Samsung Frame TV review: 4K TV + Art Mode

There’s no avoiding the fact that TVs are ugly. Engineers have been making them thinner and improving the video picture, but until now, getting them to fit nicely into our home decor has been an afterthought. So when I heard about the new Samsung Frame TV and its integrated design concept, I knew I had to try it.

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Flo smart thermometer works without touching

The Flo thermometer from Zeraph is a contact-free thermometer that allows you to take temperatures without touch.

Just hold Flo about an inch away from the person’s forehead and in a second, you’ve got their number.  The simplified LED system flashes green when temperature is normal or red when your patient has a fever.  You can even use it without needing to wake up you kids, or a sick spouse. Plus, it works for checking the temperature of liquids like a baby bottle or bath water. Hold Flo about 1 inch from the liquid and you’ll know the temperature of what’s inside.

App keeps track

Flo works with a companion app that allows you to add photos for family members, notes and to keep records for everyone in the  family.

Zeraph Flo is available for $49.99 USD from the company’s website.

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Is this remote strongbox the future of package delivery?

DOORBIRD PACKAGEIt’s frustrating missing the FedEx guy. If you aren’t home for a delivery, you have to either wait for another attempt, or go get it yourself. And let’s not talk about packages going missing after being left out front unattended.

But a new invention from German tech company Doorbird aims to change that. They’re announcing a Video Parcel Box.

This remote-activated delivery box allows its owners to see the delivery person, talk to them and open a large parcel box  from anywhere. You can also create customized access codes for regular  delivery people to open the box via a keypad.

Another interesting feature? You can save the tracking number of the parcel in Doorbird’s App. TDOORBIRD 2he delivery person then just holds the barcode in front of the camera and the Video Parcel Box opens automatically. In either case: DoorBird notifies you that the parcel arrived safely. A camera also records video of the delivery and lets you see who’s accessing the box.

The Video Parcel Box will be available in different sizes, colors and materials. Prices will start at $1.250.

 

 

Smart padlocks mean lost keys, forgotten combos are a thing of the past

img_0885-1I was late for a bike ride, and tearing apart my closet and a cabinet looking for the key to my bike lock. Since it was nowhere to be found, I was forced to buy a new lock, only to find the key in a pocket weeks later.

Fussing with lost keys or forgotten combinations for padlocks is frustrating and as you see it can also cost you money. That’s why I was glad to try out a new solution: a smart padlock that can open with a tap on your smartphone screen. I was sent two versions of smart locks called Locksmart by Dog and Bone.

Set Up of Dog & Bone Locksmart locks

Set up couldn’t have been faster. In literally about one minute and three clicks on the smart phone I had both locks set up and ready to use. The Locksmart locks pair very easily with the phone, in my case the iPhone 6 Plus, and I had absolutely no bugs getting the system set up. Children and seniors would have no difficulty getting these high-tech devices going either; they’re made for real people, not just tech junkies.

Two different sizes: Locksmart and Locksmart Mini

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Locksmart Mini.

There are two different sizes of Locksmart locks. The first is a much larger and heavier round padlock known simply as the Locksmart. This one is obviously designed for more security and durability and would probably be best used on a gate, shed, or door.

The other lock is slightly smaller and lighter, and it’s covered in a full silicone wrap. This one is dubbed Locksmart Mini. I feel like this lock would be better used on things like school lockers, cabinets, or even luggage in a pinch.

How Locksmart locks work

Since pretty much everyone in the world knows how a padlock operates, I’ll focus on the features that make these locks different. With no dials, and no keyholes to speak of, the only way to operate these locks is via your smart phone.

Once you have the Locksmart app downloaded you simply pair the lock to your phone and then each lock  will appear in a list inside the app.

When you want to unlock your lock, you just tap the unlock button on the screen. The lock will snap open instantly.

Add an extra layer of security to the app

If you want to add a layer of security, in case your phone should fall into the wrong hands, you can adjust the opening settings so that you will need to use your fingerprint (if this feature is available on your smart phone or tablet) to open the lock. Similarly, you can set a numerical pass code that must be entered on the phone before the lock can be opened.
This would be handy not only if your phone is lost or stolen, but if you want to keep children who may have access to your phone from being able to open certain locks.

