new 10″ LED Light Tent Pegs from Coghlans.  They secure your tent, tarp or lines, and have a simple twist on/off bright LED light which will keep you from tripping in the dark. I found myself using these to mark hazards around the campsite too, like big rocks and roots.

I also picked up a couple other low tech options that I find I’m using constantly while camping and on the road.Nemo Helio Shower

The Nemo Helio Pressure Shower is super handy if you like to camp away from crowds and off the beaten path.  It comes in a tiny zip pack about the size of a mixing bowl.  The 11L capacity means plenty of water, and because it rests on the ground, you don’t need to worry about hefting it overhead, or trying to fill it while it’s dangling from a tree. So how does it work then?  You pressurize the “tank” with a foot pump then use the sprayer to enjoy 5-7 minutes of shower time.

Lastly, I snagged one of these versatile hooks, thinking it would come in handy and it did. The Nite Ize Gear Line is a handy line with rigid twist-tie-like tabs on each end.  It’s got several different carabiner-type S-clips along its length, meaning you can string up whatever you want and keep it there with ease.  You can use it on a tree like I did to keep a garbage bag within easy reach, or use it in a tent to keep gear, towels, water bottles, or keys off the floor and within grabbing distance.

nite ize gear line
Nite Ize gear Line

That’s just some of the new gear I’m loving this season.  You can find everything I mentioned at Campers Village in Calgary and Edmonton, or online at Campers-Village.com

Also on CTV Morning Live, we looked at the BioLite Camp Stove. I reviewed this product for bestbuy.ca, so check out the full review HERE. The BioLite CampStove was the company’s first production piece. The concept is simple and genius at the same time: the CampStove creates a smokeless campfire that can cook meals and boil water in minutes. Setup is easy, fuel is free, and the company says, “flames are hyperefficient with performance on par with white gas stoves.” Then at the same time, the stove’s heat generates usable electricity for charging LED lights, mobile phones, and other personal devices. The stove’s USB connector will charge up most devices, and every twenty minutes of charging with a strong fire gives you about an hour of talk time on most smartphones.

You can also watch my video review below.

We can’t forget about the BioLite NanoGrid, a great gadget which I also reviewed in full for BestBuy.ca. biolite nanogrid 22It’s a compact but powerful lighting kit that gives you amazing options and versatility for bright, powerful LED light while camping, hiking, and barbecuing, even out in your yard, or anywhere you may need portable light. The BioLite NanoGrid consists of two main parts: the USB Power Bank, and the String Lights. The Power Bank is the hub of this kit. It provides power to recharge smartphones, it acts as a lantern, and it’s also a flashlight plus it connects and powers the peripheral string lights. The powerful Li-Ion battery can be recharged from any USB source (including BioLite products, like the aforementioned CampStove) and then you can share its power to any USB chargeable gear.

Read all about it here.

Lastly I just loved these handy little cube lights from Enevu. They have three light settings, low, medium and really bright.  The low light is really subtle and a nice glow, while the highest setting is perfect for using as work or task light. You can also remove the plastic diffuser cap and use the base as a directional flashlight. The lights come in different colours as well, so you can have bright clean white light, or fun colours.

enevu cubeHave you got some gear ideas I should check out?  Let me know in comments below! -erin

12 Things I Love About Calgary #YYC

Calgary can be  a tough town to adapt to–mainly because of the climate. But there ARE  many things here I’ve learned to LOVE. Here’s just a few.

1. The Ruins; Lindsay’s Folly— Calgary has 2 sets of cool ruins. The crumbled bricks of a man’s incomplete and ruined mansion-cum-money pit alongside the Elbow (Lindsay’s Folly), and The Rundle Ruins (the old sandstone Glenmore Hospital) near 12th Ave and 6th St. Only doorways and arches are left, but they’re gorgeous. Click HERE to read an article I wrote for Avenue Magazine on the ruins and their future.

Photo: http://members.shaw.ca/bvinge/calgary11.htm
Lindsay’s Folly. Photo: http://members.shaw.ca/bvinge/calgary11.htm

2. Crave Cupcakes. If you’ve never had one DON’T START! Luscious icing with spot-on flavours (crushed strawberry!) and the moistest cake this side of the 100th meridian.

