Need Samsung accessories? These are perfect for the new Galaxy S8+

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ have been out for a while now, and to go with it, there’s plenty of new Galaxy-ready gear.  Whether you need a proper case, charging cables or other accessories, there are some new options from different companies. Continue reading “Need Samsung accessories? These are perfect for the new Galaxy S8+”

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.

 

 

 

Read more tech news! Surf cool tech topics HERE.

Gadget Pick of the Day: Belkin’s MIXIT hides handy extra charging cables

IMG_7404 With 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.

 

The Fancy Option

IMG_7398

 

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.

This beauty comes in greyish white, brown/beige, coral and black for $34.99USD.

 


The Functional & Sleek Pick

This is the on all the guys will want. The MIXIT Lightning to USB Keychain has a durable stick-shaped aluminum body and can easily be slipped onto a keychain, so that it’s handy when you need a charge. The charging cable is a stick that rotates 360 degrees out of the cover for easy charging. The aluminum body  (available in different colour metals for $34.99) also protects the Lightning connector from damage when not in use.

 

 

The Pop of ColourIMG_7401

“Boldly and functionally designed”, according to Belkin’s press materials, the MIXIT Lightning to USB Clip is the another cool take on the hidden cable concept. The carabiner-style clip latches quickly and securely to any backpack or bag. The braided multicolour cable comes in fun colours like blue and mint, “feisty pink” and peach, fresh purple and mint, or minimal black and white. The cable slides up into the cup-shaped cover to avoid tangles, then pulls out when you need it. It too is $34.99.

These Belkin cables are Apple approved

These cables are Apple approved, so you know they’re still going to work on your iDevices even months down the road.  I love these and think they’re so versatile and handy, I’m going to get a bunch to give as Christmas gifts. Click the links above to purchase or get more info.

 

What the Heck is IFTTT, and What Can it Do for ME?

ifttt logoMost of us have heard of “smart” home technology, and most of us know that means many new appliances and products from dishwashers to light bulbs will have some degree of automation.  While home automation is really handy, it’s limited by the software each manufacturer supplies with it.  Maybe you don’t want your lights to just turn off and on, you want them to come on at a low level of brightness to gently wake the kids instead.  Take it one step further; you want the lights to come on gently, and as they do, you want to coffee maker to turn on and start brewing your coffee, maybe even have the radio come on softly too. That’s where IFTTT technology comes in; it lets YOU decide exactly how your connected appliances, accessories and devices work by creating simple and easy to use shortcuts.

IFTTT Channels

What is IFTTT?

The acronym stands for “IF This Then That”.  Simply put it translates to, “IF I do This (your choice of activity), Then That (your selected result) happens automatically. IFTTT (pronounced to rhyme with ‘gift’) is actually a website where you go, create a free user account, and start automating your life.  Still not sure what it can do?  Let’s look at some examples, including what apps, products, and services work with IFTTT by clicking  HERE to read the full article on Future Shop’s Tech Blog!

Home Automation with WeMo! Review

wemo-img-overview-3Home automation used to be the stuff of mansions, tycoons and futuristic films and cartoons.  No more.  Now it’s easy and relatively inexpensive to adopt easy home automation features into your house.

What can you do with home automation ?
From controlling your thermostat, door locks, light bulbs, light switches, sockets or plugs and even a power bar, manipulating the devices in your home for security, convenience or money savings has never been more possible.

Testing out Belkin WeMo
Enter the WeMo system by Belkin, just one of several home automation hubs.  I recently had a chance to review and test several products in the WeMo line, from lights to plugs.wemo kit

Set Up
WeMo was easy to use right out of the box.  I started my testing with the Lighting Starter Kit ($99), which comes with two LED light bulbs and a hub or the “Link”. Getting things going was as simple as downloading the WeMo app (for smartphones or tablets), plugging the Link into a wall outlet, and screwing in the bulbs.  The Link connects to your homes existing wifi, and uses that signal to control your bulbs.  Once the bulbs were installed and turned on, the app found them immediately by doing a scan. Once they’re set up, they’re set up for good, even if you remove them for a time.
The app walks you through the set up, making it foolproof.

One plus of this system for me is the Link hub is tiny compared to other hubs I’ve tested; it fits in the palm of your hand, and easily blends into the wall so you don’t notice it.  It’s important to note that while you need the Link hub for the bulbs, other WeMo devices connect on their own, and need no external hub or Link.  In fact a WeMo staffer pointed out to me, “most of the existing WeMo product line doesn’t need a hub at all: the WeMo Switch, Insight Switch, Light Switch, Netcam, and Crock Pot connect directly to Wi-Fi.”
IMG_1109So why do the bulbs need one?  Simply put, the technology to connect to the wifi takes up space.  Some bulbs I’ve tested, like the LIFX system, are much larger and heavier than the average bulb.  So while those bulbs do not need an external wifi link, they do not fit in every fixture.  The WeMo bulbs do, but the tradeoff is the small Link.

