iRobot improves app, adds mapping & Amazon Alexa integration

Regular readers and viewers know I’ve become pretty attached to my iRobot Roomba vacuum. (Read my review of the newest iRobot 980 here, or the BraavaJet 240 mopping robot here to see why.)

This week iRobot announced it was making some pretty serious upgrades to the cloud connectivity of the iRobot app. You’ll remember from my Roomba 980 review that in the newer generation of robots you could control the vacuum from outside the home via the app and cloud, and that it has better ‘sight’ to find its way around your home and obstacles. Now the 900 series devices have mapping capabilities so you know exactly what’s getting cleaned and what’s not. Continue reading “iRobot improves app, adds mapping & Amazon Alexa integration”

Smart mirror is robot concierge for hotels

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonic
Panasonic + IBM’s smart mirror – your digital concierge.

At the world technology show CES 2017 today, Panasonic and IBM have introduced a product that will help travelers make the most of an unfamiliar city.

Smart mirror is digital concierge

Built into hotel room mirrors (which are essentially transformed into large touch screen computer terminals), this smart mirror concept is basically a robot concierge which provides words and pictures on the mirror to help you navigate news, weather, messages and more. The Panasonic Digital Concierge, as it’s been called, applies IBM’s ‘Watson’ computing power to a digital mirror designed specifically for hotels and other hospitality industry customers.

Mirror, mirror on the wall….

Need restaurant recommendations? The mirror can help you. Want to know what time you’ll need to leave for a meeting? Ask the mirror. You talk, it helps.

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonicSmart mirror specially made for hotel industry

“Panasonic has identified a need for this and several other kinds of connected solutions in the hospitality industry,” said Yasuji Enokido, president of Panasonic Corporation’s AVC Networks Company.  “Working with IBM, we plan to further implement our connected solutions vision while making use of Watson intelligence to provide end-users with more natural cognitive functionality as well as richer feature sets.”

While some guests may prefer the personal touch of a face-to-face interaction, others like the privacy of accessing information from the comfort of the hotel room. While there’s no mention of cameras inside the device, I can see some folks being weirded out by such a technologically connected device presiding over the room when they’re walking around naked.

Smart mirror digital concierge panasonic

“IBM Watson gets to truly know the individual and provides highly personalized experiences and recommendations,” said Bruce Anderson, Global Managing Director, IBM Electronics Industry.  “Together with Panasonic we are bringing the power of cognitive to the hospitality industry to introduce a new level of customer service and Coming soofurther brand loyalty.”

The Panasonic Concierge is on display at CES 2017. There’s no indication of where or when you might find it in a hotel any time soon.

Amazon’s new Kindle Paperwhite Review: take another look at an e-reader

kindleE-readers have been around a long, long time. Even so, there’s still heated debate among book lovers about whether digital can really match the tactile experience of a printed book.

Amazon was one of the first to release a mass-market e-reader in 2007; it sold out in about 5 hours, and readers have been soaking up digital books ever since.

What’s the e-reader allure?

When I first heard about the Kindle, I didn’t get it. I mean, I got it. It’s an eReader that can store a bunch of eBooks and that lightened your load and all that stuff. But I didn’t get why you’d want to get a Kindle when you could just download the Kindle app on, in my case, an iPad. Continue reading “Amazon’s new Kindle Paperwhite Review: take another look at an e-reader”

Great gear for back to school – CTV Tech Talk

tech-talk-sept16This week on CTV Tech Talk I showed you three cool gadgets that can make back to school easier and more fun.

Moleskine Smart Writing Set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycThis gadget has really surprised me in terms of how versatile it is, and how well it works. It would be great for students, artists or just compulsive note-takers who never want to lose their notes, or who need an easy way to share them with others.

We barely had time to scratch the surface of everything this device can do on Tech Talk, so be sure to click the link below and read the full review.

The Moleskine Smart Writing 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 is larger than a standard pen and 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.

Read more about exactly how the Smart Writing Set works, and my full review of it here.

Roku Insignia Smart 4K TV4k-UHD-Insignia-Roku-TV-Best-Buy-Canada-1024x536

4K TV is the newest innovation in TV technology, and it’s all about the pixels. A 4K TV has millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

While the screen resolution is amazing, the Roku Insignia TV is also smart. You can stream shows with it, using Netflix, and you don’t need a seperate streaming device.  You can also surf the web, watch YouTube or play digital content. A 4K Roku TV brings you the best available resolution plus all the smartest TV features.

Click here to read the full review I did of this TV, as well as more about 4K technology.

Epson Ecotank ET-2550 Printer

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve had a printer in my home.  I haven’t missed having one for many years, that is until I started testing some new ones.

It’s not that I haven’t needed to print anything, but you know, you find other ways around that; snapshot photos, email copies, and yes, printing stuff at the office.

I have to say, that since I’ve re-adopted having a printer in the house, I’ve found them quite handy; and so has my family. Particularly because they’re now easier to use, more versatile, and there’s less fussing with ink and cartridges.

No ink cartridges in this printer!

epson-ecotankOn Tech Talk I showed off the Epson Expression ET 2550 EcoTank Printer. It’s a wireless printer/copier/scanner/fax/ethernet, which has a unique feature: it doesn’t use printer cartridges.  Instead it contains “eco-tank” ink bottles that are equivalent to about 20 cartridge sets. The printer I have includes enough ink to print up to 4000 pages in black or 6500 pages in color. That’s a long, long time before I’ll need to worry about running out of juice; possibly a couple years.

I reviewed a different model of EcoTank printer, one that has a slightly higher print capacity; read that review of the Epson Workforce ET-4550 here.

Whether it’s watching documentaries in glorious 4K resolution, printing book reports without the fuss of cartridges, or taking and sharing notes instantly and digitally, these three gadgets can help make back to school season easier, more productive, and more fun.

Contest – Enter to Win!

Want to enter the contest we talked about on CTV? Click here to be re-directed to the contest page. (*not active until Tuesday Sept 13)

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 

 

 

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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No key? No problem! Digital padlock opens via your phone

IMG_9112Who hasn’t momentarily forgotten their combination on a padlock at the gym, the back gate, or on the shed? I’ve misplaced (or outright lost, forever) the key to the padlock on my bike, meaning I need to both buy a new one, and find some bolt cutters to take care of business.

Now, a new product out from Fuz Designs (they made the really cool felted case I featured on CTV Morning Live and the blog not long ago!) shows that you no longer need those keys, or your faulty memory to open a padlock! Check out the 3 minute video of how Noke Digital Lock works: either with your smartphone or a Morse Code-like series of long and short clicks.

If you’re looking for other neat security gadgets, check out the uber-easy MyFox camera, or the Gatekeeper key fob that makes unlocking your computer with a typed password obsolete!