Linksys Max-Stream Router review (AC2200)

A router is no longer a hidden piece of technology relegated to the basement. Routers are key components to our home networks, whether it’s for surfing the web on a computer, running smart home gadgets, or streaming 4K video. You need something powerful and fast. I asked blogger Ron Leung to tackle the review of a new product on the market. Here’s his review. -Erin

Today I had the opportunity to test the Linksys Max-Stream AC2200 Mu-Mimi Tri-Band Router. The name is definitely intimidating – especially for those who cringe at the thought of setting up a new router. Linksys has been a router and Wi-Fi pioneer since the dark ages of surfing the web when Al Gore claimed to have invented the “interweb”. Continue reading “Linksys Max-Stream Router review (AC2200)”

Roku Ultra – My review of 4K TV streaming gadget

roku-ultra-boxThere are plenty of TV streaming gadgets to chose from; AppleTV, Google Chromecast, and a whole array of devices from Roku. Roku Ultra is a new, top of the line media streamer with all the bells and whistles you could want. It will stream content from hundreds of online channels, it’s 4K/UHD compatible, it’s got HDR support for better colour, and it has an enhanced remote with voice search and private listening options.

I had a chance to spend several weeks with a Roku Ultra device. Here’s what I learned:

Getting Connected to Roku Ultra

Getting the Roku Ultra set up was easy, as it has been with more than half a dozen other Roku devices I’ve tested. The user interface is easy to follow and understand, even for newbies.how to connect older TV to new streaming device google chromecast, apple TV, Roku Express

The device will get you to connect to the internet first using Wi-Fi (or ethernet). After you put in your home’s Wi-Fi password it will likely download a software or firmware update.

Next, you have the option of letting the Roku Ultra to automatically select your display or TV type, i.e. HD or 4K resolution. The Ultra will blank the screen for a few seconds to auto-detect your TV’s display capabilities, then set itself to the correct choice for your TV, and ask you to confirm the setting.

Once that’s finished you will need to ‘activate’ your Roku to access content. From your PC, phone, or tablet go to roku.com/link then enter the code displayed on your TV screen. Once done, the screen will automatically advance and allow you access to the device.

Auto update is easy

roku-ultra-5With that process complete, you’ll log into your Roku account. Then, very helpfully, Roku will automatically update your preferred channels, if you already have an account with them. That means that if you have more than one Roku device, you can access the same stuff on all of them without having to set each one up individually. The setup process couldn’t be simpler. The longest portion of it will be creating a new account if you don’t already have one.

What you need to use Roku Ultra in 4K

Roku Ultra is one of the company’s three devices which is made to support 4K resolution. 4K TVs are a higher quality TV than HD, and have four times as many pixels as HD TV, so there’s a sharper, clearer video picture, but there are some things you must have in your set up to make it work.

For starters, you’ll need a 4K TV. As I noted, 4K TVs have higher resolution, and more pixels in each screen, so you’ll need one to display the 4K picture correctly. You’ll also need 4K content; including made-in-4K movies, or TV shows. Fortunately there are many dedicated 4K channels, and you can search for 4-only K content, so it’s easy enough to find.

HDR support

Another advancement in TV technology is HDR.  HDR provides better colour replication in video. Roku says it allows you to get, “rich, realistic color detail—even in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights—when you stream HDR content on a compatible HDR TV. HDR displays a wider range of colors, brighter whites, and deeper blacks to create more natural, beautiful, and true-to-life imagery.” Similar to 4K, you’ll need a TV that’s HDR compatible, as well as content optimized for HDR to get the most from this technology.

Using Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra is easy to navigate, with a simple main menu. You can search for or add shortcuts to your favourite channels so everything is easy to get to. Speaking of easy to get to, the Roku remote has a couple of shortcut buttons. You can navigate to Netflix, for example, with the touch of a button.

