Gorgeous fitness, activity & smart gadgets

For many years, fitness and activity trackers were utilitarian, rubbery and, let’s face it, sometimes ugly.

Now, a whole new generation of fitness and activity trackers, plus other smart devices have the look of fine jewelry, with all the smart functionality you need!

Fitbit’s new trackers

Meet Fitbit Altaimg_1691

The Alta is the fashionista version of an activity tracker. Slim and bracelet-like, the Alta actually looks a lot like the original Fitbit Flex (and comes with all the basic activity tracker features you’d expect), but with some improvements:

  • more sleek bracelet/band options including more watch/jewelry style options
  • vertical display on the front of the band with built-in watch
  • smart alerts come directly to the bracelet

The Alta is meant for a person who wants to be fashionable and not be seen to wear an ‘ugly’ rubber athletic band all the time. The band does the physical tracking and it pairs with a free smartphone app where you can store and access stats from day to day and long-term. There are also several pretty options for bands, from leather, to metal to the original rubber if you’re going to be working out hard.

Read my FULL REVIEW of Fitbit Alta .

Check out Fitbit Blaze

To use the Blaze you’ll need the Fitbit App if you want to keep long-term stats. With the app downloaded, you pair the device to your phone.

The Blaze has an interesting configuration; it’s essentially two parts; the band (which is interchangeable, more on that below), and the tracker unit, a flat, square device just over an inch square and slightly thicker than an average watch.  The tracker pops out of the band to allow for changeover, and must be removed and placed inside a tiny box for  charging.

At first I thought this band would be heavy and bulky, but after less than an hour, I had already forgotten it was on my wrist. Really, it doesn’t feel any heavier or bigger than my original Fitbit Flex, despite the obvious size differences.img_1456

I also like that the tracker unit itself can be popped out of the band, and tucked into a sports bra, sock, or pocket. This was one of my favorite features of the Fitbit Flex; it allowed me to hide the tracker if I didn’t want to be wearing something obviously athletic and rubbery on my wrist for a nice night out or a formal event. While the accuracy of the device may not be as exact if it’s worn elsewhere since it’s been made to be worn on the wrist, in my experience it wasn’t off enough to throw my day out of whack. And besides, the better looking these devices get, the less likely we are to want to hide them anyway, right?

Read my FULL REVIEW of the Fitbit Blaze.

Samsung Galaxy Gear S2 smart watch &

Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone

Samsung Gear S2

I’ve been playing with this device for a week now and I love it’s clean lines and intuitive interface. While it functions as a chic watch, with a host of cool faces to match any style, it also has fitess tracking abilities.

  • Taking charge of your fitness goals is easy. It helps you track your daily activity levels,  and water vs. caffeine intake.
  • The Gear S2 helps you stay fit (even when you don’t want to!) with motivational messages, giving you the extra push, or much needed reminders.
  • The Gear S2’s battery life enables you to stay connected approximately 2-3 days on a single wireless charge.
  • No matter the weather, you can stay on your fitness track because the Gear S2 is water resistant and dustproof, so you never have to miss that much needed outdoor jog, even in the rain!
  • The Gear S2 will also track your heart rate.

The Gear S2 pairs with the  Samsung Galaxy S7

Features:

  • The Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge are the first Dual Pixel smartphones, letting you get the shot in 0.15 seconds. With a 12MP camera and a larger (f1.7) aperture, the camera owns the night and captures the moments that matter like never before, even in low light.
  •  With a stunning 5.1″ Quad HD Super AMOLED Display (5.5″ for Galaxy S7 edge) these smartphones are designed to not just look beautiful, but feel great in your hands. Plus, with an always-on display, stay up to date on the time, calendar and notifications without having to wake up your screen.
  •  Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge deliver fast wired and wireless charging technology. Additionally, the hybrid SIM card tray allows users to insert a microSD card for up to 200GB of additional storage

For Apple users, Samsung is working on an app that will allow the watch to function with iPhones too so more users may then be able to  jump on board.

Ringly Smart Ring

This little gem (pun intended) is a chic cocktail ring with smart functionality. Ringly rings come in a variety of metal finishes and stones. They work by sending you alerts when texts, phone calls or emails come in. You can also set it up to work with other apps and devices, like Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, Instagram, Twitter and many more.

