CTV Tech Talk: Back to school gear for college students: Apple, Beats, HP, Targus

Heading back to college or university means sourcing out some gear that can provide all the computing power you need, while being easy to use too.  This time on CTV Tech Talk, we looked at a laptop, tablet, and some other tech that can help make school assignments and studying easier. Continue reading “CTV Tech Talk: Back to school gear for college students: Apple, Beats, HP, Targus”

Polaroid Zip review – mini photo printer

When was the last time you printed a photo? If you’re like most people, it’s been quite a while. Many of us take hundreds of photos every year, but very few of them get to escape the digital prison that is our smart phones.

There are now mini photo printers on the market. These pocket-sized photo printers are very portable and easy to use meaning it’s now very convenient to print photos.

Continue reading “Polaroid Zip review – mini photo printer”

Polaroid SnapTouch camera & printer review

Since the world has become a fully digital place, no one prints photos any more. An array of small photo-specific printers on the market aims to change that habit by making printing easy and adding some fun elements to the experience.
The Polaroid SnapTouch camera and photo printer is one of those gadgets. (I’ve also reviewed the older generation Polaroid SocialMatic camera. Read that review here)

Small and compact, the SnapTouch looks cool and sleek right out of the box. It uses Polaroid’s Zink paper to spit out small 3”x2” prints. The backings are adhesive, so these tiny prints can also double as stickers.

Polaroid SnapTouch Camera + Video Specs

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
The SnapTouch has a very small internal memory.

The camera is a 13 megapixel camera. By comparison, the iPhone 6 has just 8 megapixels, so the photos should be pretty good. The SnapTouch also takes 1080p video and can store images and videos on a 128 GB Micro SD card (not included).

Unfortunately, neither the package, nor the Polaroid website tell you how much storage is on the camera without a micro SD card, so I snapped photos until it told me the internal hard drive was full – that’s a grand total of 15 photos. (And by the way, there’s no bulk delete feature I could find; each photo must be manually deleted, which was tedious)

Without that micro SD card you can record less that 30 seconds of video. The lens will also constantly refocus the image so it looks like it’s wavering as the autofocus constantly adjusts. I think it’s a terrible idea to have so little internal storage, but I guess that’s common with cameras, that you need to purchase additional memory. It would be nice if that’s spelled out on the package.

Set Up – Polaroid SnapTouch

Setting up the camera is reasonably simple. You’ll need Polaroid’s SnapTouch app to access some features but for the most part you can take photos and print them instantly right from the camera. You snap the picture, then hit the print button right on the back of the screen.

Things get a bit more complicated when you want to use the camera as a printer and send photos from your smartphone, but we’ll get to that…

Delayed image capture

It’s worth noting the photography is not fast here. There is a delay of about a second or two from the time you press the shutter button until the image is captured. While this will be frustrating but adaptable for adults, kids are bound to keep hitting the shutter button or moving the camera, not realizing image capture is already in progress.

The camera was going to sleep relatively quickly during my testing, but it can be woken up almost immediately by touching the shutter button lightly. I discovered soon after there is a setting in the menu that allows you to extend that screen timeout option up to 2 minutes.

Printing Options, Effects and Filters

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyyc
You can add filters, but they’re a bit much

You can choose a variety of different colour borders that look like a vintage Polaroid camera frame when you want to print. While that original ‘Polaroid’ style photo paper no longer belongs to Polaroid (read why here) you can still print a faux Polaroid border with special effects.

If you don’t opt for that, these prints come out edge-to-edge.

There are also a variety of different effects and filters like Instagram, though they’re quite limited as far as choice goes, and honestly, they’re quite garish and extreme.

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyycA touch screen on the back of the camera let you access photos, delete, edit them, share them, or print. There are also digital ‘stickers’ or emojis you can add to the photos. By touching the emoji or icon, you can drag it around the screen and place it on the photo wherever you want. That function worked easily enough, though the emojis are limited to a flower, a heart, lips, sunglasses and a smiley face, as you can see at right. You’re not exactly going to become Rembrandt here.

Print speed of the Polaroid SnapTouch camera

While it takes a second or two from the time you hit the print button for the process to begin, the printing of the image takes an awfully long time; almost 30 seconds. With that said, if you compare this Polaroid printer to a device like the Fujifilm Instax Share printer, the overall wait times might be quite similar.

