Going to CES!! (What the Heck is CES?)

img_8990It’s big and exciting news for me: I’m heading for the giant Consumer Electronics Show (CES) January 6-9, 2016 in Las Vegas, but some readers may be wondering, “what the heck is CES, and why should I care that you get to go to Vegas?”

Well, to put it simply, CES is a global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade show that takes place every January in Las Vegas, Nevada.

According to the Consumer Electronics Association itself, “the show is  the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies… it has served as the proving ground for innovators and breakthrough technologies for more than 40 years—the global stage where next-generation innovations are introduced to the marketplace.”

CES is where tech companies, innovators and manufacturers — both multinationals and startups — come to get attention for their products and services. That attention may be from larger companies, retailers or even the media, depending what their strategy is.

The show unfolds at several locations across the strip, including the Convention Centre and several hotels.  There are booths set up at these locations, often with products and gadgets set up to test and try.  This is where electronics buyers can get hands-on with a product to see if it delivers on promises.  But one of the other main draws of CES is that it’s become a launch pad for new innovations, new designs and big announcements, meaning that by attending, you can really get on the cutting edge of what’s new and what’ll be trending in the future.

While an enormous volume of meetings takes place on the show floor, there are plenty of meetings going on too off-site. Many companies are opting to book a suite at a nearby hotel and do their behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing there instead.  Probably lots cheaper!

This is my first time ever at CES, and I have little idea of what to expect.  So wish me luck and watch for posts in particular on the Best Buy Plug In blog on the subject of TV and Home Theatre. But if there are questions you have or burning issues you want me to investigate at CES, feel free to post a comment below.

Follow my CES posts too on Twitter and Instagram, both are @ErinLYYC

 

Want a better movie experience? Get a Projector like the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema Projector 2040

img_9051Super-sized flat screen TVs are all the rage.  Mention a home theatre projector, however, and people will tune out.  After all, many folks remember projectors as dusty, weak-beamed devices with a noisy fan and little appeal.  Not any more.

Movie theatres use uber-powerful projectors to kick out Hollywood-sized images with crystal clear definition, amazing contrast ratio, and no motion blur. If it’s good enough for JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg, shouldn’t a projector be good enough for your home?Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 12.06.35 PM

Even so, I was sceptical.  I’ve never tried a home theatre projector before the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema Projector 2040 arrived for testing (full name: Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2040 2D/3D 1080p 3LCD Projector). While the device itself looks a lot like projectors I remember, the image is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Set up is easy, but you better have a plan

Setting up the Epson 2040 projector itself was very easy. The hardest thing about setting up this device, will be that you need a series of extra long cables in order to make it look good.

The projector is pretty much plug and play. Just plug in your audio and video components and you are ready to go immediately. I decided to plug in my Roku streaming stick into one of the projector’s 2 HDMI ports and instantly I was watching Netflix.img_9053

If you plan to plug a home theater projector into your stereo system or cable box, you’re going to have to do some serious planning before hand. Most projectors are designed to reside at the back of a room, and are often best placed at or near the ceiling. This means you will need a wealth of both audio, video, and HDMI cables, with very long runs. You’ll also want to plan for where you will snake or hide these excess cables in your room, and how you’ll plug them in.  For some, this will mean potentially relocating all your components to the back or the room.

If you’re building a media room from scratch, this will be easy, and you can easily factor in where to hide your cables. However if you are operating a projector like the Epson in an existing room, particularly one that has purposes other than media viewing, you will likely end up with some unsightly cable runs.

For my setup, since it was temporary, we just ran the cables across the floor and stepped over them, though it was quite a mess, having power cables snaking in one direction, and audio and video cables in another.

Once everything is plugged in, you’re ready to go, and like I said, in an instant we were streaming movies on Netflix.

I can’t tell you how much both my husband and I were instantly blown away by the amazing quality of the video picture.  Since this is a projector, you can adjust the image size to fit literally any space. In our case we had it fill nearly an entire wall of our media room.

img_9081While we didn’t have a screen for this test, we were easily able to hack one together by using a large bedsheet and tacking it to the ceiling. Even with a wrinkled old bedsheet as the canvas for the image, there was no hiding the spectacular picture on display. The 1080p image was crystal clear, and had excellent contrast. We put on a series of action movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Furious 6 were treated to a hyper realistic video picture with absolutely no noticeable motion blur. Even basic TV shows looked fantastic. The most striking feature of using a projector like this Epson was the super realism of the video. It literally looks like the scenes were unfolding right in the room with us.

img_9059Only about 20 minutes of surfing through action oriented video content, my husband declared he wanted to think about getting a projector for our media room, and got online and looked up the price of this particular device. While the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2040 is not cheap (regular price is about $999CAD), it is certainly well rated by many users.

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema Projector Features

Spec Sheet:

  • Projection Method: Front / rear / ceiling mount
  • Product Colour: White and Gray
  • Driving Method: Epson Poly-silicon TFT Active Matrix
  • Projected Output: 2D, 3D, Full HD 1080p
  • Pixel Number: 2,073,600 dots (1920 x 1080) x 3
  • Colour Brightness (Colour Light Output): 2200 lumens1
  • White Brightness (White Light Output): 2200 lumens1
  • Aspect Ratio: Native 16:9 widescreen
  • Native Resolution: Native 1080p (1920 x 1080)
  • Resize: 16:10, 4:3
  • Lamp Type: 200 W UHE
  • Lamp Life:
  • ECO mode: Up to 7500 hours2
  • Normal mode: Up to 4000 hours2
  • Throw Ratio Range: 1.22 (Zoom: Wide) – 1.47 (Zoom: Tele)
  • Size (projected distance): 34″ – 332″ at (2.98 ft – 35.89 ft)
  • Keystone Correction:
  • Vertical: ±30 degrees (Auto)
  • Horizontal: ±30 degrees (Slide bar)
  • Contrast Ratio: Up to 35,000:1
  • Colour Reproduction: Full-color (up to 1.07 billion colours)
  • Colour Processing: Full 10 bits

You can make several adjustments with the Epson projector. A simple menu allows you to adjust things like colour, brightness, contrast, and sharpness.

