Google Wi-Fi now in Canada – My review

google wifiOne of the biggest complaints about making our homes smarter is Wi-Fi. After all, if you’re streaming TV, running lights, connected appliances, tablets, smartphones, computers and a host of other accessories, your Wi-Fi is bound to get bogged down. Not to mention getting decent coverage across the whole house can be a challenge. Making Wi-Fi better has often involved getting a new router, buying signal boosters, or chasing a signal by moving around the house. Now a new technology called mesh Wi-Fi has come onto the market to help improve speed and coverage. The new Google Wi-Fi, launching today in Canada, utilizes mesh Wi-Fi to improve your coverage at home.

Google Wi-Fi launches today in Canada, but I got my hands on an advance test kit for a review.

What is Google WiFi?

google wifi router single router problem
A single router or modem-router unit is a problem

Google Wi-Fi is a ‘mesh’ Wi-Fi system. It connects to your home’s modem or modem-router unit (also called a ‘gateway’) and spreads your Wi-Fi signal across the home (or business). Mesh Wi-Fi creates multiple connection points so you don’t get dead spots.

Google writes, “a mesh network is a group of routers that communicate wirelessly to each other to create a single Wi-Fi network that provides a blanket of connectivity. This allows you to have multiple sources of powerful Wi-Fi throughout your home, instead of just a single router.”

How does Google Wi-Fi work?

google wifi blanket mesh
How mesh Wi-Fi works.

Google Wi-Fi is not just a signal booster; it’s a whole new Wi-Fi system that takes the signal from your home’s modem, and spreads it all over the house. It creates multiple connection points in the house so under-serviced areas like the basement, top floor or distant rooms can get as strong a Wi-Fi signal as you can being near the router/modem.

Google Wi-Fi plugs directly into your modem. (The modem is of course the device that brings the internet signal into the home; it’s often hard-wired in to a cable in the wall.)

Google Wifi plugs into modem
Google Wi-Fi connects to your modem (gateway)

Usually your modem is connected to a router, and the router is what allows your internet to become wireless. The trouble with a single router is that it can only cover so much and extend so far; traditionally user complaints have been that some rooms are dead zones, or that top floors and basements can’t get a strong enough signal.

Google Wi-Fi addresses that by creating a series of connection points all over the house, wherever you need them. You can have as many Google Wi-Fi points in the home as you need (up to 32 Google tells me!) and adding Google Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a router.

“The system is flexible and scalable, so if you have a larger home, connect as many points as needed to get better Wi-Fi in every room (a 3-pack covers up to 4,500 sq. ft), says Google on its website, “Wifi points connect wirelessly, so you don’t need to run Ethernet cables throughout your house.”

So what does it do?

Since Wi-Fi is broadcast from each Google Wi-Fi point (and not just that lonely router in the basement laundry room), and each point connects seamlessly to each other, Google Wifi provides more coverage over a wider space.

What do you need to use Google Wi-Fi?

For starters, you’ll need internet service from a provider. (For many of us, you’ll get your modem that will bring internet into the home from the outside, and your bill is paid to companies like Rogers, Shaw, Bell or Telus.) Google says its Wi-Fi is compatible with all service providers and virtually all modems. You’ll also need a smartphone, or tablet (Android or iOS) and the free Google Wi-Fi app.

Setting up Google Wi-Fi

google wifi kit canadaI was not looking forward to setting up the Wi-Fi. My experience getting things like routers set up in the past has been that it’s tedious, difficult, and often requires tech support.

I opened the box and right away marvelled at the small card with set up instructions; just plug one of the Wi-Fi points into your modem with the ethernet cable, then download the Google Wi-Fi app.

The app will ask you to identify which of the pods is tethered to the modem. (There are numbers on the back of each of the pods and that’s how you will identify them.) Once you tell it which one is plugged in you’ll scan a QR code on the back of the device (Google says this is for security and encryption to make sure the devices are yours and with you).

The next step is to name your network and assign it a password. To keep everything straight, give it a new name and password. There’s also a school of thought that says you should name the network the same as you previous network and give it the same password so that you can fool your smart home devices, for example, into not knowing you’ve switched networks on them. In theory this would save you from having to charge all those smart devices to a new network (which in some cases means resetting them and starting from scratch.) Does this work? I’ve only had the system a few days, so I’m not sure yet.  I’ll try it and update this blog shortly — if you’re dying to know, post a comment here or message me on Twitter @ErinLYYC.

google wifi appOk, back to set up… after connecting the first Wi-Fi point or pod, you will then connect the other two Wi-Fi pods using the same process: identify them by their number on the back then name them according to where you’ll be placing them.

