How to set up smart lights & home control with Google Home

Google Home is a super smart home automation portal that works with just your voice commands. While it can play music and answer trivia questions, and much more (Read Erin’s review of the device here) it can also be used to automate and control smart home gadgets. Here’s how to get smart home devices connected with Google Home. Continue reading “How to set up smart lights & home control with Google Home”

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”

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.

Want a better movie experience? Get a Projector like the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema Projector 2040

img_9051Super-sized flat screen TVs are all the rage.  Mention a home theatre projector, however, and people will tune out.  After all, many folks remember projectors as dusty, weak-beamed devices with a noisy fan and little appeal.  Not any more.

Movie theatres use uber-powerful projectors to kick out Hollywood-sized images with crystal clear definition, amazing contrast ratio, and no motion blur. If it’s good enough for JJ Abrams and Steven Spielberg, shouldn’t a projector be good enough for your home?Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 12.06.35 PM

Even so, I was sceptical.  I’ve never tried a home theatre projector before the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema Projector 2040 arrived for testing (full name: Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2040 2D/3D 1080p 3LCD Projector). While the device itself looks a lot like projectors I remember, the image is like nothing I’ve ever seen.

Set up is easy, but you better have a plan

Setting up the Epson 2040 projector itself was very easy. The hardest thing about setting up this device, will be that you need a series of extra long cables in order to make it look good.

The projector is pretty much plug and play. Just plug in your audio and video components and you are ready to go immediately. I decided to plug in my Roku streaming stick into one of the projector’s 2 HDMI ports and instantly I was watching Netflix.img_9053

If you plan to plug a home theater projector into your stereo system or cable box, you’re going to have to do some serious planning before hand. Most projectors are designed to reside at the back of a room, and are often best placed at or near the ceiling. This means you will need a wealth of both audio, video, and HDMI cables, with very long runs. You’ll also want to plan for where you will snake or hide these excess cables in your room, and how you’ll plug them in.  For some, this will mean potentially relocating all your components to the back or the room.

If you’re building a media room from scratch, this will be easy, and you can easily factor in where to hide your cables. However if you are operating a projector like the Epson in an existing room, particularly one that has purposes other than media viewing, you will likely end up with some unsightly cable runs.

For my setup, since it was temporary, we just ran the cables across the floor and stepped over them, though it was quite a mess, having power cables snaking in one direction, and audio and video cables in another.

Once everything is plugged in, you’re ready to go, and like I said, in an instant we were streaming movies on Netflix.

I can’t tell you how much both my husband and I were instantly blown away by the amazing quality of the video picture.  Since this is a projector, you can adjust the image size to fit literally any space. In our case we had it fill nearly an entire wall of our media room.

img_9081While we didn’t have a screen for this test, we were easily able to hack one together by using a large bedsheet and tacking it to the ceiling. Even with a wrinkled old bedsheet as the canvas for the image, there was no hiding the spectacular picture on display. The 1080p image was crystal clear, and had excellent contrast. We put on a series of action movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Furious 6 were treated to a hyper realistic video picture with absolutely no noticeable motion blur. Even basic TV shows looked fantastic. The most striking feature of using a projector like this Epson was the super realism of the video. It literally looks like the scenes were unfolding right in the room with us.

img_9059Only about 20 minutes of surfing through action oriented video content, my husband declared he wanted to think about getting a projector for our media room, and got online and looked up the price of this particular device. While the Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 2040 is not cheap (regular price is about $999CAD), it is certainly well rated by many users.

Epson PowerLite Home Cinema Projector Features

Spec Sheet:

  • Projection Method: Front / rear / ceiling mount
  • Product Colour: White and Gray
  • Driving Method: Epson Poly-silicon TFT Active Matrix
  • Projected Output: 2D, 3D, Full HD 1080p
  • Pixel Number: 2,073,600 dots (1920 x 1080) x 3
  • Colour Brightness (Colour Light Output): 2200 lumens1
  • White Brightness (White Light Output): 2200 lumens1
  • Aspect Ratio: Native 16:9 widescreen
  • Native Resolution: Native 1080p (1920 x 1080)
  • Resize: 16:10, 4:3
  • Lamp Type: 200 W UHE
  • Lamp Life:
  • ECO mode: Up to 7500 hours2
  • Normal mode: Up to 4000 hours2
  • Throw Ratio Range: 1.22 (Zoom: Wide) – 1.47 (Zoom: Tele)
  • Size (projected distance): 34″ – 332″ at (2.98 ft – 35.89 ft)
  • Keystone Correction:
  • Vertical: ±30 degrees (Auto)
  • Horizontal: ±30 degrees (Slide bar)
  • Contrast Ratio: Up to 35,000:1
  • Colour Reproduction: Full-color (up to 1.07 billion colours)
  • Colour Processing: Full 10 bits

You can make several adjustments with the Epson projector. A simple menu allows you to adjust things like colour, brightness, contrast, and sharpness.

This projector can be controlled both with the included remote control, or also with buttons on the projector itself. The home button for example allows you to switch between sources, adjust the colour, or alter 3D setup as well as changing things like iris settings and power consumption. I think it’s handy you can also adjust the settings right on the device, as there is nothing more frustrating then being unable to operate a device, because you have missed placed the remote control.

The projector also has 2 built in HDMI input, allowing you to keep two devices at the ready.

