They can make our lives easier and more fun. That’s why I love finding cool new apps. Check out these five picks that I’ve downloaded to my phone this month.
Cool apps to check out
Cool apps – Steller Stories
This really cool storybook/storytelling app lets you create multi-page visual stories using photos or video. With customizable layouts, different page formats and the ability to add text, you can easily create beautiful online ‘books’ inside the app.
Surf the Steller feed to take in other peoples posts on everything from fashion, to photography, travel, food and more. Once you find a story you like, click into it to swipe through the virtual pages and read short captions.
Warning, it’s a beautiful rabbit hole and heading down it means you’ll no doubt get sucked in and want to stay awhile. It’s like Instagram only with more depth, more curation and lovelier presentation.
Apple mail users rejoice! Get more tools and smarter functions with Spark. Spark lets you group email together in your inbox; unread mail, newsletters (if you want) plus you can search better, and remind yourself about an email that needs a response. Tired of having that email stare you in the face in your inbox? If you can’t finish a task you can swipe your email to snooze for tomorrow or another day, and even adjust Snooze times to your liking, such as “This Weekend” and “Next Month” if you wish.
Use one email account or load them all. Spark works with Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo, iCloud, Outlook or any other IMAP email server without worrying. The nice tidy interface keep things easy to look at and well organized. There’s also a Mac desktop version too.
A reader recommended this neat animated weather app to me. The pretty graphics change constantly depending on the weather in your area. You’ll get the day forecast, plus medium and longer term outlooks in a more interesting format.
You can swipe across the graphics to see the weather changes over time.
Sometimes sitting next to people on planes or public transit is enough to drive you nuts. The loud talking, kids fussing, or just noisy chewing… that’s when I break out a pair of headphones and the relax Sounds App. Loaded with soothing presets for sounds like Traffic, Tibetan Bowl, Wind Chimes, White Noise, Birds, Rain and Ocean there’s something that will please everyone. The nice photographs that accompany each sound effect make using the app a pleasing experience too. There’s even some novelty sound effects like Darth Vader and Tribal Drums if pounding beats or heavy breathing are what you need to thrum you into a zen state.
One other aspect that works for me; I can leave the app and the sounds continue playing, unlike other relax apps where you lose audio if you switch apps.
Look for the download in the app store or on Google Play. or get more info here.
Cool apps – Blur Background + Blur Photo
These handy apps are two of the easiest blur tools I’ve found. Easily hide license plates, street numbers or personal information from photos and documents with a touch. Save and share photos instantly and for free afterwards. A must have for those who want to keep on top of internet privacy.
Get Blur Photo here on the app store, or Blur Background here.
Have you got an app you can’t live without? What app are you loving? Let me know in comments below.
One of the biggest complaints about making our homes smarter is Wi-Fi. After all, if you’re streaming TV, running lights, connected appliances, tablets, smartphones, computers and a host of other accessories, your Wi-Fi is bound to get bogged down. Not to mention getting decent coverage across the whole house can be a challenge. Making Wi-Fi better has often involved getting a new router, buying signal boosters, or chasing a signal by moving around the house. Now a new technology called mesh Wi-Fi has come onto the market to help improve speed and coverage. The new Google Wi-Fi, launching today in Canada, utilizes mesh Wi-Fi to improve your coverage at home.
Google Wi-Fi launches today in Canada, but I got my hands on an advance test kit for a review.
What is Google WiFi?
Google Wi-Fi is a ‘mesh’ Wi-Fi system. It connects to your home’s modem or modem-router unit (also called a ‘gateway’) and spreads your Wi-Fi signal across the home (or business). Mesh Wi-Fi creates multiple connection points so you don’t get dead spots.
Google writes, “a mesh network is a group of routers that communicate wirelessly to each other to create a single Wi-Fi network that provides a blanket of connectivity. This allows you to have multiple sources of powerful Wi-Fi throughout your home, instead of just a single router.”
How does Google Wi-Fi work?
Google Wi-Fi is not just a signal booster; it’s a whole new Wi-Fi system that takes the signal from your home’s modem, and spreads it all over the house. It creates multiple connection points in the house so under-serviced areas like the basement, top floor or distant rooms can get as strong a Wi-Fi signal as you can being near the router/modem.