The WeMo bulbs are white light bulbs only.  I’ve written before about the fun of colored LED bulbs that you can change, but for now, the WeMo bulbs are traditional.  Maybe that will change soon; having a colour option is really fun and allows you to really customize your home.

IMG_1107
Don’t use “WeMo Setup” to set up, click on “Add WeMo link Devices”

Setting up the WeMo plugs or outlets was a bit harder.  There are essentially two set up screens within the app, and for the first few attempts I was apparently using the wrong one.  I kept connecting to “WeMo Set Up Instructions”, but I needed to be using “Add WeMo Link Device”, as seen in the screen grab.  It seems like an easy mistake to make, and I figured out the error quickly enough, but I could see this being confusing and frustrating for others too.

Additionally, I found the set up screen getting locked, and having to force-quit the app in order to try again.  Then, somehow, mysteriously, the device would be connected and working.
Now, while this was frustrating for me, a person who likes to understand what’s happening each step of the way, it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. After a few tries, the WeMo system took care of itself and from then on worked just fine.  Since then, I’ve had absolutely no trouble to glitches with the system; it works reliably and flawlessly.
There have been rather frequent firmware updates required; not that it’s a problem.  In fact, I like companies who are constantly trying to keep software up to date.  But it’s good to be aware you may actually need to do the firmware upgrades before the app and devices will work properly.

wemo set up screen

Easy to Use Timers, Away Function, Auto-On
One of the easiest aspects of the WeMo system is how easy it is to set up what WeMo calls Rules.  It allows you to turn your bulbs, plugs or switches on or off at appointed times, which is great if you’re going away, or frequently get up before sunrise or get home before dark.
I’ve made some rules which turn on a light in my living room, softly at 50% brightness at 3am when I get up to go to work.  I also have the same lap set to come on at sundown, and turn off later at night.  Similar rule and timer functionality is also available on the plugs/outlets. More on that below.

IMG_1110
WeMo Switch.

Testing the WeMo Switch
One of the things I like about the WeMo Switch ($49) I tested is that it’s powerful enough for me to plug in a fan or heater. Some wifi-enabled plugs only have enough juice for a lamp, so it’s good to check the packaging or details before you buy and make sure the appliance you want to plug in to the switch (from any company you buy from) is safe to use. During my testing, I plugged a small space heater in, and set a timer rule to turn on about 30 minutes before bed so the room was warm.  I also set it to shut off automatically after an hour.  Another rule setting turns it on about 15 minutes before I wake up, and off again 30 minutes after that.  That’s it; it’s ‘set it and forget it’! I have all these items functioning for me, on the schedule I decide, and the best part is that it’s easy, so very easy to program with the free WeMo app.

The WeMo Insight – It gives you data
I tested another WeMo plug; the Insight ($59).  The WeMo Insight Switch will send notifications to your smartphone or tablet showing how much energy your electronics are using. Of course, you also have the ability to turn your electronics on and off and monitor their behaviour via the app.

WeMo-Insight-Wall-Plug-In
WeMo Insight

One of the limits of home automation systems has been that you need to be at home, on your wifi network to control your devices.  But now many companies, WeMo included, are adding internet connectivity or Remote Access to the mix, allowing you to access your bulbs and switches online, meaning if you forget to turn off a light, or the heater, you can do it from the office, or from the resort in Mexico.

Other WeMo Products
While I didn’t test these below, it’s worth mentioning some other neat peripherals in the WeMo lineup.  The Crock-Pot® Smart Slow Cooker with WeMo™ works with the app to adjust cook settings. WeMo says, “if you’re stuck at work or running late, you don’t have to worry. You can turn it on and off, change the cooking temperature, set timers and watch its status all with the simple, intuitive and free WeMo App for your smartphone or tablet. WeMo works over Wi-Fi and 3G/4G, so you can easily adjust your dinner schedule whenever you like, from wherever you are.”
The Belkin NetCam works with the WeMo collection of products so you can program home automation triggers like turning on your lights when you walk through the door.  WeMo is also adding to its home automation arsenal, announcing partnerships with OSRAM, the parent company of OSRAM SYLVANIA, and Jarden Corporation, maker of
Crock-Pot®, Mr. Coffee® and more, to bring home automation to more  products.

WeMo also makes a wifi-enabled Light Switch.  The company says it ‘allows you to turn lights on and off from anywhere–from across the house, from the backyard, or from the other side of the world. WeMo Light Switch replaces a standard light switch in your home and can be controlled remotely with an Android smartphone or tablet, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. It works with your existing Wi-Fi® network and anywhere your smartphone or tablet has an Internet connection (3G or 4G LTE). Easy for most Do It Yourselfers.”