This projector can be controlled both with the included remote control, or also with buttons on the projector itself. The home button for example allows you to switch between sources, adjust the colour, or alter 3D setup as well as changing things like iris settings and power consumption. I think it’s handy you can also adjust the settings right on the device, as there is nothing more frustrating then being unable to operate a device, because you have missed placed the remote control.

The projector also has 2 built in HDMI input, allowing you to keep two devices at the ready.

The Epson PowerLite 2040 also has a keystone setting which will allow you to make adjustments for curved or oddly shaped walls, a must when owning a projector, and particularly so if you plan to take it with you anywhere.

This projector, like all others, has a fan to keep the unit cooled during operation, and truthfully, after a while I stopped hearing it, even though it was definitely still running.

While the 2040 also has 3D capability, I don’t have any 3D content so I was unable to test this feature.

You need a screen

If you’re going to commit to going the projector route, you absolutely need a proper screen. While my bed sheet hack was rather clever if I do say so myself, every tiny wrinkle and flaw was visible when watching the video. A proper screen is going to make the video experience absolutely seamless, and that’s what you want in your hyper-realistic projected videos. You don’t want to be worried about every notch, gouge, or scratch in a wall (or a wrinkle in a sheet). You want to feel like you’re part of all the Hollywood action. Take my advice: get the best screen your money can buy, to go with your projector.

Awesome experience

I really, really enjoyed the experience I had with the Epson PowerLite 2040 Home Cinema Projector. I loved the immersive viewing experience, and can’t say enough how absolutely stunned I was at the amazing quality of video that’s available via a projector today. I will note that you should probably make sure your new projector has decent ventilation, as the PowerLite 2040 ran rather hot after only a few minutes. But I don’t think that’s atypical for projectors; they’re kicking out a ton of light through those bulbs, and heat is the byproduct.

While for now we’ll keep our flat screen TV as the main viewing object in our home theater, I have a feeling a projector of some description may be in our future as well, for those times when we want a massive video size, and a movie theater-like experience.

You can get more info from Epson on the 2040 projector, or pick one up at Best Buy.

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While Epson provided a loaner unit for this review, it did not ask for, nor receive pre-approval over this blog post.

 

Get your phone a new outfit for the new year! Cool & Stylish new smartphone cases

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The Moshi line of cool new cases

When the seasons change, it’s a great time to think about upgrading your smartphone case. It’s a great idea to have a case wardrobe so your phone is protected in different situations, or you can just change cases to jazz it up for different events and situations.

Recently I’ve gotten a look at some particularly cool new smartphone cases.

Moshi Cases

IMG_7486A line of sleek and sexy cases, Moshi makes gorgeous leather, and metal cases for iPhone and Samsung. I really liked the iGlaze Armour case, which I got in a gold tone to match my phone.  It has plastic bumpers at top and bottom, and a nice sleek gold back. A slim edge gives access to the whole screen, and the openings are wide enough to charge the phone without needing to remove it from the case.

Also in the Moshi line is a beautiful elegant leather-look folio case. Overture has a snap-in binding to hold the phone securely and is covered in a mix of weatherproof fabric and microfiber lining. This case, like the other in the line has all the right openings for snapping photos and charging your device, plus it can double as a stand when the cover is flipped open.IMG_7485

The Kameleon is a similar case to the iGlaze, but it has a really cool kickstand feature that allows it to be propped in either portrait or landscape mode.

FUZ Designs

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Warm and felty-fuzzy for winter! Fuz Designs.

This might be my favourite case for the coming winter.  FUZ designs makes a really fun felt case. It’s a durable plastic drop-proof shell, covered with a fuzzy grey felt that’s just 2mm thick. The case allows charging without removal, and it’s nice to hold, plus it doesn’t slide around on fabric.

Felony Case

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How eye-catching is Felony Case?

These plastic shell cases from Felony Case are definite winners for most eye-catching.  The 3-D raised texture on the  Kaleidoscope case is stunning, but the softness of the design means it’s comfortable to hold, despite looking menacingly like a torture device. In gold, rose gold, black and white, these cases are stunning accessories. Not to mention the case is barely a millimeter thick, so it adds absolutely zero bulk to your device.  While the business-types have been coveting the Moshi cases and the hipster are after Fuz, the fashionistas all want my Felony Case!

Felony Case also has the sleek and elegant stone-look case called Smoke marble which gives a more natural feel to your high tech smartphone.

Felony Case stone

Speck Cases

NEW speck casesSpeck never disappoints when it comes to cool new cases that are also built tough.  This season there’s some pretty attractive options, including an aluminum backed, flower skinned beauty (called the Inked Luxury) in a yummy flower print as well as a couple ombre models. As with all Speck cases they’re super durable, with a rubber lined interior that holds your phone securely and keeps it free from damage.