The Polaroid printer takes about 30 seconds to spit out the print, but when it’s done, the print is fully ready and rendered in color. With the Instax Share, it may print the photo much faster, but you’ll still need to wait a minute or so for the image to develop on the paper.

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
A selection of printed photos from the SnapTouch camera

Printing from your smartphone to the camera

The SnapTouch camera gives you the option of sending photos from your smartphone or other device to the camera for instant printing.

Set up for this option is slightly different. You’ll need to connect the phone and the camera, and doing this is not intuitive, nor does the camera or app walk you through it.

There is nothing within the app which will tell you why your printer is not talking to your phone. Fortunately for me, I’ve dealt with enough of these devices that I know you need to go to your phone’s Settings menu, find the Bluetooth settings screen, then look for the Polaroid SnapTouch to appear in the Bluetooth list.

Click to connect it, and you should hear the device emit a tone that lets you know it is finally connected. Return to the app and you should see confirmation of that fact. From there you can select the photo you’d like to print.

erinlyyc polaroid snaptouch camera printer
Photo printed from iPhone 6 to the SnapTouch printer. The print is much darker than the original.

Constant reconnection to Bluetooth

It’s worth taking note that each time the camera powers off, it loses the connection to Bluetooth, and each time you need to reconnect via your smartphone’s settings menu.  That was annoying, but not an uncommon problem in other similar printers I’ve been testing, like the Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer. (Read that review to see which of these photo printers comes out on top.)

When picking a photo from the camera roll, I noticed the Polaroid app frequently zooms in the photos by quite a bit. The app asks you to pinch to adjust the zoom, but it won’t actually let you do it.  Weird.

Finicky Printing

Every time I tried to print from my phone, the SnapTouch did that weird zoom thing. Finally, I found that by adjusting the orientation of the film on the camera screen I could disable the zoom effect. By the time I’d reverted the photo from upside down back to right side up, it had snapped back to normal size without the zoom. Also weird.

Sometimes I would connect to the SnapTouch in order to print, select the photo I wanted, and then click print, but nothing would happen. I would get an error message in the app telling me the printer was busy, but nothing would print out, and nothing else would happen. No error messages, no warnings, no indication if the SnapTouch was out of paper… nothing.

Turning the camera off and then turning it back on again seemed to deal with the worst of this trouble, but of course then you need to re-connect to Bluetooth.

SnapTouch Print Speed from smartphone

It takes the Polaroid SnapTouch about 6 seconds, and even up to 10 seconds on some attempts from the time you hit the print button in the app, until your photo begins printing from a smartphone (in my tests and iPhone 6 plus). Once you get used to this it’s OK I guess, but the first few times, you’ll have no idea the photo was actually about to print so you think you should start over, or keep hitting print. Sometimes it omes out eventually, other times, nothing happened, and maybe I confused its little circuits.

I found many things on this camera were slow; from the image capture, to printing being initiated. It made the camera feel quite old, clunky, and outdated.

No fun effects when connected to your smartphone

One final note on printing from your smartphone; filters and borders will not work on photos that are printed from your smart phone. (If they do, I couldn’t figure it out, and there seemed to be no easy explanation found on the Polaroid website.) In order for this effect to work, you must snap the photo using the camera.

Polaroid SnapTouch photo quality

polaroid snaptouch camera printer erinlyyc
A look at the same digital photo as seen on iPhone 6, the SnapTouch camera screen, and the SnapTouch print.

I was really, really unhappy with the photo quality of the Polaroid prints. The colours were not accurate, the prints more often than not looked washed out, and on many of the photos I printed, I was left with odd lines across the print. For a 13 mp camera, what was coming out the back didn’t seem right. Comparing it to my 8mp iPhone camera and viewing those on my iPhone screen, the Polaroid SnapTouch looks and feels like a toy by comparison.

Overall impressions of the SnapTouch camera

I would absolutely not buy this camera for myself.  I didn’t like the photo quality because the Zink paper seemed washed out and it didn’t provide true colour in my opinion. For the price (+$200) I think you could do much better.  Polaroid snap touch printer camera erinlyyc

Set up and operation is not intuitive on this device when pairing it with a smartphone. Yes, you can figure it out but it wasn’t easy. Plus the fact that none of the much touted special effects or filters can be added to the photos when printed from a smart phone is a big oversight. Those are only available on photos taken using this SnapTouch camera.

