Bang & Olufsen B&O Beoplay A2 review

Portable wireless speakers have become the standard for many homes. After all, if you’re not ready to invest in a premium home theatre system, chances are a wireless system or speaker will fill the void until you are. That’s why companies from basic to elite are offering portable options. But more than just a compact size, you want a small speaker that will sound good, be able to fill a room, and give you true-to-life audio. Bang & Olufsen (or B&O for short) have entered this market with some portable wireless speakers that not only aim to look cool but sound great too. I recently received a test sample of the B&O Beoplay A2 speaker for testing and review in my home. Continue reading “Bang & Olufsen B&O Beoplay A2 review”

Watching Your Health? Qardio Arm Blood Pressure Monitor Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall

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

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

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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 the Polaroid Socialmatic Instant Camera and Printer

polaroid socialmaticJust when you thought digital cameras were dead thanks to the proliferation of cell phone cameras, the Polaroid Socialmatic arrived on my desk.  This camera is different from other cameras, mainly because it has a built in printer.

One of the first things I noticed about the Socialmatic is that it’s nowhere near pocket-sized.  This camera is large, square, bulky and not easy to hold. To do some initial tests, I brought it to meet some friends at the pub and took some shots.  Sadly the photos were rather dark on their own.  Adding the flash helped, but gave the photos a bleached out overly-bright look.

That said, the convienience of being able to print photos on the spot is appealing.  I’ll post a full review after further testing.

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The large lap-sized Polaroid Socialmatic during testing.

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

Better Device Charging Options! Throw away that 3-foot cord!

We use our smartphones so much today, it’s almost impossible to have a battery that can keep up.  So when the juice is gone, what do you do?  What are some better options for keeping your devices charged and at the ready?  Check out my recommendations:

Trunk Charging cable: ilovehandles.com

trunk

A small, compact charger that bends to accomodate nearly any USB plug, the Trunk is small enough to fit in your pocket, but handy in a very big way!

USB Outlets: leviton.com

leviton

It’s frustrating when all the plugs in your home are taken up charging your devices.  A smart alternative is to have USB plugs installed.  These from Leviton, available at many home improvement stores, have the regulation dual AC plug, plus 2 USB slots, allowing you to charge up to 4 devices, and also come in other configurations!

Space Bar Charging Station, Pivot Power Bar and Converge charging dock: Quirky.com

pivot

Quirky.com has to be one of my favourite websites right now.  The company works with inventors to bring their tech ideas to life  – and to the market.  Some of the smartest ideas are their Space Bar, which is a monitor stand that also doubles as a USB power centre, and the Pivot power bar, which curls like a snake to allow you to actually use every slot in the power bar.

Screen Shot 2014-12-05 at 5.36.24 PM

The Converge charging station (above) is also smart, allowing you to keep cords organized, and in line while charging devices as they stand.  The dock also has enough power for both small and high-speed items, and you can fit several phones, or phones and tablets with ease.

Cord Taco, Mod Case & iPhone “Sleeping bag” : thisisground.com

cord taco

A simple invention, but one that’s really handy is the hilariously named Cord taco from This Is Ground.  The leather circles snap around bundled cords, keeping them tangle free!  The adorable and soft iPhone sleeping bag keeps your device safe, while allowing a bit of space in the back for your charging cord (like the Trunk above!).  And the luxe leather  Mod case has slots and compartments for cords, headphones and cables, plus room for a large smartphone, or notebook.

Cobra Car Starter & Device charger: cobra.com

jumpack original

One of my favourite gadgets this year, the Cobra JumPack will not only charge any and all your devices via its USB port, it will also boost your car on a cold day!! I can’t tell you how handy this is.  I’ve tried it and it works so well, I’m getting these for all my friends. Read my full review of it here.

Energi Charging backpack: tylt.com

tylt

A genius option for the traveler, the Energi backpack comes with power pack and cables to keep all you tech charged, while it rests safely in your backpack.  Just keep the included power pack juiced for when you run low, and use the handy cord openings to feed cables through the inside to everything stays secure.

Powerocks Charger/Flashlight: POWEROCKS.CA

power

This handy little gadget is a flashlight that doubles as a battery pack.  Compact and lightweight, it’s got enough juice to fully charge your phone and then some.

Got a gadget you just can’t live without? Let me know in comments below!