After that, launch the app and do a connection test. While you’re at it you can check things like the speed and test how fast the connection to your phone, tablet or computer is.

It’s easy… so easy

I can’t say enough how simple this set-up process was. The app made it absolutely foolproof, and the whole set-up went smoothly with absolutely no snags.  I test a lot of gadgets and seamless easy set-up is one of the features I give high marks to. In this case, I have no doubt even a child could get this hooked up in minutes. There’s no IP addresses to worry about, no calls to the internet service provider and no confusing instructions. I had the whole network up and running in under 10 minutes; it took longer to go up and down stairs and plug them in than it did to set up.

How fast is Google Wi-Fi?

google wifi speedI tested our home’s Wi-Fi with the existing dual band modem-router unit. On the 2.4 ghz band we were getting 27 mbps. On the 5g network we get 60 mbps. After we installed the Google Wi-Fi units, the speed went up to 68 mbps overall. That’s fast enough to stream data-heavy 4K video without buffering.

Where to place your Google Wi-Fi pods

Only you will know where best to place your pods. They should probably go to high traffic areas where people are often using their devices, or to known dead spots in the home. If you live in a multi story house and have typically have trouble getting a signal on a floor far from the router, that’s a good place to start. Similarly if you have a room that has notoriously poor coverage, place one of the pods there. While the starter kit I received came with three Google Wi-Fi pods you can add as many as you like, up to a total of 32.

What can Google Wi-Fi do for me?

Smooth connectivity, at all times, no matter where you are
Google Wi-Fi has something built in called Network Assist. This invisible genius is always working to put your device on the closest Wi-Fi point and fastest connection, so you can move around at will and not drop the signal.

The assistant also is constantly working in the background to keep you on the least connected channel.  What does that mean? Wi-Fi travels in our neighbourhoods on shared channels, which can get crowded (for proof, just open your phone or device’s Wi-Fi settings and look at all your neighbours’ networks that are out there).  All those networks are sharing ‘channels’ or bands. Network Assist works to ensure your  Wi-Fi points are using the clearest channels to connect to one another, and to your devices. Whether you’re using the 2.4GHz band or the 5 GHz, Google Wifi automatically connects your device to the band that will be fastest based on your location.

Priority Device
The Priority Device setting allows you to prioritize Wi-Fi traffic to a specific phone, tablet, computer or device. This works great in a house with several family members where everyone is often online at once. By prioritizing mom or dad’s phone or laptop, the kids can keep using the Wi-Fi, but the majority of data will go to the person that really needs it. That way everyone’s devices aren’t slowing down or stalling.google wifi schedule kids stop internet turn off bedtime

Family Wi-Fi – schedule pauses for dinner, homework, sleep
Family Wi-Fi setting allows administrators of the account, most likely parents, to control exactly who gets Wi-Fi time and when. Using this setting, you can schedule pauses in Internet use during homework time, dinner hours, or at bedtime. There’s no fighting over devices, or negotiating “just 10 more minutes”. You schedule the Wi-Fi to shut down, and it shuts down.

This setting also allows you to select specific devices and alter the times of use for those devices; your younger child’s tablet can shut down at seven, while the older children can keep on surfing until nine.

All of the settings and features are very easily controlled and adjusted in the Google Wi-Fi app.

Multiple account managers
Another cool feature of Google Wi-Fi is the ability to have multiple managers of your network. While the original account needs to be set up by one person with a Gmail account, it’s easy to add another person as an administrator simply by typing their Gmail address into the app.

Out of home connection
You can access your Wi-Fi settings, make changes, and otherwise adjust configurations even if you are not inside the home. The Google Wi-Fi app works no matter where you are.As you’re connected to the internet, you can manage things at home, and see who’s online.

Help out without hopping in the car
Having an out of home connection also means that if you’re the one in the family who manages mom and dad’s internet network, granny’s connection, or you’re always on call to help the neighbour or your sister, you can manage and access all your settings and even troubleshoot those networks, all from your phone if you get those folks a Google Wi-Fi kit.

Guest Wi-Figoogle wifi 3 home internet wifi faster
Another way to keep your home secure, is to enable the guest Wi-Fi feature. This allows you to create a separate network for guests, with its own password. This means that when kids have friends come over, or if you’re throwing a party, you can grant people Wi-Fi access without revealing the password to your private home network.

