CTV Tech Talk: Back to school gear for college students: Apple, Beats, HP, Targus

Heading back to college or university means sourcing out some gear that can provide all the computing power you need, while being easy to use too.  This time on CTV Tech Talk, we looked at a laptop, tablet, and some other tech that can help make school assignments and studying easier. Continue reading “CTV Tech Talk: Back to school gear for college students: Apple, Beats, HP, Targus”

Write on paper, see it on your phone or TV instantly; Moleskine Smart Writing set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycIf there’s one gadget that’s blown my mind this year, it’s this; Moleskine’s Smart Writing set is a paper notebook and special pen, that allows you to enjoy the tangible feel of writing with the power of technology.

What is the Moleskine Smart Writing set?

The set consists of a thick notebook in traditional Moleskine style; a bound and wrapped cover with an elastic to keep it closed, plus a special pen (called Pen+) that has the ability to connect to your smartphone, and automatically and seamlessly transfer whatever you draw or write in the notebook, direct to digital format, using the free Moleskine app.

The pen has black ink (but with refillable easy-to-replace 4C replacement cartridge you can switch it to whatever you prefer). The pen, which is larger than a standard pen, but not too unwieldy or heavy, has built-in technology.  You push a button on the end of the pen, and connect it to Moleskine’s M+ Notes app.  Then, it tracks where you write on the page, and transfers it in real time to the app, in your own handwriting, or converted to text. The uses for this really cool technology are almost endless.

When you flip a page in the notebook, the app knows it, and starts a new page in the app too, so your notes are always organized.

But you can go one step further, and digitally organize the pages in a different order if that makes more sense for you. The app also keeps several notebooks organized, so if you have more than one, they’re all digitally archived for sharing, or in case you lose it.

Moleskine Smart Writing set – How it worksMoleskine smart writing set 1.jpg

Using the special Moleskine Pen+, you write in the notebook, which has tiny dots on the page. The Pen+ has “a hidden camera that traces and digitizes everything you write,” Moleskine explains on its website.

“The Paper Tablet uses invisible NCode™ technology by NeoLAB Convergence embedded within each page that allows the Moleskine Pen+ to recognize where it is inside the notebook and to transfer all your freehand notes from page to screen in real-time. It allows you to smoothly digitize, edit, organize and share handwritten notes and sketches made on the move for seamless integration between paper and cloud.”

While the pen will work with other paper, just like a regular pen, and the paper notebook can take notes written by another pen, for the kit to work and digitally transfer your notes, the Pen+ and the notebook must work together with the app.

Other amazing functions – Moleskine Smart Writing set

Moleskine transcribe smart writing erinlyycTranscribe function

Amazingly, the Moleskine Smart Writing kit can also transcribe your handwritten notes and turn them to text, which can then be shared via e-mail, Dropbox, or other services. While the app has some trouble seeing shapes or scribbles and understanding those, for the most part, if your handwriting is neat, it does an astonishingly good job at accurately digitizing it.

Use Tags to organize

Your pages can be easily organized or searched in the Moleskine app; just add keywords or tags to the digital file, and they’re instantly archived.moleskine-4

Playback function

Want to see how your sketch took shape, or how that idea you whiteboared came about?  A super-neat Playback function with re-create your words, art or notes in the order you wrote them as a video. While it looks particularly cool for drawings, it can be really helpful for recalling the order of meeting notes and conversations. The next step for this feature would be the ability to export that playback as a video, which I couldn’t seem to do; perhaps that’s a feature that can come in subsequent updates.

Voice input

The pen and app also have a voice dictation function. You record notes, meetings or whatever you need, then play it back by clicking on the ‘play’ button in the app (the same one that will play back your drawings as a video). You can listen to meetings again, or check quotes against your notes. The digital pages in the app keep track of which pages have voice notes associated to them.  The only think missing with this feature, in my opinion, is the ability to dictate notes to the pen, and then have the pen transcribe it into the virtual notebook for you like Apple’s Siri does. As it is, you can only listen back to the recording. But still… a pen that’s that smart and functional?  Impressive.

Calendar and GPS

Another neat function I discovered is that the app records your location and activity in its built-in calendar. Not sure whether you sent that page to your team? Can’t remember where you or what triggered that great idea? The calendar keeps track of all the data to remind you.

