Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review + new features

sAMSUNG GALAXY nOTE 8 REVIEWThinking about upgrading your Android phone to the new Samsung Galaxy Note 8? Wondering what makes it different from previous Notes, what it’s got for Android fans and what sets it apart from other phones?

What’s new with Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Samsung Note 8 – Bigger size, added S-pen stylus

sAMSUNG GALAXY nOTE 8 REVIEW S-PEN STYLUS
Palm Pilot vintage pen (L), with new S-pen.

Thing #1 is its size. it’s a bit bigger than other Samsung phones. It has a larger 6.3″ display, while the Galaxy S8+ is 6.2″ and Note 7 was 5.7″. Thing #2: is the added stylus, which Samsung calls the S-pen. Using the pen feels nice and natural; it’s a good size and a light weight, and is easy to adapt to. It feels like putting pen to a tablet of paper; smooth and easy, not like putting to metal to glass, which is the experience some styluses give you. Worth noting, the Note 8’s stylus/S-pen is not the same size as the one that is used on the Tab 3. That stylus is significantly larger.

Enjoy Screen Off Memo

You can use the S-pen for a feature called ‘Screen Off Memo’. This allows you to use the pen to hand write notes on the phone screen even though it’s technically not on. It’s a really handy feature that I love. I live my life with Post-It notes so this would save some paper.

Galaxy Note 8 has built-in translation

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review translationThe S-pen also drives translation functions in the Note 8. You use the pen to select languages, then hover over messages you want to translate. An English language version pops up automatically. There’s a huge number of language options and the feature is fast and seems to be quite accurate.

Live Message lets you have fun with texts

The Samsung Galaxy Note 8 has a new ‘Live Message’ feature which allows you to draw, annotate and liven up basic texts using the S-pen.

The Note 8 has the same 3000ma battery as the S8+ and all the same biometric features like fingerprint scanner, facial recognition and iris scanning. But the Note 8 adds wireless charging to its list of features.

Note 8 camera is great – dual cameras mean more features

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review cameraSamsung definitely excels with cameras and smartphone photography. You can launch the camera even faster with a shortcut: double-tap the power button in rapid succession. This will open the camera no matter what you’re doing, even if the phone is locked. But it’s the dual camera which makes more things possible.Two cameras means more depth, with a true 2x optical zoom and up to 10x digital zoom plus some other goodies.

Live Focus gives you control over photos

Tap the Live Focus button at the bottom of the viewfinder window and use the slider bar to adjust the background blur level. You’ll need something in the foreground about 4 feet away or the effect won’t work.

You can use Live Focus when you snap a photo, or go back and adjust the focus and blur (or bokeh) effect after. Just head to your Gallery, load the photo and look for the ones labelled with both “Normal picture” and “Adjust Background blur.”

There’s also something called dual capture. Dual capture lets you capture both the landscape and a person equally well. It’s worth noting that Dual Capture will take up about three times as much memory as standard photos, so you might want to invest in a microSD card before you fill up your phone’s internal storage.Samsung Galaxy Note 8 review

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 Review – overall thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed using the Samsung Galaxy Note 8. It’s sleek, with a beautiful screen. I love the new photography features, and the S-pen is a nice addition with cool new tools that make it worthwhile.  That’s your quick preview of the new Samsung Note 8 and some of the features that set it apart from previous notes, and the S8 series.

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 is available from most smartphone providers. You’ll pay anywhere from $549-$1350, depending on your carrier and monthly plan.

 

Thinkware X350 dash camera review

There are plenty of choices when it comes to dash cameras. Big cameras, small ones, front facing and rear. We’ve got an article on the blog about all the dash camera options and how to choose (read that here) but today we’re reviewing the Thinkware X350. Continue reading “Thinkware X350 dash camera review”

Review – Living with my new Samsung Galaxy S8+

I’ve been toying with making a switch from Apple to Android for a while now. I’ve long been curious if the grass really is greener on the other side.