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For the minimalist, the clear Candyshell case lets your phone’s own beauty shine through. It’s a great basic option.

anker case
I’m always looking for power solutions.  I’ve got cords and cables in nearly outlet at home, but of course when you’re in the most desperate situations where your device is dying, you’re rarely at home. That’s why I love battery cases.  You can wear them on your smartphone all day long, and only use them to boost your juice when you need to.
IMG_8114-0I think they’re handier than external charging battery packs, because you don’t need an extra pocket or space in your bag to stash it; it’s just always there, and you don’t need to fuss with tangled cords.
A new slim charging case I’ve just discovered is by Anker.  Their battery case will give you up to 70 hours more audio, 19 hours of 3G talktime, 15 hours of video, 14 hours internet or 3½ hours 3D gaming. Almost as important as the extra battery life is the fact these cases are Apple approved, meaning you won’t own it for a few months then have your device reject it.
This case feels quite slim in the hand and on the phone, and the convenience of charging your phone up without being tied to a cord is truly awesome.  While this case is super slim, it also packs impact protection, meaning your phone is safe from accidental drops too.
Get your hands on one of these Anker Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case cases via Amazon.

What’s your favourite case?  Which brands are tops for you? I’d love to know about others I should check out.

For info or links to any of the cases featured, click the bolded names.

Philips Hue Go Portable Smart Lamp Review

img_9001Regular readers will know I get way too happy about smart lighting. I particularly love coloured lights as I feel like you can totally change the look, feel and even decor of a room with colour, minus the paint brush!

So I was thrilled to get a test model of the new Philips Hue Go lamp. This lightweight package contains a large soup-bowl sized (and shaped) lamp with a bowl shaped base and flat front.

Portable colour and lightimg_8515

The lamp connects with a nice long AC cord for power but it also works off the cord, as the rechargeable lamp is also fully portable and lasts up to six hours on a charge. For the newbies you don’t even need the app to start playing with it; a small button on the bottom of the bowl allows you to cycle through a variety of light colours and effects while a small wedge keeps the lamp steady on its rounded bottom.

Get connected!

Getting the lamp set up on Wi-Fi was very easy. You just download the free app then “add new device”.  Once you do that the app will search for devices on the network and it automatically finds the Go lamp. Once it pairs you’re in business.

Different Powersimg_8457

The Hue Go lamp is a good size that can be easily hidden behind a price of furniture where you could keep it out of sight for various light effects, or you can leave it out on display. It’s very clean and unassuming looking, and the entire light fixture lights up, meaning it’s a beautiful lightning showpiece as well as a bright light source.

The Go lamp has the ability to transform; it will push out enough light to make it task worthy or you can dim it for a more subtle background effect.

Using the app you can adjust colour, brightness and intensity all at a touch.

Since it’s LED powered it doesn’t heat up at all, making it also great to use as a filler spotlight for, say, the bottom of your Christmas  tree (green!). I had fun using it in different situations, like as a lovely icy winter tablescape, on a side table for a red Christmas glow, and even turned up orange-red hot as a substitute for lighting the fireplace. The Hue Go light really goes anywhere.

Soothing wake-up light

img_8995A feature I just discovered on the lamp is the wake-up mode.  This setting will gradually increase the light intensity to give you the feeling you’re waking to gentle, natural daylight, which is much nicer than waking up to an alarm clock shouting at you.

Get the Bridge

You’ll need the compatible Philips bridge to get the light connected to Wi-Fi. As I noted above it will still work without it but the options are limited.

In short, I LOVE this light. It’s fun, easy to use and works perfectly. Get a Philips Hue Go lamp for $100 from BestBuy.ca

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Escaping the Cold at Couples Negril

img_8620It’s the bluest blue water you’ll find, on the softest white sand beach.  The water here is so shallow you can walk out almost a quarter mile and still only be shoulders-deep. I’m bobbing lazily on a pool cushion in saltwater that’s so warm, I haven’t the slightest chill, and in fact when some ocean water does splash on my skin, it’s refreshing. Opening my eyes to gaze back at the beach, it’s not crowded, and palms and coccoloba or ‘seagrape’ trees are speckled here and there providing cooling shade as the heat rises.

After several years of more active vacations like road trips and traveling to Europe, my husband and I decided it was time to slow down and plan a do-nothing holiday.

With the Caribbean in mind, we chose Jamaica as the destination, but which resort to pick? I’d been to Couples Negril more than a decade ago for a wedding and it was, at that time, the finest resort I’d ever been to. I remembered its gorgeous, endless beach, and marveled at the small size of the resort while it still had amazing service.  The food was also absolutely delicious, well off the charts for the average all-inclusive.

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Beach grill and veggie bar.

Wanting this to be an easy vacation both to take and to plan, my husband and I chose Couples Negril again, hoping we’d still find the same level of service. Of course, we checked online reviews, and found the resort still ranks highly among beach vacationers. Confident, we booked it.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 10.02.05 AMBook Club Mobay for Arrivals and Departures: Fast and Easy

We used a travel agent for this trip, something we don’t usually do, but she earned her commission when she recommended we book into a service called Club Mobay at Jamaica’s Montego Bay airport where we’d be flying in via Toronto.img_8918

Club Mobay is a lounge where travelers can find comfy seats on arrival (and departure) while waiting for ground transportation, our agent explained. She also told us (though I’ll admit I wasn’t fully paying attention to this part) that we’d receive priority access to immigration and customs on arrival.

Skip the Lineups by booking with Club Mobay

When we landed a lovely young lady met us at the gate holding a sign with our names on it. She immediately whisked us through the airport, dodging lineups of passengers as we went instead through special access points. When we arrived at the customs and immigration lineup, it was a sea of humans and their luggage. What a mess!  We figured we’d be an hour getting through the line, but our escort led us to another priority access point where we were the only ones in line.  In about 3 minutes we’d cleared customs, and been led to a lovely private room where she brought us rum punch.