Sharing optionsmoleskine smart writing 3

Your notes, drawings, scribbles, whiteboard brainstorms, or meeting notes can be easily shared, saved and sent using a huge number of services. Pages can be saves as images or PDFs, as text/transcribed pages, or as SVG for Adobe illustrator files. You can also connect and share seamlessly with services like Evernote, Dropbox, Spark, Pinterest, or Google Drive, among others. Another cool feature?  Just check the tiny envelope icon on the top corner of the page, and your notes will be instantly emailed to you; you can even pre-set the send-to email address for instant delivery.img_5486

Editing Modes

With a tap you can make changes to your digital notes. Undo/Redo functions make edits or corrections easy, plus Select/Deselect lets you work only on certain areas. A pen or highlighter function means you can feature words or content too.

Use it with mirroring and a TV – Amazing for whiteboarding ideas

A function I thought was super cool is the ability to ‘broadcast’ your notes as you write.  I used Apple TV and the iPhone screen mirroring function to display my scrawls on a large TV screen. This would work great for a presentation, or brainstorming or whiteboarding session where everyone can watch what’s being drawn out, and can then receive a digital copy of the session. Check out my YouTube video to see this feature in action.

Overall review -Moleskine’s Smart Writing set

The Moleskine Smart Writing set really and truly surprised me at how well it worked. The connection between the Pen+ and the app was instant and seamless every time. The connectivity and real time transfer function was also consistently trouble-free.

From voice notes, to video playback of your work, calendars so you know when you worked on items, instant emails and sharing, and tags to make notes fully searchable this kit does a whole lot more than you think.

The kit is expensive, yes, ($249 CAD) but in terms of the technology and versatility, you’re getting your money’s worth here.

Get the Moleskine Smart Writing kit from Moleskine’s website, from select Indigo stores, or Indigo.ca 

 

 

Robot Lawn Mower from Husqvarna saves your summer: Review

Husqvarna Automower lawn robot grass canada calgarySome folks LOVE yard work; for many others, cutting grass is a chore that eats into your time off. Consider then, that you could get a device that takes care of all your lawn cutting needs; the Husqvarna Automower robot lawn mower will cut your grass and keep your yard in shape all without you needing to lift a finger.

Husqvarna Automower is a robot lawn mower

The Husqvarna Automower is a relatively new product in Canada, but it’s been hugely popular in Europe for some time (and boy, do the Europeans have fun with their automowers! From racing stripes, to cammo to ladybugs, they’re totally customizeable.).

The mower is slightly smaller in size than a standard lawn mower, and has no handle.  Small wheels keep it moving, and a small panel in the top allows you to make adjustments as needed.husqvarna mower ladybug

What can the robot lawn mower for for me?

The Automower can be set on an electronic schedule, so it will keep your lawn trim all season long.  The robomower doesn’t go out once per week and slice down the lawn by two inches, instead it mulches the lawn by cutting very small amounts each day; the lawn will appear as though it just stops growing.  The robot is fully autonomous, and will find its way around your yard mulching grass until it needs to return to its base station for a recharge.

How the Husqvarna Automower work?

husqvarna automower review calgary robomower
Guidewire laid in the grass and held in place with stakes.

The mower should be professionally installed. A Husqvarna dealer can help with planning and layout for your new set up.

First, you need to lay a guidewire around your yard so the robot knows where its boundaries are.  While this sounds simple, a small break in your guide wire can render your whole wiring job useless.  It took three pros about 6 hours to properly set up my boundaries, test the connections and troubleshoot it when it wasn’t quite working.  You’ll want to do this right and get it professionally installed so you don’t have to worry about it.

Husqvarna Automower yard robot calgary robomower
The Automower, base station to the left, and a sample patch of grass that was allowed to grow while the mower trimmed the rest of the yard.

The Automower works by operating within its guidewire; essentially acting as a “Roomba vacuum” does, but for your grass.  You can use the wires to “fence” off any areas the robot should steer clear of, whether that’s your vegetable garden, flowers or a child’s play area.

 

The Husqvarna Automower comes with a base station which it uses as a home base and recharging station. The positioning of the station is important; it shouldn’t get too much sunlight, and you’ll want it to be out of the way.  I’m told many homeowners in Europe will actually build tiny “mini garages” for their Automower, and if I were to own one, I think I’d do that too to help it fit into or hide away from the yard.

 

How loud is the Husqvarna Automower? Mine ran at night, without a complaint


Surprisingly, this mower is absolutely silent.  Compared to the ear-splitting grind of a traditional electric or gas mower, you will not even hear this one at work in your yard.  In fact, it was so quiet, I had mine scheduled to run at night, and I never heard it, nor did my neighbours.

What if someone tried to steal my Husqvarna Automower?