Google Wi-Fi plugs directly into your modem. (The modem is of course the device that brings the internet signal into the home; it’s often hard-wired in to a cable in the wall.)
Usually your modem is connected to a router, and the router is what allows your internet to become wireless. The trouble with a single router is that it can only cover so much and extend so far; traditionally user complaints have been that some rooms are dead zones, or that top floors and basements can’t get a strong enough signal.
Google Wi-Fi addresses that by creating a series of connection points all over the house, wherever you need them. You can have as many Google Wi-Fi points in the home as you need (up to 32 Google tells me!) and adding Google Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a router.
“The system is flexible and scalable, so if you have a larger home, connect as many points as needed to get better Wi-Fi in every room (a 3-pack covers up to 4,500 sq. ft), says Google on its website, “Wifi points connect wirelessly, so you don’t need to run Ethernet cables throughout your house.”
So what does it do?
Since Wi-Fi is broadcast from each Google Wi-Fi point (and not just that lonely router in the basement laundry room), and each point connects seamlessly to each other, Google Wifi provides more coverage over a wider space.
What do you need to use Google Wi-Fi?
For starters, you’ll need internet service from a provider. (For many of us, you’ll get your modem that will bring internet into the home from the outside, and your bill is paid to companies like Rogers, Shaw, Bell or Telus.) Google says its Wi-Fi is compatible with all service providers and virtually all modems. You’ll also need a smartphone, or tablet (Android or iOS) and the free Google Wi-Fi app.
Setting up Google Wi-Fi
I was not looking forward to setting up the Wi-Fi. My experience getting things like routers set up in the past has been that it’s tedious, difficult, and often requires tech support.
I opened the box and right away marvelled at the small card with set up instructions; just plug one of the Wi-Fi points into your modem with the ethernet cable, then download the Google Wi-Fi app.
The app will ask you to identify which of the pods is tethered to the modem. (There are numbers on the back of each of the pods and that’s how you will identify them.) Once you tell it which one is plugged in you’ll scan a QR code on the back of the device (Google says this is for security and encryption to make sure the devices are yours and with you).
The next step is to name your network and assign it a password. To keep everything straight, give it a new name and password. There’s also a school of thought that says you should name the network the same as you previous network and give it the same password so that you can fool your smart home devices, for example, into not knowing you’ve switched networks on them. In theory this would save you from having to charge all those smart devices to a new network (which in some cases means resetting them and starting from scratch.) Does this work? I’ve only had the system a few days, so I’m not sure yet. I’ll try it and update this blog shortly — if you’re dying to know, post a comment here or message me on Twitter @ErinLYYC.
Ok, back to set up… after connecting the first Wi-Fi point or pod, you will then connect the other two Wi-Fi pods using the same process: identify them by their number on the back then name them according to where you’ll be placing them.
After that, launch the app and do a connection test. While you’re at it you can check things like the speed and test how fast the connection to your phone, tablet or computer is.
It’s easy… so easy
I can’t say enough how simple this set-up process was. The app made it absolutely foolproof, and the whole set-up went smoothly with absolutely no snags. I test a lot of gadgets and seamless easy set-up is one of the features I give high marks to. In this case, I have no doubt even a child could get this hooked up in minutes. There’s no IP addresses to worry about, no calls to the internet service provider and no confusing instructions. I had the whole network up and running in under 10 minutes; it took longer to go up and down stairs and plug them in than it did to set up.
How fast is Google Wi-Fi?
I tested our home’s Wi-Fi with the existing dual band modem-router unit. On the 2.4 ghz band we were getting 27 mbps. On the 5g network we get 60 mbps. After we installed the Google Wi-Fi units, the speed went up to 68 mbps overall. That’s fast enough to stream data-heavy 4K video without buffering.
Where to place your Google Wi-Fi pods
Only you will know where best to place your pods. They should probably go to high traffic areas where people are often using their devices, or to known dead spots in the home. If you live in a multi story house and have typically have trouble getting a signal on a floor far from the router, that’s a good place to start. Similarly if you have a room that has notoriously poor coverage, place one of the pods there. While the starter kit I received came with three Google Wi-Fi pods you can add as many as you like, up to a total of 32.
