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”

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.

Ditch printer cartridges for good (almost!): Epson Workforce ET-4550 Review

IMG_8249It’s been more than a decade since I’ve had a printer in my home.  I haven’t missed having one for many years, that is until I started testing some new ones.

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

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

No ink cartridges in this printer!

I had the chance to review and test the Epson Workforce ET-4550 wireless printer/copier/scanner/fax/ethernet, which has a unique feature: it doesn’t use printer cartridges.  Instead it contains “eco-tank” ink bottles that are equivalent to about 20 cartridge sets. The printer I have includes enough ink to print up to 5000 pages in black or 8500 pages in color, and with a set of bonus ink bottles included in the box, it will print an additional 6000 pages. That’s a long, long time before I’ll need to worry about running out of juice; possibly a couple years.

Set up of the Epson Epson Workforce ET-4550

The box for this printer is massive, but that doesn’t really fit what’s inside. The printer itself is what I would call “average” size for home printers like this. And it’s definitely not heavy. It would certainly be easy for one person to move without problem. IMG_8015

As is customary with brand new printers these days, easy removal tape is used to hold everything in place during shipping and transport. There are also pieces of tape holding some internal parts in place as well, and you’ll need to open up the scanner bed to access them during the set up process.

Filling Epson’s ink tanks

Once everything is unpacked plugged in and ready to go it’s time to fill the ink tanks. Step one of the instructions notes that you should not start messing with the ink bottles until you’re absolutely ready to fill them, and that’s probably good advice.IMG_8022
Getting ready to fill the ink tanks was a little bit intimidating since there are warnings all over the packaging and inserts about taking care with handling of the ink. Epson recommends you use gloves and place something underneath the printer when you go to fill or refill the tanks, and while I did not have any rubber gloves handy, I did spread some paper underneath.

Turns out filling each ink tank is a simple matter of unpacking the bottles from their tight plastic wrap, removing the stopper from the ink tanks on the printer, and then emptying each bottle into the tank.

IMG_8018
While this was generally mess free, once the tank was full there was a good bit of ink around the lip of the printer’s ink tank, so it’s worth taking a bit of care here and wiping up the edges  of the tank before putting the stopper back in. The tip of the refill bottle was also covered in ink so I made sure to put that into a garbage bag and get rid of it right away, lest I inadvertently drag a sleeve across it.

Colour your hair at home? Filling ink tanks is similar

Despite being careful, the tips of the ink bottles do get messy and pulling off the silver foil seals from the bottles does transfer a bit of ink to the fingertips. The whole process reminds me of home haircoloring, where you’re using different bottles and pouring messy, staining liquids between them. It’s effective but can be messy if not done correctly.

With the black tank full and ready to go I was able to move onto the other tanks; Blue, red or “magenta”, and yellow. Cleverly, each refill bottle of ink fills the tank, to the “fill” line, so there’s no leftover ink to try to store safely.

IMG_8024
Ink levels on the tanks are easily visible.

Once the ink is ready the printer will ask you to set the date, time, and your region and then it will begin going through a series of cycles internally to “prime” the ink tanks and lines into the printer. That takes about 20 minutes, so I left it to its work and went on to something else in the meantime; downloading the Epson iPrint app, which you’ll need if you want to print from your phone or tablet.

Setting up the Wi-Fi was next; the step is a simple tweak the settings on the printer itself. The printer will locate available Wi-Fi networks in the area, you select which when you want and input the password. Trying to figure out how to navigate the keypad to use upper, lower, and numerical characters was a bit challenging but after a couple minutes staring at it I figured it out.

With the Wi-Fi connected I was able to print documents from my phone right away easily. Though it did seem like they were taking a long time.

Photo Printing

Next I tried to print photos with Epson’s premium photo paper. There’s no separate way to feed in photo paper, as there is with other printers, so in what turns out to be a minor annoyance, you must unload the tray of its letter-size paper, load photo paper, and then reinsert the tray. It was here I struggled a bit as maneuvering the tabs that keep the paper aligned in the bottom of the tray were a bit finicky and felt quite rickety.  I had a bit of difficulty trying to manouver the paper and the tabs and the tray, and it seemed to get jammed a couple times. To be frank, the tray itself feels light and cheap, like it may break at any moment, and I didn’t enjoy having to fuss with it.
In any event, with photo paper loaded, the printer seemed to recognize for itself that I was trying to print photos, and popped that up on the digital display.