The camera overall feels like a toy, and maybe that’s all it needs to be, but I think this device would be frustrating for kids and tweens too because of the slowness of its operations. Plus, I think it should be spelled out on the package that you need a Micro SD card, and that one is not included.

While I loved the idea of this gadget, it just doesn’t have the quality and versatility I look for in a device. I don’t feel it performed well as either a camera or a photo printer. And the bottom line for me is that many of the photos I printed, from both the iPhone and the camera are such low quality, in some cases, they’re not worth having. You can also get

The Polaroid Snaptouch Camera and Printer sells at Best Buy for $239CAD.

You can also get more info from Polaroid’s website.

New Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 – reviewing mini photo printer

While most of the photos we take stay locked forever on our smartphones, it’s now getting easier to print them at home. In part one of a three part series here on the blog, we’ll take a look at some of the gadgets out there that will print photos for you. First up, the Fujifilm Instax Share printer.

Testing the Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 photo printer

Fujifilm has recently upgraded its pocket photo printer, the Instax Share, to make numerous improvements; the new model is known as the SP-2. It prints mini size photos only, that measure 62mm x 46mm. I had a chance to test this device for several weeks, and here’s what I found. I previously reviewed the Instax Share SP-1, and you can read that review too.

Set up wasn’t intuitive

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review
The Instax Share app interface

Setting up the Instax Share printer wasn’t very intuitive. With the printer charged, and the app downloaded, you might think you can just open the app and print. Not so. In the initial set up, you select which type of printer (sp-1 OR sp-2) you’d like to use. But after that it doesn’t tell you where to go or how to move forward with setup.

How to  set up and connect Fujifilm Instax Share

Fortunately for me, I’ve set up enough Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices to know that at this point, I needed to exit out of the Fujifilm app, and go to the phone’s ‘settings’ menu. Select ‘Wi-Fi’, then switch the printer on.

At this point you should see Fujifilm/Instax/Share or some combination of those words pop up as a Wi-Fi choice. Select it, then once it’s connected, you can close settings and return to the app. By now you should see the new printer in the app, if you don’t click ‘Connect and print’ and the app should connect.

Once the set up process is complete, printing is ultra easy. Simply select the photos icon in the app or take a new photo. Once you’ve chosen what you want, select “connect and print”. There are several other printing options, but we’ll get to those in a bit.

Constant re-connection

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review
The difference in prints from Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 (photos on the left) and Polaroid (photos at right).

Annoyingly, the printer will go to sleep after a few minutes, so it’s important to note if you left it unattended for a period of time, you may need to turn it back on and reestablish the Wi-Fi connection before you can connect again. This involves basically repeating part of the set up process each time you want to print. I find this a huge pain. You can’t just turn the printer on an pop out a few prints, and because the printer automatically goes to sleep after about 5 minutes it’s a constant on/off/reconnect process.

Fun new films – but who owns Polaroid film technology?

The photos printed on the Fujifil Instax Share SP-2 are on a retro-style ‘Polaroid’ frame. Fujifilm now has this technology, though Fujifilm rep Florence Pau tells me, “Fujifilm has a long history with instant film and Instax has no affiliation with Polaroid brand or technology. Essentially, the borders are there to seal the film.”
Polaroid was more blunt when I asked them why Polaroid cameras don’t use their original iconic film. Stephanie Agresti told me in an email, “Polaroid does not presently own the previous film technology. Polaroid products now integrate Zink Zero Ink technology to produce images instantly.”Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review

Since my last test run with an Fujifilm Instax Share printer there are a variety of new instant films that have been released; all of them are mini sized, similar to what you might get from a photo booth. Available in 10 packs, you can now get printed borders on the film, including stripes, a colourful checkerboard (called ‘stained glass’), film with XO XO on it, or in new monochrome black and white, among just a few. While I thought these were a bit gimmicky initially, once the photos were printed out, they had a really nice unique quality to them. I kind of got attached to the stained glass frame.

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC reviewCan you swap film or cartridges on the Instax Share?

The films come in plastic boxes that clip into the printer by opening a wide door in the printer’s body. You would think that makes it easy to swap cartridges back and forth, and that there’d be no worry about exposing the film too early. Turns out that’s not the case.
I swapped a few cartridges back and forth in the printer. Each time I’d make a swap, the printer would spit out a new blank photo, essentially wasting one of your precious photos. The ensuing print jobs came out with white streaks across the film, or otherwise appeared overexposed.