Is Google spying on me? – Security & Privacy

Been much written about Google and how much data the company has on each of us. Not surprisingly it raises the question for many potential customers about whether giving Google full access to your Wi-Fi, not just the Google search site, is opening the door for even more info to end up in the hands of a large corporation.

Google says it’s not getting any additional info from you by running your Wi-Fi.

“The information your Wifi points and the Google Wifi app collect helps us deliver the best Wi-Fi experience possible. Importantly, the Google Wifi app and your Wifi points do not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network. However, your Wifi points does collect data such as Wi-Fi channel, signal strength, and device types that are relevant to optimize your Wi-Fi performance.”

Read more on Google’s privacy policy here.

Overall Review – Google Wi-Fi

Overall I had a great experience with Google Wi-Fi. It improved my connection speeds, it was very easy to set up and manage and changing settings or adjusting the network for kids or guests was ultra easy. I’m still working with the kit and still learning more about it. If I find out more facts that should be shared, I’ll update the blog. Please post questions if you have them.

Google Wi-Fi sells for $439 for a 3-pack and additional pods are $179.

Top tech gift picks

There were so many great gadgets through my tech test center this year. I picked just a few as some of my most favourite for 2016.  Be sure to check out my longer “Top 10 tech gifts” list too. Continue reading “Top tech gift picks”

Virtual reality for real people -Reviewing Google Daydream View

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If you think virtual reality is for kids, hipsters and gamers, think again. Virtual reality is about to come to the masses thanks to Google’s inexpensive and easy to use Daydream View headset that has just launched.

What is Daydream View?

Daydream View is Google’s virtual reality (VR) headset.  It’s essentially a pair of goggles that fits over your head to immerse you in a virtual world.  It pairs with a hand-held controller that can be used as a wand, a baseball bat, or any object you might need in your new virtual world. The headset itself is not powered or electrified in any way, so it’s completely cord-free. The viewing images come from your phone.

How does Daydream work?

The video picture is supplied by Google’s Pixel or Pixel XL phones, or using another smartphone device that supports the Daydream app; you slide the phone into the front of the headset, close the flap and secure it with the elastic loop.

The app splits the content in two so it can be viewed by each eye individually; it kind of looks like one of those old Viewmaster toys. Once inside the headset, your brain registers the individual views as one big image. As you turn your head, the image follows you.

Controllerdaydream-headset-22
The controller acts as a pointer or a guide that allows you to access menus, play games and to carry out movement or motion in conjunction with what’s happening in your virtual space. There’s a touchpad on the controller which lets you swipe and scroll or click, an app-access button to help navigate, and a ‘Home’ button which lets you re-centre your cursor if things get spun around.

Audio
Audio is supplied by your phone’s external speaker, and during my testing was plenty loud enough.  The device can also be used with headphones for a fully immersive audio-video experience.

Do I need Google’s Pixel phone?

img_6264Not necessarily.  But the Pixel or Pixel XL are optimized and built to work with the headset. Google says any “daydream-ready phone” can work, so basically as long as your phone manufacturer supports the Daydream app, you’re in.

Getting set up with Google Daydream View

Check out my Unboxing video (in which I RE-box the Daydream kit) to see firsthand exactly what’s in the package; basically a set of goggles (comes in a white, gray and a rust colour), and a controller.

You’ll need to have a phone separately.  Once you’ve downloaded and launched the Daydream app you’re basically ready to dive in. Slip the phone into the headset with the screen facing you, clip it in, and then adjust the headset so it’s tight but comfortable.

What happens when you enter Daydream Home?

Daydream 'Home"
Daydream ‘Home”

The app will set you down in ‘Daydream Home’ a forested, cartoony virtual world where you’ll learn how to interact with your environment.

You’ll be guided through using your controller, how to move around, and you’ll get a taste of what you can watch, see and do.daydream-world-2 daydream-street-view

the Home world, you can access Google Streetview maps to explore popular landmarks, like the Taj Mahal. You can watch YouTube videos, check out a VR movie, or view your Google Photos collection.

What kinds of things can ordinary people do with Virtual Reality?

