How do you know if a smartphone can be right for you? Many people get their first hands-on experience with a new phone while standing in a retail store or browsing online. It’s not a very elegant way to decide whether or not you’re going to make a commitment to something that will be in your hands and part of your most intimate moments likely for the next 2 to 3 years. Ideally, instead, you’d get to hold it and get a real feel for it, try out the camera, interact with the device and its apps, and use it as if it were your own before you decide. I had a rare chance to do exactly that with the Samsung Galaxy S8 before its public launch. But this was no ordinary review opportunity. Continue reading “24 hours at the edge of the world with Samsung Galaxy S8”
Smartphones are often delicate pieces of technology. The glass screens and thin metal casings may look pretty, but they’re not suited to some industries or locations like a construction site. Now DEWALT, known for its power tool line has come out with an Android phone that’s built so tough it doesn’t even need a case. The DEWALT MD501 also has a host of other features that are designed for job sites. Continue reading “DEWALT phone built rugged & tough to take abuse on job sites”
Just like your car, the fluids need to be topped up, and when you hear a rattle you need to take it to a mechanic and get it looked at to prevent a bigger problem down the road. It’s the same thing with all the high tech gadgets we buy; you’ve got to do your part to keep them in good working order.
Why is my tech not working?
In the last few months alone, I’ve had home automation devices stop working, smart light bulbs cease to function, headphones that crashed constantly, and many other devices where they’ve just stopped working altogether, or only function intermittently. Here’s a few common reasons why your devices may not be performing as they should.
1. Software/Firmware Updates Need to be Done
What’s the difference – Firmware vs Software
For starters, what’s the difference between firmware and software? Software is a program you run, often designed to run on a computer’s hard drive. Usually software is something you, the user, adds to your arsenal of programs by choice. Firmware is software that’s embedded my a manufacturer into a device, that’s absolutely essential to it running. Firmware often lives inside a tiny chip deep within your device.
With that said, some products bring in constant firmware or software updates, like every couple of weeks. Others far less frequently. The key is, when your device gives you those push messages that say it’s time to update, don’t ignore them. Updates are designed to remove bugs, patch security flaws and keep things running smoothly. That’s why when you call a tech support hotline for help, the first thing they’ll ask is if your device is up to date.
2. Integration with your phone is not quite perfect yet
Have you ever tried to write a program for an app or device? Yeah, me either. It’s frikking hard, time consuming and expensive. That’s why a lot of companies will start by writing a program for just one smartphone OS, and bring in the second one later.
Why is there only an Apple App for that?
Often the development team has a preference for one device or operating system over others. Why? This article from The Guardian explains it pretty well: “Developing iOS apps means ensuring they work nicely on a small range of iPhones and/or iPads: generally 6-8 different devices depending how far back the developer wants to go. On Android, it’s a different story: nearly 12,000 different devices out there in the hands of people, with a wider range of screen sizes, processors and versions of the Android software still in use. Many developers’ lack of enthusiasm for Android is down to concerns not just about the costs of making and testing their apps for it, but also the resources required to support them once they’re launched, if emails flood in about unspotted bugs on particular models.”
So to that point, keeping every single device out there running smoothly with your software or firmware is no easy feat. So that means if you’re having troubles you can try waiting it out until the next batch of updates, and hope that helps.
3. The product wasn’t quite ready for market, but they released it anyway
I’ve tested numerous products this year where it feels like the company’s gadget was definitely not ready for public release, but they started shipping devices anyway. Selling units helps get cash flowing in, which in turn helps pay for customer and tech support, which is one reason companies might release a not-quite-ready gadget or device. The other reason a product might hit the market too soon? There’s no better way to beta test something than to put it in the hands of thousands of users and see what happens. At that point, you need to hope they have really good customer service and fast developers to get things working well quickly.
Did I get a bum device or a dud gadget?
4. It’s a dud.
There’s another reason your gadget or device may be causing you to pull your hair out. It’s a bad apple. From where I’m sitting right now, I can see four smart gadgets/devices that have had to be replaced within hours, or weeks of getting them, because they were duds.