If you haven’t been connected to the lock in a while, or your phone has been too far out of range, or you have the power save feature enabled in-app, the lock may ask to be re-connected to your phone. This is done simply by pushing a small rubber button in the bottom of the lock. This has happeneddog and bone to me a few times, but the re-connection happens in about one second, so there’s no delay, and no fussing.

Instantly the app will tell you the lock is connected and the lock will pop open when you order it to. To lock it, simply snap the shank or shackle back into place.

Share access to visitors or repair people, or revoke it

Perhaps your lawn care guy has just arrived and needs access to your shed. You’re not home and neither are your keys, but that’s no problem, because from directly with in the app, you can grant access to anyone you want instantly. You can also revoke that access at any time.

The lock smart system will also keep track of who accessed each lock and when, so you can keep tabs on items you are trying to keep secure.

img_1051Winter-Ready: Works to -20

One of the main questions I had about these locks were whether they could handle our Canadian weather. Dog & Bone says these locks are good up to about -20°C. The locks are also weatherproof and can withstand rain, hail, snow, or heat up to 70°C.

Unlike another Bluetooth smart padlock I’ve tried out, these locks have notched shanks, allowing them to click shut with conviction. Some other bluetooth padlocks have smooth shanks that make me wonder if they’d be very easy to pry open. But not the Locksmart line; they don’t budge until given the digital command.

Batteries are rechargeable

You shouldn’t find yourself  recharging these padlocks very frequently. Powered with a lithium ion battery, Dog & Bone says a single charge will get you about two years of use, which equals about 3,000 opens before you will need to recharge it. The batteries are easily recharged via a micro USB plug in the bottom of the lock. A small battery indicator within the app give you ample warning when you need to think about re-charging.

The verdict: Locksmart by Dog & Bone

I loved these locks. They’re very convenient, extraordinarily easy to use and set up, and even when they go into Powersave mode and disconnect from your Bluetooth, they can reconnect in an instant.

Sharing access with others couldn’t be easier, so you’re never going to have to turn away a tradesperson, or neighbor needing to borrow some tools.

I have already transitioned to using these locks on our front and back gates, because they’re so easy and durable. I’d definitely recommend these to anyone needing a padlock.

Locksmart Locks are available through Dog & Bone’s website. Locksmart (large) is $89USD and Locksmart Mini is $69USD.

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Testing the new Google Chromecast lineup 

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

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

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

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Gatekeeper fob eliminates the need for your long computer password

If you work in an office where security is paramount, you know what a pain it can be to constantly be required to put in your password every time you turn away from your screen. Not to mention the fact your password, of course, has 14 characters, upper and lower case, 42 wingdings, and a partridge in a pear tree.

There’s an easier way to deal with this pain in the rear, while still maintaining the security of your network.

Meet Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper is a tiny key fob with a powerful superpower. It can log you in and out of your computer without you ever entering a keystroke. The device is really easy to set up. Once you start the pairing process, the app finds the fob via your smartphone app in seconds. Step two is to download the software to your computer.

With the software downloaded, you slide the tiny USB chip into a port on your computer. Then just touch the key fob to the USB stick in your computer; doing so immediately registers the key. Once this is done you get a pop-up menu that allows you to configure your lock settings.

It knows when you’re near… or far

What the Gatekeeper does is uses proximity to lock or unlock your computer. When the fob is close to the computer (you can set the exact distance you want) it will automatically unlock your screen. When you get up and walk away, it automatically locks it again. While you could clip the device to your keychain, it’s probably much more effective worn on your body; either attached to a lanyard or retracting card clip.

I tested the proximity and speed of the device by simply walking it across the room from my laptop. A few steps away from my screen, I could see the device lock my computer.  Stepping back into range, the screen was unlocked again before I could even sit down.