The Husqvarna Automower has anti-theft protection built in.  For starters, if someone were to lift it up to carry it off, an alarm will sound.  Second, you need a pin code to operate it.  Third, if a thief were to try to operate it without its base station or pin code, it would cease functioning.  img_3350And fourth even if an intrepid thief were to, say, try to buy a new base station and get the pin code reset, this can only be done via an authorized Husqvarna dealer.  The dealers’ records show who owns each device and their lost/stolen status. Attempting to reconfigure one without the proper documentation would result in all kinds of red flags, and perhaps a call to the police.

What happens in the rain?

Rain doesn’t bother the robot. If the grass is too wet for cutting, the Automover can sense this, and it’ll return to base until things are drier.

Will the Husqvarna Automower hurt pets or children?

The mower won’t hurt anyone, human or animal, that comes into contact with it.  For starters, the mulching blades are small, so they likely wouldn’t even make contact with flesh.  If they did, they have a foldaway spring which prevents them from cutting when they hit a hard object.

Another safety feature; if the mower bumps anything like a foot or a sleeping dog, it will simply back up and choose a new direction.

What happens if something goes wrong?

Husqvarna Automower installation calgary
Getting great service from Alberta Forest & Garden, Husqvarna dealers, in Calgary.

I had a couple of issues with my temporary installation; primarily the wire loop becoming disconnected from the mower base station.  The staff at Alberta Forest & Garden were quick to come out and take a look and make repairs any time I had a problem.  In this case the problem was that the guidewire was only temporarily staked to the surface of my grass.

In an ideal and permanent installation, the wire is buried underground so there’s no worries about kids, pets or trippy adults pulling it loose.

A couple times early in the testing, I heard the alarm go off in the middle of the night. it turns out the robot was falling into a bit of a pit in the lawn, and its built in security system was worried someone was trying to make off with it.  The solution was to make a barrier around the deep pit so they mower wouldn’t get caught.

In another case the automower was missing chunks of grass.  That was easily remedied by adjusting the wire boundary, and also adjusting how far the mover is allowed to stray past the wire.  It was increased by a few inches and that helped it get a good cut from edge to edge.

Overall review of the Husqvarna Automower

I really, really liked this device.  It worked well, and kept my lawn short all summer long, without a lick of work from me.

The totally silent operation meant the mower could work while I slept, and wake up every day to a beautifully manicured lawn; all we had to do was handle the trimming.  If that’s more work than you want to do, it’s possible to make some small adjustments to your yard’s landscaping so no trimming is required either; I’m talking about adding edging, hedges, gravel or mulch.

Any problems I had with the mower were handled quickly and cheerily, and I feel confident any ongoing issues would be dealt with quickly.

I can’t find a single thing to complain about with the Husqvarna automower.  It’s definitely something I’d get for my home or property… and may still one day!

Where can I get one of these Husqvarna Automowers? What do they cost?

My demo unit robomower was supplied for 3 months by Alberta Forest and Garden in Calgary. They are licensed Husqvarna dealers.  I highly recommend them for their great attention to detail and friendly service.

Pricing starts at $2100 CDN (315 model: cuts 1/3 acre) and goes up to $4000 (450X model: cuts 1.25 acre), depending on the model you choose.husqvarna automower review

 

Misfit Shine Fitness and Activity Monitor – Review

misfit shine
The Misfit Shine is a sleek and chic fitness monitor and activity band that can be both worn on the wrist, talked into a sock or sports bra, or tucked neatly into one of the beautiful accessory pieces of jewelry the company offers.
Right out of the gate, the Misfit Shine is one of the prettiest options I’ve seen when it comes to fitness monitors. It looks more like jewelry, or live a matte river pebble than a fitness device, which is a nice change. The band comes with an included wristband, or magnetic clip, so you can choose where and how to wear it.

How Shine Works
IMG_1157While I was still gaga over how beautiful the device looked, I had difficulty getting it working out of the box. I went through all of the steps Misfit outlines to get the band set up,  but the device just would not work. I put the battery in and took it out again several times, hoping to get things working but to no avail. I even tried using a different battery than the one Misfit includes, just to see if mine happened to be dead. That didn’t work either. Looking closer at the inside of the device, I had an idea: it appeared to me that one of the metal connectors that is supposed to touch the battery was not touching properly, so I took some tiny pliers I have, and bent it to make better contact. Then I popped the battery back in, and voila!, it worked right away.  I’m pretty sure Misfit would not advocate for people to go mucking about with the interior guts of this device untrained, but this is what worked for me. Either way I was pleased that the device was now working.
The Misfit band works similar to other fitness bands, in that you also download a free companion app, set up a free account, and that’s the way you view and use most of your data.