The Epson PowerLite 2040 also has a keystone setting which will allow you to make adjustments for curved or oddly shaped walls, a must when owning a projector, and particularly so if you plan to take it with you anywhere.

This projector, like all others, has a fan to keep the unit cooled during operation, and truthfully, after a while I stopped hearing it, even though it was definitely still running.

While the 2040 also has 3D capability, I don’t have any 3D content so I was unable to test this feature.

You need a screen

If you’re going to commit to going the projector route, you absolutely need a proper screen. While my bed sheet hack was rather clever if I do say so myself, every tiny wrinkle and flaw was visible when watching the video. A proper screen is going to make the video experience absolutely seamless, and that’s what you want in your hyper-realistic projected videos. You don’t want to be worried about every notch, gouge, or scratch in a wall (or a wrinkle in a sheet). You want to feel like you’re part of all the Hollywood action. Take my advice: get the best screen your money can buy, to go with your projector.

Awesome experience

I really, really enjoyed the experience I had with the Epson PowerLite 2040 Home Cinema Projector. I loved the immersive viewing experience, and can’t say enough how absolutely stunned I was at the amazing quality of video that’s available via a projector today. I will note that you should probably make sure your new projector has decent ventilation, as the PowerLite 2040 ran rather hot after only a few minutes. But I don’t think that’s atypical for projectors; they’re kicking out a ton of light through those bulbs, and heat is the byproduct.

While for now we’ll keep our flat screen TV as the main viewing object in our home theater, I have a feeling a projector of some description may be in our future as well, for those times when we want a massive video size, and a movie theater-like experience.

You can get more info from Epson on the 2040 projector, or pick one up at Best Buy.

img_9082

While Epson provided a loaner unit for this review, it did not ask for, nor receive pre-approval over this blog post.

 

Always losing your keys, wallet, phone, remote, bag? You need a Pebblebee Honey tracking device

pebblebeeIf you’re the forgetful type, life just got easier.  A new tracking device from Pebblebee can help you find your lost stuff, not just inside your house, but anywhere in the world.

Pebblebee Honey is a small, flat circular tracking device about the size of a large coin. It holds a CR2430 lithium battery which can easily be swapped out when it reaches the end of its lifespan. The Pebblebee can be attached to your key ring, tied to or placed inside anything you want to track, or even stuck on to your wallet, phone, bike, remote control.. whatever. The tracker, combined with the free app will show you a map view of where your device is, and help you manage multiple trackers.

This device has some smart functions built right in; for starters it has a rangefinder, so when you’re tracking the device, you can tell how near or far you’re getting, and it has an audio alert function, so that when you get within a certain distance, you can have the tracker squawk out a sound to help you pinpoint the location. A small LED light is another option to spot the device in the dark. As an aside, it also comes in a really cute and small tin.

Surprising versatility: remote photo shutter too!

One neat feature this device has that I’ve not seen in other trackers is the ability to use the Pebblebee as a remote shutter for your smartphone.  The tiny on/off button on the side actually has double function.  Just adjust the pre-loaded settings to find your phone or take a picture using the button on your device.

How it works

Your Pebblebee communicates with your phone using Bluetooth LE technology. That signal will have a strong connection up to 150 ft depending on obstruction. Inside, your device will experience limited visibility, while outside its range will increase.

IMG_7698What’s a Pebblebee

Where did the idea for Pebblebee come from?  The company’s website says, “The Pebblebee idea first emerged in late 2012 as a necessary solution to a curious toddler’s endless ability to hide things. With generous support from over 3080 Kickstarter backers, we raised over $218K to make the Pebblebee the reality it is today.”

Help with setup

The app and device were a bit confusing to set up.  Initially I couldn’t get my Honey to pair with my phone.  However I was able to get quick and responsive customer service by emailing tech support.  IN the event anyone else is experiencing trouble with the pairing process, here’s the instructions that worked for me, as provided by Pebblebee support:

1. Hold down the button on the Honey for 5 seconds until you hear 2 beeps (3 means it is off)

2. Login to the app

3. Wait up to 10-15 seconds. A bar should appear letting you know you have an unclaimed device nearby.

4. Briefly press (not a long hold) the button on the Honey. This is not the same as holding down the button for seconds.

5. The app will ask you to verify the claim.

6. The Honey will appear in your Hive.

Getting the Map view

My next issue, once the device paired, was that I couldn’t see my device on the map view. More help from Pebblebee explained that was probably because I didn’t have location services enabled on my smartphone. On an iPhone, you can do this by going to your iPhone Settings, then down to the Pebblebee  app, then under location services make sure you have chosen either “Always” or “When the app is open.”

Pebblebee Lost and Found, with the help of other users

IMG_7802So how does the tracker find and pinpoint location on the map? While Honey does not have GPS built in, it  uses your phone’s GPS to track location. Anytime the Honey is within range of your running app, the location gets updated to the map, so the map will always show the last known location. Pebblebee tells me, “if you lose your Honey, you can mark it as Lost. When you do, any time the Honey goes within range of Anyone using the Pebblebee app, you will receive an alert letting you know when and where your Honey has been found.”

The company is working on a cool new style of tracker too, the Stone, which as the name suggests is a pebble-shaped tracker and remote control in one that’s already overfunded on Kickstarter.

The Pebblebee is available from the company’s website for $25 USD

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