24 hours at the edge of the world with Samsung Galaxy S8

How do you know if a smartphone can be right for you? Many people get their first hands-on experience with a new phone while standing in a retail store or browsing online. It’s not a very elegant way to decide whether or not you’re going to make a commitment to something that will be in your hands and part of your most intimate moments likely for the next 2 to 3 years. Ideally, instead, you’d get to hold it and get a real feel for it, try out the camera, interact with the device and its apps, and use it as if it were your own before you decide. I had a rare chance to do exactly that with the Samsung Galaxy S8 before its public launch. But this was no ordinary review opportunity. Continue reading “24 hours at the edge of the world with Samsung Galaxy S8”

DEWALT phone built rugged & tough to take abuse on job sites

Smartphones are often delicate pieces of technology.  The glass screens and thin metal casings may look pretty, but they’re not suited to some industries or locations like a construction site. Now DEWALT, known for its power tool line has come out with an Android phone that’s built so tough it doesn’t even need a case. The DEWALT MD501 also has a host of other features that are designed for job sites. Continue reading “DEWALT phone built rugged & tough to take abuse on job sites”

Ventev Mobile accessories & charging gadgets come to Canada

There’s a new provider of mobile and wireless accessories like cables, power banks and charging gadgets. Ventev, a US-based maker of gadgetry and smartphone gear, has arrived in Canada.

I recently had a chance to try out some of the gear, and was very impressed with its durability, sleek styling, simple design and versatility. Continue reading “Ventev Mobile accessories & charging gadgets come to Canada”

New Google Pixel phone launches in Canada: review

Google Pixel Phone front pinkIt’s probably one of the most anticipated smart phone launches in years. Google’s new Pixel phone is now out on the market and I was able to get my hands on one in advance for testing and review. Pixel is the first ever phone designed end to end by Google and it launches October 20, 2016. Continue reading “New Google Pixel phone launches in Canada: review”

Why is my tech broken? Why do my devices crash? Why is technology unreliable? How can I fix it?

pixellated tvI’ve tested a LOT of technology, gadgets and devices as a tech writer, and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that most gadgets will require regular maintenance to keep working well.

Just like your car, the fluids need to be topped up, and when you hear a rattle you need to take it to a mechanic and get it looked at to prevent a bigger problem down the road. It’s the same thing with all the high tech gadgets we buy; you’ve got to do your part to keep them in good working order.

Why is my tech not working?

In the last few months alone, I’ve had home automation devices stop working, smart light bulbs cease to function, headphones that crashed constantly, and many other devices where they’ve just stopped working altogether, or only function intermittently.  Here’s a few common reasons why your devices may not be performing as they should.

1. Software/Firmware Updates Need to be Done

What’s the difference – Firmware vs Software

For starters, what’s the difference between firmware and software? Software is a program you run, often designed to run on a computer’s hard drive.  Usually software is something you, the user, adds to your arsenal of programs by choice. Firmware is software that’s embedded my a manufacturer into a device, that’s absolutely essential to it running. Firmware often lives inside a tiny chip deep within your device.

With that said, some products bring in constant firmware or software updates, like every couple of weeks. Others far less frequently. The key is, when your device gives you those push messages that say it’s time to update, don’t ignore them.  Updates are designed to remove bugs, patch security flaws and keep things running smoothly.  That’s why when you call a tech support hotline for help, the first thing they’ll ask is if your device is up to date.

2. Integration with your phone is not quite perfect yet

Have you ever tried to write a program for an app or device?  Yeah, me either.  It’s frikking hard, time consuming and expensive. That’s why a lot of companies will start by writing a program for just one smartphone OS, and bring in the second one later.

Why is there only an Apple App for that?