The Device Displayshine lights
The display on the band itself is a circle of subtle LED lights. Depending on how much of your step goal you’ve completed, a different number of lights in the ring light up. I really liked this subtle display, despite the fact that it required some thought to calculate in my head, and was what I’d call at a glance.  Even so I’d know if I was a quarter or halfway to my goal, if not the specific numbers.  What I did, however, like about the ring light display is that it reminded me of looking up into the night sky at stars; it reminded me of staring up at constellations.

The App
The Shine uses “points” to calculate your activity levels. This is one thing about the device I did not like. With other bands, your actual steps ARE your goal, and to me that’s something tangible that I can see and understand.  I know that to get more steps, I take more steps.  But with the Misfit Shine, I’m not sure what the points mean, or exactly how I get  a good amount of them. IMG_1996I found that frustrating, but that may be a personal preference. I know some people who swear by the Nike fuel band, and it uses a similarly random system of points. To each their own I suppose. I should point out after that complaint that when you go into the app, you can actually get more specific details about how many steps you took, how far you went in terms of distance, and how many calories you burn, so happily,  the info is actually measured and available to you.

While I found the step count slightly off compared to the device I normally use, the actual mileage, or number of kilometers I went that day was actually quite similar. Ditto for the calories burned. While calibrating the Shine would be the ideal solution; unfortunately, it’s not an option, and that that is a source of frustration for other users too. One person I found on a chat board  pointed out that as a very short person, the device was vastly over calculating her metrics.

Sleep Function
Like many similar fitness devices, the Misfit Shine also will calculate and track your sleep.  The app will display deep versus lighter sleep in a grid, so it’s easy to read at a glance. It will also give you an overall number of hours you actually slept, versus what your sleep goal is (mine as it turns out is a rather unrealistic eight hours per night!)
I also found that sleeping with the Shine was quite easy; the smoothness and thinness of the band means it is very unobtrusive, and doesn’t get caught on anything, particularly on sheets or under pillows.   The device also has the option of allowing you to edit your recorded sleep, in case there has been an error. Not that I found any errors in my sleep tracking.

Other Functions
The Shine can also be used as a watch with simple taps, and it will display the time using solid and flashing lights around the edge of its lighted display. Another plus is that it is waterproof 250 m, so you can use it well swimming. It syncs wirelessly via Bluetooth which is always handy as well.

Battery

The Shine uses a small disc battery, about the size you find in a key fob (nickel sized), technically called a standard CR2032 coin cell battery.  That means no charging or recharging, which is nice.  Misfit says the battery should be swapped out every 4-6 months, or when it stops working.
MISFIT 44
The Verdict
In short, I really like the looks of this device, possibly better than any other fitness band on the market. While I didn’t appreciate the points function of the app and it’s calculations, the fact that my step count and distance are available within the app is important and means I don’t have to rely on Misfit’s points.   I am also personally a big fan of fitness devices that are versatile, or that have a core piece you can remove from the band, and tuck wherever you want. I use this feature frequently, and will tuck my fitness monitor into my bra, or a sock, if I don’t want to wear an obvious rubber athletic style band (my regular band, a Fitbit) to an elegant function, date, or night out. The nice thing about the Shine is people might not realize that it is even a fitness tracker.
While the app and it’s layout is not my favorite, the information is all there, and easy to read. It’s also very easy to navigate through historical data or previous days with a simple swipe.misfit grab
In short, I would definitely recommend this band to someone who is looking to start out on the fitness track. Particularly the type of person who doesn’t want everyone to notice they are wearing a bulky rubber band around their wrist, since the Misfit Shine is much more like a beautiful bracelet then a utilitarian fitness device. Form and function, all in one great and customizeable package, since different colour trackers and a variety of band options are available.

Misfit Shine is available for $99 on the company’s website, and for the same price on Future Shop’s site in Canada.

Looking to check out other fitness devices?  Read about the Basis Peak, Fitbit Flex, and check out info on some other devices that I featured on CTV News Tech Talk.

Gadgets you need at home; portable wireless lamps & robot cleaners

From cleaning robots to room-freshening lamps, on CTV Morning Live this month, we looked at some cool new gadgets for the home.

iRobot Mopping Robot

iRobot Braava jet 240I’ve been testing the iRobot Braava jet 240. This little lunchbox-sized device will sweep and mop your floors for you. It uses small pads with cleanser infused inside them and a jet of warm water to mop your floors and sop up spills. You just hit the button on the top of the device, and the robot will clean about 100+ square feet of space on one battery charge.