To print photos, go to the app, it will load any photos from your smart phone tablet or device, and once you select them they print in less than a minute.
I printed a couple photos and then my husband wanted to try to print some documents. It was back to the printer to unload the photo paper and reload plain white letter paper.IMG_8248

Print speed testing – Epson ET-4550

Printing seemed to be taking quite a long time, so I timed it, and was stunned to learn the printing a single side half page email in color took a minute and 13 seconds! In my opinion that is way way way too long, particularly when many printers can do it in a 10th of that time.
I also noticed when I printed pages that were very color rich, the ink saturated to the page to the point where it left eight wrinkled look.

I tested out some printing of airline tickets and documents that amounted to 18 pages.  I hit print from my smartphone, and the process began.  In the time I was able to make dinner, sit down and eat, and then clean the kitchen, the documents were still not finished!  I decided to do some timed tests.

My initial tests used both my Macbook Pro laptop and my iPhone 6plus.
First I printed a six page document in black-and-white only, from a basic note file on my iPhone. It took six minutes and four seconds. It also stopped for about a minute and 15 seconds just before printing the last page. By contrast it takes only 90 seconds to print the same document on another printer in the same room.

I tested a colour document next, also from my iPhone.  It took seven minutes twenty seconds to print three single-sided colour pages of a six page test, and at eleven minutes and four seconds into my six page print job the printer suddenly spit out page 4 only half completed and canceled the entire print job.

Next test was an 8 page email that I opted to print in colour (though it was mostly black-and-white) from my Macbook Pro. It took over 10 minutes, and then more than 11 minutes into the job, it again paused printing on the last page, spit out only a half completed page and then shut down the print job.

Another annoying pattern seemed to be none of the documents will print double-sided, despite this feature being turned on. I turned the future on and off repeatedly to check if it was something with in the settings that was tripping a problem, but this did not help.

Seeking help for slow printing

I got in touch with my contact at Epson to find out if this kind of speed slowness was a problem with my unit, or another issue. A conference call with some experts was arranged.  After some troubleshooting, they were able to determine that my MacBook Pro was defaulting to Air Print. Epson tells me Apple’s Air Print drivers are much slower then the dedicated Epson drivers.  Their assessment is that’s why pages take so long to print from the MacBook Pro.

Follow instructions EXACTLY. Do not Deviate.

While step 5 in the Epson set up/start  guide tells you to install the Epson drivers and how to get them, (by going to Epson.com/support), that was a step I did not take initially, as my MacBook pro immediately found the printer on Wi-Fi, and handled the set up using the Air Print drivers. Despite this, the Epson experts told me that my skipping the software installation step is not “what most users do.” They say most users follow the instructions exactly and would have set up the drivers as instructed, and thus would not likely be experiencing slowness when printing from the computer.

Hallelujah! A page in 20 seconds!

The techsperts had me download the new Epson dedicated drivers, install them, and print a few test pages. The printer was now able to print both color and black-and-white in about 20 seconds. Yay! A twenty second print time is also much more workable, and in line with other home printers of this type.

You can fix laptop slowness, but not iPhone delays on the Epson Workforce

However there is not such an easy fix if you are experiencing slowness of printing from a smart phone or tablet such as the iPhone or iPad.  Since these particular devices use Air Print and only Air Print to send documents to the printer, you are going to have to deal with delays.

During my tests I had another printer at my disposal, so I asked why I was not experiencing the same problems of slowness with the other printer when printing directly from iPhone or iPad. Epson tells me that’s because “Epson uses its own unique printer language” and that instead of the printer doing the heavy lifting of data transfer and conversion, the computer does it for the printer via bitmap when using the installed the software drivers.