The Ringly will vibrate on your finger, and you can set it for one buzz, up to four vibrations. The ring also sends a coloured light alert, via a tiny LED light in the side of the ring (the stone itself doesn’t glow). You can change the colout from orange to red, blue, green or purple, depending on they type of alert you want to get. It’s a fun accessory, but I recommend getting a size smaller than you might ordinarily, as the stone is quite heavy and falls to the size if not fitted properly. You’ll find that frustrating, and pull the ring off, so size appropriately.

First look at the robot that’ll mop up gross stuff for you

iRobot Braava jet 240.jpgJust in to the test centre this week; the iRobot Braava jet 240!  This little lunchbox-sized device will sweep and mop your floors for you.  Watch the unboxing video to see what you get, and watch the blog in the coming days for a full review of the device.

Review: Fitbit Alta

Fitbit-Alta_Family_GoldFitbit launched two new devices this spring; the watch-like Blaze and the chic and stylish Alta. Each device has the signature Fitbit capabilities, like step counting, activity monitoring, and sleep tracking but each has its own features too. What’s the difference between these new devices, is it worth it to upgrade to a newer, better Fitbit, and what can they do for you? Click here to read my review of the Blaze, and for what the Alta’s all about read on.

All about Fitbit Altaimg_1586

The Alta is the fashionista version of an activity tracker. Slim and bracelet-like, the Alta actually looks a lot like the original Fitbit Flex (and comes with all the basic activity tracker features you’d expect), but with some improvements:

  • more sleek bracelet/band options including more watch/jewelry style options
  • vertical display on the front of the band with built-in watch
  • smart alerts come directly to the bracelet

The Alta is meant for a person who wants to be fashionable and not be seen to wear an ‘ugly’ rubber athletic band all the time. The band does the physical tracking and it pairs with a free smartphone app where you can store and access stats from day to day and long-term.

This band charges using a special clip that attaches to the band, and can be plugged in to a USB port on a computer, or using an AC plug.

img_1588What can Fitbit Alta do?

Fitbit Alta is an activity, step and sleep tracker that will:

  • count steps
  • track activities like walks, running, biking
  • measure sleep length and quality
  • receive smart alerts (calendar, text messages, etc)
  • send you ‘fun’ reminders and motivational messages to remind you to move more.

Smart Track

The Alta has a great feature called Smart Track which knows when you’re doing activities like a walk, or a run, even aerobics. It will automatically register duration of the activity, calories burned, pace  and fat burn. Previously (like with Flex) you’d need to add these activities manually, but it would still count just the steps.

What it doesn’t do:

  • measure heart rate
  • display full length text messages
  • give you fancy options for display

With the Alta, you need to rely more on the app than you would with, say the Blaze. That’s because the band’s display is narrow and limited, so for detailed stats and to make changes or adjustments, you need to log in to the app.

Limited Display options  ee5ccf08-0635-437a-b034-44c5cd579bc7

To view the data that is available on the Alta, you tap the display; twice to access the built-in watch/clock, and once to advance through data which is limited to steps, kilometers traveled, calories burned and  active minutes.

The display is black and white and also has very limited options for customization; you can change it from vertical to horizontal, add a black and white flower, or change “2:00” to “Two o’clock”, but that’s about it.

 How does Fitbit Alta differ from Fitbit Blaze (and Flex)?

img_1691Let’s start by comparing Alta to the original Flex. (Read my review of the Flex here) The Flex tracker can be popped out of its rubber band, and the Alta tracker can too; both trackers are tiny units that can be slipped into a bra, sock or pocket if you don’t want to wear one on your wrist. While Fitbit doesn’t brag about this capability, due to the fact it’s likely not as accurate as wearing it properly, I found it’s a handy option for the four years I’ve been a Fitbit owner.

The Alta and Flex are nearly identical in width,  but while Alta has the aforementioned limited-ability display, the Flex has no display whatsoever, so the Alta’s already an upgrade. Alta can also receive shortened message alerts, while again, original Flex has no such abilities.img_1710

Both Alta and Flex track all the same data, but where the Alta wins out over the Flex is on the style front. Alta can easily be snapped into a nicer metal, leather or custom coloured band. Really, you can make this band so pretty, and so jewelry-like, you won’t ever need to remove it for nights out or formal events.