A full review of this little housekeeper is coming soon, meantime, check out the unboxing video to see what you get.

iRobot Roomba 880

img_0923-1The iRobot Roomba 880 vacuum is a large circular gadget, significantly larger than a dinner plate, and about three or 4 inches tall. You can schedule this vacuum to clean your home while you’re at work or away, and come home to a floor free of dust and pet hair; even under the furniture.

While Roomba’s weighty, he’s not heavy and he comes with a built-in handle so you can pick him up and carry him around. The Roomba can also be used at any moment (off the schedule) simply by pushing the ‘clean’ button in the center of the vacuum. The robot will back away from its base station and begin cleaning in a somewhat hard to follow but linear pattern. The robot learns its way around furniture and is smart enough to back away from stairs. The Roomba will clean an entire floor of your house and then return to his base station when the battery begins to run low. The Roomba 880 also has the ability to sweep up small spills by pressing the “spot” button.

For my full review of the Roomba 880, click here.

MiPow  Playbulb Sphere Lamp

img_1039I love colour changing lights.  They can totally change the look of a room. MiPow Playbulb Sphere is a beautiful, affordable frosted glass globe lamp that rests on a small base when charging but it can be moved anywhere for a portable colorful glow. You can get 6-8 hours of light on a single charge.

The Playbulb Sphere (full review & write-up here) works beautifully on the small side tables, or even as a chic dining table centerpiece since it’s only about 15cm in diameter. PLUS — Click the link just above here to see how this lamp can transform a whole room with colour.

Philips Hue Go Lamp

img_9005The Philips Hue Go lamp connects with a nice long AC cord for power but it also works off the cord, as the rechargeable lamp is also fully portable and lasts up to six hours on a charge. For the newbies, you don’t even need the app to start playing with it; a small button on the bottom of the bowl allows you to cycle through a variety of light colours and effects while a small wedge keeps the lamp steady on its rounded bottom.

Getting the lamp set up on Wi-Fi was very easy. You just download the free app then “add new device”.  Once you do that the app will search for devices on the network and it automatically finds the Go lamp. Once it pairs you’re in business. read more about the Go lamp in my review.

The above products are available at stores like Best Buy, London Drugs and Home Depot.

If you have any suggestions for gadgets I should learn about or check out for possible blogs or TV segments, I’d love to hear from you! Just use the “Contact” form here on the blog, or message me on Twitter or Instagram @ErinLYYC

 

 

Fitbit Blaze Review

img_1453
The new Blaze (right) beside to well-worn Flex.

I’ve been a Fitbit owner ever since I bought my Flex. It’s been a staple for me, not so much because I’m a gym junkie, but because it sit at a desk for the vast majority of my day. I try to keep active and get in my 10,000 steps, and my Fitbit keeps track so that I can get in an extra walk, park at the back of the parking lot, or hit the gym when I get too sedentary.

I was excited to hear about the two new Fitbit models announced this year; the Alta and the Blaze, primarily because my Flex is starting to look a bit worse for wear, and because I feel like I’m ready for some new features. While I was instantly attracted to the Alta because of its slim profile and similarity to the Flex, I was a little less interested in the Blaze. It seemed big, bulky, dated-looking and boxy. Nonetheless I was willing to put it though its paces.

Getting started with Fitbit Blaze
To use the Blaze you’ll need the Fitbit App if you want to keep long-term stats. With the app downloaded, you pair the device to your phone.  While it took me a few tries to get it to connect to the phone, it was soon connected and ready to go.img_1456

The Blaze has an interesting configuration; it’s essentially two parts; the band (which is interchangeable, more on that below), and the tracker unit, a flat, square device just over an inch square and slightly thicker than an average watch.  The tracker pops out of the band to allow for changeover, and must be removed and placed inside a tiny box for  charging.

At first I thought this band would be heavy and bulky, but after less than an hour, I had already forgotten it was on my wrist. Really, it doesn’t feel any heavier or bigger than my original Fitbit Flex, despite the obvious size differences.