I checked with Fujifilm directly and they confirmed my findings; film cannot be switched back and forth. You must use an entire cartridge until it’s empty or risk ruined film and wasted money.

So the bottom line is, while you might think it’s possible to switch films and cartridges, you really can’t.

Fujifilm Film cost and print qualityFujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review

Film packs come with 10 prints per pack and cost anywhere from $13 to $24, so it pays to shop around. The prints use high resolution ( 800×600 dots at 320dpi ) files to print crisp, clear photos, even if they are quite small.

Mercifully, there are no ink cartridges to worry about in this printer, and that’s because the photos develop on the paper itself. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember original Polaroid instant prints that popped from the camera blank, then developed over a few minutes. These work exactly the same way.

Other options for photo printing

There are plenty of options in the Fuji Instax Share app for improving, changing or playing around with your printed photos.

There are filters you can add to the photo (black and white, sepia), or seasonal frames. You can also add text boxes over part of the photo or crop it square, or print two photos on one print. I found that kind of useless, as the images are so tiny, most detail is lost. There are also enhancements you can make to less than stellar snaps to improve their quality.

Check marks on the photo grid in the app helpfully lets you know which ones you’ve printed so there won’t be any accidental duplicates.

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC reviewPrint speed -Fujifilm Instax Share SP2

The Instax Share SP2 prints pretty quickly, once you’re connected. Fuji says, “when users send an image to the “Instax SHARE Smartphone Printer SP-2” via wireless LAN, they can get photos in just 10 seconds,” and that was about my experience with it too. Plenty fast enough for me.

Battery life

The Instax Share  SP2 has a rechargeable battery which uses a micro USB cable. Fuji says the battery life on the printer will last about 100 prints, which could be weeks depending on how often you’re using the device. During my two-plus weeks of testing, and printing about 30 photos, I certainly never needed to recharge it. A battery indicator also gives you a heads up on power status.

Overall review of Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 photo printer

Of all the mini photo printers I’ve tried, I like the prints from this device the most. I like the Polaroid style border, I think the new artsy borders are fun and I like that there are many print options, though I didn’t find I used them very much.

I think the setup interface could function better, as I believe this will be very frustrating for people with less tech savvy. I also found it quite annoying that the printer goes to sleep so quickly and then requires constant reconnection. That aside, the user interface is simple to navigate and easy to use. The various filters and add-ons are also easy enough to manipulate.

The printer operates absolutely silently, which is nice, and the battery lasts a long time.
The Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 is available in gold or silver, and sells for about $199 at the Source, Best Buy, and London Drugs.

Great gear for back to school – CTV Tech Talk

tech-talk-sept16This week on CTV Tech Talk I showed you three cool gadgets that can make back to school easier and more fun.

Moleskine Smart Writing Set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycThis gadget has really surprised me in terms of how versatile it is, and how well it works. It would be great for students, artists or just compulsive note-takers who never want to lose their notes, or who need an easy way to share them with others.

We barely had time to scratch the surface of everything this device can do on Tech Talk, so be sure to click the link below and read the full review.

The Moleskine Smart Writing 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 is larger than a standard pen and 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.

Read more about exactly how the Smart Writing Set works, and my full review of it here.

Roku Insignia Smart 4K TV4k-UHD-Insignia-Roku-TV-Best-Buy-Canada-1024x536

4K TV is the newest innovation in TV technology, and it’s all about the pixels. A 4K TV has millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

While the screen resolution is amazing, the Roku Insignia TV is also smart. You can stream shows with it, using Netflix, and you don’t need a seperate streaming device.  You can also surf the web, watch YouTube or play digital content. A 4K Roku TV brings you the best available resolution plus all the smartest TV features.

Click here to read the full review I did of this TV, as well as more about 4K technology.

Epson Ecotank ET-2550 Printer

It’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!

epson-ecotankOn Tech Talk I showed off the Epson Expression ET 2550 EcoTank Printer. It’s a 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 4000 pages in black or 6500 pages in color. That’s a long, long time before I’ll need to worry about running out of juice; possibly a couple years.

I reviewed a different model of EcoTank printer, one that has a slightly higher print capacity; read that review of the Epson Workforce ET-4550 here.

Whether it’s watching documentaries in glorious 4K resolution, printing book reports without the fuss of cartridges, or taking and sharing notes instantly and digitally, these three gadgets can help make back to school season easier, more productive, and more fun.

Contest – Enter to Win!