There’s a fix for Apple issues… Kinda

The Epson experts recommend when printing from smart devices like the iPhone or iPad to use the Epson iPrint app instead of printing from within other apps, or using Air Print.  Using the iPrint app does allow you to print downloaded documents, photos and web pages, but unfortunately the app doesn’t integrate with your emails, for example.

The bottom line is Epson’s folks tell me delays in printing are not uncommon when printing from Apple devices such as smart phones or tablets. Avoiding those delays is fixable by using your laptop or computer, so long as you download and install the proper Epson drivers.

While there could potentially be other variables at play keeping Air Print from being speedy, such as variables with the router, web traffic in the neighborhood or time of day, Epson says at this time it “can’t explain why I was having problems” with slow printing from my iPhone and doesn’t know what can be done. “There’s no evidence it’s an Epson issue.”

Overall impressions of Epson Workforce ET-4550

Once the proper print drivers were installed, the Epson Workforce ET-4550 is a great printer, and can match speed with other printers of the same size and type.  The printer itself is light, easy to move, and the flexibility of having ink tanks which can store years of ink shouldn’t be underestimated. I also like that you can see the ink levels in the tank at a glance.

While the ink tanks for me are a pro, I can see the clumsy or the fidgety person having an issue with refilling them, which could be a con for some.

As far as speed goes, the Epson Workforce is a good bet, and when printing from a laptop (even an Apple Macbook) it works perfectly. However for me, the lack of print speed when printing from my iPhone is a huge con. I’d say 80-90% of my documents and emails get printed via my phone, so having to wait forever for them, whether the issue is Epson’s Apple’s or something else, is frustrating and a needless delay to my workday.

I’d recommend this printer particularly for an office where the bulk of printing will be done from dedicated computers, and not other smart devices.  I would not recommend it for an Apple user who intends to do the bulk of their work from a handheld device.

For more info on the Epson Workforce ET-4550, click here. The printer is available at Best Buy in Canada for $599.

Epson provided a Workforce ET-4550 printer for testing. It did not ask for nor recieve permission to approve this review.

Power on the go: Anker slim battery case

anker case
I’m always looking for power solutions.  I’ve got cords and cables in nearly outlet at home, but of course when you’re in the most desperate situations where your device is dying, you’re rarely at home. That’s why I love battery cases.  You can wear them on your smartphone all day long, and only use them to boost your juice when you need to.
IMG_8114-0I think they’re handier than external charging battery packs, because you don’t need an extra pocket or space in your bag to stash it; it’s just always there, and you don’t need to fuss with tangled cords.
A new slim charging case I’ve just discovered is by Anker.  Their battery case will give you up to 70 hours more audio, 19 hours of 3G talktime, 15 hours of video, 14 hours internet or 3½ hours 3D gaming. Almost as important as the extra battery life is the fact these cases are Apple approved, meaning you won’t own it for a few months then have your device reject it.
This case feels quite slim in the hand and on the phone, and the convenience of charging your phone up without being tied to a cord is truly awesome.  While this case is super slim, it also packs impact protection, meaning your phone is safe from accidental drops too.
Get your hands on one of these Anker Ultra Slim Extended Battery Case cases via Amazon.
anker 2

Watching Your Health? Qardio Arm Blood Pressure Monitor Review

qardio vase-arm-cup-table
It’s a pain, and a time-suck going to the doctor.  You have to find parking.  You sit and wait.. and wait… and wait some more.

What if you could take care of some of the routine tasks you see a doctor for, at home, WITH the permission of your doctor? A new gadget I found can help you do that.

The QardioArm is an at-home blood pressure cuff that works just like the one in your doctor’s office. You just strap it to your arm, pull the velcro closure tight, and use your smartphone to take a reading.

How it worksIMG_5105
Download the Qardio app for iPhone or Android, and set up an account.  It’s quick and takes barely any time.  Once you have an account, you unroll the cuff, and slip the QardioArm over your arm, then cinch it tight.  A small box on the outside of the cuff holds all the technology. When you’re ready, tap the app to tell it to take a reading.  The cuff inflates, just like the one at your doctor’s office, and in a minute you have your blood pressure and heart rate, plus more:

What it measures
>Measures your systolic, diastolic blood pressure as well as heart rate, includes irregular heart beat detection.
>Tracks your measurements over time with smart charts, trends and stats.
>Supports multiple users.
>Fully integrates with the Qardio product family using the companion Qardio App which automatically stores all your data in Qardio’s secure cloud.
>Allows you to share your measurements and progress automatically with your doctor and family.