I also like that the tracker unit itself can be popped out of the band, and tucked into a sports bra, sock, or pocket. This was one of my favorite features of the Fitbit Flex; it allowed me to hide the tracker if I didn’t want to be wearing something obviously athletic and rubbery on my wrist for a nice night out or a formal event. While the accuracy of the device may not be as exact if it’s worn elsewhere since it’s been made to be worn on the wrist, in my experience it wasn’t off enough to throw my day out of whack. And besides, the better looking these devices get, the less likely we are to want to hide them anyway, right?

img_1454-1What Fitbit measures

Before we go too much further you may be wondering what a Fitbit will keep track of for you.

  • Sleep: both duration and quality
  • Steps, including number of steps and distance, and active minutes in your day
  • Activity: record activities from running to cycling
  • Weight: the app will chart your weight either manually, or automatically when paired with the Aria scale.
  • Calories: when paired with apps like MyFitnessPal, you can share food info and match it up to activity levels.
  • Water Intake: again, a manual input item but can help you keep track of if you’re drinking enough water
  • Floors Climbed
  • Heart Rate: Fitbit devices with heart rate monitoring will keep track of your resting and active heart rates.

Customizing your Blaze

Customizable watch faces are an option for the Blaze, but you can’t switch them up form the watch itself, like other bands. Instead you’ll need to do this though the app in ‘Account’ menu. Not intuitive but at least the feature is there. It takes about 15 seconds from the time you select a new watch face for it to update on the watchband.

By default your Fitbit Blaze adjusts brightness based on the ambient lighting conditions. You can change the default in the settings.

You can set the Blaze to light up when you turn your wrist towards your face. I found this feature didn’t work as well as I had hoped. If I was taking a casual look, sometimes it didn’t recognize the gesture. If I was more deliberate about turning my wrist over and pointing it at my face, then it seem to work. But it took about a second before the display would light up. My experience with this feature was hit or miss.

Who’s the Blaze for?

Fitbit wants you to be clear; the Blaze is not for an elite athlete. The Blaze is for an average consumer who wants to do basic monitoring of fitness statistics, sleep, and activities while not looking like a track star. The Blaze is fashion and fun, with a fitness core. Fitbit suggests the more seriously minded athletes pick up its Surge device instead.

Basic operation
Alerts
A great new added feature of the Blaze is its ability to deliver notifications and messages right to your wrist. While I very much enjoyed getting a subtle buzz on the wrist when a text message or calendar alert popped up, this feature does have limitations. While you can read incoming text messages, you cannot respond to them. (At least not using my iPhone.) similarly, you can accept incoming calls, but you must have your smart phone with you as well, or you won’t be able to talk. While this may seem very limiting, the price point of the Blaze is far less than Apple’s watch, so you’re getting what you pay for if messaging and conducting business from your wrist is something you’re after.

Menus
By pulling down across the watch face, you get a menu which will allow you to turn notifications on or off, as well as play music if it’s connected.
Swiping up gets you a list of recent notifications such as calls, text messages, calendar alerts and more. These alerts will stack up and stay in the watch until you clear them.

Swiping right to left across the band will give you a series of other menus:

“Today”: The today menu will show you your fitness stats; such as steps, heart rate, kilometres traveled, calories, and floors climbed. To return back to the menu list, you hit the back button on the watch band.

“Exercise”: this menu allows you to register different activities like workout, elliptical, treadmill,  weights, bike, and run. You tap the exercise you are about to take part in and the Blaze will connect to your smart phone’s app to register the activity. Push play on the watch face to begin logging the activity, then stop it when you’re done. While technically Fitbit already knows when you’re doing some kind of exercise, having this connection to the app allows you to keep watch in real time on your statistics, such as distance or time.  When enabled, the Blaze will also use GPS tracking to follow your route on a run or a bike ride for example.

img_1564
One of the FitStar exercises.

“FitStar”: FitStar is a series of guided exercises that the band will walk you through. You can do a warm-up, or a seven minute workout. The watch band shows you a visual example of each short exercise, and a timer counts you down through it.
While three workouts are included in your Blaze’s software, if you want more options, you’ll need to buy them from Fitbit for a $46 annual fee.

“Timer”:   This gives you access to a countdown or stopwatch function.

“Alarms”: Here you can turn silent alarms on or off. But adding or deleting them requires your phone and the app.

“Settings”: A very simplistic version of the settings menu, here you can turn the QuickView feature on or off, adjust brightness, turn heart rate monitoring on or off, as well as shut down the device.

Accuracy

As I’ve written about previously, I very much like Fitbit  and choose it as my preferred activity band, because I find it extraordinarily accurate.