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Happy author on arrival in Negril

The Club Mobay lounge was comfortable and not crowded, but had the latest Jamaican newspapers, some sandwiches and snacks, as well as drinks and TV. We were only there about 15 minutes before we were told our bus was ready, and we were again led through the airport, to the correct bus. About 25 minutes after landing, we were en route to our resort.

Couples Negril is about a 2 hour bus ride from Montego Bay, but it was a great people and scenery-watching trip.  The highway runs along the water so there’s beautiful views of azure ocean nearly the whole way. The bus chugged through small villages and bigger towns and looking at the variance in homes and architecture was amazing.  While small corrugated metal shacks lined the highway, as the structures climbed up the hillsides, they got increasingly more elaborate and colourful.Jamaica quote 2

The bus seemed to speed its way along, and I wondered why the drive would take 2 hours. That’s about when we arrived in Lucea.  Lucea is the capital of Hanover Parish and was founded in the 1700s. It’s a tiny town that clings to the shore, and it’s very crowded and very busy. The highway attempts to wind through it, but when the buildings close in on the roads, and Jamaicans dash across constantly, our travel grinds to a crawl.

Nearly 2 hours later (though it feels much shorter thanks to the people watching) we arrive at our destination and are greeted with glasses of champagne and cool citrus-scented towels. A light breeze is fluttering the palm leaves and I’m instantly relaxed. Check-in is fast since there are only 3 couples in the bus, and we’re whisked to our rooms with bags in tow. The young man who helps us waves off a tip, and we’re immediately on the balcony, overlooking the ocean from our 3rd floor room.

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The hedge-lined nude beach

Spacious room, with a (nude) view

The room is open and airy with cool tile and a king-sized bed. The sliding balcony doors open wide to let the breeze in and we have a nice view of both the water and the nude beach! The nude beach is a mandatory fully-nude beach, screened with hedges, with its own bar and swimming area. Not our cup of tea, but it was quite well-attended each day.

Our minibar was stocked with pop and beer, and the gentleman who’d brought us to the room explained that if we wanted anything else for the fridge, to fill out a card and it would be restocked as we wished each day.

We requested some vodka and some wine, expecting airplane bottles, but instead, the next afternoon we found a full size bottle of each waiting for us. Bottle service to the room! This was a new highlight!

Negril’s Best Beach, and no fighting for loungers!img_8856

The beach at Couples Negril is fabulous.  It’s raked and tidied daily, while others long this strip appear not to be, and are littered with leaves and seaweed. While the ‘natural look’ isn’t bad, the extra effort at grooming really adds to the beauty of this little section.

There are lounge chairs aplenty, unlike most all-inclusive resorts where you need to get up early or bribe a staff member to snag you a spot. The staff take time to arrange all the chairs in tidy rows, each with its own cushion, and there’s always enough for everyone with plenty of extras so you can come and go as you please.img_8822

For the security conscious, it’s worth noting there are guards at either end of the beach, as well as a lifeguard in the middle. A small group of peddlers walks the beach, hawking parasailing and tubing rides, as well as coffee and other things, but they’re not bothersome or aggressive.

It was funny to note that almost all the hawkers “represent Bob Marley” which is code for they’ll sell you pot or hash or presumably whatever other drugs float your boat. While some of them are charmingly subtle about it, other will just full on offer you dope and flash the good for inspection.  Fortunately, they take no for an answer pretty easily.Jamaica quote

The occasional musician will play for tips at the water’s edge too. The staff distributes flags to folks on the beach, and when you’re ready for a drink, you just stick your flag in the sand, and someone is quickly at your feet taking your order. Again, unlike most all-inclusives, here there was no expectation of tips. img_8908

We alternated days at the beach and at the beautiful tree-lined pool. Here too, loungers were plentiful, and we could seek shade from either the trees or the umbrellas provided. The main pool (there’s another pool on the north side of the resort, but it’s mainly for scuba training) is a sapphire-hued two-tiered oasis with a waterfall in between that spills into the swim-up bar area. It was so relaxing being able to sit in the shade of the bar’s palm roof, listening to the waterfall, and sipping Appleton rum or cold Red Stripe beer. When we tired of the pool bar, we could also visit the beach bar/grill, or the main bar in the reception/restaurant building.

Yes, it will probably rain. Learn to like it.

img_8849I’ve been to Jamaica twice now and on both trips it rained at some point each day. Sometimes just for 30 or 40 minutes, other times for a couple of hours, and on one day there was a helluva storm which led to significant water pooling everywhere. While some vacationers may find this upsetting (how dare it rain on my holiday!!) we found it nice.  After spending hours on the beach or baking at the pool, the rain was cooling, and it broke up the day.  We found ourselves heading to the beach grill, sitting at the bar and playing scrabble or backgammon while sipping cold beer, or just going back to the room, throwing open the balcony doors and napping to the sound of a tropical rainstorm.

The food is great

Most people I know don’t go on all-inclusive vacations to eat well, but fortunately at Couples Negril, you will anyway. img_8926There’s always fresh baking on hand, whether it’s breakfast pastries, dessert, or the cookies that you’ll find at several of the bars and in the lobby. The day we arrived it was lobster night and we were treated to fresh grilled lobster tails with butter. Another night there was both tenderloin and lobster on the menu at a special dinner for “repeaters” or returning guests. I’m guessing the food is just one of the things that keeps people coming back to this resort, as the repeater crowd was quite large, about 60 or so. Everything we ate, from the buffet, to meals at the easy to book fine dining restaurants was fresh and deliciously flavourful.