Photo: crave.ca
Photo: crave.ca

3. Rene Thibault: an Alberta artist with an amazing eye for colour and detail. Sometimes his work looks like it’s been photographed, rather than painted. Thibault paints a lot of mountain landscapes, so our canvas often doubles as a window.

Art: Rene Thibault
Art: Rene Thibault

4. Charcut Roast House; for meat-loves only!  Top Chef Canada contestant Connie DeSousa and partner John Jackson run the show here.  Amazing what they can do with food.  Some past faves include the Chicken-skin Caesar Salad, White Beans with Nettle Pistou, and the house made poutine.

Photo: charcut.ca
Photo: charcut.ca

5.  The Cookbook Co. Great food and ingredients, amazing kitchen tools ( I love my Cuisinart cylindrical ice cream scoop!) and a wine shop to round out the meal preparations shopping. ‘Nuff said.

6.  J Webb Wines; great selection of unique wines, spot-on recommendations from interested, smart staff, and a tasting bar that’s always open.

8. The Calgary Stampede Rodeo; a die hard city girl,  I’ve never considered myself to be the least bit “country”.  But when the Stampede rolls around, I get my cowgirl on!  The rodeo is chock full of amazing athletes, action, and a beautiful outdoor setting, taking full advantage of Calgary’s limited summer sunshine.

9. Peonies. We may only have summer for a couple short weeks, but the peony plants take full advantage. They bloom big, long and colourful, and are always an eye catcher.  20130521-154321.jpg

10. Manuel Latruwe Take n Bake Frozen pastries ; this downtown cafe is phenomenal.  Glossy cakes fill the display cases, and the espresso is some of the best in town (take a bag home!), but my fave is grabbing a pack of take home chocolate croissants.  Take them out of the freezer, let them rise overnight, and bake first thing Saturday morning.  Weekends never had it so good!

11.  The Peace Bridge; Let’s be honest.  EVERYONE hated the idea when it was rolled out.  probably because of its lack of public consultation, multi-million dollar price, and construction mistakes that delayed opening.  But now that we have it, it’s a gorgeous, modern landmark.  Beautiful both during the day and night. Future city icon.

Photo: erinLYYC
Photo: erinLYYC

12.   The Bow Building & Wonderland; tallest building in the city now, it took years to put up and included a massive 2-day concrete pour.  Home to one of the city’s myriad oil companies, the building is beautiful and soaring. The Wonderland sculpture out front is constantly surrounded by people.  A giant metal-mesh girl’s head it looks different in every different kind of weather.  And that can happen all in one day in Calgary!

20130521-154233.jpg 20130521-154249.jpg

Okidokeys Smart Lock: Great idea that needs some work – Update: Okidokeys responds to review

okidokeys lock** I originally posted this review July 10.  On July 14 Okidokeys posted a comment below regarding this review.  It was quite surprising, because for one they called a Tweet I sent “inflammatory”, and for another they imply the facts of this review are not accurate, and in essence that I lied. I’ll respond to their comments at the bottom of this page.   **

I love the idea of a smart lock.  In my head I envision approaching the door, laden with groceries and bags, only to have the door unlock audibly and allow me to slip in without dropping everything and fishing for keys.

That’s what I’d been hoping for when the Okidokeys Smart Lock arrived on my doorstep.  But, much to my disappointment, that wasn’t quite what I got.

The Okidokeys kit looks simple enough, and the instructions seemed straightforward.  It comes with the automatic lock mechanism, 3 different colours of back cover, batteries, (4 AAs) and the tools needed to install it. The instructions says to just remove the back of the deadbolt from your door, leaving the rest of the locking hardware in place, slip the Okidokeys motorized locking system over top, screw it in, and voila! Except that’s not at all what happened.

(Bear with me.  I’m going to give some detailed info here about the problems I encountered, in the event my troubles can help others.  If you’re looking for the straight up ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’, go ahead and skip to the bottom)

Installing Okidokeys Smart Lock

Replacing the back of the lock with a new plate.
Replacing the back of the lock with a new plate.