I’ve tried numerous bands and compared them both with each other, and done testing to see if the band accurately matches my steps, strides, and activities. Part of this accuracy lies in the ability to calibrate the Fitbit to your unique stride length, which is key for accurate tracking. (For more on how to adjust your stride length with Fitbit click here.)
No surprise then that the Blaze was just as accurate as my old standby Fitbit Flex.

Styling Options for Fitbit Blaze

With the Blaze, you have several options for wristbands. You can stick with a more traditional athletic wristband (“Classic”) which is made of rubber attached to the metal watch bezel, or there are also leather options in brown, grey or black. These bands will cost you about $140 and that’s on top of what you’re paying for the tracker. A gorgeous metal link watch band will set you back nearly $180. So while there are stylish options for making your band look less like a fitness accessory, and more fashion forward, they are not cheap.

Overall Review of Fitbit Blaze

One of the things I like most about my Fitbit Flex, is that it’s very subtle and still contains all the major tracking features I want. The Blaze is a whole different type of gadget for me, because it’s much larger, and more like a wristwatch then I’ve been used to wearing. But since this activity band also features heart rate monitoring as well as time display, it’s natural this device would look more like a watch them like a traditional activity tracker. It is bigger than I’m used to, but as I noted earlier despite its size and boxy shape, I quickly forgot I was wearing it, and didn’t feel that it got in my way or was overly noticeable.

I enjoyed the additional features, and definitely found myself checking in on my heart rate through the day. Having a built-in watch was a great feature, as is the notifications option. It was nice to get a subtle buzz on my wrist when I had a text message or alert.

In short, while I didn’t think I would be interested in this band as my go to activity device, I found myself liking it more and more the more I tried it. I could definitely see adopting the Blaze in my future.

Fitbit Blaze is available at Best Buy and London Drugs for $249. You can also get it from Fitbit’s website, or find more info there.

In the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing the new Fitbit Alta too, so check back for more info soon. Already a Fitbit Fan? Check out my Fitbit Apps you’ll LOVE.

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Charging your Fitbit Blaze

 

Gadgets for Tech and Travel

ERIN FEB TECHThis month on Tech Talk on CTV, we looked at gadgets and gear that are perfect for travel, since it’s March Break/Winter Break season!

Spyder Commuter Power Pack

img_1168The Commuter is a 3-in-1 universal battery charger. It can be used in the car, by plugging it into the wall, or as a standalone power pack for on the go needs.The wall outlet and car charger end both fold into the battery pack so it stays sleek and compact when it’s not in use.

The Commuter is a perfect companion for travellers, since it weights a scant 4.5 oz or 128 grams, and you can charge from an AC wall outlet, via USB on your computer, or in the car. Plus it works with any smartphone or tablet.

Check out the full write up on the Spyder power pack on the blog here.

Mipow Power Tube 3000mipow power tube

This lipstick-sized tube is infinitely portable and gives your phone about one full charge. The feature that puts this one above others for me is that it comes with an Apple lightning cord hidden inside, meaning no tangled cables, and no forgetting one either! The tube comes in fun colours too. Get one from MiPow’s website.

Cable Cases & Wraps

We all need cables when we’re travelling; for powering everything from laptops, to phones, tablets, cameras and a host of other gadgets. Keep everything tangle-free and organized in a chic case. Levenger makes gorgeous soft leather cases with a variety of snap straps and zippered pockets to keep cords organized. The company also makes neat leather-wrapped cable ties that let you quickly tie up cables and stash them away. Big tabs let you find and grip them easily.

Nite Ize Cable wraps

These are like twist ties or pipe cleaners on steroids! Super bendy, but they’ll hold firm, these cable ties keep everything from earphones to power cords from getting tangles in your bag, on a flight or even in the car.

Parrot Zik3 Over Ear Headphones

Parrot Zik3 are an ideal pair of over ear headphones for traveling, thanks in particular to one of their great features; noise cancellation. These headphones, when paired to your smart phone or device, allow you to set different levels of noise canceling. For example, you can set them to block out any and all outside noise electronically. Meaning if someone else in the room is watching TV, kids are playing, or an airplane is droning on in the background, you can mute this outside noise and focus on your music, podcasts, TV, or whatever you’re listening to.

Similarly, if you do need to hear what’s going on outside those headphones, there’s a way to allow that sound in.  For more, read the full blog review.

For more tech, gadget or travel news don’t forget to Like my Facebook page and/or follow me on Twitter and Instagram @ErinLYYC

To enter the Samsung contest I mentioned today, please go to www.ctvcalgary.ca

ERIN TECH TALK FEB 2

 

Smart padlocks mean lost keys, forgotten combos are a thing of the past

img_0885-1I was late for a bike ride, and tearing apart my closet and a cabinet looking for the key to my bike lock. Since it was nowhere to be found, I was forced to buy a new lock, only to find the key in a pocket weeks later.