It’s the little things

There were so many other nice small touches that made our stay so memorable; the fresh cookies and the new veggie bar that’s just opened.img_8689 It features juices, veggie tips and dip, as well as grilled sandwiches. There was nightly turn-down service and towel changing.  An ice bucket and water pitcher in the room were constantly full and cold. The staff are friendly and say hello as they pass. It was also nice to be able to trade our towels in as often as we liked, without a special ticket required.

Even on our last day as we waited in the lobby for airport pick-up, one of the staff members was dressed as an elf trying to cheer us up, as a small band payed goodbye songs for just 6 of us who were departing. Nice touch.

Overall this vacation was amazing.  It ticked all the boxes for us; great beach, delicious food, not crowded, lovely people. I can highly recommend both Negril and the Couples resort here for a fun and relaxing getaway.

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img_8787This is not a sponsored post. My review is 100% my own thoughts and experiences at this resort, paid for with my own money. If you’d like more info, check out Couples.com 

My Great Plan to Avoid Christmas Shopping Chaos

I was rushing around and stressing about the holidays. My husband and I are leaving on a trip later this week, and I was frantically making a list of all the Christmas shopping I needed to do: get travel size bath and beauty items for the trip, pick up gifts for our neighbours and some things to bring as hostess gifts for a few holiday parties we’re invited to, plus I needed to stock up on snacks and treats for when we have guests over.

The longer I spent on the list, the longer it was getting: don’t forget the stocking stuffers (the mall on Christmas Eve last year was a full-on zoo!), pick up a few ready-to-give gift packs when someone gives you something and you forgot to pick up something for them. Plus I needed more wrapping paper…. UGGHHHHHH.

My husband looked at the list and said, “Can’t you get all that at London Drugs? It’s 5 minutes away, and you can avoid the mall.”

He was right, and I wish I’d thought of it first, but London Drugs would indeed have most of the items on my list, which would save me driving all over Santa’s half-acre, fighting parking duels at the mall, and plus, I’d only need to make one trip.IMG_8449

I wanted to high-five myself as I cruised into the London Drugs parking lot, but since that would be weird, I palm-fived the steering wheel; there were plenty of parking spaces, and I’d managed to avoid the traffic nightmare that lurks around most malls.

While the store looked busy, it wasn’t crazy, and there were so many people working.  In fact one staff member saw me come in the front door and do that searching double-take people do when they’re trying to figure out which way to go, and came right over and offered directions.

 green-check-box-smallGetting Travel-Ready

IMG_8416I started off at the top of my list with the travel sized items for the trip. Into the mini-wheeled shopping basket went soap, shaving cream, shampoo and conditioner, and other sundry items.  Nearby I snagged sunscreen and again felt smart, since that’s usually the one thing I forget when heading to a tropical destination.

green-check-box-smallEndless Gift Ideas

From there I started wandering the aisles, hoping some gift ideas would pop out at me; and they did. Slippers for my mother-in-law went into the basket, as did some hair accessories and a pair of flannel PJ’s for my niece, and a scarf for my sister. This was going to be easier than I thought! I was actually surprised at all the really nice gift items that were in stock. I picked up a really cool Stanley Growler-and-cup set for my brother too.

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I absolutely LOVE this retro-themed Pyrex!

I also found the cutest retro-themed glass Pyrex food storage containers that I couldn’t leave without. I have a collection of retro Pyrex from the 60’s and 70’s that’s the envy of my sisters, so I thought this would be a perfect gift for them.

I couldn’t believe the luck I was having at checking so many items off my shopping list, so I kept going.

green-check-box-smallStocking Stuffers Galore

I cruised the cosmetics aisle and picked up a perfume gift set for a coworker, and loaded up on things like Chapstick in several flavours, nail polish, and manicure sets that work perfectly in stockings.  I picked up some magazines too, since those are a great Christmas Day afternoon entertainer. I also snagged things like socks and one of my tech must-haves, touchscreen gloves, that round out a stocking nicely.

Thinking I was done with all my stocking stuffer needs, I rounded a corner into what can only be described as Candyland. Every brand of holiday chocolate was stacked floor to ceiling.  Not to mention small sized bars perfect for stockings.IMG_8429

green-check-box-smallHoliday Party Planning Made Easy!

A box of fruit jellies went into the basket for our neighbours, as did some candy canes and other assorted treats. Looking at all the candy reminded me I needed some snack items for when guests came over after we’re back from our trip south. Since we’d be back quite close to Christmas I certainly didn’t want to have to rush to the grocery store right away.

I often forget how well-stocked the food aisles at London Drugs are. Chips, crackers and a few assorted staples were added to the pile. I may need to hit a grocery store eventually, but my list will be significantly shorter.

green-check-box-smallTech Toys for Everyone (Including Apple gear! and Smart Home gadgets)

Having had so much success so far, I decided to try my luck with a few more gift items, so I browsed the camera and electronics department. (I think at this point I was shopping for me!) I’ve written before about the fantastic selection of tech gifts London Drugs stocks, and since both my husband and I needed new Apple-branded iPhone charging cables, (but I’ve been dreading having to fight the crowds at the Apple Store) I just decided to grab those on the spot.

I also had a look at the new Fitbit fitness bands, and cruised the selection of cameras. London Drugs has pretty much every electronics gift that’s on anyone’s list including Microsoft’s Surface tablets, flat-screen TVs, as well as a personal favourite of mine; the Belkin WeMo line of smart home devices, which I personally love and have written about before.  Right beside the electronics section was the small appliance empire where I could spend an hour!

green-check-box-smallToys for Kids and TeensIMG_8442

Having had success with the adult gifts, I found the toy aisle and decided to try my luck.  I found quite a good selection of toys, endless games and a tonne of children’s books. I also found what may be my crowning glory this Christmas; a lava lamp for $20 for my tween nephew!