How do you know if they’re duds? I’d say these days, if you’re spending any more than an hour on set up or installation and it’s not working properly, you may have a did. Today, most quality, well-made devices are set up and ready to go in less than 15 minutes. Any longer than that and you might have a problem. If you’ve been fighting with a gadget for more than an hour, or repeating the set up process over and over and getting nowhere, contact your company’s help line. They can — and will —tell you if you have a bad device. And in 100% of the cases where this has happened to me, they’ve replaced it within days, at no cost to me, and the new one has worked smoothly.
How can I fix my malfunctioning tech?
So to get back to the original question: what can you do to keep your stuff running smoothly?
- Plan to update your device. When an update is ready, do it. That will decrease the liklihood of problems.
- Don’t ignore problems, especially early. If a device keeps crashing your computer, performing poorly or otherwise driving you crazy, call tech support and get it dealt with. If it requires a replacement device, that’s easier done a month in, rather than leaving it three or four months because you’re just too frustrated to deal with it.
- Keep your receipts/order numbers. All my receipts and manuals for major purchases go in one drawer, so they’re always easy to find. You’ll likely need some kind of proof of purchase to get help or a replacement. If it’s a gift, you can always redact (black out) the price and make a copy of the invoice or receipt for the recipient.
- Don’t take no for an answer. If you have your receipt, and are having legitimate troubles with a device and tech support can’t help you, don’t accept that. I recently dealt with a company that basically told me of its malfunctioning gadget, “we don’t know what to do.. soo..”. That’s not good enough. Ask to speak to a supervisor, who often has more experience, and the authority to do something for you.
Having specific problems with your smart light bulbs? Try a reset. Read my blog on How to reset Your Smart Light Bulbs here.
Do you have tips or advice for people dealing with glitchy tech? Share your wisdom in comments.
This 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.
I’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.
The 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.
We’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.
June 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.
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.
You’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!
They’re quite the eye-catching earphones! Read the full review of them here.
What if you could take care of some of the routine tasks you see a doctor for, at home, WITH the permission of your doctor? A new gadget I found can help you do that.
The QardioArm is an at-home blood pressure cuff that works just like the one in your doctor’s office. You just strap it to your arm, pull the velcro closure tight, and use your smartphone to take a reading.
How it works
Download the Qardio app for iPhone or Android, and set up an account. It’s quick and takes barely any time. Once you have an account, you unroll the cuff, and slip the QardioArm over your arm, then cinch it tight. A small box on the outside of the cuff holds all the technology. When you’re ready, tap the app to tell it to take a reading. The cuff inflates, just like the one at your doctor’s office, and in a minute you have your blood pressure and heart rate, plus more:
What it measures
>Measures your systolic, diastolic blood pressure as well as heart rate, includes irregular heart beat detection.
>Tracks your measurements over time with smart charts, trends and stats.
>Supports multiple users.
>Fully integrates with the Qardio product family using the companion Qardio App which automatically stores all your data in Qardio’s secure cloud.
>Allows you to share your measurements and progress automatically with your doctor and family.
The app keeps track of your readings, and can chart your progress over time. It’s infinitely portable, rolling up inside the cuff, which also acts as a cover. Plus it’s small enough to take just about anywhere with you. Qardio says, “unlike traditional blood pressure monitors, QardioArm wireless BP monitor is cleverly designed with an integrated cuff serving as a protective cover. It’s portable, stylish and blends seamlessly into your daily life.”
QardioArm also has some cool features, like its “Places” function, which allows you to monitor your blood pressure across multiple locations and, as Qardio explains it, helps you “understand how your lifestyle impacts your health.”
The Friends and Family function lets you follow others or allows others to follow you, “creating a support network for better health outcomes,” according to the company. Using the app you can also set reminders, notifications or track your monthly stats and averages.
The device also comes in an array of fun colours, so it doesn’t look like a medical device. It looks.. cool.
Is it accurate?
I’m not a doctor. And I have no major medical problems that require me to take my blood pressure every day. So with that out front, let me say I can only recommend this gadget on the basis of it’s technology, and ease of use. I can make no claims about its accuracy. For any medical advice or recommendations about this device, you can contact Qardio directly, and/or speak to your doctor.