The app keeps track of your readings, and can chart your progress over time. It’s infinitely portable, rolling up inside the cuff, which also acts as a cover.  Plus it’s small enough to take just about anywhere with you.  Qardio says, “unlike traditional blood pressure monitors, QardioArm wireless BP monitor is cleverly designed with an integrated cuff serving as a protective cover. It’s portable, stylish and blends seamlessly into your daily life.”

IMG_5108QardioArm also has some cool features, like its “Places” function, which allows you to monitor your blood pressure across multiple locations and, as Qardio explains it, helps you “understand how your lifestyle impacts your health.”

The Friends and Family function lets you follow others or allows others to follow you, “creating a support network for better health outcomes,” according to the company. Using the app you can also set reminders, notifications or track your monthly stats and averages.

The device also comes in an array of fun colours, so it doesn’t look like a medical device.  It looks.. cool.

Is it accurate?
I’m not a doctor.  And I have no major medical problems that require me to take my blood pressure every day.  So with that out front, let me say I can only recommend this gadget on the basis of it’s technology, and ease of use.  I can make no claims about its accuracy.  For any medical advice or recommendations about this device, you can contact Qardio directly, and/or speak to your doctor.

On the subject of the Arm’s accuracy, Qardio says,  “QardioArm smart blood pressure monitor is clinically validated to accurately measure your systolic and diastolic blood pressure along with your heart rate. Easily perform a triple measurement average for the most precise feedback. QardioArm also has irregular heart beat detection and will store the data, providing your doctor with more actionable insights into your heart health.”

The Review, from a patient
I lent the device to a friend who does have a need to measure blood pressure a few times each day.  He found the device very easy to use and quite accurate, saying he appreciated that the app will coach you through the process of taking readings, as well as showing what the readings mean; whether they’re in a normal range or high, or into hypertension territory.

He took measurements using both the blood pressure cuff his doctor had provided him, and the QardioArm.  I’ll attach a copy of his readings over a few days.  The readings he got from each device were not identical, but they’re very close.

IMG_6419
My friend loved that he was able to get his readings on his smartphone and then text them to his doctor right away.  His doctor appreciated that too.  If my pal had one complaint, it’s that he found the device itself a bit bulky and a touch hard to apply with one hand.  He says he was able to get used to it but it does require a bit of dexterity. His doctor told him he was happy with the readings it was giving him.

Overall

I found the QardioArm very easy to use and set up. The data is easy to read, and fully shareable.  If you have aging parents, or know someone who needs to keep a closer eye on their health, this is a great gadget to have.  Plus it’s simple enough that even a non-tech savvy person could operate it with ease; if you can use a smartphone, you can use the QardioArm.

You can get one of these little devices for about $124  from Qardio’s website or from Walmart, Staples, London Drugs, or Amazon.

IMG_5110

Presence App turns old smartphone or tablet into a wifi video surveillance system: Review

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 11.28.57 AMHome security systems can be expensive, cumbersome, and pain to install. However I’m happy to report that I’ve recently been testing several home security options where installation is quick and easy (read my review of the Ring video doorbell), and operation of the systems is a snap.

The free Presence app is one of those. Presence turns your spare, unused, or out of date smart phones or tablets into wireless video monitors. How? You plug them into a power source, prop them up in a room you may want to keep an eye on and they connect to Wi-Fi. From there, you use the presence app on another phone to remotely access the video feed. You can watch what’s going on in your home, garage, or business, either obviously, or surreptitiously. The presence app has a neat feature where you can dim the screen, but the app stays running in the background, so no one will know it’s watching. Great if you need to use it as a nanny cam or similar.