The lava lamps were such a great deal, I decided to pick up a second one for a great initiative at London Drugs this year: the Toys for Teens Campaign.

green-check-box-smallHelp for the Holidays
While underprivileged small children benefit from numerous donation campaigns at Christmas, teens and tweens often get overlooked, so London Drugs partnered with Jack FM Radio for the 8th annual Toys for Teens. The idea is to pick up a gift for a young person aged 10 to 17 and leave it in the donation bin right at the store. All Calgary donations go the Salvation Army Family Christmas Assistance Program. Donations in Airdrie go to the Airdrie Lioness Club Christmas Hamper Program.

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Adult colouring books are all the rage!

While I went for a funky gift option, there were plenty of things like those fun new adult colouring books and pencil crayons, or even phone cables, cases and other cosmetics and beauty items that would go a long way to making a less fortunate tween or teen pretty happy this season. Particularly given the economic climate this year.

With my basket now overfull, it was time to go.

In all, I was in and out of London Drugs in about an hour, but while I was there, I got great friendly service and my bill was more than reasonable for everything I piled into that little wheely basket.

While I was a bit ahead of the game this year, normally I’m not, so I’m going to give you  a piece of advice: if you want to avoid the mall, and still get everything on your list, London Drugs is the go-to destination for stocking stuffers, holiday treats, gifts and even all those last minute items you’re going to need.

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This blog post has been sponsored by London Drugs.

Reader Q and A: Glow Headphones

Since I posted an unboxing video and review of the Glow headphones, I’ve had many questions and my YouTube Channel has been pumped with inquiries seeking more info about the product.

It’s my understanding this gadget started on Kickstarter, and I’ve heard from several backers who say they’ve been left in the dark about the product they helped get to market, and they’re looking for some answers.

I’ll answer some of the questions I’ve been asked about the headphones as best I can, but it should be noted I’m a blogger and reviewer and not affiliated with Glow in any way.  My answers are based on my experience with the set I was sent for a review, so I’m afraid I can’t answer any questions about whether this is the final or exact product Glow will ship to backers. (Though it’s worth noting the headphones are currently for sale on the Bell.ca website for $199 CAD.)

These questions below reference back to a mini-review and unboxing video I posted at the end of November.  Please read and watch those for further details on the headphones. Since then I’ve been able to spend more time testing the headphones and can answer some of the questions I’ve been sent.

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Question: Is the package you received the final product shipping?

A: I don’t know. I received a set from a public relations contact, and they went on sale on at least one website several days later, so I assume so.

IMG_8526Question: Is that little bag the carrying case? We all were expecting a nice little case given the renders they made for us on KS and the fact we reached the milestone to get one. That bag is causing quite the uproar.

A: The little bag that comes with the phones is a faux velvet with string pull-ties. I’d say it feels synthetic, not luxurious. That said, I think it’s fine for what it’ll be used for.

The charging cable in the box was unusual; it’s not a full USB charger, it’s a flat piece of plastic with copper connectors. I’ve never used one like it before. (Photos below)

IMG_8525Question: Did it come with any more ear tips? It was supposed to include different sizes, we didn’t see any in your unboxing.

Yes, it comes with a total of 6 different pairs of tips (4 extras, 2 on the phones); both the in-ear size and the hooks for holding it in place. I didn’t find any of them fit particularly well, or felt comfortable, and I found the phones slipping easily from my ears. I have a similar shaped set of Adidas/Monster in-ear headphones with the little hooks and they are comfortable and lock in place very well. These are not at all like that.  I’d be afraid to run in these.  But this could just be my own ear shape/size.

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Microphone

I also felt the headphones themselves were quite light. While that’s good for portability, they didn’t feel substantial, and didn’t have the heft of other quality headphones I’ve tested this year.

The laser cables are also rather stiff, which I think contributes to them popping out easily.

Question: About the controller; How does it feel in hand? Lightweight cheap Chinese plastic, or something that looks like they put some thought into (especially considering the many delays they claimed in making it feel premium).IMG_8531

A: The controller feels very lightweight, and to use your word, “cheap”. In fact, the controller case broke open on me after a couple days, and I can’t get it to snap back together. The top with the button markings lifted off the rest of the puck, exposing the guts. I’d be concerned about its durability if I owned one. I would definitely not describe these headphones as feeling “premium”.

Question: How would you characterize the sound quality? I currently and using a pair of Beats in-ears and expect for something costing almost double to at least sound the same given the Glow. I’ve also had Bose in-ears that were even better than those.IMG_8535

I compared these to another in-ear style I have (Monster Adidas), and while it’s similar in sound quality, the Monsters feel better to me. (I also think the lack of being able to get a good in-ear fit plays into this too.) I also felt like there was noticeably less bass in the Glows. It sounded noticably tinnier (treblier??) and the Glow just didn’t give me that richness of sound that I’ve had with higher-end headphones, even when I pushed them further into my ears to get a good seal.

I then tried the Glows against an over ear style by Jabra.  There was no competition.  The sound quality of the Jabras was far and away better than the Glow.

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Glow inner case/round box with foam pad

Question: Would I buy the Glow headphones?

A: I wouldn’t for myself.  I didn’t like the fit, the weight, and I was disappointed at how quickly the controller broke. I also think there’s much better sounding headphones out there on the market. I would, however,  get these for a kid or a teenager, since the glowing mechanism is really cool, and it works well, and since teens and kids are probably less concerned with top quality fidelity than many adults, though these are rather expensive for something for a child to use. Overall it’s a really neat and unique new product, and I’d like to see a second generation of the Glow, if and when that happens.

