Sage Wellness essential oil diffuser review

We adjust the temperature in our homes with heaters and fans, but how often do we give a thought to the air we breathe?

I’ve recently been trying out some essential oil diffusers and it’s made me think about how nice it is to have lightly scented, humidified air in the house. It’s the kind of thing I probably wouldn’t seek out, but now that I’ve tried diffusing, I miss it when it’s not on in the home. Continue reading “Sage Wellness essential oil diffuser review”

Starting out with Philips Hue Lights & Google Home

One of the best new features of Google Home is the ability to use it to control your smart home devices, like smart Philips Hue lighting.

For those who are still learning about this new device, Google Home is a smart speaker and digital assistant that can also be used to control a variety of gadgets in your home by simply asking. Google Home is controlled merely by saying, “OK Google,” followed by a command. Continue reading “Starting out with Philips Hue Lights & Google Home”

Philips Airfryer review

We all love deep fried food, don’t we? It’s just so unhealthy.  But a new kitchen device promises to give us that deep fried flavour and crispness without all the fat and calories.  Enter the Philips Airfryer. Continue reading “Philips Airfryer review”

D-Link Omna home security camera review

Home security is more important than ever, but so is general home surveillance. Need to know if the kids got home on time? If the gardener got the lawn cut or not, or if strangers have been creeping round the house?  Continue reading “D-Link Omna home security camera review”

Google Home is coming to Canada

 Media release courtesy Google Canada.

 Spending quality time with our family and friends at home is important. What if technology could make the most of those special moments by helping us get things done?

Google Home – Canada finally gets the device

Google Home is a voice-activated smart speaker powered by the Google Assistant that does just that. Whether you want to get results from Google, turn up the music, manage your everyday tasks or control compatible smart devices in your home, all you have to do is say “Ok Google.”

Now, Google Home is coming to Canada, and with it we’re bringing the Google Assistant to Canadians in both English and French.

GOOGLE HOME CANADA

What can I do with Google Home Canada?

With Google Home, you can:

  • Get help from the Google Assistant: Ask your Assistant on Google Home a question, and it will tap into everything Google has to offer —Search, Maps, Translate and more. You can get the latest on weather, traffic, finance, news, sports, and local businesses when you need them most.
  • Enjoy your music: Whether you’re in the mood to listen to a podcast or dance around the living room, Google Home helps you enjoy your favourite tunes. With a simple voice command, you can play songs, playlists, artists and albums from Google Play Music, Spotify, and more.* Plus, you can enjoy news, podcasts, and radio.
  • Manage your everyday tasks: There’s never a shortage of things to do in the home and we could all use a little help sometimes. With your permission, the Google Assistant will help you with things like your daily schedule, commute, and more. Plus it’s a whiz at setting alarms, starting timers, and adding items to your shopping list.
  • Control your smart home: If you have smart devices in your home, you can use your Assistant to control your lights and switches from brands including Nest, Philips Hue or Samsung SmartThings and more.
  • A speaker designed for any room: Google Home’s high excursion speaker delivers Hi-Fi sound quality. It can also hear you reliably thanks to far-field microphones and sophisticated natural language processing. Crafted to fit naturally in many areas of your home, we designed the top to be clean with a hidden LED light ring to blend in.

Google Home is available for pre-order starting today from the Google Store and Best Buy Canada.

Google Home will be available starting on June 26th from the Google Store, Bell, Best Buy, Indigo, London Drugs, Rogers, Staples, The Source, Telus, Visions, and Walmart.

The Nanoleaf Aurora smart light is really amazing

nanoleaf-4First we had fire, then electricity. Tesla, Faraday, and Franklin pioneered the technology behind electricity, and then Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb. The way we light our homes really hasn’t changed much since that auspicious day in 1879. The lightbulb is round, it screws into a fixture, which requires a tradesman to install; electricity is dangerous for the uneducated.

Forget the bulb, there’s a whole new way

But now, a Canadian company has really, actually, reinvented the way we light our homes. Nanoleaf, based in Toronto, has invented lightweight, flat plastic panels that fully illuminate, change colour, morph and swirl. They’re bright, responsive and fully configurable, both in terms of how you place the lights, and how you operate them. This lighting system is called Aurora, and yes, it’s deliberately named after the Northern Lights phenomenon known as Aurora Borealis. Continue reading “The Nanoleaf Aurora smart light is really amazing”

iRobot Roomba 980 is all new: more power, more smarts

irobot roomba 980iRobot, the makers of the Roomba vacuum have updated their top of the line robot housekeeper with some brand new technology.