On the subject of the Arm’s accuracy, Qardio says, “QardioArm smart blood pressure monitor is clinically validated to accurately measure your systolic and diastolic blood pressure along with your heart rate. Easily perform a triple measurement average for the most precise feedback. QardioArm also has irregular heart beat detection and will store the data, providing your doctor with more actionable insights into your heart health.”
The Review, from a patient
I lent the device to a friend who does have a need to measure blood pressure a few times each day. He found the device very easy to use and quite accurate, saying he appreciated that the app will coach you through the process of taking readings, as well as showing what the readings mean; whether they’re in a normal range or high, or into hypertension territory.
He took measurements using both the blood pressure cuff his doctor had provided him, and the QardioArm. I’ll attach a copy of his readings over a few days. The readings he got from each device were not identical, but they’re very close.
My friend loved that he was able to get his readings on his smartphone and then text them to his doctor right away. His doctor appreciated that too. If my pal had one complaint, it’s that he found the device itself a bit bulky and a touch hard to apply with one hand. He says he was able to get used to it but it does require a bit of dexterity. His doctor told him he was happy with the readings it was giving him.
I found the QardioArm very easy to use and set up. The data is easy to read, and fully shareable. If you have aging parents, or know someone who needs to keep a closer eye on their health, this is a great gadget to have. Plus it’s simple enough that even a non-tech savvy person could operate it with ease; if you can use a smartphone, you can use the QardioArm.
Want a great, easy way to jazz up your garden, yard, or walkway? Check out my installation and review of the Osram Lightify GardenSpot Mini outdoor lighting kit.
Watch my 3 minute video!
Home security systems can be expensive, cumbersome, and pain to install. However I’m happy to report that I’ve recently been testing several home security options where installation is quick and easy (read my review of the Ring video doorbell), and operation of the systems is a snap.
The free Presence app is one of those. Presence turns your spare, unused, or out of date smart phones or tablets into wireless video monitors. How? You plug them into a power source, prop them up in a room you may want to keep an eye on and they connect to Wi-Fi. From there, you use the presence app on another phone to remotely access the video feed. You can watch what’s going on in your home, garage, or business, either obviously, or surreptitiously. The presence app has a neat feature where you can dim the screen, but the app stays running in the background, so no one will know it’s watching. Great if you need to use it as a nanny cam or similar.
Presence has a few interesting features. For one, you can load multiple cameras into your stream, meaning you can have as many eyes as you need. You can control the camera functions remotely from pretty much anywhere in the world you can get access to the Internet; whether on another smart device, or on a desktop. The app also allows motion detection recording, meaning if it detects anything moving in your home, it will start making a movie of it, and you can even set how long it should record for, and the time between recordings, so repeated emotions can be eliminated as any source of concern. You can also adjust the sensitivity of the motion recording, and the Presence app also gives you access to your smart phone or tablet microphone, meaning you can hear what’s going on inside your home as well.There’s also an option to creat your own customized rules for using the app.
Presence also has an interesting/creepy feature called Twitter auto sharing. When enabled, Presence will automatically post motion detection videos or thumbnail photos to your Twitter account on your behalf. Presents says “it’s a great way to share interesting moments with the world while building a following”. I think the potential for posting stuff you don’t want for the world to see is enormous and terrifying. But that’s just me. You maybe wondering how presence makes any money by giving away the service for free. I know I was. Presence actually also offers more traditional security and home safety devices, as a bundle from its website. Those devices can integrate with the Wi-Fi cameras from your old smart devices giving you a full spectrum home security system.
“1.4 Digital Video Our Presence application includes a feature which allows you to use a smartphone or tablet as a video monitoring device. Videos, Audio, and Images are captured locally and automatically by your device when triggered by motion or audio detection events, sent over a secure channel to our server, and then immediately encrypted while being securely stored in our servers for future playback via streaming. Video, Audio, and Images may be archived even if they do not appear in your account interface. Each video has time and date information as well as unique identifier to link it to your account and device. Video and audio is stored in common video file formats such as MOV or MP4 but may change as needed for efficiency or to adapt to emerging standards. Images are typically stored in .jpg format. Unless you select a different permissions or sharing level, then by default all your content is privately stored encrypted on disk using AES-128 encryption, to prevent anyone but you or anyone you’ve given access to your account from accessing it.”