While all you need is a screwdriver to do the installation, and it doesn’t mark or ruin your door, Okidokeys did not fit over top of my existing lock. Some adapters are included with the kit, but none of them seemed to fit right.  No matter which I used, the lock would not sit flush with the door.  Finally I realized the correct adapter was included with the package, but it did not fit properly on our lock; the deadbolt post was just too long. When I called customer service for assistance, I got a rather surly woman, who finally told me the only way around this was to buy a new deadbolt, or to try to file the lock bolt mechanism down so the Okidokeys lock would fit over top of it.

Not wanting to go out and buy another lock just so this new lock would work, I eventually located a file and spent a good amount of time grinding down the post.  It was a lot of work, extending the installation by a good hour.

Once the installation was done I downloaded the app for iPhone 6. Except then I found out you can’t download the app and sign up for an account on your phone.  For that you need a computer.

Once the account was set up on the laptop, I signed into the app using my newly created account, and nothing happened.  while the app loaded, there appeared to be no way to actually tell the app which deadbolt I had. Plus, when I manually engaged the lock, it made a horrible loud grinding sound. After another frustrating 45 minutes trying to sort that out, trying to get the deadbolt to connect to the phone, I put the whole thing away for the night to resume in the morning.

Was It a Dud?

Turns out the next day it was no easier. I went through all of the set up again but had no luck getting anything working. I finally decided to call the Okidokeys support line again. The customer service rep could not seem to figure out what the problem was and said she did not know what was going on, and I was kind of left hanging.  What was I supposed to do with a non-functional lock, and someone who was out of ideas to help me?

I asked to speak to a supervisor or someone with more detailed tech-support background to help me, as I felt that “I don’t know” was not an adequate customer service response. Instead, the CSR asked me to email her a still photo of the lock, to prove it was mounted flush against the door. I declined, because it was flush, and because I was getting annoyed at the non-functionality of the unit. In the end I left a message for a supervisor to call me back at the first available opportunity. In the meantime, I uploaded a video to Twitter of my problem, and hoped someone would be able to help me. Turns out Okidokeys is monitoring their Twitter account rather well (kudos), and within an hour they had called me back to say they had seen my video, and thanks to that they could tell the lock itself was malfunctioning. They offered to send me a new one right away.

Meantime, I decided to get my account set up and ready for when the new lock arrived.
Once signed in to the company webpage on a desktop computer I was able to get logged in and get started. I finally figured out you need to put in the serial number of the lock on the computer (not your phone, again). One small frustration with this is that I went through the process of entering the serial number, door name, door time zone, and a picture to apply to it, but I chose not to select the optional “door group name”, and when I went to click “next”, it gave me an error message for not picking a door group name, and it had reset half of the settings. Annoying since I had to go through and re-set up the lock all over again.  Once that was done I was able to start assigning people to use the door. That process is fairly straightforward you can give certain users a key tag, wristband, or plastic credit card style key, and then you can then assign certain hours of the day they will be able to swipe their ‘key’ to open your door.

The separate Smart Reader and additional keys.
The separate Smart Reader and additional keys.

Setting up the smart keys, like the included key tag, the credit card key, and the wristband, was easy, thankfully. You simply go to the drop-down menu on the website for smart devices, register smart tag using the  serial number that is very clearly printed on the smart tags, and you’re good to go. Then it’s as easy as creating new user profiles, and assigning those people whichever keys you want them to have.

Try, try again

When the new lock finally arrived about a week later, I was already very similar with how to install it, so it went quickly. When I did the self test, everything worked smoothly and the lock was able to turn on it’s own quite easily with no grinding, although the lock is quite loud. Then I decided to try locking the door with the app. The app told me that I first needed to ‘sync’ the door to the app.

Locking Not So Easy

IMG_2551Trying to get the lock to sync took about six attempts, before it randomly worked. Then I tried locking again, but kept getting an error message that I was not standing near enough the door, when I was probably about a foot and a half away from it. Then I tried to manually lock and unlock the door using the buttons on the back of the door lock. That didn’t work either, although I got a helpful looking blue light each time I tried.