The Roomba 980 looks a little different from previous models; (read my review of the iRobot Roomba 880 HERE) mainly sleeker, slimmer and with a more streamlined control panel.

I had the chance to live with the 980 for several weeks, and to compare it to the earlier 880 model too. Watch my video review & test too; scroll down the page to see it.

What’s new with iRobot Roomba? 980 is all new

There are three primary upgrades to the autonomous vacuum robots: navigation, cloud connectivity, and a new motor that does better on carpet.

Roomba Upgrade #1: Improved Navigation

That window in the bottom of the photo is the irobot roomba camera.
That window in the bottom of the photo is the camera.

The Roomba 980 has a host of improvements on the navigation front. There’s a brand new camera in the top of the robot which helps it find its way around obstacles and rooms. Two optical sensors in the undercarriage work similar to your computer mouse; they read the location on a surface to track the device’s position. This allows the device to see and understand its position in your home. Like previous versions, the Roomba also recognizes drop-offs like staircases, and learns to avoid them, backing away from any cliffs.

No more ‘lighthouses’

The new 980 can also do more; while the previous version 880 was really only able to take on three rooms at a time, and required ‘lighthouses’ to draw the Roomba 880 in to more distant areas. with the new technology, Roomba 980 can find his way around the entire floor of the home, and even learns it’s way around so you are less likely to find the robot stranded in a distant room (a quirk of the 880).

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Knows when to recharge

The Roomba 980 also knows when its time to recharge. It will clean as much as it can on a single charge, then return to its charging base to re-juice.

If you’re watching the new Roomba 980 clean you’ll notice it uses a much more linear grid pattern, and that its movements seem more deliberate than previous models. That comes from, in part, the new navigational guts which create kind of a map of your home, which it them learns to follow. Move some furniture? No problem, Roomba 980 will learn to adapt.

Roomba Upgrade #2: Cloud Connection

irobot roomba appThe new Roomba 980 can now be controlled with your smartphone. Using the iRobot Home app, you can start and stop the cleaning cycle from anywhere. You can also set and change schedules and adjust settings easily, and order up extra passes over extra dirty areas. It’s a handy feature I like because if I go out and want the robot to sweep up while I’m gone (but forgot to turn it on or schedule the cleaning), it’s a single click, and I can come home to a tidy dog-hair-free floor.

The app is very easy to use, and also allows you to manage multiple robots (and name them; fun!), including the iRobot BraavaJet mopping robot. (Read a review of that device here)

The app will let you know too when the dustbin is full, and you can also sound a tone to find the robot if it disappears under a bed. One other handy feature of the app is built in help if you need it and a direct portal to the iRobot store to buy things like replacement mopping pads for the BraavaJet.

Roomba Upgrade #3: New motor & “Carpet Boost”

The final major upgrade to the Roomba system is a new motor for the 980 version. The new motor has a built in feature that attacks carpet dirt better than previous robots. “Carpet Boost” as the technology is called can detect rugs, and when it does it cranks up the motor to increase suction to pull dirt from the fibers.

That low/high switch actually allows the robot to have a longer battery life (closer to 2 hours), since the increase in power only cranks on when it’s needed.

Roomba 980 – Can you see a difference?

The differences between the new Roomba 980, and previous versions may not be stark, but they’re there. I quickly noticed the more linear cleaning pattern on the 980, but I also really heard it when the carpet boost kicked in.

Another difference I noticed was the amount of debris and pet hair that collected in the dustbin; there’s more collecting in the 980. I checked with iRobot to make sure it’s not any bigger, and it’s not, but what is happening is that the more powerful motor is picking up more dirt, compacting it and thus it looks like it’s holding more.

The 980 is obviously more expensive than other robots in the iRobot line, but with the new features it seems worth it.

My take – iRobot Roomba 980
I never thought I’d need a robot vacuum, but I have to say, after living with one for so long, I don’t want to give it up. It takes care of pet hair in particular really well, and saves swiffering daily. I love the fact it can be scheduled to clean when I’m out, or that I can turn it on from the office via the app.

The 980 gets under furniture easily, and does a pretty good job at corners, considering it’s round. I found it super handy, too, for spot cleaning dry spills or crumbs.