More questions on the new Glow Headphones? Ask away in comments below.

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Extras are hidden under flaps in the box.
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Back side of the controller

 

 

Gadgets get better looking! The rise of ‘Smart Jewelry’

tech talk december 3This time on CTV’s Tech Talk we focused on a new trend that’s seeing gadgets get  better looking, after many years of being functional, but in some cases kinda ugly.

Tory Burch for Fitbit

IMG_7876I’ve long been a big fan of Fitbit’s Flex fitness tracker. (Read why here) My biggest knock on it has been that it’s not a pretty accessory when it’s worn at work or for a night out. Fitbit’s heard my prayers, partnering with US Designer tory Burch for a line of beautiful jewelry-type cases for the Flex; a series of bracelets, and a neat pendant too. You’ll need the Flex tracker first (sold separately), but now you’ve got a gorgeous option, aside from the ugly and obvious plastic wristbands that the Flex comes with.

Bellabeat Leaf Fitness Tracker

IMG_7784The Bellabeat Leaf is a sleep, stress, movement and health monitor that looks nothing like typical fitness bands. It’s a beautiful metal and wood pendant that is very versatile. It can be worn on a chain around the neck, clipped to a leather buckle bracelet, or clipped on to any piece of clothing. it comes in a few different colour combinations too.

This neat little gadget tracks your movements like many fitness monitors, but it will also track your menstrual cycle.

Moto360 Smart Watch

IMG_8507We’ve all heard about smart watches, and Motorola’s entry to the market is just as stylish and smart as the others. With a round face and interchangeable virtual watch faces, you can totally customize this watch to your mood, outfit, or overall style.

The watch will deliver alerts directly to your wrist; everything from the basic texts, calls and emails, but also alerts from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram plus WordPress and even the Ring Video Doorbell! While it has some limitations whenused with Apple smart devices, it still works pretty good, and looks great.

Netatmo June UV Sensing Bracelet

netatmo-june-1-537x402June by netatmo is a small light-sensor made beautiful. It measures ambient light and alerts you when you’ve had too much sun. JUNE’s UVA and UVB sensors measure your sun exposure while the App computes the data and gives you the UV index in real time. While it should keep you from getting a sunburn, it can also protect you from the aging properties of the suns rays by alerting you when you’ve been in the sun too long. This delicate little sensor is sparkly and looks like a pretty gemstone. Attached to a nice leather bracelet, it’s a chic way to be sun savvy.

Fossil Q Smart Watches and Fitness Bands

fossil q watch

Speaking of sexy watches, Fossil has come out with a new line of really, really beautiful watches that will also give you smart alerts. I tested the Fossil Q Grant, a lovely watch with Roman numerals that gives you a subtle buzz when something on your phone needs attention.

dreamerYou’ll get filtered notifications from favorite contacts and the Q line also allows you to track everything from steps to calories. Fossil Q Grant is compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems.

I also showed the Fossil Q Dreamer, a fitness tracker that looks like chic jewelry, rather than a bulky or plastic fitness band. This charming and sparly little bangle also tracks daily steps and calories, as well as providing basic vibrating alerts for messages.

Looking for more chic wearables? Click to read my Top 5 Wearables List!

I also showed the brand new Glow Headphones. These have garnered a lot of attention since I first  showed them off on my Twitter and YouTube Channel.

They’re quite the eye-catching earphones! Read the full review of them here.

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Diamonds 2.0 invented?

microdiamonds
Scanning Electron Microscope image of microdiamonds made using the new technique. Courtesy: NOrth Caroline State University.

Researchers from North Carolina State University say they’ve found a new form of solid carbon, and that discovery has allowed them to make diamonds much easier.

 

The new form or “phase” of carbon is called Q-carbon; other forms for solid carbon include graphite (think lead pencils) and diamonds.winston diamond

The discovery allows diamond-like structures to be made  at room temperature and at ambient atmospheric pressure in air.

“We’ve now created a third solid phase of carbon,” says Jay Narayan, lead author of the study. “The only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets.”

Q-carbon is made by using a base like sapphire, glass or a plastic then layering on “amorphous carbon” – essentially carbon without a well-defined crystal structure. Lasers then heat and cool the carbon rapidly, and the result is a film of Q-carbon, which the researchers say is harder than diamond, which are already some  of the hardest known substances to humans.

So how would these micro-diamond-carbon structures be used? They could replace diamond on drills or cutting devices, for starters.

“We can create diamond nanoneedles or microneedles, nanodots, or large-area diamond films, with applications for drug delivery, industrial processes and for creating high-temperature switches and power electronics,” Narayan says. “These diamond objects have a single-crystalline structure, making them stronger than polycrystalline materials. And it is all done at room temperature and at ambient atmosphere – we’re basically using a laser like the ones used for laser eye surgery. So, not only does this allow us to develop new applications, but the process itself is relatively inexpensive.”

Could   Q-carbon become a more enduring symbol of love than diamonds? Not yet. Researchers have not been able to make the Q-carbon layer much thicker than a film.

“We can make Q-carbon films, and we’re learning its properties, but we are still in the early stages of understanding how to manipulate it,” Narayan says. “We know a lot about diamond, so we can make diamond nanodots. We don’t yet know how to make Q-carbon nanodots or microneedles. That’s something we’re working on.”

 

My Top 10 Tech Gadgets of the Year

I’ve had the great fortune to test some of the best and most-coveted tech gadgets this year. I’ve reviewed a lot of devices, but only these make my top 10 list for 2015.  My criteria? They have to be easy to use, perform as promised – or better – than the companies advertise, they have to be useful, practical, and well made. It has to be something I’d actually buy for myself, and there’s also bonus points for coolness.