Want to enter the contest we talked about on CTV? Click here to be re-directed to the contest page. (*not active until Tuesday Sept 13)

My Top 10 Tech Gadgets of the Year

I’ve had the great fortune to test some of the best and most-coveted tech gadgets this year. I’ve reviewed a lot of devices, but only these make my top 10 list for 2015.  My criteria? They have to be easy to use, perform as promised – or better – than the companies advertise, they have to be useful, practical, and well made. It has to be something I’d actually buy for myself, and there’s also bonus points for coolness.

Here’s the list, in order.

10. Belkin Mixit Charging Cables

IMG_7398With the battery life of many phones in a sad state, it’s imperative to carry extra cables or a portable battery pack. But they can be heavy, or clunky, or get tangled up inside your bag.

Belkin has come up with a WAY better option that I think is going to be a huge hit.  There are three smart additions to their MIXIT line of cables.

Made from natural leather, the MIXIT Lightning to USB Tassel is a chic handbag charm that hides a premium metallic charging cable in its tassels. Belkin says, “its fringe design takes a purse from bleak to chic, keeps the cable tidy and prevents it from getting tangled.” I also love the chic lobster clip that makes it easy to attach and swap it from bag to bag. Read the full review HERE.

9. Vitamix Blender

IMG_6963I like using frozen fruit and fresh kale in my smoothies, however my blender will only chop the hearty greens so well.  Inevitably I’m choking down tiny kale fibers, or having them get jammed in the straw. Oh, and there’s usually some giant pieces of frozen fruit left in the bottom too.

Not with the Vitamix.  This blender is able to absolutely liquefy its contents, usually on just one blending cycle. That means no bits of kale, and no frozen chunks. I was sceptical at first, but I can attest the Vitamix is on another level when it comes to blending. Full Review HERE.

8. Biolite Campstove

rsz_biolite_recropThe BioLite CampStove was the company’s first production piece. The concept is simple and genius at the same time: the CampStove creates a smokeless campfire that can cook meals and boil water in minutes. Setup is easy, fuel is free, and the company says, “flames are hyperefficient with performance on par with white gas stoves.” Then at the same time, the stove’s heat generates usable electricity for charging LED lights, mobile phones, and other personal devices. The stove’s USB connector will charge up most devices, and every twenty minutes of charging with a strong fire gives you about an hour of talk time on most smartphones. Probably more than you need out in the bush! The stove can also boil a litre of water in about 5 minutes in the small, Thermos-sized kit. I tested this gadget on a summer camping trip and it was compact, easy to use, produced a lot of heat, and gave me juice on the go. It’s a must-have for the serious camper. I love Biolite’s NanoGrid light kit a lot too. Read about both HERE.

7. Phonesuit charging case

phonesuitAre 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 quite slim, considering all the power it packs.  I liked these cases because they’re really durable, they recharge quickly, and the deliver that extra power punch quickly. Read how to get one, and about some other great case options HERE.

6. MyFox Security Camera

myfoxA small oddly-shaped camera, but it works like a dream.  A beautiful HD video picture, and set up is super easy. With the free app downloaded, I was able to set up the account in no time, and the camera was fully operational in about five minutes.The MyFox camera is without a doubt the easiest camera with the best video quality for your home secutity dollar. Read the full review HERE.

5. Fujifilm Instax Share Photo Printer

IMG_2828Wondering what to do with all the digital photos that sit on your device for years and years?  Start printing the best ones!
The new Fujifilm Instax Share printer is truly pocket sized, but it operates basically as you might remember a Polaroid camera operating; it spits out a small photo instantly that takes a couple minutes to fully develop. The result is retro-cool prints in an instant. The printer is easy to operate, and makes great quality prints.
Read more about the Instax printer HERE.

4. Felony Case

IMG_0380I only picked two cases as tops this year, and this is one of them. These plastic shell cases from Felony Case are definite winners for most eye-catching.  The 3-D raised texture on the  Kaleidoscope case is stunning, but the softness of the design means it’s comfortable to hold, despite looking menacingly like a torture device. In gold, rose gold, black and white, these cases are stunning accessories. Not to mention the case is barely a millimeter thick, so it adds absolutely zero bulk to your device.  While the business-types have been coveting the Moshi cases and the hipster are after Fuz, the fashionistas all want my Felony Case!  Check out the full write-up on Felony Case, as well as som other great options HERE.

