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

 

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

 

 

Another new TV acronym: What’s HDR TV?

hdr3If you’re in the market for a new TV, there’s a new acronym you’re likely seeing.  And if you haven’t yet, you will. “HDR” is a new TV feature that again raises the bar on video quality, colour, contrast and overall viewing experience.

What is HDR?Samsung-2015-TV-640

The Consumer Electronics Association or CEA, (which is the standards and industry organization for the US that’s kind of like the United Nations of electronics and gadgets) says HDR or High Dynamic Range TV “is a new capability that promises to deliver an expansive range of brightness and shadow detail, further enhancing the viewing experience.”

In a press release about HDR the organization explains, “HDR provides a significant step-up in delivering an incredible viewing experience for the consumer,” said Brian Markwalter, senior vice president, research and standards, CEA.”

So in a nutshell, a very small and simplified one, HDR is a format improvement that will make TV look better.  But how? And what will that mean to you if you buy a new TV?

This article was written for Best Buy’s blog. Click here to read the full article.

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Easy under-counter lighting with Osram Lightify Flex: review and how-to

IMG_6052 Of all the gadgets and devices I’ve tried over the last couple of years, smart lighting has to be one of my personal favorites.

I was very excited when the newest member of the Osram Lightify family arrived for testing: it’s called the Osram Lightify Flex.

Flex your lighting muscle with Lightify

In the pack there are 3 two-foot long strips of flexible LED lighting, along with a power pack and a controller that helps hook up to your home’s Wi-Fi network. Each of the two foot-long LED lighting strips will connect to the other one, giving you a full 6 foot run of lights wherever you need them.

I’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.

Setup and Installation

IMG_6056Installation was quite easy. Though there’s one important caveat that you want to note before you leave the store: you need to have the Osram Gateway in order for your system to connect to Wi-Fi and your smart phone. The Gateway is sold separately for about $30.
Setting up the kit and the Gateway was pretty easy. You snap the QR code on the back of the Gateway, which is essentially a very large AC plug. That takes you to an installation screen that helps you get the Gateway configured to your home’s Wi-Fi network. With that done, and an account set up, you’re ready to begin installing components from the Lightify line.  The Osram Flex kit will also work with your existing WeMo home automation system too if you have one.

With the Gateway as your central hub installed, all that’s left to do is install the various lighting components themselves. That was as simple as peeling the adhesive backing from the flexible plastic strips of lighting, sticking them to the underside of the cabinet, then plugging that strip into the controller, and finally plugging that into the AC power supply. As soon as that last connection was made the light sparked up.

I started with just one 2 foot strip over a coffee center in my kitchen. The lights are very bright, and even in daylight the brightening affect was noticeable and nice.

IMG_6428Once the installation was complete, which took really 10 or 15 minutes, I was able to begin playing with the app. On it you can control color temperature (warm yellowish light for subtle warm lighting and relaxation, or cooler bluish late for work and tasks), you can adjust brightness and dim the lighting strips from your smart phone, or you can change the color of the lights to pretty much any hue of the rainbow.

Click HERE to watch my video of the Lightify kit installation.

Fun with Colour
The color aspect is one of the things I love the most about smart lighting. No longer do you solely need to rely on paint and fabric to bring a dose of color or brightness to your home. Now you can adjust lights for dinner parties, special occasions, holidays, and even your mood, or what kind of work you’re doing inside the home. It’s absolutely brilliant, and you shouldn’t underestimate the power of colored light in your home.

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Read more about Smart Lighting, like why the no-glass Nanoleaf is the world’s most energy efficient light bulb, or all about the WeMo home lighting and automation system.

Once I got comfortable fiddling with the controls, which are pretty easy to use, I also noticed there are a few basic settings within the app that allow you to do a quick-adjust at the touch of a button. There are really only three quick-choice options: warm, daylight, and a plant light option to help you grow.

While the limited selection of presets is a bit disappointing, you can quite easily create your own, and save them to a quick touch menu. In fact, the Lightify had one of the easiest interfaces for setting up your own “favorites” that I’ve used in smart lighting recently, so I didn’t feel like I was missing having a bunch of presets within the app.

Set timers easilyIMG_6373
There’s also a very easy to use timer setting that will turn your lights on and off when you need them. For me that means having lights on when I wake well before dawn to get ready for work.  Since I’m frequently awake for my day job at 3 AM, there’s definitely something that juices my day when I wake up and the lights are already on over the coffee center before I rise with a nice, warm, sunny, bright color temperature. I feel like it helps get me going.

The Verdict
I found the Lightify App very easy to set up, and the Flex lighting kit very easy to install. I absolutely love how it looks in the kitchen, particularly the color options, and I really enjoy the timer settings.
I’ve already been sharing this one with friends because I think it’s super versatile, fun, and very practical. It will definitely save you needing professional or semi professional installation of lighting in your home. Plus I’m already thinking of getting another kit to add elsewhere in the house.