Features

IMG_6011Presence has a few interesting features. For one, you can load multiple cameras into your stream, meaning you can have as many eyes as you need. You can control the camera functions remotely from pretty much anywhere in the world you can get access to the Internet; whether on another smart device, or on a desktop.  The app also allows motion detection recording, meaning if it detects anything moving in your home, it will start making a movie of it, and you can even set how long it should record for, and the time between recordings, so repeated emotions can be eliminated  as any source of concern.  You can also adjust the sensitivity of the motion recording, and the Presence app also gives you access to your smart phone or tablet microphone, meaning you can hear what’s going on inside your home as well.There’s also an option to creat your own customized rules for using the app.

Presence also has an interesting/creepy feature called Twitter auto sharing. When enabled, Presence will automatically post motion detection videos or  thumbnail photos to your Twitter account on your behalf. Presents says “it’s a great way to share interesting moments with the world while building a following”. I think the potential for posting stuff you don’t want for the world to see is enormous and terrifying. But that’s just me. You maybe wondering how presence makes any money by giving away the service for free. I know I was. Presence actually also offers more traditional security and home safety devices, as a bundle from its website. Those devices can integrate with the Wi-Fi cameras from your old smart devices giving you a full spectrum home security system.

Privacy Concerns

Presents addresses any security or privacy concerns in its privacy policy. If you’re wondering what happens to any video that’s recorded in your home, here’s the answer.

“1.4 Digital Video Our Presence application includes a feature which allows you to use a smartphone or tablet as a video monitoring device. Videos, Audio, and Images are captured locally and automatically by your device when triggered by motion or audio detection events, sent over a secure channel to our server, and then immediately encrypted while being securely stored in our servers for future playback via streaming. Video, Audio, and Images may be archived even if they do not appear in your account interface. Each video has time and date information as well as unique identifier to link it to your account and device. Video and audio is stored in common video file formats such as MOV or MP4 but may change as needed for efficiency or to adapt to emerging standards. Images are typically stored in .jpg format. Unless you select a different permissions or sharing level, then by default all your content is privately stored encrypted on disk using AES-128 encryption, to prevent anyone but you or anyone you’ve given access to your account from accessing it.”

Now, is there some chance your camera could be hacked remotely? We’ve seen that happen with several baby monitors recently (read more here). I’ve gotten in touch with the folks at Presence, and here are their answers to my two most burning questions, straight from President & CTO David Moss:

Erin: What measures are there in place to prevent an unauthorized person hacking into my video feed?

David: “Presence implements a much more advanced method of security than standard IP cameras.  First, your username and password is require to gain access to any camera or device in your Presence account.  Next, cameras will not begin streaming content until they receive a command from our cloud servers to start streaming.  All communications to and from the cloud (including the command to initiate streaming) are encrypted with 2048-bit SSL, and delivered to the device over a channel that is bi-directionally authenticated with a cryptographic token.  This level of communication is more secure than a banking website.  The biggest security risk is divulging your own password to someone else, or selecting a weak password.”

Erin: Would there be any way for, say, a Presence employee to surf people’s video feeds at will?  i.e. is there any potential for my video feed to be viewed by anyone other than myself, and those I choose to authorize?

David: “No – your video streams and video feeds are accessible only by you.  In fact, we architected the cloud server FabrUX which powers Presence (read more), to prevent everyone, including our own employees, from being able to access users’ video feeds or motion detection videos.  Motion detection videos are stored in the cloud encrypted with AES-128, using the same methods used in banking websites to store credit card information.  Because of the level of security we’ve implemented, all of us here at People Power Company (creators of Presence) are comfortable having Presence cameras throughout our own homes.”

The Verdict

I like this app a lot. It has great functionality, excellent options, and seems like something I’m definitely going to have set up next time I’m away from home. For now, Presence will be watching the dog while I’m at work. The app gets 4 1/2 out of five stars from reviews on the Apple App Store. You can also get more info from the Presence website.

Screen Shot 2015-08-02 at 11.28.44 AM

Smartphone Cases That Do MORE; they can light you, power up, & hold essentials

tech talk marchDo you hate trying to stuff your wallet into a pocket already crammed with your phone?  Why not amalgamate?  Cool new cases now allow you to lighten the load, take great selfies, and even juice-up on the go!