The Bottom LineIMG_1915
I thoroughly enjoyed the Belkin WeMo experience and I recommend it to others who may be looking to get started on home automation.  The system is easy to use and trouble free once it’s up and running.  Make sure to set up via the “Add WeMo Link Device” screen, and not the “WeMo Set Up Instructions”.  I’ll be watching to see when WeMo adds coloured light bulbs to its arsenal, as I’ve gotten addicted to those of late. And I’m interested to try the other products in the lineup too to see just how useful they are.
It’s worth noting that the prices I posted for these products above are recommended retail, but at the time of posting this (mid-February), there was a good deal on the devices on the Belkin website that may give you extra incentive to pick some up.  In Canada, WeMo is also available from Future Shop.

Smart Home gadgets you NEED now

wemo houseThere’s so much we can do to get our homes running smarter.  There’s any number of products that will do things for you automatically, or examples where once inaccessible technology can now be yours at home. Everything from automating your lights, to remotely locking your doors, checking the weather on demand, or even testing your food for impurities… it’s all possible now inside your own home.

techtalksmart
Tech Talk on CTV News

 

I recently had a chance to run tests in my home of several “smart” gadgets, and we showed them off on CTV Morning Live (watch HERE).  Here’s a bit about each one, and some testing notes.

Wink Hub and Pheripherals

wink hubThe Wink hub is kind of like a nerve centre of home automation.  The hub connects to your home’s wifi, and drives the Wink app on your phone.  The app then allows you to control any number of add-on devices.  I did have some initial trouble getting the hub working, but Wink/Quirky was quick to replace what was likely a defective unit and I was up and running again quickly.  Once the hub and app were in sync, I was quickly able to set up GE Link light bulbs, which allo you to use your phone to turn the lights on and off and to dim them.  I tested the soft while light bulbs, which was great, but it would be even better if the LED bulbs had colour options like LIFX or Philips hue bulbs I’ve reviewed previously.  That said, you can actually run Philips hue bulbs on the wink hub, but you do still need the Philips hub or starter kit, so it’s kind of redundant.ge link bulb

I also tested the Quirky Pivot Power bar along with the Wink hub.  It’s a wifi-enabled power bar that allows you to turn some of the outlets on or off remotely.  The Pivot also curls and pivots (hence the name!) and allows you to plug in large size plugs or transformers with ease.

The Wink system has been easy to use and program, and one of the only downsides is the large size of the hub.  I also know some reviewers have had trouble with getting the system set up initially, as I did, but the Wink/Quirky customer service folks handled things very well.

WeMo Hub and Pheripherals by Belkin

wemo-img-overview-3By comparison to Wink, the WeMo hub is tiny; it fits in my palm.  This was by far the easiest set up I’ve had lately; the hub conected instantly and without trouble.  I set up WeMo light bulbs first and they too connected instantly.  I did have some confusion setting up the add-ons like the WeMo Insight switch, but I figured out after a few minutes that the WeMo app actually has 2 screens that look like the set-up screen.  I was using the wrong one.  Once I figured that out, and got into the right one, the plugs connected easily. Once everything is connected, you can use the WeMo app to set timers for lights, or your heater, fan, you name it.  I wake for work well before the sun is up, so being able to set the lights to slowly come on, or the fan to warm the room before I get out of bed is a treat. The WeMo system is available at Best Buy, Amazon.ca and Future Shop.

ILL_WeMo_Family_v3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lapka personal environment monitor

What’s a Personal environment monitor?  The Lapka kit contains 4 sensors which measure  radiation, electromagnetic fields, humidity and how organic your produce is.lapka It connects to your iPhone and the Lapka app and displays its readings on your phone.  I tested my home for radiation and electromagnetic  fields, and it came up fine.  I also used it to test some fruits in my pantry for the presence of nitrates (from fertilizer).  My biggest beef with the Lapka is that there’s not a lot of information either in the package or online about what you’re testing for, or why.  I felt like I needed an advanced degree to know what I was doing with the PEM.

Roolen Breath Smart Humidifier

I really love this product, both because it looks like the most futuristic humidifier you’ll ever see, and because it was easy to use, and ABSOLUTELY QUIET.  I have a humidifier at home and it’s so noisy we need to keep it on the other side of the house from the bedroom.  The Roolen is silent.  It emits a cool mist that humidifies your home and in “automatic” or smart mode, it will automatically shut off when your home hits optimal humidity. Simple, easy and smart.  A full tank will also last almost 18-24 hours, so it only needs filling once per day. You can get one in Canada on Amazon.ca

roolen breath
Roolen Breath Smart Humidifier

 

Netatmo Weather Station

netatmoThe Netatmo weather station is a neat idea for weather geeks.  One of its brushed aluminum cylinders sits unobtrusively in the home, the other goes outside, and you access their info via an app on your phone.  It measures temperature, of course, but also humidity, and noise levels indoors.  it’s also equipped to send weather alerts to your phone, but I found they didn’t work in Canada.  A neat idea for a gift if someone you know loves weather.  Add-ons include alternate temperature sensors and a rain gauge. You can read my full review of the Netatmo on Future Shop’s Tech Blog or get one on their website.