Often the development team has a preference for one device or operating system over others.  Why? This article from The Guardian explains it pretty well: “Developing iOS apps means ensuring they work nicely on a small range of iPhones and/or iPads: generally 6-8 different devices depending how far back the developer wants to go. On Android, it’s a different story: nearly 12,000 different devices out there in the hands of people, with a wider range of screen sizes, processors and versions of the Android software still in use. Many developers’ lack of enthusiasm for Android is down to concerns not just about the costs of making and testing their apps for it, but also the resources required to support them once they’re launched, if emails flood in about unspotted bugs on particular models.”

So to that point, keeping every single device out there running smoothly with your software or firmware is no easy feat. So that means if you’re having troubles you can try waiting it out until the next batch of updates, and hope that helps.

3. The product wasn’t quite ready for market, but they released it anyway

I’ve tested numerous products this year where it feels like the company’s gadget was definitely not ready for public release, but they started shipping devices anyway. Selling units helps get cash flowing in, which in turn helps pay for customer and tech support, which is one reason companies might release a not-quite-ready gadget or device.  The other reason a product might hit the market too soon?  There’s no better way to beta test something than to put it in the hands of thousands of users and see what happens.  At that point, you need to hope they have really good customer service and fast developers to get things working well quickly.

Did I get a bum device or a dud gadget?

4. It’s a dud.

There’s another reason your gadget or device may be causing you to pull your hair out. It’s a bad apple.  From where I’m sitting right now, I can see four smart gadgets/devices that have had to be replaced within hours, or weeks of getting them, because they were duds.

How do you know if they’re duds?  I’d say these days, if you’re spending any more than an hour on set up or installation and it’s not working properly, you may have a did. Today, most quality, well-made devices are set up and ready to go in less than 15 minutes.  Any longer than that and you might have a problem.  If you’ve been fighting with a gadget for more than an hour, or repeating the set up process over and over and getting nowhere, contact your company’s help line.  They can — and will —tell you if you have a bad device. And in 100% of the cases where this has happened to me, they’ve replaced it within days, at no cost to me, and the new one has worked smoothly.

How can I fix my malfunctioning tech?

So to get back to the original question: what can you do to keep your stuff running smoothly?

  1. Plan to update your device.  When an update is ready, do it.  That will decrease the liklihood of problems.
  2. Don’t ignore problems, especially early. If a device keeps crashing your computer, performing poorly or otherwise driving you crazy, call tech support and get it dealt with. If it requires a replacement device, that’s easier done a month in, rather than leaving it three or four months because you’re just too frustrated to deal with it.
  3. Keep your receipts/order numbers. All my receipts and manuals for major purchases go in one drawer, so they’re always easy to find. You’ll likely need some kind of proof of purchase to get help or a replacement.  If it’s a gift, you can always redact (black out) the price and make a copy of the invoice or receipt for the recipient.
  4. Don’t take no for an answer. If you have your receipt, and are having legitimate troubles with a device and tech support can’t help you, don’t accept that.  I recently dealt with a company that basically told me of its malfunctioning gadget, “we don’t know what to do.. soo..”. That’s not good enough.  Ask to speak to a supervisor, who often has more experience, and the authority to do something for you.

Having specific problems with your smart light bulbs?  Try a reset.  Read my blog on How to reset Your Smart Light Bulbs here.

Do you have tips or advice for people dealing with glitchy tech?  Share your wisdom in comments.

My Top 10 tech & gadget picks from CES 2016

The  annual Consumer Electronics Show  in Las Vegas is known (much like its venue) for being showy and over the top; it has a dazzling array of new gadgets, advanced appliances, and blow-your-mind new technology.
There were some amazing things that I saw; probably dozens of them. But I’ve whittled all the awesomeness down to a few great things from CES 2016

#1 Panasonic Transparent Display


This conceptual TV from Panasonic is essentially an invisible television. The screen is a retractable sheet of glass, which can hide inside furniture like a bookcase, then drop into view on command. When it’s enabled, the glass is transparent, allowing you to see your knickknacks or artwork behind it, until you’re ready to watch TV on it.
When the screen fires to life, it’s an ultra high definition picture that looks fantastic. When you’re done, the TV shuts off and/or retracts back into the furniture, allowing you to have a living area that is completely free from an ugly black television screen taking up space on furniture or hanging on a wall.