Now, is there some chance your camera could be hacked remotely? We’ve seen that happen with several baby monitors recently (read more here). I’ve gotten in touch with the folks at Presence, and here are their answers to my two most burning questions, straight from President & CTO David Moss:
Erin: What measures are there in place to prevent an unauthorized person hacking into my video feed?
David: “Presence implements a much more advanced method of security than standard IP cameras. First, your username and password is require to gain access to any camera or device in your Presence account. Next, cameras will not begin streaming content until they receive a command from our cloud servers to start streaming. All communications to and from the cloud (including the command to initiate streaming) are encrypted with 2048-bit SSL, and delivered to the device over a channel that is bi-directionally authenticated with a cryptographic token. This level of communication is more secure than a banking website. The biggest security risk is divulging your own password to someone else, or selecting a weak password.”
Erin: Would there be any way for, say, a Presence employee to surf people’s video feeds at will? i.e. is there any potential for my video feed to be viewed by anyone other than myself, and those I choose to authorize?
David: “No – your video streams and video feeds are accessible only by you. In fact, we architected the cloud server FabrUX which powers Presence (read more), to prevent everyone, including our own employees, from being able to access users’ video feeds or motion detection videos. Motion detection videos are stored in the cloud encrypted with AES-128, using the same methods used in banking websites to store credit card information. Because of the level of security we’ve implemented, all of us here at People Power Company (creators of Presence) are comfortable having Presence cameras throughout our own homes.”
I like this app a lot. It has great functionality, excellent options, and seems like something I’m definitely going to have set up next time I’m away from home. For now, Presence will be watching the dog while I’m at work. The app gets 4 1/2 out of five stars from reviews on the Apple App Store. You can also get more info from the Presence website.
Do you hate trying to stuff your wallet into a pocket already crammed with your phone? Why not amalgamate? Cool new cases now allow you to lighten the load, take great selfies, and even juice-up on the go!
This month on CTV’s Tech Talk, we looked at some awesome case options:
From hard candy shell cases of slick plastic, to grip-ier rubberized cases, Speck has it all. One of the crew favourites today was the card holder cases. They’re functional, durable and come in lots of really bright colours. Another great thing about Speck is they make cases for nearly every type of phone.
If you’re looking at a case that protects, with card slots, but also looks business-appropriate, Mujjo has some great options. Designed to hold 2 or 3 of your essential cards, this chic and low profile leather wallet case helps eliminate bulky pockets. Add a key and this case is all you need.
I love featuring Canadian companies whenever possible. I was recently contacted by Caseco and they let me now about some of their versatile and beautiful leather-look exterior, suede interior cases. I liked the ID Wallet case, with small window and mirror. Chic and handy. When the folio cover is closed, the phone can be unlocked to show time or screen calls through the window, and when dark, the window can be used as a mirror.
We looked at leather wallet-style cases,but these are these cool plastic, snap-clutch cases from Eyn. They’re pretty, durable, and hold a good amount of stuff, so ladies will no doubt fall in love. The satisfying snap they make when they close securely is a nice touch too.
This was the darling of the TV studio today! Photojojo’s Ring Light and case protects your phone and has a swing out, fully adjustable light (warm and cool colours) that lights you softly by hovering over the smartphone’s camera lens, as you snap photos on your phone.
Are 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 fairly slim, considering all the power it packs. While it’s off, it protects the phone, but turn it on, and it starts the charging process.
While we showed off mainly iPhone cases on CTV today, most of these cases are available for a wide variety of smartphones. Click HERE to watch the video!
If there’s a person who’s actually happy with the battery life of their mobile device, I haven’t met them. I’m always on my phone and I’ve been carting around a credit card sized battery pack in my bag for a while now; it’s tiny and it’ll only give me about a third to half a battery boost. So I was excited to try out a new device that will not only charge your devices, it will also BOOST YOUR CAR! It’s the Cobra JumPack.
The first thing that struck me about the Cobra JumPack is that it’s small; just 5”x3”x1”. It’ll easily fit in your palm, pocket or purse, not to mention the console of your car, where it will morph from handy gadget booster to ninja auto rescuer when it boosts your car’s dead battery.