What can Google Wi-Fi do for me?
Smooth connectivity, at all times, no matter where you are
Google Wi-Fi has something built in called Network Assist. This invisible genius is always working to put your device on the closest Wi-Fi point and fastest connection, so you can move around at will and not drop the signal.
The assistant also is constantly working in the background to keep you on the least connected channel. What does that mean? Wi-Fi travels in our neighbourhoods on shared channels, which can get crowded (for proof, just open your phone or device’s Wi-Fi settings and look at all your neighbours’ networks that are out there). All those networks are sharing ‘channels’ or bands. Network Assist works to ensure your Wi-Fi points are using the clearest channels to connect to one another, and to your devices. Whether you’re using the 2.4GHz band or the 5 GHz, Google Wifi automatically connects your device to the band that will be fastest based on your location.
The Priority Device setting allows you to prioritize Wi-Fi traffic to a specific phone, tablet, computer or device. This works great in a house with several family members where everyone is often online at once. By prioritizing mom or dad’s phone or laptop, the kids can keep using the Wi-Fi, but the majority of data will go to the person that really needs it. That way everyone’s devices aren’t slowing down or stalling.
Family Wi-Fi – schedule pauses for dinner, homework, sleep
Family Wi-Fi setting allows administrators of the account, most likely parents, to control exactly who gets Wi-Fi time and when. Using this setting, you can schedule pauses in Internet use during homework time, dinner hours, or at bedtime. There’s no fighting over devices, or negotiating “just 10 more minutes”. You schedule the Wi-Fi to shut down, and it shuts down.
This setting also allows you to select specific devices and alter the times of use for those devices; your younger child’s tablet can shut down at seven, while the older children can keep on surfing until nine.
All of the settings and features are very easily controlled and adjusted in the Google Wi-Fi app.
Multiple account managers
Another cool feature of Google Wi-Fi is the ability to have multiple managers of your network. While the original account needs to be set up by one person with a Gmail account, it’s easy to add another person as an administrator simply by typing their Gmail address into the app.
Out of home connection
You can access your Wi-Fi settings, make changes, and otherwise adjust configurations even if you are not inside the home. The Google Wi-Fi app works no matter where you are.As you’re connected to the internet, you can manage things at home, and see who’s online.
Help out without hopping in the car
Having an out of home connection also means that if you’re the one in the family who manages mom and dad’s internet network, granny’s connection, or you’re always on call to help the neighbour or your sister, you can manage and access all your settings and even troubleshoot those networks, all from your phone if you get those folks a Google Wi-Fi kit.
Another way to keep your home secure, is to enable the guest Wi-Fi feature. This allows you to create a separate network for guests, with its own password. This means that when kids have friends come over, or if you’re throwing a party, you can grant people Wi-Fi access without revealing the password to your private home network.
Is Google spying on me? – Security & Privacy
Been much written about Google and how much data the company has on each of us. Not surprisingly it raises the question for many potential customers about whether giving Google full access to your Wi-Fi, not just the Google search site, is opening the door for even more info to end up in the hands of a large corporation.
Google says it’s not getting any additional info from you by running your Wi-Fi.
“The information your Wifi points and the Google Wifi app collect helps us deliver the best Wi-Fi experience possible. Importantly, the Google Wifi app and your Wifi points do not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network. However, your Wifi points does collect data such as Wi-Fi channel, signal strength, and device types that are relevant to optimize your Wi-Fi performance.”
Overall I had a great experience with Google Wi-Fi. It improved my connection speeds, it was very easy to set up and manage and changing settings or adjusting the network for kids or guests was ultra easy. I’m still working with the kit and still learning more about it. If I find out more facts that should be shared, I’ll update the blog. Please post questions if you have them.
Google Wi-Fi sells for $439 for a 3-pack and additional pods are $179.