#2 LG V 10 Smartphone

I’m an Apple user, and have never tried an android smartphone. But this phone from LG I would get just for its amazing camera. The V10 camera comes with advanced image stabilization  which is perfect for taking videos handheld. It also has a feature I’ve been dying to see in a smartphone (and quite frankly I thought Apple should have had long before now); the V 10 allows you to adjust the focus on your video to focus only on certain objects in the frame. This lets you ‘blur’ out boring backdrops or create nice looking depth of field. While this is possible with other advanced specialty video cameras, this is the first time such control has been added to a smart phone’s video camera. If you’re a YouTube star or just a wannabe, this is the phone you’ll want to get to make fantastic videos.

#3 Playbulb Lighting

I love the look of this whole line of lighting, and can’t wait for a chance to review all of the individual pieces. The Playbulb line of smart lighting from Mipow features LED light strips, a digital candle that you can blow out, a gorgeous glass globe lamp that you can adjust with your smart phone or by touching it. Readers will know how much I appreciate smart lighting, and this whole line looks like a great addition to the household.

#4 PureGear Cases and ‘Magic’ Screen Protector

The PureGear booth at CES stopped me in my tracks. The company had laid out of an entire line of smart phone cases that were crystal-clear; some with subtle etching, others that are just designed to let your phone show through. Once I got to chatting with the representatives there, they blew me away with an amazing feature in one of their thin film screen protectors. The Smart + Buttons high definition glass screen protector  allows you to add ‘magic’ invisible buttons to your  iphone. How? The film will allow you to touch what’s in the top left or right corners of your phone, but transferring the touch surface to the dead space along the bottom of your phone as a substitute invisible button.  It means no more using 2 hands to reach way up to the top of your iPhone 6plus! It’s kind of hard to explain, but once I had it shown to me it blew my mind! I’ll post a video on this in the coming weeks.

#5 Withings Aura Lamp & Alarm

I love the look and versatility of this new Withings product. Though it somewhat resembles a tuba, or the smokestack on a large cruise ship, this funny looking gadget is designed to emit soft colorful light to wake you up each morning. Just use it like a regular alarm clock, and instead of a nasty buzz to shock you from sleep, the light begins to wake you until it’s bright enough to rouse you. If you like to wake up to music, it also works with Spotify to give you just the type of sound you want first thing in the morning. I’m also hoping to get hands-on with this device at some point in the next weeks or months.

#6 iLuv Pillow Alarm


Speaking of sleep, I also got a look at this unusual alarm clock which is a small flat disc that is designed to slip under or inside your pillow. You set the time and when it’s ready to wake you up, it starts to buzz and shake right underneath your head, giving you a gentle but effective wake up. It will also work with other projects in the iLuv line such as smart lightbulbs, so you can coordinate your lamp to fade on when the pillow alarm begins to buzz. So cool and smart; particularly for people out there like me who wake each day at 3 AM.

# 7 Whirlpool Pantry Fridge
IMG_9849One day soon I’m going to need new appliances in my kitchen. Unfortunately for me now (how will I ever choose?!), I have several amazing options. One of my favorites is the Whirlpool Pantry style refrigerator. It’s meant to be laid out more like a proper pantry and then a refrigerator; meaning everything is visible and reachable no matter its size.

One of the interesting features is that it has shelves or ledges that run around the inside rim of the refrigerator. They are perfect for small or narrow items that often get lost at the back of the fridge. I also really like the array of small hidden compartments that are visible in the bottom floor of the fridge for small things like cheese sticks and deli meats, plus the cool compartment crisper drawers let you store long narrow items loose, such as carrots or celery or cucumbers, without them getting squashed or lost underneath bigger items. The crisper drawers are also large enough to hold large boxes of lettuce which is very convenient. Of course this refrigerator is also smart meaning you can get updates on your smart device as to temperature, humidity, etc.
Where are 8, 9 and 10?  Check out some of the other cool gadgets I previewed and showed on CTV Tech Talk to see ; including a GPS suitcase and a levitating speaker–> Click here!