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While you can use your smartphone as a remote control for many streaming devices, this one included, Roku comes with a physical remote too. I like the convenience of having a dedicated remote because I sometimes fund it clunky to grab my phone, access the lock screen, find the remote app, open it and then make my move. Assuming the remote isn’t under the sofa, it’s quicker to use.

Lost Remote Finder

But even if it IS under the sofa, you’ll know in an instant. There’s a built-in lost remote finder. You push a small button on the Ultra box, and the remote beeps loudly. I tested this with the remote stuffed under a cushion and could still hear it well enough to locate it.

Built-in Voice Search

The Roku Ultra remote has voice search capabilities. Just push and hold the search button while you talk. For the most part this works well, but you need to push it and wait half a sec, or you’ll clip your request, and the device will get confused. The Ultra does have some trouble with some words, mainly more obscure names.

If you’d asked me, I’d have said the voice search worked correctly ‘most’ of the time, but then I did some testing on the tool by running repeated requests. I did 20 searches, and the device got only 11 correct. Some searches took multiple tries to find, but found them eventually, others, it never found via voice but did locate using text search. I wouldn’t say the voice search was frustrating, but it could use some improvements. You definitely need to speak slowly and clearly.

Private Listening

The remote also features private listening. I love this feature, since it allows you to effectively silence what’s being watched, without a need for additional or complicated wireless headphone set up. You plug the included earbuds into the side of the remote, and voila! Instant quiet. It’s great for kids when you don’t want to hear Toopy and Beanoo for the millionth time.

Streaming Speed

The Roku Ultra was fast enough for my needs, and I never experienced any buffering or delays. It was quick and responsive. Roku says that’s thanks to its “fast quad-core processor and 802.11ac dual-band wireless”. Of course some of this is dependent on your homes Wi-fi speeds and in some cases you’ll be at the mercy of your service provider. Before you go looking for a device like the Ultra, it’s best to check with your internet provider to make sure your home has enough bandwidth to allow it to work properly.

Overall thoughts on Roku Ultra

I definitely recommend this device, and frankly, I don’t hesitate to recommend all Roku devices. They’re very easy to use, easy to set up and after testing numerous Roku devices, I have yet to encounter any major (or minor) problems with them. They’re consistently bug-free. I own two Roku devices already (both Streaming Sticks) and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the Ultra for my 4K TV set up, or for the additional features like the enhanced remote and private listening.

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Dyson Supersonic hair dryer review

img_6012No woman likes drying her hair. It takes time to do well, holding a heavy dryer over your head for 20-plus minutes is tiring, and having a loud whine in your ear really sets a  certain tone for the day.

It’s not surprising then there’s been lots of interest now that someone has finally decided there’s a better way.  Dyson, makers of cyclonic bagless vacuums and bladeless fans and heaters has announced its new hair dryer, and it features similar technology to its other products, but refined and on a much smaller scale. Continue reading “Dyson Supersonic hair dryer review”

Escaping the Cold at Couples Negril

img_8620It’s the bluest blue water you’ll find, on the softest white sand beach.  The water here is so shallow you can walk out almost a quarter mile and still only be shoulders-deep. I’m bobbing lazily on a pool cushion in saltwater that’s so warm, I haven’t the slightest chill, and in fact when some ocean water does splash on my skin, it’s refreshing. Opening my eyes to gaze back at the beach, it’s not crowded, and palms and coccoloba or ‘seagrape’ trees are speckled here and there providing cooling shade as the heat rises.

After several years of more active vacations like road trips and traveling to Europe, my husband and I decided it was time to slow down and plan a do-nothing holiday.

With the Caribbean in mind, we chose Jamaica as the destination, but which resort to pick? I’d been to Couples Negril more than a decade ago for a wedding and it was, at that time, the finest resort I’d ever been to. I remembered its gorgeous, endless beach, and marveled at the small size of the resort while it still had amazing service.  The food was also absolutely delicious, well off the charts for the average all-inclusive.

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Beach grill and veggie bar.