Here’s the list, in order.

10. Belkin Mixit Charging Cables

IMG_7398With the battery life of many phones in a sad state, it’s imperative to carry extra cables or a portable battery pack. But they can be heavy, or clunky, or get tangled up inside your bag.

Belkin has come up with a WAY better option that I think is going to be a huge hit.  There are three smart additions to their MIXIT line of cables.

Made from natural leather, the MIXIT Lightning to USB Tassel is a chic handbag charm that hides a premium metallic charging cable in its tassels. Belkin says, “its fringe design takes a purse from bleak to chic, keeps the cable tidy and prevents it from getting tangled.” I also love the chic lobster clip that makes it easy to attach and swap it from bag to bag. Read the full review HERE.

9. Vitamix Blender

IMG_6963I like using frozen fruit and fresh kale in my smoothies, however my blender will only chop the hearty greens so well.  Inevitably I’m choking down tiny kale fibers, or having them get jammed in the straw. Oh, and there’s usually some giant pieces of frozen fruit left in the bottom too.

Not with the Vitamix.  This blender is able to absolutely liquefy its contents, usually on just one blending cycle. That means no bits of kale, and no frozen chunks. I was sceptical at first, but I can attest the Vitamix is on another level when it comes to blending. Full Review HERE.

8. Biolite Campstove

rsz_biolite_recropThe 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. Probably more than you need out in the bush! The stove can also boil a litre of water in about 5 minutes in the small, Thermos-sized kit. I tested this gadget on a summer camping trip and it was compact, easy to use, produced a lot of heat, and gave me juice on the go. It’s a must-have for the serious camper. I love Biolite’s NanoGrid light kit a lot too. Read about both HERE.

7. Phonesuit charging case

phonesuitAre you the type who always runs out of juice on your device? The Phonesuit Elite battery case will keep you going all day long.  On its own, it protects, then when you need the extra hit of power, you just turn it on, and it gives you an additional 120% charge. The beauty of these cases are they recharge in 2 hours, and are quite slim, considering all the power it packs.  I liked these cases because they’re really durable, they recharge quickly, and the deliver that extra power punch quickly. Read how to get one, and about some other great case options HERE.

6. MyFox Security Camera

myfoxA small oddly-shaped camera, but it works like a dream.  A beautiful HD video picture, and set up is super easy. With the free app downloaded, I was able to set up the account in no time, and the camera was fully operational in about five minutes.The MyFox camera is without a doubt the easiest camera with the best video quality for your home secutity dollar. Read the full review HERE.

5. Fujifilm Instax Share Photo Printer

IMG_2828Wondering what to do with all the digital photos that sit on your device for years and years?  Start printing the best ones!
The new Fujifilm Instax Share printer is truly pocket sized, but it operates basically as you might remember a Polaroid camera operating; it spits out a small photo instantly that takes a couple minutes to fully develop. The result is retro-cool prints in an instant. The printer is easy to operate, and makes great quality prints.
Read more about the Instax printer HERE.

4. Felony Case

IMG_0380I only picked two cases as tops this year, and this is one of them. These plastic shell cases from Felony Case are definite winners for most eye-catching.  The 3-D raised texture on the  Kaleidoscope case is stunning, but the softness of the design means it’s comfortable to hold, despite looking menacingly like a torture device. In gold, rose gold, black and white, these cases are stunning accessories. Not to mention the case is barely a millimeter thick, so it adds absolutely zero bulk to your device.  While the business-types have been coveting the Moshi cases and the hipster are after Fuz, the fashionistas all want my Felony Case!  Check out the full write-up on Felony Case, as well as som other great options HERE.

3. Osram Lightify Flex

IMG_6431I’m sure under counter lighting is going to be a hugely popular use for this product, but you could see getting really creative with it too: lighting around a mirror, a headboard, under a glass table top, or stone bar. There are endless possibilities because this lighting is ultra thin and completely bendable. The Flex kit is super easy to install, and gives you the option of turning the lights different colours. I absolutely love changing the look and mood of the room with coloured light, and Flex makes it easy and chic. Learn about the Flex kit HERE.

2. Qwerkywriter Bluetooth Keyboard

QWERKY111Qwerkywriter is a solid aluminum metal (but not heavy!) keyboard that connects wirelessly via Bluetooth to iPhones, iPads, iMacs, MacPros, Macbooks, Android Tablets Devices, Windows Tablets, and more. It also has a functional carriage return bar that works as an ENTER key.
I absolutely love the feel of the industrial strength mechanical switches that give the device a unique clacky feel and sound. Punching typewriter keys requires just a touch more force than a younger generation will be familiar with, but those old enough to appreciate Mr Dressup reruns will love the stress relief properties.
Read all about Qwerkywriter on my blog HERE.

1. Ring Video Doorbell

IMG_4769It’s a simple gadget that’s infinitely useful. Ring is a video doorbell that lets you respond to visitors remotely via your smartphone from anywhere.  Got a package being delivered and you’re not home? Use Ring to answer the delivery driver’s call and instruct him to leave the package with a neighbour.  Annoying salesperson? Know before you open the door and get stuck in conversation. Ring is ultra-easy to use and get set up and has a sharp HD camera and high quality 2-way voice interaction. Added motion-detection alerts can also keep you safe from people lurking around or casing your place. I have Ring at my house and love it.
Read the full review HERE.

Have you got a gadget you think deserves top billing? Is there a gadget I should look at for next year’s list? Let me know in comments, below.

 

 

 

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