With a new Samsung Galaxy S8+ in hand I finally made the leap about five weeks ago. I wanted to spend an extended period of time living in this new world before writing my review. So after much use, some travel with the new phone and plenty of new apps, photo-taking and more, here it is. Continue reading “Review – Living with my new Samsung Galaxy S8+”

D-Link Omna home security camera review

Home security is more important than ever, but so is general home surveillance. Need to know if the kids got home on time? If the gardener got the lawn cut or not, or if strangers have been creeping round the house?  Continue reading “D-Link Omna home security camera review”

Ring Stick Up Camera Review

If you’ve ever wanted to watch over your property, you know security systems can be complicated and expensive. But things are simplified with the arrival of the Ring Stick Up Camera. Continue reading “Ring Stick Up Camera Review”

Photo gear from Joby lets you go handsfree

With so many of us relying solely on our smartphones for the bulk of our photography, it’s too bad we don’t put much effort into making the shots truly great. While lighting, luck and skill are definitely part of getting a good photo, you can improve your snaps with a few key accessories. Joby is a large company that makes photo accessories and gear for DSLR cameras, and action video cameras like GoPro, but it’s also got some gadgets that can help you with the photos you take on your phone. Continue reading “Photo gear from Joby lets you go handsfree”

Polaroid SnapTouch camera & printer review

Since the world has become a fully digital place, no one prints photos any more. An array of small photo-specific printers on the market aims to change that habit by making printing easy and adding some fun elements to the experience.
The Polaroid SnapTouch camera and photo printer is one of those gadgets. (I’ve also reviewed the older generation Polaroid SocialMatic camera. Read that review here)

Small and compact, the SnapTouch looks cool and sleek right out of the box. It uses Polaroid’s Zink paper to spit out small 3”x2” prints. The backings are adhesive, so these tiny prints can also double as stickers.

Polaroid SnapTouch Camera + Video Specs

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
The SnapTouch has a very small internal memory.

The camera is a 13 megapixel camera. By comparison, the iPhone 6 has just 8 megapixels, so the photos should be pretty good. The SnapTouch also takes 1080p video and can store images and videos on a 128 GB Micro SD card (not included).

Unfortunately, neither the package, nor the Polaroid website tell you how much storage is on the camera without a micro SD card, so I snapped photos until it told me the internal hard drive was full – that’s a grand total of 15 photos. (And by the way, there’s no bulk delete feature I could find; each photo must be manually deleted, which was tedious)

Without that micro SD card you can record less that 30 seconds of video. The lens will also constantly refocus the image so it looks like it’s wavering as the autofocus constantly adjusts. I think it’s a terrible idea to have so little internal storage, but I guess that’s common with cameras, that you need to purchase additional memory. It would be nice if that’s spelled out on the package.

Set Up – Polaroid SnapTouch

Setting up the camera is reasonably simple. You’ll need Polaroid’s SnapTouch app to access some features but for the most part you can take photos and print them instantly right from the camera. You snap the picture, then hit the print button right on the back of the screen.

Things get a bit more complicated when you want to use the camera as a printer and send photos from your smartphone, but we’ll get to that…

Delayed image capture

It’s worth noting the photography is not fast here. There is a delay of about a second or two from the time you press the shutter button until the image is captured. While this will be frustrating but adaptable for adults, kids are bound to keep hitting the shutter button or moving the camera, not realizing image capture is already in progress.

The camera was going to sleep relatively quickly during my testing, but it can be woken up almost immediately by touching the shutter button lightly. I discovered soon after there is a setting in the menu that allows you to extend that screen timeout option up to 2 minutes.

Printing Options, Effects and Filters

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyyc
You can add filters, but they’re a bit much

You can choose a variety of different colour borders that look like a vintage Polaroid camera frame when you want to print. While that original ‘Polaroid’ style photo paper no longer belongs to Polaroid (read why here) you can still print a faux Polaroid border with special effects.

If you don’t opt for that, these prints come out edge-to-edge.

There are also a variety of different effects and filters like Instagram, though they’re quite limited as far as choice goes, and honestly, they’re quite garish and extreme.

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyycA touch screen on the back of the camera let you access photos, delete, edit them, share them, or print. There are also digital ‘stickers’ or emojis you can add to the photos. By touching the emoji or icon, you can drag it around the screen and place it on the photo wherever you want. That function worked easily enough, though the emojis are limited to a flower, a heart, lips, sunglasses and a smiley face, as you can see at right. You’re not exactly going to become Rembrandt here.

Print speed of the Polaroid SnapTouch camera

While it takes a second or two from the time you hit the print button for the process to begin, the printing of the image takes an awfully long time; almost 30 seconds. With that said, if you compare this Polaroid printer to a device like the Fujifilm Instax Share printer, the overall wait times might be quite similar.

The Polaroid printer takes about 30 seconds to spit out the print, but when it’s done, the print is fully ready and rendered in color. With the Instax Share, it may print the photo much faster, but you’ll still need to wait a minute or so for the image to develop on the paper.

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
A selection of printed photos from the SnapTouch camera

Printing from your smartphone to the camera

The SnapTouch camera gives you the option of sending photos from your smartphone or other device to the camera for instant printing.