Mattress technology has come a long way. Now you don’t need to go to a store; you can have a mattress delivered to your door in a small box. I thought the idea of a mattress in a box was a bit weird. Mainly because buying something you’ll sleep on for a long time without testing it seems risky. But the more I read about the Leesa mattress, the more I was intrigued. Continue reading “Leesa mattress in a box review”→
If I said one device could replace nearly every kitchen appliance you own, you’d probably think I was starting a late-night infomercial. But an appliance I’ve discovered may actually be able to deliver on that promise. It’s called a Thermomix, and though it’s very popular in Australia and Europe, it’s virtually unknown in Canada and the US. Continue reading “Thermomix kitchen robot can replace all your small appliances”→
I love docks for my phone. They keep the device within easy reach, allow you to see the screen, and get it all charged up at the same time. The worst problem with a docking station is that you need two hands to remove it so you don’t end up dropping something on the floor. Recently I had a chance to test out a brand-new dock that’s a bit different. Henge Docks Gravitas dock is ultra heavy weight for single-hand operation, and it can not only hold and charge my iPhone but my iPad too.
One dock for iPhone and iPad – the Gravitas
The Henge Docks Gravitas is about the size of a fist, and it really packs a punch. It weighs 2.5 lbs so it’s not going to tip over of slide off anything. That’s because it’s made of a sturdy zinc alloy that’s is 265% denser than aluminum. That allows it to be very small, but hold a lot of weight, and even use it one-handed.I was skeptical that this would work, but after testing I found it’s quite easy to use one-handed, thanks to its solid weighty base.
The sleek brushed metal finish also makes it chic and minimalist for my home.
Henge Gravitas dock – Grab & Go with one-hand
The Gravitas dock is built for Apple devices only (sorry Android friends!) and can accommodate a variety of iPhone sizes with a set of included liners. For me, I loved the fact I could swap my iPhone 6+ and my iPad (both still in their respective cases) in and out of the device without fuss. This dock is super versatile.
The Gravitas uses a USB port for connecting it to AC power and has an integrated Apple charging cable built right into the dock. There’s also an audio line out if you want to connect your set up to some speakers. Smart!
If you’re an Apple user and need something to display and charge your devices, the Gravitas from Henge Docks is a great pick. Get it here for $69USD/$89CAD.
There’s hardly a home or office that doesn’t have at least one wireless Bluetooth speaker these days. (Or is that just me? Do non-tech bloggers have 4 portable wireless speakers?) Portable wireless audio has become the standard for listening to music in the home. There are larger more sophisticated versions like Sonos or Bose, but there are also many choices when it comes to smaller more portable speakers. Fugoo Style is one of those speakers. But how well does it perform and is it worth the price?
Features of Fugoo Style wireless speaker
Fugoo makes a variety of Bluetooth speakers in varying sizes, different levels of portability and several styles. The Style speaker is one of the chicest, but its good looks conceal a tough and durable interior. Fugoo says the speaker has a “fiber-reinforced resin shell and waterproof cloth covering that gives this speaker the protection it needs to last long past cocktail hour.”
The speaker is about the size of a small clutch purse or a portable coffee mug, and though it’s lightweight, it doesn’t feel cheap; it feels like it has some durability and heft behind it. it has a built in speakerphone and connects with Siri or Google Now.
It also has a changeable jacket, which is removed by pushing a release tab on the base. Without its skin, it looks very industrial, and still cool. Keeping the jacket on provides some measure of water or spill protection, so it’s probably best kept on.
Setting up Fugoo Style is easy
Setting up the Fugoo speaker couldn’t have been simpler; the first time you’ll turn it on, head to your device’s Bluetooth menu, and click on the speaker, which should have appeared in the Bluetooth devices list. If not, you can touch the Bluetooth button next to the speaker’s power button and it should pop right up accompanied by a helpful and suave sounding male digital assistant’s voice. I was connected and playing music in about 10 seconds. I love devices where set up is simple and flawless, so Fugoo gets high marks for this.
Fugoo Style Sound quality & volume
It can be hard to find good quality sound in a small Bluetooth speaker. Fortunately the Fugoo Style sounded great from the get-go. The device, thought it looks like a single speaker, actually hides 4 speakers inside its housing; two in each face and two others in the ends.