3. Osram Lightify Flex

IMG_6431I’m sure under counter lighting is going to be a hugely popular use for this product, but you could see getting really creative with it too: lighting around a mirror, a headboard, under a glass table top, or stone bar. There are endless possibilities because this lighting is ultra thin and completely bendable. The Flex kit is super easy to install, and gives you the option of turning the lights different colours. I absolutely love changing the look and mood of the room with coloured light, and Flex makes it easy and chic. Learn about the Flex kit HERE.

2. Qwerkywriter Bluetooth Keyboard

QWERKY111Qwerkywriter is a solid aluminum metal (but not heavy!) keyboard that connects wirelessly via Bluetooth to iPhones, iPads, iMacs, MacPros, Macbooks, Android Tablets Devices, Windows Tablets, and more. It also has a functional carriage return bar that works as an ENTER key.
I absolutely love the feel of the industrial strength mechanical switches that give the device a unique clacky feel and sound. Punching typewriter keys requires just a touch more force than a younger generation will be familiar with, but those old enough to appreciate Mr Dressup reruns will love the stress relief properties.
Read all about Qwerkywriter on my blog HERE.

1. Ring Video Doorbell

IMG_4769It’s a simple gadget that’s infinitely useful. Ring is a video doorbell that lets you respond to visitors remotely via your smartphone from anywhere.  Got a package being delivered and you’re not home? Use Ring to answer the delivery driver’s call and instruct him to leave the package with a neighbour.  Annoying salesperson? Know before you open the door and get stuck in conversation. Ring is ultra-easy to use and get set up and has a sharp HD camera and high quality 2-way voice interaction. Added motion-detection alerts can also keep you safe from people lurking around or casing your place. I have Ring at my house and love it.
Read the full review HERE.

Have you got a gadget you think deserves top billing? Is there a gadget I should look at for next year’s list? Let me know in comments, below.

 

 

 

Read more tech news! Surf cool tech topics HERE.

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.

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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.

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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.

A 3D printer, a drone simulator, and gadgets galore: Where to find them in Calgary

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Want to see what it’s like flying a high-end drone? There’s a simulator for that!

I was hunting all over my house for my power cord — my one lonely, last Apple power cable— and realized I’d left it at work.  My phone was about to die, and I figured it was well past time for me to get a second cable.  I was dreading having to go to the mall and fight summer vacation traffic, so I googled “Apple retailer” to see if there was a better way to get that cord.

When London Drugs came up I felt a bit dumb, “oh RIGHT! I thought, “London Drugs has a huge electronics department,” but I didn’t realize they also carried Apple products.

I grew up in Ontario but lived in BC for many years, and out on the coast, London Drugs is people’s main source for electronics, cameras, computers and gadgets.

It sounds weird that a “drug” store should be the go-to destination for tech gear.  Maybe it is, but that doesn’t change the fact that London Drugs carries just about anything you could want that uses power or batteries.

That got me thinking about London Drugs, so I got in touch with Assistant Store Manager Dan Do to see about getting the 411 on the store people might not have at the top of their minds.

Computers, Electronics, and yes, drugs
Dan gave me a tour of the Royal Oak store in northwest Calgary.  It’s kind of the opposite of a traditional electronics store.  It’s warmer and brighter for starters.  And yes, there’s also a huge part of the store devoted to the eponymous ‘drugs’, health and beauty, and household goods.
Living in BC, and something I’d totally forgotten, was the handiness of being able to pop in to London Drugs, pick up some specialty batteries, a camera peripheral or whatever, then grab a few things from the drug store.  It’s one stop and two items checked off my to-do list.IMG_6311

But back to the computer and electronics department. The day I was there, there were lots of staff on the floor.  Anyone looking blankly at the cameras, or the Fitbits for instance, had a friendly employee swoop in and ask if they needed help.

The Fitbits were one of the things that first caught my eye when I walked in, as part of a display with the Aria scale.  The whole line was there for people to look at, touch and get to know. Indeed, London Drugs has a lot of other wearables available too.

Drone Simulator in-Store
Speaking of displays, Dan led me over to a really cool set up that has to be a huge draw.  There’s a drone flight simulator right inside the store!  As part of the promotional set up for the ultra high end Solo drone by 3DR, there’s a controller right next to one of the drones.  You can test it out and see how easy it is to fly (if you let go of the controls, it doesn’t crash, it hovers!).  Test flight over New York’s Statue of Liberty?  Yes, please! The Solo is built to work with GoPro cameras, something else you can pick up at London Drugs.