I decided to close out of the app and restart it in hopes this would jazz things up a bit. Only then to my frustration I realized I needed to log in again. But when I tried to do that I kept getting an error message saying my login credentials were invalid. At this point, admittedly I was ready to throw the damn lock out the window. To me, a product should not be this hard or this frustrating to set up.

Buggy & Frustrating App

Fortunately, after another attempt at logging in I got back into my account. This time when I went to lock the door using the app it worked! Hallelujah! But my joy was short-lived. The next time I tried to lock the door, I got an ‘operation timeout failure’. I decided to do an experiment and standing next to the door I tried to lock the door or unlock it ten times from a couple distances. The lock only responded four out of those ten times. This is an enormous frustration. No one has time to stand around in front of the door holding loaded bags of groceries waiting for three or four attempts at unlocking the door before it listens.

26 seconds to open

It’s also worth mentioning that the lock, when it actually functions, takes a long time to engage and open.  I timed it, and on one occasion when trying to unlock the door it took about 26 seconds before the lock would finally respond. Again, I could have unlocked the door in about two seconds flat with the old fashioned key in that time.IMG_2554

At this point I was pretty much done with this device. But I decided to give customer service a call one more time to see if perhaps there was something strange going on they could easily remedy. Alas, it was Saturday, and Okidokeys voicemail hopefully told me that their customer service office closes at 2 PM MT on Saturdays. Great.

Later on, feeling optimistic, I decided to try to use the app to lock my door when I left. When I went to load up the app, it wanted me to login from scratch again. Uggghhhh!
I gave up.
Turn On Automatic Login, for gosh sakes!

Another constant frustration was the fact that I needed to input the username or email and password to access the app every time I tried to use it. Making that even more frustrating, is despite entering the username and password correctly at least half a dozen times, I kept getting an error message saying that the ‘user is invalid’. When I left the phone to sit for a few minutes, and tried again by simply hitting ‘enter’ on the information I had already put in, for some reason it would randomly allow me access. Very frustrating. Eventually I figured out that by turning on “automatic logins” in the settings menu in the app, I could forgo logging in every single time I wanted to use it.
Also, in what almost seems like too much security, every time I logged into the Okidokeys webpage on the computer to access my account, it emailed me a security code that I had to input before I was able to login. More steps, more frustration.

smart-lockokidokeysNo remote access

Another thing I found frustrating about this lock set was that there’s no way for me to open the door from a remote location. It would be so handy if I could let the cleaning lady, neighbour, or even a key-forgetting spouse in from my smartphone kilometers away in my office, but that’s not an option.  To let someone else in if I’m not at home (and have not given them a key previously), they’d need to download the app, and I’d have to email them access permission.  But since getting the account working in the first place was such a hassle for me I was not comfortable foisting it on someone else. It would be great if I could just press a button on my phone from far away, and the lock would open for whoever I needed to let in.  But alas.. no.  Okidokeys also says it has a Hands-free Mode where it will unlock your door when your cell phone gets close to it, but (noticing a pattern?) I couldn’t get that to work either.

The Verdict

The Okidokeys Smart Lock was not easy to use.  In my experience it was buggy and unreliable, and took far too long to perform the simple task of unlocking the door. I’m not going to fault the first lock for being a dud, but I also didn’t have great experience with Okidokeys customer service folks on their phone help line.

Having tried some products like the Ring Video Doorbell recently, or the Nest Learning Thermostat which worked perfectly from the moment the box was opened (and reliably from then on), this product appears not quite ready for use by an average customer. It’s just too frustrating.  I’ll be interested in seeing further software updates, but until then, it’s back to using my key.

UPDATE:

I recently wrote the above review of the Okidokeys Smart Lock. It was not flattering, but it was fair, and I stand by it.  Since then, I received a comment on the blog from ‘Okidokeys Team’.  I was rather surprised at the content.  For one it implies I lied in my story; that when I say I spoke to two different customer service reps by phone, that I did not, since the company claims to have no record of this.

Secondly Okidokeys Team calls my Tweets about the installation problems I had “inflammatory”.