While there’s no denying this device is an investment, and you’ll probably still need a second vacuum to do the heavy duty deep cleaning (stairs, blinds, etc), but at least the Roomba 980 will ensure you have to drag out the full sized vacuum a lot less.

The iRobot Roomba 980 is $899US / $1099 from the iRobot website. (The previous model 880 is $599US / $849CAD) You can also find them at places like Best Buy.

 

 

 

Modern Homes Tour shows Calgary’s chicest modernist homes

img_5776Calgary Modern Home Tour, Sep 24, 2016 – Calgary architecture has come a long way. From being known for its sandstone buildings years ago, to newer, more revolutionary buildings and structures like The Bow, or the Peace Bridge, Calgary is increasingly able to boast architectural structures that are worthy of bragging about.

Probably not surprising then there was an excellent turnout today for the first ever Calgary Modern Home Tour. Featuring five home in three quadrants across the city, this home tour featured a mix of brand new builds, more recent construction, and both show homes and lived-in family houses.img_5744

Each of the five homes was stunningly beautiful in its own way; whether it was unique and distinct architectural features, or elements of interior design that set it apart.

Organized by the Modern Architecture + Design Society which is based in the US, the events are, “carefully curated by and for lovers of all things modern, we capture the finest and most original innovations in architecture, design and lifestyle.”

The homes were largely located in central Calgary, and easy to see in the time allotted (11am-5pm). At several of the homes we were able to chat with the architects, designers, builders and even homeowners about why design decisions were made, how the homes were decorated to maximize features, and even what it’s like living inside an architectural gem.img_5788img_5783

At one home overlooking the Bow river (built by Newgrowth Fine Homes), a central feature of the home was a poured concrete wall, complete with the imprint of rough-hewn wood left behind from the cribbing. The homeowner told us is was a feat of engineering (her husband was the engineer, so she should know!) and took careful planning to avoid a blowout. The pour was done in three stages, basement, main floor, then upper, and took about a year to complete. The wood imprint provides a wall that’s strong and structural, but also appears both natural and warm.

img_5771-1The Modern Architecture  + Design Society writes on its website, about the wall that it’s, “an implied barrier between the public and private spaces. It remains exposed as a central core – the stair floats upward in a ribbon against it, the archways lead to new spaces and it is the dramatic kitchen wall.”

Another fascinating home near Marda Loop was modular; the outer shell is crafted (by housebrand), floors are put in (oiled oak) and then instead of traditional drywall walls, giant deep modular floor-to-ceiling closets act as room dividers, meaning the interior of the home can be customized or adjusted as the family’s needs grow and change.

juniper-home-calgary

Perhaps the most distinctive home simply from an aesthetic perspective was an industrial-modern property that used corrugated metal and grates on the outside, with a sleek but bright inside. The stunning and huge all white kitchen features touch-latch cabinets that make it seem as though everything is stashed behind hidden panels, and gives way to both a wide-open dining area and a living room. Gorgeous maple accents and floor-to-ceiling windows on both the main and lower level ensure the home will never feel too stark.calgary-modern-homeThe home tour was a real treat and a chance to peek inside some amazing houses. Visit the MA+DS website to read more about the 2016 homes and to see some stunning professional photos.

img_5778 calgary modern home tour bath tile calgary modern bathroom calgary modern bridgeland Modern home calgary

Why is my tech broken? Why do my devices crash? Why is technology unreliable? How can I fix it?

pixellated tvI’ve tested a LOT of technology, gadgets and devices as a tech writer, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that most gadgets will require regular maintenance to keep working well.

Just like your car, the fluids need to be topped up, and when you hear a rattle you need to take it to a mechanic and get it looked at to prevent a bigger problem down the road. It’s the same thing with all the high tech gadgets we buy; you’ve got to do your part to keep them in good working order.

Why is my tech not working?

In the last few months alone, I’ve had home automation devices stop working, smart light bulbs cease to function, headphones that crashed constantly, and many other devices where they’ve just stopped working altogether, or only function intermittently.  Here’s a few common reasons why your devices may not be performing as they should.

1. Software/Firmware Updates Need to be Done

What’s the difference – Firmware vs Software

For starters, what’s the difference between firmware and software? Software is a program you run, often designed to run on a computer’s hard drive.  Usually software is something you, the user, adds to your arsenal of programs by choice. Firmware is software that’s embedded my a manufacturer into a device, that’s absolutely essential to it running. Firmware often lives inside a tiny chip deep within your device.