3D Printers?  They’re HERE

The Tiertime Up Mini 3D printer spit out this tiny dinosaur model.
The Tiertime Up Mini 3D printer spit out this tiny dinosaur model. You can buy this printer on the spot if the demo wows you.

If you want to get wowed some more, the London Drugs store I visited in Royal Oak also has a functioning 3D printer.  Yes, that technology you’ve been hearing about on the news is actually available at your corner London Drugs store.
The Tiertime Up Mini works just like a regular home printer, except with the obvious distinction of printing objects in 3D.  While the store model is for demonstrations, the printers are in stock, so if you want one, you can probably take one home on the spot.

While we’re on the subject of printers, London Drugs has a full selection.  Printers are so inexpensive now, it’s shocking.  The store also had a large scale Epson Surecolour art-quality printer for sale, which is a perfect back to school must-have for an art or photography student, or an amateur photographer. (Not to mention, the photo lab in the back can also do professional photo processing and printing and can print up to 44” prints in house! Plus there’s often free shipping. But I digress.)

While I was looking over all the amazing electronics and computer equipment at London Drugs, Dan reminded me they’re a Canadian company.  I really love dealing with Canadian companies.  It’s probably some sort of underlying patriotism, but it’s nice to know, and makes me feel good about spending my money here. That’s when I also found out London Drugs must be some kind of great employer, because one of the employees I talked to on my tour had worked at the store for 12 years, and one had been there 30 years, and apparently that kind of long-term service is common! Something else I didn’t know? London Drugs has been in Alberta for 30 years.

IMG_6317Back on the tour, I got a look at the computers and tablets all on display and ready to play with.  From the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 to Apple’s iPad line, and even London Drugs own computer brand, Certified Data, there’s a whole host of computers to pick from. Plus, if you ever need serious help with your computer, there’s an emergency service centre right in all stores.  That means you can bring your computer or tablet in and get it triaged, and fixed, all right on site in many cases. There are even Apple certified technicians in-store, meaning you can skip the Genius Bar, and the frenzy at the mall!

Skip the mall and your your Apple here
Speaking of Apple, I was really wowed at the full selection of Apple products at London Drugs. I’m a full-on Apple girl, so being able to pop into London Drugs to service my MacBook, or pick up Apple-authorized cords, cables or screen protectors or cases for my iPad is super convenient. (Because let’s be honest, those cables you buy from the internet will stop functioning with your Apple products after a few months and you’ll need new ones anyway. Take my advice and just buy the real thing.  It’s more expensive, yes, but you’ll have it for the life of the product.)

Back to my cable conundrum.  I finally decided to place my order on line and pick up in store later that day, another great London Drugs option that means you won’t need to waste a trip to a store only to find they’re fresh out of what you need.

So now London Drugs is top of mind for me again when it comes to electronics, computers and gadgets. And I can thank them for the power I needed (and the inspiration) to write up today’s blog, right from my fully re-powered phone!

3D Printing Demo TOMORROW:
Looking for more info about 3D Printing?  Looking beyond the novelty of 3D printing, noted expert and enthusiast John Biehler will be visiting the 130th Avenue SE London Drugs in Calgary for a talk and demonstration, and the public is welcome to attend.
WHEN: Tuesday, August 18, 2015 from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more info, call the store, located at 4701 – 130th Avenue. SE, Calgary. 403-571-4964

A sampling of what London Drugs can do with its 3D printer.
A sampling of what London Drugs can do with its 3D printer.

This blog post has been sponsored by London Drugs.

Polaroid Socialmatic Camera &Printer and Zip Printer Reviews

polaroid socialmatic 2If there’s one review I’ve been looking forward to the spring, it’s this one.

Recently both a Polaroid Socialmatic and a Zip printer arrived for testing, and I couldn’t have been more excited.

I was a bit shocked when I opened the box for the Socialmatic. The camera itself is quite large, much larger than I was expecting.  It’s very flat, very square and was difficult to grip. While many digital cameras fit neatly in your hand, this camera is quite the opposite. That’s probably because it does more than just take pictures.  It’s a video camera and  printer too, all in one package.

The lap-sized Polaroid Socialmatic.
The lap-sized Polaroid Socialmatic.