Set up for this option is slightly different. You’ll need to connect the phone and the camera, and doing this is not intuitive, nor does the camera or app walk you through it.

There is nothing within the app which will tell you why your printer is not talking to your phone. Fortunately for me, I’ve dealt with enough of these devices that I know you need to go to your phone’s Settings menu, find the Bluetooth settings screen, then look for the Polaroid SnapTouch to appear in the Bluetooth list.

Click to connect it, and you should hear the device emit a tone that lets you know it is finally connected. Return to the app and you should see confirmation of that fact. From there you can select the photo you’d like to print.

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
Photo printed from iPhone 6 to the SnapTouch printer. The print is much darker than the original.

Constant reconnection to Bluetooth

It’s worth taking note that each time the camera powers off, it loses the connection to Bluetooth, and each time you need to reconnect via your smartphone’s settings menu.  That was annoying, but not an uncommon problem in other similar printers I’ve been testing, like the Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer. (Read that review to see which of these photo printers comes out on top.)

When picking a photo from the camera roll, I noticed the Polaroid app frequently zooms in the photos by quite a bit. The app asks you to pinch to adjust the zoom, but it won’t actually let you do it.  Weird.

Finicky Printing

Every time I tried to print from my phone, the SnapTouch did that weird zoom thing. Finally, I found that by adjusting the orientation of the film on the camera screen I could disable the zoom effect. By the time I’d reverted the photo from upside down back to right side up, it had snapped back to normal size without the zoom. Also weird.

Sometimes I would connect to the SnapTouch in order to print, select the photo I wanted, and then click print, but nothing would happen. I would get an error message in the app telling me the printer was busy, but nothing would print out, and nothing else would happen. No error messages, no warnings, no indication if the SnapTouch was out of paper… nothing.

Turning the camera off and then turning it back on again seemed to deal with the worst of this trouble, but of course then you need to re-connect to Bluetooth.

SnapTouch Print Speed from smartphone

It takes the Polaroid SnapTouch about 6 seconds, and even up to 10 seconds on some attempts from the time you hit the print button in the app, until your photo begins printing from a smartphone (in my tests and iPhone 6 plus). Once you get used to this it’s OK I guess, but the first few times, you’ll have no idea the photo was actually about to print so you think you should start over, or keep hitting print. Sometimes it omes out eventually, other times, nothing happened, and maybe I confused its little circuits.

I found many things on this camera were slow; from the image capture, to printing being initiated. It made the camera feel quite old, clunky, and outdated.

No fun effects when connected to your smartphone

One final note on printing from your smartphone; filters and borders will not work on photos that are printed from your smart phone. (If they do, I couldn’t figure it out, and there seemed to be no easy explanation found on the Polaroid website.) In order for this effect to work, you must snap the photo using the camera.

Polaroid SnapTouch photo quality

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyyc
A look at the same digital photo as seen on iPhone 6, the SnapTouch camera screen, and the SnapTouch print.

I was really, really unhappy with the photo quality of the Polaroid prints. The colours were not accurate, the prints more often than not looked washed out, and on many of the photos I printed, I was left with odd lines across the print. For a 13 mp camera, what was coming out the back didn’t seem right. Comparing it to my 8mp iPhone camera and viewing those on my iPhone screen, the Polaroid SnapTouch looks and feels like a toy by comparison.

Overall impressions of the SnapTouch camera

I would absolutely not buy this camera for myself.  I didn’t like the photo quality because the Zink paper seemed washed out and it didn’t provide true colour in my opinion. For the price (+$200) I think you could do much better.  Polaroid snap touch printer camera erinlyyc

Set up and operation is not intuitive on this device when pairing it with a smartphone. Yes, you can figure it out but it wasn’t easy. Plus the fact that none of the much touted special effects or filters can be added to the photos when printed from a smart phone is a big oversight. Those are only available on photos taken using this SnapTouch camera.

The camera overall feels like a toy, and maybe that’s all it needs to be, but I think this device would be frustrating for kids and tweens too because of the slowness of its operations. Plus, I think it should be spelled out on the package that you need a Micro SD card, and that one is not included.

While I loved the idea of this gadget, it just doesn’t have the quality and versatility I look for in a device. I don’t feel it performed well as either a camera or a photo printer. And the bottom line for me is that many of the photos I printed, from both the iPhone and the camera are such low quality, in some cases, they’re not worth having. You can also get

The Polaroid Snaptouch Camera and Printer sells at Best Buy for $239CAD.

You can also get more info from Polaroid’s website.

Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016

I’ve tested a lot of gadgets and gear this year. Picking favourites is hard, because unlike previous years, many of the items that have come into the tech test kitchen in 2016 are really high quality, and work well, so picking the cream of the crop is a challenge. Nevertheless, here are the Top 10 tech gadgets I highly recommend having in your life. Continue reading “Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016”

Artists to use old farm equipment to create giant walk-in camera

graineryFour artists are banding together to create works of art inside a giant empty grain bin.  The project will create a massive ‘camera obscura’ inside the old corrugated metal structure.

The plan is unfolding at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage northeast of Nanton, Alberta. Camera obscura is Latin for ‘dark room,’  and as the group undertaking the project explains it, “the basic idea is to have light enter through a pinhole into a dark space; thereby creating a projected image,” says Dr. Josephine Mills, Director/Curator at the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery. “This is the forerunner of the camera and the source of the name of this technology.”

Pinhole camera technology is one of the earliest forms of photography, and using the grain bin just takes something that can be make out of a cereal boxSketches or cardboard tube, and expands it to a huge scale, with what could be very interesting results.

“I’ve always wanted to exhibit the fabulous contraptions built by Kamloops artist Donald Lawrence to take pinhole photographs and make projected images,” explains Mills, “When I heard about Donald’s major SSHRC Research Creation Grant and the team of artists he had put together for the project, I knew that bringing these artists to work at the Coutts Centre for Western Canadian Heritage was a perfect match,”

So what will the finished photographs look like?

Calgary artist Dianne Bos is setting up her “See the Stars” prospector’s tent where she’ll make cyanotype prints.  “Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print, says Mills.  “It was used by engineers well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost way to produce copies of drawings called blueprints.”

A simple pinhole camera
A simple pinhole camera

Holly Ward, from Vancouver, is using cyanotype photography to explore the Coutts’ herbarium collection and will provide demonstrations throughout the day.  Sarah Fuller, based in Ottawa, will install video projects related to the Coutts home and gardens and conduct an Anthotype workshop using local spinach.

The Prairie Sun Project, as it’s being called happens on August 21, 2016 is the first project involving major Canadian artists creating work at the Coutts Centre.

Vimtag P1 Smart HD camera review

img_4605Home security cameras are becoming more popular, both because they’re coming down drastically in price, and because the quality of video is improving dramatically, not to mention the user interfaces are much easier to operate.

Families are using in-home cameras for watching kids and teens, for keeping an eye on the house while out of town, or for policing workers and tradespeople.

I’ve tested several cameras, and I can tell you I’ve seen it all when it comes to ease of use; some cameras I’ve needed an engineering degree to operate and set up, while others have been pretty simple.

The Vimtag P1 Smart Cloud home security camera definitely falls into the easy category. It’s super simple to set up, easy to use, and the video picture is crisp, clear HD, and there’s even a two-way audio talkback function.

Vimtag P1 Smart Cloud home security camera features

-Hi-def video recording with 4x Digital Zoom
-Crisp hi-fidelity sound with 360 degree audio pickup and two-way voice functionality
-Multi-user mobile functionality
-Fully controllable pan and tilt functionality for near complete inhouse coverage
-Advanced Night-Vision Technology
-Wireless data storage via Vimtag Cloud Storage box (sold separately)
-Motion triggered push notifications (with wireless sensors, sold separately)

Setting up the Vimtag P1img_4986

Vimtag touts the camera’s “foolproof plug and play setup for installation in under three minutes,” according to the company website, and I found this was bang-on. The camera is literally plug-and-play simple; the part that will take the longest is downloading the app and setting up an account.

The app is easy to use and navigate through, and you can easily move the camera by touching the screen in the app. You get 360 degrees of movement from side to side and the pan and tilt functions are similarly broad, so you can see just about anywhere in the room where the camera has been placed.

Great HD video

The HD video from this camera is outstanding; there’s not a hint of graininess or blur, so you know you’ll have a crystal clear view of whatever you need to see. And if you need images or video to provide to police in case of a break in of theft, rest assured you’ll be able to share sharp, detailled images. The cameras is so good, I was playing with it, and took a great selfie! Not your everyday use, but it’s one way to show you the great video quality.

d38d26b2-a51a-4fcd-8abf-b347d2dabe0cCloud & Recording not built in

The camera doesn’t record footage and store it to the cloud unless you purchase an extra storage device.That S1 Cloud box is an additional $150, so unless you want to add this feature, you’re left with only live view capabilities.

You can take short videos and snap still photos from the camera app interface, but unless you happen to catch something live, your surveillance capability is limited.

 

The camera is $129 from Vimtag or on Amazon.