24 hours at the edge of the world with Samsung Galaxy S8

How do you know if a smartphone can be right for you? Many people get their first hands-on experience with a new phone while standing in a retail store or browsing online. It’s not a very elegant way to decide whether or not you’re going to make a commitment to something that will be in your hands and part of your most intimate moments likely for the next 2 to 3 years. Ideally, instead, you’d get to hold it and get a real feel for it, try out the camera, interact with the device and its apps, and use it as if it were your own before you decide. I had a rare chance to do exactly that with the Samsung Galaxy S8 before its public launch. But this was no ordinary review opportunity. Continue reading “24 hours at the edge of the world with Samsung Galaxy S8”

BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock review; it wakes with light, can call you an Uber

Beddi glow smart alarm lightCan BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock help me wake up better?

There are few sounds that irk me as much as the screech of my alarm clock. It goes off each day at 2:50am so I can snooze it a few times before I finally crawl bleary-eyed and groggy from my warm covers at 3:30 to head to work. Believe it or not, snoozing like that actually helps me feel like I got ‘extra sleep’. (Does anyone else do that?)

I’ve always hated the sound of ringing alarms. I use the radio sometimes, but I find it disconcerting to hear people talking in my room before I’m fully conscious and know what the hell is going on. It’s all the more unsettling when I realize the radio is tuned to Coast to Coast AM and they’re talking about a phenomenon of people waking up with the demonic Hat Man shadow-person standing over their beds. Shudder.

Better, more gentle wake up?Beddi glow smart alarm light

There has to be a better, more gentle way to wake up, and I think I may have found it.
I was recently sent a BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock for testing and review. BEDDI Glow allows you to wake with a simulated sunrise light, your own music, or FM radio. It’s also got a host of other neat features that makes it pretty handy.

BEDDI Glow alarm Features

The BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock gives you options for your wake up. I’ve been using the simulated sunrise feature and the ‘relax’ sound effect. More on how it works and how I like it in a sec.

The clock is about the size of a ‘traditional’ alarm clock, and it’s got a time/display panel and a speaker on top of the face, and a light panel on the bottom. The brightness can be adjusted so it won’t disturb you. A series of buttons on the top can be configured to perform the tasks you choose; from turning the light panel on, to playing audio traffic or weather info, to playing various white noise effects. Each button cam perform multiple functions since it can support a single tap, double tap or a long hold. It works with iOS8 and above, and most phones with Android 4.3 or above.

A neat feature I like; if you unplug the clock, or the power goes out, the time will reset itself automatically once you reconnect.  No annoying flashing time, and no ‘tap tap tap tap tap’ to try to reset it.

Mood Light

I love coloured lighting. Particularly as the day winds down, it’s nice to have a soft warm glow to greet you as you head for bed. BEDDI Glow’s Mood Light feature lets you enjoy a soft rainbow glow that shifts colours across the spectrum.

Using the app and settings for the mood light, you can choose a fade effect, or a rainbow transition. To stick it on one colour, go into the mood light settings, select the ‘normal’ and it will give you a colour spectrum to choose from.  It’s not easy to get to, but it’s there making the mood light cool, fun and functional.

White Noise for sleepBeddi glow smart alarm light

I find white noise most helpful on airplanes or in waiting lounges where upset children are on the rampage. I’ve not really used white noise to get to sleep. Since it’s available on the BEDDI Glow, I thought I’d give it a try. There are 10 white noise settings from rainforest, waterfall, and ocean, to motor, fan and shower. For the most part they sound realistic and were enjoyable. I found myself gravitating to the ‘shower’ setting as it sounded most like rain falling outside a window. You can choose how long to leave the noise running and it will shut off automatically.

I though the ability to use the white noise settings for wake up sounds was something that was missing from the app. I’d much rather wake up to the soft sounds of a storm than a beep… but perhaps most folks would sleep right through them?

Get traffic & weather info as you wake up

Beddi glow smart alarm lightThis is a pretty cool feature. Using the app you set your location to get accurate weather data and current conditions will display in the app dashboard. It’s very simplistic showing only the temperature and a single weather icon. I think having the ability to click into the weather settings and get 3 or 5 day forecast info, or even a forecast for the rest of the day would be helpful. I’m surprised that’s not already built into the app.

The traffic feature takes your current location as its input for the weather info (or a different location you choose) and then lets you add a ‘destination’ address and the time you’d like to arrive for work. In the app it will display the drive time for that time and destination. You can also configure the alarm so that when the alarm goes off, it will tell you the weather and traffic info. Pressing one of the smart buttons can also deliver the same info, delivered by a friendly robotic voice.

Waking with Sunrise light & gentle sound effects

The sunrise setting is perhaps my favourite thing about the clock. The light can be set to come on gradually over time (from 5-30 minutes) or to come on a minute before the alarm.I set mine at 15 minutes and found it was enough to help me wake.