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Watching Your Health? Qardio Arm Blood Pressure Monitor Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

Review: Speck Cases for smartphones and laptops

 I’m going to argue your cell phone case is almost as important as the phone itself. After all, if you drop your phone, or have something bad happen to it, a good case is the only thing that will keep you from a hefty replacement bill. So it pays to choose wisely.
One brand of smartphone case I’ve been loving is Speck. They have a few different models, and an infinite number of colors, which means there’s a case for every need and personality.

Speck Candy Shell + Faceplate
Speck Candy Shell + Faceplate

The Candy Shell cases provide impact and shock protection, and Speck says it’s drop tests meet or exceed military standards.  The Candy Shell cases have a dual layer design which Speck says provides “uncompromising protection without the bulk”. Indeed, the cases have a kind of rubberized lining on the inside, and a very hard plastic shell on the outside. But that shell is not so hard that it’s a problem to get your phone in and out of the case easily.
Speck also makes a different version of the candy shell cases called Candy Shell Card, which allows you to slide in a few credit cards into the case itself and hold them securely, so you can do away jamming both your wallet, and your phone into pockets. You can also slip some cash in there too for safekeeping.  The Speck cases also all have a raised edge, or what Speck calls the bezel, which protects the screen from impact as well.
IMG_2559Still another type of case, is the Candy Shell Grip, made for people whose smartphones often fly out of their hands. Candy Shell grip features rows of small rubberized lines, which help you get a better grip on that smooth plastic case.

Some other versions of the cases include the Mighty Shell, which claims to have two times the drop test durability of even its other Candy Shell cases.  This case contains what Speck calls “radial impact geometry”, where the inner walls compress on impact to absorb the shock. So if you’re one of those people very prone to dropping your phone all the time, this would be the case for you. And finally, yet another version is the Candy Shell plus Faceplate case, which provides all the protection of candy shell with a slick matching see-through cover to keep the glass protected. Something else I like, the Speck cases are warrantied for one year.

The inside of Mighty Shell
The inside of Mighty Shell

IMG_2443Another Speck case I had a chance to test was the See-through Hardshell case for MacBook Pro.  These ingenious and very attractive cases are made of durable polycarbonate, come in two pieces, and snap around your laptop (both top and bottom), but give it almost no extra bulk. The semi see-through plastic gives the laptop a nice look, and it doesn’t pull off easily.  Nice additions to the bottom of this case, are an opening for the fan underneath, as well as rubberized feet, to keep the slippery plastic from going anywhere.  Openings along the side also provide full access to the ports and buttons that I need. It’s probably important to note that this case in particular is more to prevent the computer from scratches, spills, and stains, than to protect it from a hard drop.

The Bottom Line
I recommend Speck cases not only for their durability, but theirversatility, and attractiveness.   I tested each of these cases out, and yes even dropped the phone a couple times (more accidentally then on purpose). I’m not only happy with the way they responded, but I really enjoy the way they look.

A close up look at the slim laptop shell case by Speck.
A close up look at the slim laptop shell case by Speck.

I advocate for having a couple of different cases in your case wardrobe, so you can adapt to different things you’re doing. I think it’s good to have a nice case for going out, as well as a more durable case if you are into running cycling or other outdoor activities.  You can also have a very slim case for when you need to stash your phone in a pocket, but a slightly bulkier one you don’t mind dropping into a bag, or sitting in your car’s console.

Speck Candy Shell in action.
Speck Candy Shell in action.

Sonim proves to me their ultra heavy duty cell phones can take abuse

Sonim makes what they call “the world’s toughest phones”.  Brand new to Canada, they brought a few of their “virtually indestructable” phones to the CTV studios for an episode of Tech Talk for us to test them out and see what they mean.

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To watch the video of our freezing test, mud bath, and hot coffee tests, click here.