With that said, some products bring in constant firmware or software updates, like every couple of weeks. Others far less frequently. The key is, when your device gives you those push messages that say it’s time to update, don’t ignore them.  Updates are designed to remove bugs, patch security flaws and keep things running smoothly.  That’s why when you call a tech support hotline for help, the first thing they’ll ask is if your device is up to date.

2. Integration with your phone is not quite perfect yet

Have you ever tried to write a program for an app or device?  Yeah, me either.  It’s frikking hard, time consuming and expensive. That’s why a lot of companies will start by writing a program for just one smartphone OS, and bring in the second one later.

Why is there only an Apple App for that?

Often the development team has a preference for one device or operating system over others.  Why? This article from The Guardian explains it pretty well: “Developing iOS apps means ensuring they work nicely on a small range of iPhones and/or iPads: generally 6-8 different devices depending how far back the developer wants to go. On Android, it’s a different story: nearly 12,000 different devices out there in the hands of people, with a wider range of screen sizes, processors and versions of the Android software still in use. Many developers’ lack of enthusiasm for Android is down to concerns not just about the costs of making and testing their apps for it, but also the resources required to support them once they’re launched, if emails flood in about unspotted bugs on particular models.”

So to that point, keeping every single device out there running smoothly with your software or firmware is no easy feat. So that means if you’re having troubles you can try waiting it out until the next batch of updates, and hope that helps.

3. The product wasn’t quite ready for market, but they released it anyway

I’ve tested numerous products this year where it feels like the company’s gadget was definitely not ready for public release, but they started shipping devices anyway. Selling units helps get cash flowing in, which in turn helps pay for customer and tech support, which is one reason companies might release a not-quite-ready gadget or device.  The other reason a product might hit the market too soon?  There’s no better way to beta test something than to put it in the hands of thousands of users and see what happens.  At that point, you need to hope they have really good customer service and fast developers to get things working well quickly.

Did I get a bum device or a dud gadget?

4. It’s a dud.

There’s another reason your gadget or device may be causing you to pull your hair out. It’s a bad apple.  From where I’m sitting right now, I can see four smart gadgets/devices that have had to be replaced within hours, or weeks of getting them, because they were duds.

How do you know if they’re duds?  I’d say these days, if you’re spending any more than an hour on set up or installation and it’s not working properly, you may have a did. Today, most quality, well-made devices are set up and ready to go in less than 15 minutes.  Any longer than that and you might have a problem.  If you’ve been fighting with a gadget for more than an hour, or repeating the set up process over and over and getting nowhere, contact your company’s help line.  They can — and will —tell you if you have a bad device. And in 100% of the cases where this has happened to me, they’ve replaced it within days, at no cost to me, and the new one has worked smoothly.

How can I fix my malfunctioning tech?

So to get back to the original question: what can you do to keep your stuff running smoothly?

  1. Plan to update your device.  When an update is ready, do it.  That will decrease the liklihood of problems.
  2. Don’t ignore problems, especially early. If a device keeps crashing your computer, performing poorly or otherwise driving you crazy, call tech support and get it dealt with. If it requires a replacement device, that’s easier done a month in, rather than leaving it three or four months because you’re just too frustrated to deal with it.
  3. Keep your receipts/order numbers. All my receipts and manuals for major purchases go in one drawer, so they’re always easy to find. You’ll likely need some kind of proof of purchase to get help or a replacement.  If it’s a gift, you can always redact (black out) the price and make a copy of the invoice or receipt for the recipient.
  4. Don’t take no for an answer. If you have your receipt, and are having legitimate troubles with a device and tech support can’t help you, don’t accept that.  I recently dealt with a company that basically told me of its malfunctioning gadget, “we don’t know what to do.. soo..”. That’s not good enough.  Ask to speak to a supervisor, who often has more experience, and the authority to do something for you.

Having specific problems with your smart light bulbs?  Try a reset.  Read my blog on How to reset Your Smart Light Bulbs here.

Do you have tips or advice for people dealing with glitchy tech?  Share your wisdom in comments.

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

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

iRobot Mopping Robot

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

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

iRobot Roomba 880

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

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

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

MiPow  Playbulb Sphere Lamp

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

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

Philips Hue Go Lamp

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

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

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

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