It would be fun to be able to wake up to the colours of the mood light, but I guess that’s not really the point…

I use the ‘relax’ sound effect to wake me combined with the sunrise light. The alarm goes off, softly at first, then it gradually increases until I hit snooze, then the cycle starts over. By the time the sound starts, the light is already on, so it helps me adjust to waking up. It also makes it harder to just go back to sleep since the room has brightened.

BEDDI Glow also has the ability to set multiple alarms on different days so you can have one wake up time for weekdays and another for weekends or early meetings. Smart!

Adjustable snooze bar

The snooze bar settings can be adjusted to give you anywhere from 1 to 10 more minutes of sleep, or it can adjust itself in decreasing time intervals all on its own.

Save outlets! USB Charging is built in

BEDDI Glow has 2 built-in USB ports in the back of the device, so you can charge phones and tablets without taking up valuable outlet space. It’s smart and convenient. There’s also an aux jack for those that might need it.

Configurable app dashboard

One of the things I liked about this device is that I can configure the dashboard for the alarm clock to include information, tasks, and shortcuts for things I need. In my app I have alarm settings, weather and traffic information as well as the white noise control. There are also a series of buttons along the bottom of the dashboard that allow you to instantly play audio from the phone to the Bluetooth speaker, to turn the white or mood lights on or off, or set a timer.

For the most part the app is very intuitive and easy to use, though a few of the settings are buried deep within menus and sub menus. It takes a bit of exploring around the app to get to know where those settings are.

Connect Spotify and UberBeddi Glow Uber smart sleep light clock alarm

Since the clock is connected to your smartphone, you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker to play music or podcasts, or have music set to be your wake-up. BEDDI Glow connects with Spotify (premium accounts only) and Apple Music too to give you your own personal music experience if that’s what you prefer.

I found the fact that the BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock can call you an Uber to be a bit weird. It’s not a service that I’d use (if I did need a ride after waking up I’d probably just use the app on my phone so I could track the driver) but I’d be interested to hear what others think about that.

Once you’ve logged into your Uber account with BEDDI, you can configure one of your smart buttons to call you an Uber with a single press of a button. I think that’s a bit dangerous, since in my sleepy haze I’d be liable to accidentally call myself a ride and not even realize it. The clock will then alert you when your ride arrives.  Talk about high tech and easy!

Overall review of BEDDI Glow – It’s AWESOME

After several weeks of testing I can confidently say that I love this alarm clock.

I love how many options there are for you to choose precisely how you wake up. The sunrise setting is one of my favorites and I find it helps ease me into my day. Since I’m a huge fan of colored lighting, the fact that it has mood light built in is also a huge plus.

I think the integration with local weather and traffic information is also genius; it’s the kind of information I like to have, but rarely have time to go looking for as I’m rushing around trying to get ready. Having it spoon-fed to me first thing a handy time saver.

I’ve also been enjoying the white noise option and find it quite relaxing.

In short, the BEDDI Glow Smart alarm clock works precisely as it should and the features are easy to configure and operate. I highly recommend this device if you’re in the market for a newer, smarter alarm clock and a better wake up experience overall.

BEDDI Glow sells for about $80USD /$107CAD. Get more info on it here.

New Playbulb Solar made for pool & outdoors

Start dreaming of summer now. Playbulb has a brand new smart light that lets you decorate your pool, pond or yard with multi-coloured light. It’s the newly launched Playbulb Solar. Continue reading “New Playbulb Solar made for pool & outdoors”

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”

Beauty gadget review – Curl Secret by Conair

Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYCIt’s a mighty odd looking device for a curling iron. The Curl Secret by Conair (also labelled on the box as Infinity Pro) arrived to my tech test center recently, and I’ve been trying it out.

You’ve probably seen this gadget advertised (As seen on TV!); it looks kind of like a giant lollipop, or a bulbous weapon of some sort.

Despite its distinctive shape, the Curl Secret from Conair promises lush bouncy curls with ease.  Does it live up to the hype? I have naturally straight hair and have lots of experience with many kinds of styling tools, so my review will focus on those parameters. You might have a different experience if you are a neophyte with naturally curly hair.

Video review of Conair Curl Secret

Figuring out the Curl Secret

The Curl Secret definitely took some getting used to.  I consider myself pretty adept with curling irons and wands and even using a flat iron to curl my hair, but the Curl Secret works like nothing I’ve ever tried before.Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYC

You clamp the device on a 1/2 to 1″ section of dry hair. The device pulls hair into a round heated chamber, and warms it at the same time it wraps the hair around the inner barrel. When the timer beeps, your hair is ready, you open the clamp, and your beautifully curled hair falls free.

Important note

The opening of the curl chamber must always be facing your head , no matter what side you’re working on. That’s important, because if you mix this up, as I did on one of my early tries, your hair gets stuck. Really stuck. More on that later.

For the most part, the device is easy to use.  It helps enormously if your hair is brushed, so it’s smooth and free of tangles. Then it slips into the chamber easily, and will fall out with ease.