Here’s the blog comment :

Dear Erin,
We regret your experience. However we believe it is important to point out that according to our records you did not reach out to us for support, we found your inflammatory twitter post of 2-3 months ago and proactively reached out to you.
According to your responses, we solved your issues as we shipped additional adapters at no charge which are now part of our standard package.
Also, as your test dates back to 2-3 months, we precise we have had a completely new version of handsfree mode with geo fencing available for 3 weeks now.
Best Regards,
OKIDOKEYS Teamokidokeys tweets

Here are the facts:  I keep notes on my calls and dealings with any customer service departments I encounter during each review, and make notes too, as I work on installation and setup as I’m testing products.

I called Okidokeys twice, and my description of each interaction above is factual, and accurately reported. Why they don’t have a record of it I can’t say. I’m also not sure why they indicate they sent me ‘adapters’, when what they sent me was a whole new unit.  Perhaps these ‘records’ are not quite as accurate as they think? As for my “inflammatory” tweet, well, you can see for yourself what I said, and even the follow up kudos I gave.

I find it offensive that instead of addressing the problems with the product’s operation and non-functionality in their blog comment, the customer service response to me was to call my credibility into question, and dub my factual tweet “inflamatory”.

I deliberately don’t read other reviews before I test products, so as not to colour my judgement. However since receiving the comment, a simple Google search showed me other reviewers having the same problems I encountered, to varying degrees of frustration.  While it would have been nice to be able to post an update with the fixes and updates Okidokeys has done, instead I must respond to their other comments.

VIZIO TV Review

Vizio-M551dYou’re probably not familiar with VIZIO TVs. They are a brand-new entry into Canada, launching just last fall. VIZIO markets their TVs as ‘smart’ TVs. So what makes them smart? Well, they have a lot of built in features that allow you to access social media, YouTube, Netflix and other streaming services, it’s all built right in, and it all works seamlessly.

I tested out a 60 inch M-Series model. For its size, the TV is extremely thin and light. There is only a very small bezel around the TV itself; it’s tall and lean and slim and beautiful.

My testing focused mainly on the social media and other included smart apps in the TV package, mainly because that’s what differentiates this TV from many others.

What Smart TV is included?

Apps in the VIZIO package include YouTube, Yahoo News and Yahoo Weather, Facebook, Netflix, Twitter, and Crackle.

Setupvizio remote

The setup was very easy. Straight out of the box I just hooked it up to the power, connected to Wifi, and it was ready to go: nothing complicated. One of my favorite things about this TV is its remote control. There’s a regular remote on the top, but flip it over and there’s a full backlit keyboard on the bottom of the remote. Pure genius. That makes it so much easier to enter passwords into Twitter or Facebook to get them up and running, which you’re going to want to do on this TV, since that’s one of the features that makes it so fun to use.

Yes, someone thought of the keyboard remote before, but including it in a Smart TV is the perfect marriage of click and QWERTY.  Plenty of streaming TV devices give you a remote, yes, or allow you to input passwords or write social media postings on-screen, but having the keyboard remote makes it as easy as can be, because, after all, no one wants to use the on screen keyboard. N-O–O-N-E.

Social Media Integration

The social media apps run in a smaller window to the left of the screen; almost a picture in picture setup. I really like this because during a season finale of a TV program, or during a big game, or other event, I could definitely see myself loading up a hashtag in the twitter window, while watching the program itself to the right side of the screen. It basically lets you watch things unfold both live, and online, all at the same time. It’s the ultimate way to multitask.

One of the things I didn’t like so much was that in order to link up another family member’s social media accounts, you have to log out completely, and then the other person logs in. Plus the log out screen is buried deep inside the social media menus; not exactly quick and easy.  A nice add on for the next generation VIZIOs would be to have the ability to switch back and forth between user accounts without starting over.

Picture Quality

Though I was mainly focusing on videos from services like Netflix, and YouTube, the video quality and speeds were great. The picture was clear, crisp and didn’t appear to me to need any kind of re-calibration or adjustment.

vizio2So who is this “VIZIO”, anyway?