Wanting this to be an easy vacation both to take and to plan, my husband and I chose Couples Negril again, hoping we’d still find the same level of service. Of course, we checked online reviews, and found the resort still ranks highly among beach vacationers. Confident, we booked it.

 

Screen Shot 2015-12-20 at 10.02.05 AMBook Club Mobay for Arrivals and Departures: Fast and Easy

We used a travel agent for this trip, something we don’t usually do, but she earned her commission when she recommended we book into a service called Club Mobay at Jamaica’s Montego Bay airport where we’d be flying in via Toronto.img_8918

Club Mobay is a lounge where travelers can find comfy seats on arrival (and departure) while waiting for ground transportation, our agent explained. She also told us (though I’ll admit I wasn’t fully paying attention to this part) that we’d receive priority access to immigration and customs on arrival.

Skip the Lineups by booking with Club Mobay

When we landed a lovely young lady met us at the gate holding a sign with our names on it. She immediately whisked us through the airport, dodging lineups of passengers as we went instead through special access points. When we arrived at the customs and immigration lineup, it was a sea of humans and their luggage. What a mess!  We figured we’d be an hour getting through the line, but our escort led us to another priority access point where we were the only ones in line.  In about 3 minutes we’d cleared customs, and been led to a lovely private room where she brought us rum punch.

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Happy author on arrival in Negril

The Club Mobay lounge was comfortable and not crowded, but had the latest Jamaican newspapers, some sandwiches and snacks, as well as drinks and TV. We were only there about 15 minutes before we were told our bus was ready, and we were again led through the airport, to the correct bus. About 25 minutes after landing, we were en route to our resort.

Couples Negril is about a 2 hour bus ride from Montego Bay, but it was a great people and scenery-watching trip.  The highway runs along the water so there’s beautiful views of azure ocean nearly the whole way. The bus chugged through small villages and bigger towns and looking at the variance in homes and architecture was amazing.  While small corrugated metal shacks lined the highway, as the structures climbed up the hillsides, they got increasingly more elaborate and colourful.Jamaica quote 2

The bus seemed to speed its way along, and I wondered why the drive would take 2 hours. That’s about when we arrived in Lucea.  Lucea is the capital of Hanover Parish and was founded in the 1700s. It’s a tiny town that clings to the shore, and it’s very crowded and very busy. The highway attempts to wind through it, but when the buildings close in on the roads, and Jamaicans dash across constantly, our travel grinds to a crawl.

Nearly 2 hours later (though it feels much shorter thanks to the people watching) we arrive at our destination and are greeted with glasses of champagne and cool citrus-scented towels. A light breeze is fluttering the palm leaves and I’m instantly relaxed. Check-in is fast since there are only 3 couples in the bus, and we’re whisked to our rooms with bags in tow. The young man who helps us waves off a tip, and we’re immediately on the balcony, overlooking the ocean from our 3rd floor room.

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The hedge-lined nude beach

Spacious room, with a (nude) view

The room is open and airy with cool tile and a king-sized bed. The sliding balcony doors open wide to let the breeze in and we have a nice view of both the water and the nude beach! The nude beach is a mandatory fully-nude beach, screened with hedges, with its own bar and swimming area. Not our cup of tea, but it was quite well-attended each day.

Our minibar was stocked with pop and beer, and the gentleman who’d brought us to the room explained that if we wanted anything else for the fridge, to fill out a card and it would be restocked as we wished each day.

We requested some vodka and some wine, expecting airplane bottles, but instead, the next afternoon we found a full size bottle of each waiting for us. Bottle service to the room! This was a new highlight!

Negril’s Best Beach, and no fighting for loungers!img_8856

The beach at Couples Negril is fabulous.  It’s raked and tidied daily, while others long this strip appear not to be, and are littered with leaves and seaweed. While the ‘natural look’ isn’t bad, the extra effort at grooming really adds to the beauty of this little section.