I ran this test a few times and the Gatekeeper is very responsive. What happens if you misplace the fob? Fortunately you can still access your computer by using the “hit return for manual login” option. After hovering briefly in black I was taken to my main login screen where I was able to login instantly. The only problem I found with that test was that as soon as I was in, it booted me out again because the keychain was still across the room. As soon as I pulled it back across the room the screen popped open, no password required. But I could see that being a problem if you can’t actually find your fob for a while.

Is there a way to beat the Gatekeeper system?

This got me thinking; what would happen if I simply pulled the USB stick from the USB port? Would I potentially be able to get around the security protocols? So I tried that. Even with the USB stick removed, the lock screen stayed put. I was forced to manually enter my password in order to regain control of the computer. Once back in, Gatekeeper will prompt you to reinsert the USB lock to re-enable Gatekeeper.

That means, even if you slip away from your computer and someone knows the USB stick is enabling the security software, and even if they pull it out, they won’t be able to login without your password.

No need for another password

One aspect of the system I like quite a bit, is that you don’t need to set up a brand-new login and password. Gatekeeper uses your existing system login and password, so there’s no need to worry about forgetting a secondary password. That’s really smart.

Gatekeeper is a tracking device too

The unlocking function of this key fob is just one of the tasks it will do. It also functions as a tracking device for things like lost keys pass cards phones remotes just about anything you might misplace. including the fob itself.  If, as  I noted above, you can’t find your fob, you can send an alert or track its location or even have it sound an alarm if it slips out of range.  However I had a much more difficult time getting this function working. When I’d try to locate the tracker, I’d just get a message that it’s out of range.

 The Gatekeeper is $49 USD from the company’s website.  A second generation Gatekeeper is about to be released, that will cost $10 more, but it’s on for the same price as the Gen 1, for a short time.

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Installing and using the smartphone-controlled Osram Lightify Flex LED kit

Osram Lightify KitI’ve been looking for an easy under-counter lighting solution that can brighten up my dark kitchen, without requiring a degree in electrical engineering.  I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the Osram Lightify Flex system was to install. Even better is the option to control the lights using my iPhone, and being able to change their colours!

There’s a full review coming soon, meantime, check out my video showing what’s in the kit, how to install it, and what it can do for you.

If you have any feedback on the Lightify line, I’d love to hear it.  Add your comments below.

Tips and gadgets for taking better smartphone photos

tech talk aprHow often are we without a camera these days when something happens we want to snap and remember?  On CTV Morning Live’s Tech Talk this week, I looked at several gadgets and ideas for taking better smartphone photos, since often that’s the only gadget we carry with us at all times to take a picture. Click here to watch the TV segment.

Now I will admit this up front; I’m not a photographer.  But I’ve had a unique opportunity to play with some cool gadgets and apps, and working in TV has taught me a thing or three about the visual image, so I want to share what I know.

Caseco's Shutter Bean.
Caseco’s Shutter Bean.

Shutter Bean by Caseco

Nobody likes the awkward ‘selfie shoulder’ in the photos that we take ourselves.  It makes what could be a headshot, an obvious selfie.  Yes, you could uses the selfie stick of course, but then it’s in the photo too.  A good alternative is the ShutterBean by Canadian company Caseco.  It’s a small thumb sized remote control device that you press to take the photo for you, meaning you can leave your phone on a surface (or better yet on a tripod; see the Joby Gorillapod below!) and snap away while looking like you have a photographer helping you. it connects to the phone via Bluetooth, so no additional app is required, and it comes with an extra coin battery.  Nice touch!

Joby GorillaPod Tripod

jobyThis is one of my favourite photography gadgets; I just need to get it modified for my smartphone!  The Gorillapod by Joby is a twisty, grippy device that can hold your camera or phone to a tree, fence, branch, rock, post.. almost anything! You can also straighten out the legs and set it on any surface to make it a regular tripod. It’s particularly handy when you want to take photos of great places with you in them.

LIGHTING

Using the sun for some flattering light, and angling your face to the camera can jazz up any photo.
Using the sun for some flattering light, and angling your face to the camera can jazz up any photo.