VIZIO bills itself as “America’s #1 Smart TV Company, #1 Large Size LCD Company and #1 Sound Bar Brand”.  The company is based in the USA, in Irvine, California, and its mission is all about making great TVs that are user friendly, but also TV that come, “at a significant savings that we can pass along to our consumers”.  As I mentioned earlier, they launched in Canada in September 2014.

VIZIO has started out its lineup in Canada with the brand’s popular E- and M-Series Full-Array LED Smart TVs and a range of audio solutions, including 2.1 and 5.1-channel sound bar systems.

The Bottom Line

One of the things I like best about the VIZIO TVs, are how easy they are to use. (I just had the displeasure recently of testing out a gadget that was definitely not user-friendly and was a huge headache right from box opening, so I’m all about simplicity this week!) I could see anyone from a teenager, to a senior, having no problems running any apps or programs on this TV; you can turn it on, and basically figure out exactly what you need to do, and don’t need a complicated and unwieldy manual to help you figure it out.

Yes, you could get yourself a streaming TV stick or peripheral to use things like Netflix or YouTube, and yes, you can access Facebook and Twitter on your phone, but the way more and more of us are using TVs, is not just for TV watching.  For starters, TVs are increasingly becoming the main home computer; we’re watching streaming video there, and using it to communicate with others (think about the way video game players are using services like Twitch), so it’s only natural that instead of having a phone, a tablet and a TV, we’re finding a way to integrate what they all do into one device.  Remember back when you carried a clamshell phone, a camera, a Palm Pilot or other organizer, a watch, and a calculator?  This is where TVs get a chance to fold all the good stuff into one package too. It makes sense, and when it’s as easy to operate as the VIZIO pack, it’s a treat.  In fact, between the easy to use features, the slick and slim profile, the great picture quality, not to mention the great value, the people I work with were so impressed with the 60” VIZIO M Series we tested, we purchased it on the spot so we wouldn’t have to give it up.

Now that’s saying something.

**This review was originally published on the Future Shop Tech Blog.  Watch for it to reappear on the BestBuy.ca Plug In blog soon. VIZIO TVs are available at Best Buy.

Tim Horton’s cute EH-moji keyboard fails to impress

EHmojiCoffee giant Tim Hortons recently announced that just in time for Canada Day, the company would be releasing a cute Canadian emoji keyboard.  On it, some icons of Canuckism: a beaver, moose, Muskoka chair, a flag, an “eh”, plus Timmy’s coffee cup and Timbit box, among some other icons.

I was excited to add these kitschy visuals to my text repertoire, but was surprised when I found this advisory when I tried to install it:

IMG_4822

“Allow Full Access: Full access allows the developer of this keyboard to transmit anything you type, including things you have previously typed with this keyboard. This could include sensitive information such as your credit card number or street address.”

What!?! By installing this charming passtime I was potentially giving the developers access to my home address and credit card numbers? I decided not to install the keyboard right away, as I felt like this I was giving away my firstborn in exchange for a handful of cute emoticons. But I was curious, so I decided to ask Tim Hortons what gives.

I received a response back from one of their media relations folks a day later, explaining:

“This message is a standard warning that Apple requires for all third-party keyboards and apps. To enable the App, a user must grant Full-Access in order for the keyboard extension to function properly. With this access we can download the latest emojis. While we do track anonymous data such as the number of times a Moose Ehmoji is shared, our App does not collect, store or transmit any personal information such as credit cards or any typing information.”

So despite what the warning says, that’s not at all the case? Seems like an awfully dire warning for it to have no merit.  But trusting the information I recieved from the fine folks at Tims, I decided to push on with the installation to see what I might be missing.

Turns out me, and some other users are rather underwhelmed by this tool.  For starters, it does not work like a regular Emoji keyboard, in that you can’t simply tap on the icon, and it gets inserted into your text. You need to tap the icon you want, the app then copies it to the clipboard, and then you need to paste it into the message field.  So it takes extra steps, and clearly doesn’t work like a standard emoji.

IMG_4844Second problem; the icons are about three times the size of a standard emoji.  WHY, Tim Hortons, WHY?  This is perhaps the dumbest part of this app.  It takes up so much space to send one emoji, and it forces you to split your message into many parts depending how many EHmojis you text.