When compared to the other new Fitbit offering, the Blaze, there are more striking differences. Blaze has a full colour screen, it can show longer alerts and reminders, and you can adjust some settings right on the tracker. While both Blaze and Alta have a built in watch, Blaze’s can be changed to a much different variety of faces.

Both Alta and Blaze have much more attractive band options (at extra cost) so they can be dressed up, or back down or for more vigorous use in the gym

 Is it worth it to upgrade to Alta?

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I need/want to get alerts on my wrist?
  • Do I just want basic fitness tracking?
  • Do I care more about having a tracker that looks like jewelry?
  • Do I need/want a watch?
  • Do I want ‘wardrobe options’ for my tracker?
  • Can I live without monitoring my heart rate?

If you answered yes to three or more of those questions, you’ll probably be pretty happy with an upgrade to the Alta, from a device like the Flex.

Overall review of the Fitbit Alta

For me personally, I like the Alta as a small scale upgrade over the Flex, as I found myself becoming very reliant on the built-in watch, just for starters, and the alert function is also handy. I also really, really like the options for making it look more like jewelry and less like an activity band.

However when factoring in price, if I was ready to upgrade, I’d probably just go all the way and get the Blaze. (Fitbit Flex is $129 and the Alta is $169 plus significantly more for fancier bands. The Blaze sells for $249. Fancy bands are extra here too) If price is a major factor for you, in my opinion, I’d get the Flex over the Alta, since they’re very similar and the display isn’t so much more advanced as to make it as must-have for the price. However if alerts to your wrist are a priority, it’s Alta all the way.

If you’re looking to get your first Fitbit or fitness tracker, either the Flex or the Alta are great starting points; the Flex is the most inexpensive option but the Alta does more. If you want a tracker with a few more features, and you’ve got the budget, go for the Alta since it can be more beautifully customized. If you need a device with more options, check out my review of the Blaze to see if it’s right for you.

The Fitbit Alta sells for about $169 from Fitbit’s website. it’s also available at London Drugs and Best Buy.

Read more from my archives about Fitbit bands, and apps that work with the device.

Fitbit Blaze Review

img_1453
The new Blaze (right) beside to well-worn Flex.

I’ve been a Fitbit owner ever since I bought my Flex. It’s been a staple for me, not so much because I’m a gym junkie, but because it sit at a desk for the vast majority of my day. I try to keep active and get in my 10,000 steps, and my Fitbit keeps track so that I can get in an extra walk, park at the back of the parking lot, or hit the gym when I get too sedentary.

I was excited to hear about the two new Fitbit models announced this year; the Alta and the Blaze, primarily because my Flex is starting to look a bit worse for wear, and because I feel like I’m ready for some new features. While I was instantly attracted to the Alta because of its slim profile and similarity to the Flex, I was a little less interested in the Blaze. It seemed big, bulky, dated-looking and boxy. Nonetheless I was willing to put it though its paces.

Getting started with Fitbit Blaze
To use the Blaze you’ll need the Fitbit App if you want to keep long-term stats. With the app downloaded, you pair the device to your phone.  While it took me a few tries to get it to connect to the phone, it was soon connected and ready to go.img_1456

The Blaze has an interesting configuration; it’s essentially two parts; the band (which is interchangeable, more on that below), and the tracker unit, a flat, square device just over an inch square and slightly thicker than an average watch.  The tracker pops out of the band to allow for changeover, and must be removed and placed inside a tiny box for  charging.

At first I thought this band would be heavy and bulky, but after less than an hour, I had already forgotten it was on my wrist. Really, it doesn’t feel any heavier or bigger than my original Fitbit Flex, despite the obvious size differences.

I also like that the tracker unit itself can be popped out of the band, and tucked into a sports bra, sock, or pocket. This was one of my favorite features of the Fitbit Flex; it allowed me to hide the tracker if I didn’t want to be wearing something obviously athletic and rubbery on my wrist for a nice night out or a formal event. While the accuracy of the device may not be as exact if it’s worn elsewhere since it’s been made to be worn on the wrist, in my experience it wasn’t off enough to throw my day out of whack. And besides, the better looking these devices get, the less likely we are to want to hide them anyway, right?

img_1454-1What Fitbit measures

Before we go too much further you may be wondering what a Fitbit will keep track of for you.