Lighting is so important when you’re trying to take better photos; it can make the difference between a photo you’ll frame and keep for years, and one that gathers digital dust on your hard drive.  My go-to tip is to try to get into some flattering sunlight for selfies, and angle your face to the light.  Also, hold the phone above your nose level, and look right into the lens, not the screen, the LENS! Holding the phone a bit higher gives a flattering angle to cheekbones and chins, and a strong gaze is memorable and catches the eye. The other option for getting better light it to get an external flash, that has light you can control, like these two below:

Nova Light Flash

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A small credit card sized flash, the Nova is pretty portable.  You use Nova’s app to take the photo, which is them saved in the same place your other photos are.  the app, however, lets you control the colour and strength of light; do you want warm sunny-like light, or cooler indoor light?  A really bright flash or a soft gentle glow?  The Nova Light gives you a great array of options, requires next to no set-up or fiddling, and takes really nice photos.

Ztylus Ring Light & Case via Photojojo

iphone-ring-light-9b32_600.0000001420423397This light and case combo from Photojojo has been a cast and crew favourite on CTV Morning Live since I first previewed it earlier this year.  The genius contraption features a ring shaped light that slides out over the camera’s lens, giving soft, diffused light all the way around. The light device actually snaps into an available case, making it easy to carry on the go.  It also comes with a trio of other light filters you can snap in and change easily, giving you warm, cool or neutral light options. The Ring Light is actually perfect for selfies, since it provides the lighting you need, along with easily adjustable wheel controls that let you adjust the light from warm to cool, or soft to powerful.  Powered by three AAA batteries, that means you never have to be without juice.

LENS OPTIONS

The lenses on smartphones are getting better, but they still won’t do everything. Taking macro photos has always been difficult on a smartphone, and of course wide-angle shots are a no go, unless you want to use panorama mode.  Getting some external lenses can give you an array of new options for better photos. Most lens kits are available for iPhone and Android phones. You can find any number of 3-pack lens kits featuring a wide angle, a macro, and a fish eye lens.  Search “smartphone lens” on Amazon, or ebay.  I don’t recommend any one kit over another, but i will say you get what you pay for.

MicroPhone Lens Kit

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A fun kit for those interested in science and nature, this kit from microphonelens.com allows you to take close up, microscopic photos of the natural world around you.  Different strength lenses allow you to get up close, and by adding slides and some light, you can really get some great images of things you’d never ordinarily see on a smartphone.

APP HELP

There are a couple of apps I can’t live without when it comes to taking better photos on my smartphone.

Boring selfie gets jazzed up with Hipstamatic.
Boring selfie gets jazzed up with Hipstamatic.

Hipstamatic

hipsta flowersThis free app (with in-app purchases at cost) allows you to treat your phone like a vintage camera, selecting retro lenses, film and even flash styles, all virtual, of course.  It takes fabulous photos, adding a variety of flattering effects like warmth and colour, to black and white, graininess, even fun frames and edges.  One of the features I love is the “shake to randomize” feature.  Often I’ll snap a few photos of something with the regular camera app on my iPhone 6, then load up Hipstamatic, and use shake to randomize to take another 3-4 photos.  Often, one of those random effects is the photographic gold I’m after. I also find Hipstamatic is a great way to jazz up an otherwise boring selfie or location.  Highly recommended.

ColourSplash

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It’s not my finest work, but you get the idea…

This app allows you to take any photo, make it black and white, then pull out one element to give a bold pop of colour to.   It costs $1.19, but I got it as a freebie as an app of the week.

Panorama 360

Panorama 360, photo via petapixel.com
Panorama 360, photo via petapixel.com

This is a vacation’s best friend.  To use 360, you hold the camera/phone up in front of you like a window, and scan it across all that you can see; a full 360 degrees around you.  The free app paints the photo into a full visual experience you can then view as if you were standing there again.

It also has a super-neat feature that allows you to paint your panorama into a tiny earth-globe; it’s a cool, fun effect.

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What’s your must-have photography app?  Do you have a gadget that goes everywhere with you? Please share your picks in comments.