Get the Osram Lightify Flex kit from Best Buy. It’ll set you back about $149.

New Qwerkywriter is the COOLEST keyboard you’ll ever see

qwerkywriter tabletAs a writer and journalist, I’ve been attached to a keyboard as long as I’ve been employed. While I missed the typewriter-in-the-newsroom era, I still understand the nostalgia of using one.  I first learned to type (self-taught, age 7) on a Smith Corona in the 80’s.  There’s something more  satisfying about the clomp-clop of typewriter keys mashing out your words, rather than the soft phush-phush of a regular computer keyboard..

That’s why I think the Qwerkywriter keyboard is going to be huge. This keyboard has multiple uses; you can use it with your laptop or desktop, or with your tablet or phone.

Qwerkywriter Features

Qwerkywriter 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 . But it’s also programmable, remembering up to 5 characters. (Qwerkywriter says it works by holding FN+Return Bar to record up to 5 characters).  The Qwerkywriter features a built-in stand that can accommodate tablets up to 10 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick. (iPads, Samsung devices, Surface 3, and more are all supported)

qwerky keyboard

It’s a really cool experience using this keyboard.  I absolutely love the feel of the industrial strength mechanical switches that give the device a unique clacky feel and sound.  I will say, it takes a bit of getting used to to operate, in that the keys are a different shape from the square computer keyboard keys, and the spacing and distance is also different.  Not to mention punching typewriter keys requires just a touch more force than a younger generation will be familiar with.

QWERKY111 QWERKY222

While the Qwerkywriter is super fun to use, it looks really really nice in my home office.  In fact, I’m thinking of painting a frame on the wall and making a space to hang it when it’s not in use so it can serve as beautiful retro art when its not in use.

qwerkywriter 2

Get the Qwerkywriter from the company’s website Qwerkywriter.com for $329USD.

qwerkywriter tablet

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

BioLite’s cooking and camping gear charges devices and may blow your mind

rsz_biolite_recropI’m forever sourcing out new camping gear. Every time I pack up, I realize how much duplication we have, how heavy or unwieldy some of our items are, or that we often bring things we just don’t need. So when I read about BioLite, I was intrigued. The company develops and manufactures what it dubs, “advanced energy products that make cooking with wood as clean safe and easy as modern fuels”, but recently it’s also been working on ways to create electricity to charge your electronics too.

BioLite for Cooking and Charging

biolite nanogrid 22
BioLite NanoGrid lighting system.

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.

BioLite also has several options for lighting up your campsite, but the one I most want to get my hands on is the NanoGrid. BioLite calls it, “a revolutionary lighting and energy storage system” that consists of a main PowerLight, and peripheral SiteLights. The PowerLight is the central hub, and can be used as a flashlight or a lantern, plus it will power your gadgets and devices. Interestingly, Biolite says the PowerLight doesn’t have any burning-bright hotspots, because it uses what the company calls ‘Edge-lighting’, where the lantern’s panels “bend light around the internal battery, resulting in a compact design and soft light”. The SiteLights connect to it, and then allow you to string more lighting around your campsite. These extension lamps throw off about a 10-foot circle of light and they can be individually controlled, and even dimmed.

Read about the rest of the gear in the BioLite line on the Best Buy Plug In blog I wrote.

Testing the Polaroid Socialmatic Instant Camera and Printer

polaroid socialmaticJust when you thought digital cameras were dead thanks to the proliferation of cell phone cameras, the Polaroid Socialmatic arrived on my desk.  This camera is different from other cameras, mainly because it has a built in printer.

One of the first things I noticed about the Socialmatic is that it’s nowhere near pocket-sized.  This camera is large, square, bulky and not easy to hold. To do some initial tests, I brought it to meet some friends at the pub and took some shots.  Sadly the photos were rather dark on their own.  Adding the flash helped, but gave the photos a bleached out overly-bright look.

That said, the convienience of being able to print photos on the spot is appealing.  I’ll post a full review after further testing.

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The large lap-sized Polaroid Socialmatic during testing.

Chromecast in Canada; Google Ups their Game

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 2.12.58 PMGoogle Chromecast was the last of the TV streaming devices to launch in Canada, and while it’s still deep in catch-up mode with products like Roku or Apple TV, it is making some improvements to content available in Canada.
Case in point, Chromecast launched with just 6 apps here in Canuckistan, in March of 2014.  By October, it has 18.

So what can you do with your Chromecast now?
Chromecast launched with the Google suite of apps including GooglePlay Movies and Music, Netflix, YouTube, Vevo, Songza, and Plex, now there are several more options.  Click to read the full blog about what’s now become available and what you can do with the apps.

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