Curl quality of Conair Curl Secret

conair curl secret review erinlyyc
A freeze frame from my video showing rather random curls from the Conair Curl Secret

I found the curls to be rather loose for my hair texture and length, but then I changed some of the settings on the Curl Secret. There are 3 timer settings and 2 heat settings which are supposed to provide may different variations on curl, from light waves to tighter spirals. I found (not surprisingly) that the curl was tightest and lasted longest on high heat and for the longest time. The Curl Secret definitely gave me curls that lasted well into the next day.

conair curl secret review erinlyyc
Care must be taken to get uniform curls using the Conair Curl Secret Infinity.

The problem I had with the device’s curl quality is that it’s quite unpredictable. If you’re not careful to use uniform pieces of hair, and hold the machine in the same way, at the same distance from your head, you can get quite a random head of curls (See my video above for what that looked like). During a couple of tests I got both light waves and spiral curls during the same session and with the same settings, probably due to the fact I was inadvertently varying the size of the pieces of hair I was using. I was forced to do several pieces over again to try to gain some uniformity.

I also noticed that after each test, on the next day my hair felt rougher once the curl was brushed out, kind of like the strands had been fattened up or roughed up by the previous day’s experiments. I needed to wash my hair to get it smooth again.

What happens when Conair Curl Secret malfunctions or it goes wrong?

The Curl Secret has a mechanism that prevents hair from getting stuck.  If it senses resistance via a tangle, it stops drawing hair in and beeps and you must open it and start the curl over. This fail-safe works well, and I had no major problems with tangles or stuck hair.

Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYCThis mechanism obviously seems to work best if the wand is held correctly. Once I accidentally turned the curl chamber away from my head and started the curl process. It sucked in all the hair and heated it but wouldn’t release it. It was then I realized it was hopelessly jammed.

I struggled to free my curl but it was absolutely not budging. With visions of a smoking singed stump on my head, I unplugged the Curl Secret and tried to work the curl free with my hands and some tugging.  It still wouldn’t budge. I ended up having to work the end of a plastic comb into the curl chamber to help pull it free, but it was truly no easy feat. (I’ll say it again: unplug the device and only use plastic if you’re going to stick something into an electrical appliance) Fortunately there was no damage to my hair. You can bet I took extra care never to make that mistake again.

Easy to hold, cool to touch

The outside of the Curl Secret remains cool to the touch so you can manhandle it as you need to. That makes it easy to find a grip or a handhold that works. The device isn’t heavy, certainly no heavier than a blow dryer, though I’d say it felt a wee bit heavier than a large curling iron.

Overall review impressions – Conair Curl Secret

My overall impression was that the Curl Secret was just okay. The box promises “perfect curl… every time” but I’d say that’s not accurate in my experience.

conair curl secret reviewOnce I learned how to use it it was easy enough to use and it gave me a decent enough curl most of the time and the curls did last into the next day.  If I had to name the cons about this device, it’s that you have to be so cautious about how you use it. That tangle I had was no small snarl. With a curling iron or wand you can just release your hair, with this, it felt a lot more desperate when it jammed.

I also felt like the curls were not as smooth as I’d get with a wand or iron. Particularly the next day after I brushed out my curls the hair felt roughed up, something I’ve never felt with my existing wand, tourmaline iron or curling iron (though this device says it too is ‘tourmaline ceramic’).

Another part I didn’t love about the Curl Secret was that I wasn’t able to get the curl very close to my scalp. Just the way the Curl Secret is built, it can’t physically get close to the root, so I’d say I had a 2” area of hair near my scalp that I was unable to curled.

I have straight hair (just below the shoulders in length) and found the device worked fine on me, but I can’t say what the experience would be like for those with curly hair, or with very long hair.

I didn’t care for the randomness of the curl using the Curl Secret. Care must be taken to get very uniform sections in order to get a nice even curl. In my experience, it was quite hard to get even results, unless I took much more time than I would with a curling iron or wand. Even then, sometimes when I thought I was being quite deliberate, I still had sections that needed redoing.

So, would I buy myself a Curl Secret? The answer is no. I feel like I’m faster and more adept with the traditional styling tools I already own, and I can virtually guarantee my results come out soft and even with these other devices. Would a total newbie have a different or better experience with the Curl Secret than I did? I don’t have that answer.

Even so, I think this would be a good starter device for younger people who are learning to do their hair themselves (harder to get burned with this), or those with a bit less dexterity who don’t want to fuss with other pro-sumer tools. For ladies with more experience and dexterity doing their own hair, this is probably a gadget to skip.

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.

Roku Ultra Remoteroku-ultra-remote- erinLYYC-review

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.

erin-roku-ultra-thumbnail

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”

5 beauty gadgets you need now

This month on CTV Tech Talk we looked at Beauty Gadgets.

tech-talk-octoberDyson Supersonic hair dryer

img_6012The hype around this beauty gadget has been phenomenal.  Dyson, best known for its bagless, superstrong vacuums and bladeless fans, has taken its years of technology and knowledge and made it fit in the palm of your hand.

The Dyson supersonic hair dryer is definitely the priciest of hair dryers ($499CAD), but I can attest that it dries hair significantly faster than a traditional drug store dryer. Continue reading “5 beauty gadgets you need now”

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”