Tour a home for sale or check out a vacation property
Buying a new home in a city across the country? Hoping to book a sweet suite in Spain next summer? Virtual tours are just one way real people are using VR to get educated about holiday destinations, and purchases. Take a virtual tour a condo complex under construction to help decide it it’s got the right feel for you – way more immersive and helpful than staring at 2 dimensional floor plans!daydream-view

Use Daydream view to take a virtual tour of that charming AirBnB rental or to swoop through the lobby of a local hotel.

Visit Museums, see masterpieces, learn science
Virtual reality devices like Daydream View can also allow you to re-immerse yourself in your vacation experience.  Start by using Google’s Pixel phone to take 360 degree photos of your cottage, downtown San Francisco, or the pyramids, then play them back over Daydream View. You’re instantly back there, and it’s not as though you’re looking at someone else’s anonymous snaps; with Pixel phone and Daydream View, you can look down at your own feet, or even see your spouse or family posing in the picture.

Watch TV
You can also use virtual reality to tour museum exhibits, learn about the biology of undersea mammals while watching them swim around you, or even to watch videos on YouTube. Content makers like HBO, Hulu NBA and Netflix are all also launching VR content this winter.img_6705

My experience with Google Daydream

First off let me say that while I love technology and gadgets, I’m not a gamer, and haven’t been one of those people who’s been overly excited about virtual reality. So it was with a bit of detachment I unpacked the Daydream kit, readied it and strapped it on.

I’ll say the system was very easy to set up; it’s as simple as launching an app and putting the phone in the goggles.img_6687

Once I was transported to the virtual world and kind of got my bearings, I was impressed. While the home world is animated, it’s actually a great place to begin; it’s obvious you’re in a virtual world, so there’s no weird, “what’s real? what’s fake?” acclimatization.

Google Daydream view wearing size
They look big and awkward in this angle, but they’re light & comfortable.

Using the cursor I was able to go through the turorial; learning how to re-centre the cursor, getting a taste of how to see my way around.  It only took a couple minutes for me to get my vision adjusted and used to the  inside of the goggles.

There were a couple of different experiences I was able to have during testing; some animated worlds, but also real street view and photo visualizations.

I found I was able to see pixels or stippling more in the animated worlds than with photos and more realistic content, but only if I was looking for it. It’s easy enough to take your focus off the details and focus on the bigger virtual picture.

Using other virtual reality headsets, I felt like they were bulky, heavy and uncomfortable. With Daydream View, the goggles were light, soft and comfortable.  The biggest issue was there was a bit of a gap at the bottom of the goggles. I was able to remedy it somewhat by tightening the strap, but then I had the strap as tight as it would go and it still could have been tighter to hold it more securely to my face. In the end, I was just able to focus past the gap and the slight light bleed.

Overall, I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed this virtual reality experience with Google Daydream View. It’s easy, the quality was good, the headset is comfortable, and the virtual worlds I was able to explore were really well done and immersive. If you’re looking to get started with virtual reality,  $79 USD is a great entry point.

Check out Google Daydream here.

 

 

New Google Pixel phone launches in Canada: review

Google Pixel Phone front pinkIt’s probably one of the most anticipated smart phone launches in years. Google’s new Pixel phone is now out on the market and I was able to get my hands on one in advance for testing and review. Pixel is the first ever phone designed end to end by Google and it launches October 20, 2016. Continue reading “New Google Pixel phone launches in Canada: review”

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 

 

 

Testing the new Google Chromecast lineup 

Google recently announced it’s expanding and improving the Chromecast lineup. In addition to a newly revamped video streaming device, the company announced an audio version.

So far the Chromecast TV disc (changed from a stick) is proving easy to use and useful. I’m a little more puzzled by the Audio version. It streams music without the need to pair, but I don’t own a stereo that it would be useful on. If Chromecast Audio is something you’re considering, I’d love to know how you’d use it.

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Read the full report and review on the Best Buy tech blog .

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Chromecast in Canada; Google Ups their Game

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 2.12.58 PMGoogle Chromecast was the last of the TV streaming devices to launch in Canada, and while it’s still deep in catch-up mode with products like Roku or Apple TV, it is making some improvements to content available in Canada.
Case in point, Chromecast launched with just 6 apps here in Canuckistan, in March of 2014.  By October, it has 18.

So what can you do with your Chromecast now?
Chromecast launched with the Google suite of apps including GooglePlay Movies and Music, Netflix, YouTube, Vevo, Songza, and Plex, now there are several more options.  Click to read the full blog about what’s now become available and what you can do with the apps.

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