Fussing with lost keys or forgotten combinations for padlocks is frustrating and as you see it can also cost you money. That’s why I was glad to try out a new solution: a smart padlock that can open with a tap on your smartphone screen. I was sent two versions of smart locks called Locksmart by Dog and Bone.

Set Up of Dog & Bone Locksmart locks

Set up couldn’t have been faster. In literally about one minute and three clicks on the smart phone I had both locks set up and ready to use. The Locksmart locks pair very easily with the phone, in my case the iPhone 6 Plus, and I had absolutely no bugs getting the system set up. Children and seniors would have no difficulty getting these high-tech devices going either; they’re made for real people, not just tech junkies.

Two different sizes: Locksmart and Locksmart Mini

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Locksmart Mini.

There are two different sizes of Locksmart locks. The first is a much larger and heavier round padlock known simply as the Locksmart. This one is obviously designed for more security and durability and would probably be best used on a gate, shed, or door.

The other lock is slightly smaller and lighter, and it’s covered in a full silicone wrap. This one is dubbed Locksmart Mini. I feel like this lock would be better used on things like school lockers, cabinets, or even luggage in a pinch.

How Locksmart locks work

Since pretty much everyone in the world knows how a padlock operates, I’ll focus on the features that make these locks different. With no dials, and no keyholes to speak of, the only way to operate these locks is via your smart phone.

Once you have the Locksmart app downloaded you simply pair the lock to your phone and then each lock  will appear in a list inside the app.

When you want to unlock your lock, you just tap the unlock button on the screen. The lock will snap open instantly.

Add an extra layer of security to the app

If you want to add a layer of security, in case your phone should fall into the wrong hands, you can adjust the opening settings so that you will need to use your fingerprint (if this feature is available on your smart phone or tablet) to open the lock. Similarly, you can set a numerical pass code that must be entered on the phone before the lock can be opened.
This would be handy not only if your phone is lost or stolen, but if you want to keep children who may have access to your phone from being able to open certain locks.

If you haven’t been connected to the lock in a while, or your phone has been too far out of range, or you have the power save feature enabled in-app, the lock may ask to be re-connected to your phone. This is done simply by pushing a small rubber button in the bottom of the lock. This has happeneddog and bone to me a few times, but the re-connection happens in about one second, so there’s no delay, and no fussing.

Instantly the app will tell you the lock is connected and the lock will pop open when you order it to. To lock it, simply snap the shank or shackle back into place.

Share access to visitors or repair people, or revoke it

Perhaps your lawn care guy has just arrived and needs access to your shed. You’re not home and neither are your keys, but that’s no problem, because from directly with in the app, you can grant access to anyone you want instantly. You can also revoke that access at any time.

The lock smart system will also keep track of who accessed each lock and when, so you can keep tabs on items you are trying to keep secure.

img_1051Winter-Ready: Works to -20

One of the main questions I had about these locks were whether they could handle our Canadian weather. Dog & Bone says these locks are good up to about -20°C. The locks are also weatherproof and can withstand rain, hail, snow, or heat up to 70°C.

Unlike another Bluetooth smart padlock I’ve tried out, these locks have notched shanks, allowing them to click shut with conviction. Some other bluetooth padlocks have smooth shanks that make me wonder if they’d be very easy to pry open. But not the Locksmart line; they don’t budge until given the digital command.

Batteries are rechargeable

You shouldn’t find yourself  recharging these padlocks very frequently. Powered with a lithium ion battery, Dog & Bone says a single charge will get you about two years of use, which equals about 3,000 opens before you will need to recharge it. The batteries are easily recharged via a micro USB plug in the bottom of the lock. A small battery indicator within the app give you ample warning when you need to think about re-charging.

The verdict: Locksmart by Dog & Bone

I loved these locks. They’re very convenient, extraordinarily easy to use and set up, and even when they go into Powersave mode and disconnect from your Bluetooth, they can reconnect in an instant.

Sharing access with others couldn’t be easier, so you’re never going to have to turn away a tradesperson, or neighbor needing to borrow some tools.

I have already transitioned to using these locks on our front and back gates, because they’re so easy and durable. I’d definitely recommend these to anyone needing a padlock.

Locksmart Locks are available through Dog & Bone’s website. Locksmart (large) is $89USD and Locksmart Mini is $69USD.

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