From full off to on and ready to go, the Socialmatic takes a frustrating  30 to 40 seconds to start up. Then if you don’t touch the screen immediately it goes dark with no obvious way to get it back on. Eventually I figured out a quick touch of the power button does it, but it was bothersome.

I started taking photos almost immediately and noticed a few things right off the bat.  First of all, it takes about three seconds from the time you press the shutter button until it actually registers the photograph, which resulted in plenty of closed eyes and movement in my test pictures. The other thing I did not like was the quality of the screen was not good. The resolution was surprisingly low.

Photos & Quality

Initially I was expecting Polaroid style photos with the papery white border, however Polaroid no longer owns this technology. So my test pics printed edge to edge on the photo paper.  The photo quality was not great. For the most part the photos were grainy and dark. Even photos I tried to take in good strong light didn’t come out looking as high quality as I was hoping for. I tried to take some photos in a pub that was not super dark, but all the photos came out very very dark and grainy. We turned on the flash to compensate but using it made us all look like deer in headlights. There was no happy medium.

One thing I did enjoy about the photos was the sticky backing on the Zink photo paper so you could use the photos as stickers. That’s a nice touch.

After testing for a couple hours that first day, I put the camera away until three days later. When I went to turn it back on, the batteries were already dead.  I’m wondering if perhaps this was because I didn’t turn it fully off, only put it to sleep. That’s something to be aware of.  I would charge it up for several hours to full battery, turn it off and use it once or twice for just a few minutes, then power it down again, a few days later if I went back to it the battery was dead and required a full recharge.

Video Review of the Polaroid Socialmatic Camera & Printer

Polaroid Zip printer

The Polaroid Zip printer is much smaller than the Socialmatic, but is it it is a printer only. I found this device very easy to set up and use, in fact, within seconds of plugging it in and selecting a photo you’re printing. The quality of the photos is not quite what you’d expect from a high resolution fancy camera shop, but for the size and availability, it’s very handy and easy to share with family and friends where you are, and for me, the fun and convenience factor here is more valuable than crisp HD copies.

Polaroid Zip photo printer.
Polaroid Zip photo printer.

There are some things about the Zip app I don’t like. For example it does not have a ‘reprint’ feature like others do. This means you cannot easily select photos for reprint without starting the printing process over from scratch. However the app’s layout and user interface are straightforward and simple, and very easy to read, navigate and understand.

The Zip also used Polaroid’s Zink paper, and as I said, the quality of the photos is not good.  Worth noting, it does not appear that the photo paper is light-sensitive, like film is, or like some other photo papers can be. I dropped the printer and the back popped open and scattered the remaining photo paper pieces all over the place. I reloaded it and put it back together, and in subsequent print jobs, everything printed just fine. So it’s nice to know the paper is not light sensitive, and losing the back off the printer will not destroy a whole stack of expensive photo paper.

The Verdict Overall

While I’d definitely like to buy a Zip printer, I’ll take a pass on the Socialmatic.  The Zip is easy to use, infinitely portable, and makes printing fun sized photos easy. I also like the sticker option for the photos.

The Socialmatic is just too large and unwieldy to be a fun take-along.  Basically it was just a bulky exercise in frustration, and not a fun and enjoyable and social tool. I’d much rather use my smartphone for great quality photos and a high-res display, then print them on the spot with the Zip. I’m interested to see if there’s a future incarnation of the Socialmatic, and if there is, I’d love to give it another chance.

The Socialmatic and the Zip are available at Bestbuy.ca as well as from Polaroid.com

Testing out the Fujifilm Instax Share mini printer

Wondering what to do with all the digital photos that sit on your device for years and years?  Start printing the best ones!

The new Fujifilm Instax Share printer arrived on my desk this week, and from the word ‘go’ it was a treat to try out.  The Instax is truly pocket sized; it’s small and compact, but if you open it up and look at its guts, it looks just like a real full size printer.

The printer operates basically as you might remember a Polaroid camera operating; it spits out a small photo instantly that takes a couple minutes to fully develop.IMG_2829

So far the printer has been easy to use (after a bit of initial connection confusion, which I’ll detail in a full review later), and it’s getting well and truly addictive.  I love being able to print favourite snaps on the spot, and it’s nice to be able to finally do something with all those pics cluttering up my smartphone.

The film paper sheets are sold in 20-sheet packs for about $20, so the cost of printing individual photos is about a buck apiece.  Not cheap when you think about it, but that’s the price you pay for convenience and retro photo fun.

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A photo as it develops