Fugoo says, “the FUGOO Portable Bluetooth Speaker has six symmetrically-placed drivers. The two tweeters deliver clean highs, two mid/sub drivers give midrange punch, and two passive radiators help bring out a full, deep bass. Together, these six drivers deliver a clean sound pressure level, filling large rooms and outdoor areas with rich, immersive sound.”
I definitely found the speaker powerful and room filling, and I tested it with several styles and genres of music.
My test Playlist with the Fugoo Style
► The Roots (Don’t Say Nuthin’)
► Pharell (Beautiful)
► Dave Matthews Band (American Baby)
► City and Colour (Comin’ Home)
► Robbie Williams (I will talk and Hollywood will listen)
► Tragically Hip (Poets)
► Kiev (Be Gone Dull Cage)
The bass was solid, and the high end didn’t sound tinny or buzzy. I was able to crank it to 2/3 volume without any noticeable distortion. At about 3/4 volume I did notice a raspiness creeping in to the vocals, but overall the sound was pretty good. The sound quality overall has quite a bit of depth and the music sounded true.
The bass on Don’t say Nuthin and Poets was true and thumping, the vocals on Beautiful and Be Gone Dull Cage sounded soft and smooth, while the picking and the snare on American Baby were resonant and real. The acoustic guitar on Comin’ Home was hauntingly real. Subtle flute and clarinet, and the big symphonic drums on my Robbie Williams selection was delicately replicated, while Robbie’s voice cut through with vibrancy. I was quite impressed with the amazing sound quality I got out of this little speaker.
Fugoo adds, “the upward tilt of the speakers puts everyone in the sweet spot. So simply place your speaker in the center of a room and fill any space with sharp highs, bassy lows, and all-around premium audio.” I can’t disagree.
Does Fugoo Style have good battery life?
Many portable wireless Bluetooth speakers have a battery life in the 10-20 hour range. Fugoo Style boasts an astounding 40 hours of battery life. That’s well above many other similar speakers, so this gadget is a great choice if you’re heading to a campground or on a road trip for a weekend. I tested the speaker for about two weeks and never charged it once.
Bluetooth connectivity is outstanding on Fugoo Style
The speaker uses Bluetooth 4.0 for wireless connectivity which Fugoo says will give you solid connectivity up to 33 feet. In my tests I carried my iPhone 6 Plus all over the 1000 square foot main floor and didn’t experience any breakup of the Bluetooth signal. Heading downstairs (where I have seen digital signal breakup on other speakers) the Fugoo Style didn’t miss a beat. Again, I was impressed.
Overall review of Fugoo Style portable wi-fi speaker
This is an absolutely fantastic Bluetooth speaker. I have to say I wasn’t expecting very much from something this small and with such an eye to style, so I was happily blown away by the outstanding audio quality and durability. The dead-easy set up also gets top marks from me.
The 40 hour battery life is also a huge plus for me. I’ve been using it in my bathroom when I’m getting ready for work in the morning. I used to just use the small crappy speaker on my iPhone, but the easy connectivity, great sound, and compact size means it can sit in the bathroom for weeks on end and provide me with high-quality audio before it ever needs to be recharged.
I think the waterproof cover is also a great thing to have since you just never know what can happen at a party or gathering; a little insurance is nice.
In short, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this speaker to anyone who’s looking for a portable Bluetooth audio solution.
The Fugoo Style costs $139USD or about $185CAD. Get more info here.
Our food and our phones have become indelibly connected. It started with snapping photos of amazing meals, then devolved to Instagramming every meal no matter how mediocre. Now our phones can order food, search recipes and even show us video tutorials for the perfect risotto.
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”→
Portable wireless speakers have become the standard for many homes. After all, if you’re not ready to invest in a premium home theatre system, chances are a wireless system or speaker will fill the void until you are. That’s why companies from basic to elite are offering portable options. But more than just a compact size, you want a small speaker that will sound good, be able to fill a room, and give you true-to-life audio. Bang & Olufsen (or B&O for short) have entered this market with some portable wireless speakers that not only aim to look cool but sound great too. I recently received a test sample of the B&O Beoplay A2 speaker for testing and review in my home. Continue reading “Bang & Olufsen B&O Beoplay A2 review”→