This month on CTV’s Tech Talk, we looked at some awesome case options:

Speck Cases

speck

From hard candy shell cases of slick plastic, to grip-ier rubberized cases, Speck has it all. One of the crew favourites today was the card holder cases. They’re functional, durable and come in lots of really bright colours.  Another great thing about Speck is they make cases for nearly every type of phone.

Mujjo Cases

mujjo case

If you’re looking at a case that protects, with card slots, but also looks business-appropriate, Mujjo has some great options. Designed to hold 2 or 3 of your essential cards, this chic and low profile leather wallet case helps eliminate bulky pockets. Add a key and this case is all you need.

Caseco Cases

caseco

I love featuring Canadian companies whenever possible.  I was recently contacted by Caseco and they let me now about some of their versatile and beautiful leather-look exterior, suede interior cases.  I liked the ID Wallet case, with small window and mirror.  Chic and handy.  When the folio cover is closed, the phone can be unlocked to show time or screen calls through the window, and when dark, the window can be used as a mirror.

Eyn Cases

eyn case

We looked at leather wallet-style cases,but these are these cool plastic, snap-clutch cases from Eyn.  They’re pretty, durable, and hold a good amount of stuff, so ladies will no doubt fall in love. The satisfying snap they make when they close securely is a nice touch too.

Ring Light Photo Case

iphone-ring-light-9b32_600.0000001420423397

This was the darling of the TV studio today! Photojojo’s Ring Light and case protects your phone and has a swing out, fully adjustable light  (warm and cool colours) that lights you softly by hovering over the smartphone’s camera lens, as you snap photos on your phone.

Ina Sidhu tries out the Ring Light.  All the ladies wanted one of these babies!
Ina Sidhu tries out the Ring Light. All the ladies wanted one of these babies!

PhoneSuit

phonesuit

Are you the type who always runs out of juice on your device? The Phonesuit Elite battery case will keep you going all day long.  On its own, it protects, then when you need the extra hit of power, you just turn it on, and it gives you an additional 120% charge. The beauty of these cases are they recharge in 2 hours, and are fairly slim, considering all the power it packs.  While it’s off, it protects the phone, but turn it on, and it starts the charging process.

While we showed off mainly iPhone cases on CTV today, most of these cases are available for a wide variety of smartphones. Click HERE to watch the video!

tech talkWhat’s your favourite case?  Is it one of these, or another case I may not know about ? Let me know in comments!

Boost your Car and Charge Devices; Review of the Cobra JumPack

Cobra Jumpack

If there’s a person who’s actually happy with the battery life of their mobile device, I haven’t met them. I’m always on my phone and I’ve been carting around a credit card sized battery pack in my bag for a while now; it’s tiny and it’ll only give me about a third to half a battery boost. So I was excited to try out a new device that will not only charge your devices, it will also BOOST YOUR CAR! It’s the Cobra JumPack.

cobra2.jpgThe first thing that struck me about the Cobra JumPack is that it’s small; just 5”x3”x1”.  It’ll easily fit in your palm, pocket or purse, not to mention the console of your car, where it will morph from handy gadget booster to ninja auto rescuer when it boosts your car’s dead battery.

You might have heard of Cobra Electronics.  They make CB radios, radar detectors, dash cameras, and GPS systems.  The company also makes larger portable power units, but the JumPack is the smallest one I’ve ever seen that can do so much.  The company describes it this way; “the Cobra JumPack allows users to rapidly charge smartphones, tablets, cameras or other mobile devices and additionally has enough power to even jumpstart a car, motorcycle, boat or other vehicle.”

Cobra JumPack – The Specs

So how does it work and what will it charge?  Cobra says it can reenergize devices multiple times on one charge, making it perfect for emergencies like a power outage, for travelling, or for whenever your slowly wasting cell phone battery decides to give out on you.
cobra Jumpack console.jpgThe Cobra JumPack has a powerful 200A starting current, 400A peak current (for non mechanics, that means it has enough juice to boost your car more than once on a single charge). The JumPack has a 2.1 Amp USB output and a powerful 7500 mAh Li-Cobalt Battery with a large and easy to read battery status indicator.