You might have heard of Cobra Electronics. They make CB radios, radar detectors, dash cameras, and GPS systems. The company also makes larger portable power units, but the JumPack is the smallest one I’ve ever seen that can do so much. The company describes it this way; “the Cobra JumPack allows users to rapidly charge smartphones, tablets, cameras or other mobile devices and additionally has enough power to even jumpstart a car, motorcycle, boat or other vehicle.”
Cobra JumPack – The Specs
So how does it work and what will it charge? Cobra says it can reenergize devices multiple times on one charge, making it perfect for emergencies like a power outage, for travelling, or for whenever your slowly wasting cell phone battery decides to give out on you.
The Cobra JumPack has a powerful 200A starting current, 400A peak current (for non mechanics, that means it has enough juice to boost your car more than once on a single charge). The JumPack has a 2.1 Amp USB output and a powerful 7500 mAh Li-Cobalt Battery with a large and easy to read battery status indicator.
It also has an LED flashlight with a strobe and S.O.S function for emergencies, or so you can see your way under the hood when boosting that dead battery. The kit includes jumper cables and two different re-charging methods; a wall charger for home and a 12V car CLP charger (cigarette lighter charger) to charge your battery pack while you’re out.
The Tests: Using JumPack on Devices & Dead Cars
I took a very dead iPhone, and hooked it up to the Cobra Jumpack. It was fully ready to go in under an hour, and the JumPack was still full, according to the battery indicator. The next test was bringing the JumPack camping. I gave it a full charge before leaving home, and the JumPack recharged my cell phone twice and my husband’s phone, and was still ¾ full at the end of the weekend.
While the JumPack is bigger than the mini charger I currently carry around with me, it’s not so much bigger that you’d rather leave it at home. It only weighs 10.58 oz or 300 g, so it’s just over half a pound. In a backpack, it’s not the kind of weight you’d notice. In a small handbag, maybe.
The device works great for device charging small electronics and gadgets, in my opinion. But the big test for me will be to see if it’ll recharge a car; which is the main reason Cobra created it.
A Mechanic weighs in on the JumPack
I brought the JumPack to my mechanic Dean. In truth I needed an old car to boost, to really see if it works, and Dean has plenty of them. He took one look at the Cobra JumPack and said, “that’s it”? He seemed surprised by the small size. Large caddy-style battery boosters have been available for a while, but they’re big, heavy and clunky.
We hooked the JumPack up to the battery of a ‘92 VW Passat, turned it over and it fired up immediately. Dean seemed impressed, and I was too. There’s a lot of power in the JumPack, and after we started the Passat, the JumPack still showed a full battery; definitely enough to boost another vehicle, or charge up all my devices again. Dean immediately began listing off all the places and situations where the JumPack would come in handy. There are plenty I can think of and you could probably dream some up too, dear reader.
Jump your car, motorcycle or even a boat!
The Cobra JumPack would be handy on any trip. On a road trip, you can easily tuck it into the glove box or console, and keep it fully charged with the included cigarette lighter charger. Flying somewhere? The JumPack will fit in your bag, and give you hours of power for just about any device. That would mean you can work, or use it to keep children’s entertainment fully juiced. This device would also be perfect to stash in a boat or RV, or even a motorcycle saddlebag for emergency power, or for use as a flashlight, or of course to boost any dead vehicle battery. While camping it was indispensable, and my friends were impressed at its small size, and big charging capabilities. Keeping a JumPack fully charged would also be super convenient in a power outage. You could use it at a cottage, cabin, or out on a boat… the possibilities are almost endless…..
The Verdict on Cobra JumPack
I need to get one of these. I try out a lot of gadgets and new tech, but this is one of the rare devices that is well proportioned, powerful, extraordinarily useful, and affordable. Never again will I be caught in a cold dark parking lot, begging jumper cables and a functioning battery from passing strangers. I also appreciate all the juice it holds for charging my iPhone, my camera, and iPad. As I said in the beginning, my teeny charger is fine in a pinch, but the JumPack is much more powerful and reliable. The Cobra JumPack does exactly what it says it does, it works very well, and it’s infinitely handy. It’s a must-have for anyone needing portable power on the go.