There are lounge chairs aplenty, unlike most all-inclusive resorts where you need to get up early or bribe a staff member to snag you a spot. The staff take time to arrange all the chairs in tidy rows, each with its own cushion, and there’s always enough for everyone with plenty of extras so you can come and go as you please.img_8822

For the security conscious, it’s worth noting there are guards at either end of the beach, as well as a lifeguard in the middle. A small group of peddlers walks the beach, hawking parasailing and tubing rides, as well as coffee and other things, but they’re not bothersome or aggressive.

It was funny to note that almost all the hawkers “represent Bob Marley” which is code for they’ll sell you pot or hash or presumably whatever other drugs float your boat. While some of them are charmingly subtle about it, other will just full on offer you dope and flash the good for inspection.  Fortunately, they take no for an answer pretty easily.Jamaica quote

The occasional musician will play for tips at the water’s edge too. The staff distributes flags to folks on the beach, and when you’re ready for a drink, you just stick your flag in the sand, and someone is quickly at your feet taking your order. Again, unlike most all-inclusives, here there was no expectation of tips. img_8908

We alternated days at the beach and at the beautiful tree-lined pool. Here too, loungers were plentiful, and we could seek shade from either the trees or the umbrellas provided. The main pool (there’s another pool on the north side of the resort, but it’s mainly for scuba training) is a sapphire-hued two-tiered oasis with a waterfall in between that spills into the swim-up bar area. It was so relaxing being able to sit in the shade of the bar’s palm roof, listening to the waterfall, and sipping Appleton rum or cold Red Stripe beer. When we tired of the pool bar, we could also visit the beach bar/grill, or the main bar in the reception/restaurant building.

Yes, it will probably rain. Learn to like it.

img_8849I’ve been to Jamaica twice now and on both trips it rained at some point each day. Sometimes just for 30 or 40 minutes, other times for a couple of hours, and on one day there was a helluva storm which led to significant water pooling everywhere. While some vacationers may find this upsetting (how dare it rain on my holiday!!) we found it nice.  After spending hours on the beach or baking at the pool, the rain was cooling, and it broke up the day.  We found ourselves heading to the beach grill, sitting at the bar and playing scrabble or backgammon while sipping cold beer, or just going back to the room, throwing open the balcony doors and napping to the sound of a tropical rainstorm.

The food is great

Most people I know don’t go on all-inclusive vacations to eat well, but fortunately at Couples Negril, you will anyway. img_8926There’s always fresh baking on hand, whether it’s breakfast pastries, dessert, or the cookies that you’ll find at several of the bars and in the lobby. The day we arrived it was lobster night and we were treated to fresh grilled lobster tails with butter. Another night there was both tenderloin and lobster on the menu at a special dinner for “repeaters” or returning guests. I’m guessing the food is just one of the things that keeps people coming back to this resort, as the repeater crowd was quite large, about 60 or so. Everything we ate, from the buffet, to meals at the easy to book fine dining restaurants was fresh and deliciously flavourful.

It’s the little things

There were so many other nice small touches that made our stay so memorable; the fresh cookies and the new veggie bar that’s just opened.img_8689 It features juices, veggie tips and dip, as well as grilled sandwiches. There was nightly turn-down service and towel changing.  An ice bucket and water pitcher in the room were constantly full and cold. The staff are friendly and say hello as they pass. It was also nice to be able to trade our towels in as often as we liked, without a special ticket required.

Even on our last day as we waited in the lobby for airport pick-up, one of the staff members was dressed as an elf trying to cheer us up, as a small band payed goodbye songs for just 6 of us who were departing. Nice touch.

Overall this vacation was amazing.  It ticked all the boxes for us; great beach, delicious food, not crowded, lovely people. I can highly recommend both Negril and the Couples resort here for a fun and relaxing getaway.

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img_8787This is not a sponsored post. My review is 100% my own thoughts and experiences at this resort, paid for with my own money. If you’d like more info, check out Couples.com