It also has an LED flashlight with a strobe and S.O.S function for emergencies, or so you can see your way under the hood when boosting that dead battery.  The kit includes jumper cables and two different re-charging methods; a wall charger for home and a 12V car CLP charger (cigarette lighter charger) to charge your battery pack while you’re out.

The Tests: Using JumPack on Devices & Dead Cars

I took a very dead iPhone, and hooked it up to the Cobra Jumpack.  It was fully ready to go in under an hour, and the JumPack was still full, according to the battery indicator.  The next test was bringing the JumPack camping.  I gave it a full charge before leaving home, and the JumPack recharged my cell phone twice and my husband’s phone, and was still ¾ full at the end of the weekend.

While the JumPack is bigger than the mini charger I currently carry around with me, it’s not so much bigger that you’d rather leave it at home.  It only weighs 10.58 oz  or 300 g, so it’s just over half a pound.  In a backpack, it’s not the kind of weight you’d notice.  In a small handbag, maybe.
The device works great for device charging small electronics and gadgets, in my opinion.  But the big test for me will be to see if it’ll recharge a car; which is the main reason Cobra created it.

A Mechanic weighs in on the JumPack

I brought the JumPack to my mechanic Dean.  In truth I needed an old car to boost, to really see if it works, and Dean has plenty of them.  He took one look at the Cobra JumPack and said, “that’s it”?  He seemed surprised by the small size.  Large caddy-style battery boosters have been available for a while, but they’re big, heavy and clunky.
We hooked the JumPack up to the battery of a ‘92 VW Passat, turned it over and it fired up immediately.  Dean seemed impressed, and I was too.  There’s a lot of power in the JumPack, and after we started the Passat, the JumPack still showed a full battery; definitely enough to boost another vehicle, or charge up all my devices again. Dean immediately began listing off all the places and situations where the JumPack would come in handy. There are plenty I can think of and you could probably dream some up too, dear reader.
https://vine.co/v/MYQaKP1I0nL/embed/simple

Jump your car, motorcycle or even a boat!

The Cobra JumPack would be handy on any trip.  On a road trip, you can easily tuck it into the glove box or console, and keep it fully charged with the included cigarette lighter charger.  Flying somewhere?  The JumPack will fit in your bag, and give you hours of power for just about any device. That would mean you can work, or use it to keep children’s entertainment fully juiced.  photo 3-6.JPGThis device would also be perfect to stash in a boat or RV, or even a motorcycle saddlebag for emergency power, or for use as a flashlight, or of course to boost any dead vehicle battery.  While camping it was indispensable, and my friends were impressed at its small size, and big charging capabilities.  Keeping a JumPack fully charged would also be super convenient in a power outage.  You could use it at a cottage, cabin, or out on a boat… the possibilities are almost endless…..

The Verdict on Cobra JumPack

I need to get one of these.  I try out a lot of gadgets and new tech, but this is one of the rare devices that is well proportioned, powerful, extraordinarily useful, and affordable.  Never again will I be caught in a cold dark parking lot, begging jumper cables and a functioning battery from passing strangers.  I also appreciate all the juice it holds for charging my iPhone, my camera, and iPad.  As I said in the beginning, my teeny charger is fine in a pinch, but the JumPack is much more powerful and reliable.  The Cobra JumPack does exactly what it says it does, it works very well, and it’s infinitely handy.  It’s a must-have for anyone needing portable power on the go.

cobra jumpack.jpg

 

 

 

 

 This post was originally written for Future Shop’s Tech Blog. Future Shop is now Best Buy in Canada.

New Apple TV? Some great tips, tricks, shortcuts and hacks.

New Apple TV? Some great tips, tricks, shortcuts and hacks.

 

If you found an Apple TV under your Christmas tree, congratulations! You’ve entered the 21st century!  I won’t bother with the “How to Set Up Your Apple TV tips here, because if you haven’t gotten that far by now, you’re probably not ready yet for the kind of awsomeness I’m about to unleash on you