The fact this app works nothing like industry standard emoji apps is both bizarre and makes for a poor user experience.  Plenty of reviewers on Apple’s App Store agree. It currently gets 2/5 stars (out of +250 reviews), with comments like:

“Awful. Waste of time” -x0pa

“The keyboard is not properly compatible with the iPhone… the fact you have to copy and paste the ehmojis completely defeats the purpose”-Tallushh

“I don’t see the need for Full Access” -kkitkat

“Disappointing” -TaraXlee

While there are some people loving it, I’m not one of them.  Perhaps that is due to an iPhone/Android compatibility issue.  I’ll go back to Tim’s and ask. I’m also going to ask if they plan to work the bugs out for future versions.

For now, count me out of the EHmoji fad, eh?

Cool New Camping Gear!

IMG_3278
Stanley French Press Coffee Kit

You can usually find me testing out the latest gadgets and high tech gear.  But this time, some of the new gear I got that I’m most excited about isn’t as high-tech as I’m used to.  I love it nonetheless and want to share.

First up, this awesome Stanley French Press Coffee Kit I got at Campers Village. This versatile set up allows you to boil water in the compact narrow kettle pot, add your coffee (grounds are conveniently stored in the lid!)  then use the French press plunger grid to press fresh quality coffee, and transfer it to the thermos where it’ll stay hot for 24 hours. It also keeps drinks cold or iced if that’s your thing. I also thought it was really clever that the lid unscrews into two coffee mugs.

I also got a lot of use out of this kit by pairing it with a Biolite CampStove. Check out my video of how it all worked together!

black diamond ember power lightNext, I tested out a handy flashlight charger. The Black Diamond Ember Power light gives you light when you need it, which you always do when you’re camping, plus its USB port will also charge any gadget you have with a USB plug.  Dead camera?  No problem.  Phone out of juice? Easy to fix. I kept this gadget in my purse and also found it really versatile when we were short-cutting home through a park after visiting a neighbour after dark. My husband’s also been stealing it for everything from finding some papers in his truck after sunset, to recharging his phone on the golf course.

IMG_4025
LED Tent Peg

Speaking of light, I also love these new 10″ LED Light Tent Pegs from Coghlans.  They secure your tent, tarp or lines, and have a simple twist on/off bright LED light which will keep you from tripping in the dark. I found myself using these to mark hazards around the campsite too, like big rocks and roots. Now, if only we could build LED lighting fibers into the tent strings….

I also picked up a couple other low tech options that I find I’m using constantly while camping and on the road.

The Nemo Helio Pressure Shower is super handy if you like to camp away from crowds and off the beaten path.  It comes in a tiny zip pack about the size of a mixing bowl.  The 11L capacity means plenty of water, and because it rests on the ground, you don’t need to worry about hefting it overhead, or trying to fill it while it’s dangling from a tree. So how does it work then?  You pressurize the “tank” with a foot pump then use the sprayer to enjoy 5-7 minutes of shower time.

Curious how it works?  Watch the short video!

Lastly, I snagged one of these versatile hooks, thinking it would come in handy and it did. The Nite Ize Gear Line is a handy line with rigid twist-tie-like tabs on each end.  It’s got several different carabiner-type S-clips along its length, meaning you can string up whatever you want and keep it there with ease.  You can use it on a tree like I did to keep a garbage bag within easy reach, or use it in a tent to keep gear, towels, water bottles, or keys off the floor and within grabbing distance.

nite ize gear line

That’s just some of the new gear I’m loving this season.  You can find everything I mentioned at Campers Village in Calgary and Edmonton, or online at Campers-Village.com

I’ll also be showing off these gadgets and some other cool camping gear later in July on CTV’s Tech Talk!

3 Minute Video Review: Ring HD Video Doorbell

You might wonder why you’d need a video doorbell.  After all, old fashioned doorbells work fine, and then there’s really old school: knocking.

You might be surprised at how versatile and handy the Ring Video Doorbell is.  Combine that with how absolutely fast and easy it is to set up and you’re ready to start screening visitors in less than 10 minutes!

Watch my 2 minute Video review to see what the Ring can do for you.


No time for TV? Read my blog review of Ring here.