  • Sleep: both duration and quality
  • Steps, including number of steps and distance, and active minutes in your day
  • Activity: record activities from running to cycling
  • Weight: the app will chart your weight either manually, or automatically when paired with the Aria scale.
  • Calories: when paired with apps like MyFitnessPal, you can share food info and match it up to activity levels.
  • Water Intake: again, a manual input item but can help you keep track of if you’re drinking enough water
  • Floors Climbed
  • Heart Rate: Fitbit devices with heart rate monitoring will keep track of your resting and active heart rates.

Customizing your Blaze

Customizable watch faces are an option for the Blaze, but you can’t switch them up form the watch itself, like other bands. Instead you’ll need to do this though the app in ‘Account’ menu. Not intuitive but at least the feature is there. It takes about 15 seconds from the time you select a new watch face for it to update on the watchband.

By default your Fitbit Blaze adjusts brightness based on the ambient lighting conditions. You can change the default in the settings.

You can set the Blaze to light up when you turn your wrist towards your face. I found this feature didn’t work as well as I had hoped. If I was taking a casual look, sometimes it didn’t recognize the gesture. If I was more deliberate about turning my wrist over and pointing it at my face, then it seem to work. But it took about a second before the display would light up. My experience with this feature was hit or miss.

Who’s the Blaze for?

Fitbit wants you to be clear; the Blaze is not for an elite athlete. The Blaze is for an average consumer who wants to do basic monitoring of fitness statistics, sleep, and activities while not looking like a track star. The Blaze is fashion and fun, with a fitness core. Fitbit suggests the more seriously minded athletes pick up its Surge device instead.

Basic operation
Alerts
A great new added feature of the Blaze is its ability to deliver notifications and messages right to your wrist. While I very much enjoyed getting a subtle buzz on the wrist when a text message or calendar alert popped up, this feature does have limitations. While you can read incoming text messages, you cannot respond to them. (At least not using my iPhone.) similarly, you can accept incoming calls, but you must have your smart phone with you as well, or you won’t be able to talk. While this may seem very limiting, the price point of the Blaze is far less than Apple’s watch, so you’re getting what you pay for if messaging and conducting business from your wrist is something you’re after.

Menus
By pulling down across the watch face, you get a menu which will allow you to turn notifications on or off, as well as play music if it’s connected.
Swiping up gets you a list of recent notifications such as calls, text messages, calendar alerts and more. These alerts will stack up and stay in the watch until you clear them.

Swiping right to left across the band will give you a series of other menus:

“Today”: The today menu will show you your fitness stats; such as steps, heart rate, kilometres traveled, calories, and floors climbed. To return back to the menu list, you hit the back button on the watch band.

“Exercise”: this menu allows you to register different activities like workout, elliptical, treadmill,  weights, bike, and run. You tap the exercise you are about to take part in and the Blaze will connect to your smart phone’s app to register the activity. Push play on the watch face to begin logging the activity, then stop it when you’re done. While technically Fitbit already knows when you’re doing some kind of exercise, having this connection to the app allows you to keep watch in real time on your statistics, such as distance or time.  When enabled, the Blaze will also use GPS tracking to follow your route on a run or a bike ride for example.

img_1564
One of the FitStar exercises.

“FitStar”: FitStar is a series of guided exercises that the band will walk you through. You can do a warm-up, or a seven minute workout. The watch band shows you a visual example of each short exercise, and a timer counts you down through it.
While three workouts are included in your Blaze’s software, if you want more options, you’ll need to buy them from Fitbit for a $46 annual fee.

“Timer”:   This gives you access to a countdown or stopwatch function.

“Alarms”: Here you can turn silent alarms on or off. But adding or deleting them requires your phone and the app.

“Settings”: A very simplistic version of the settings menu, here you can turn the QuickView feature on or off, adjust brightness, turn heart rate monitoring on or off, as well as shut down the device.

Accuracy

As I’ve written about previously, I very much like Fitbit  and choose it as my preferred activity band, because I find it extraordinarily accurate.

I’ve tried numerous bands and compared them both with each other, and done testing to see if the band accurately matches my steps, strides, and activities. Part of this accuracy lies in the ability to calibrate the Fitbit to your unique stride length, which is key for accurate tracking. (For more on how to adjust your stride length with Fitbit click here.)
No surprise then that the Blaze was just as accurate as my old standby Fitbit Flex.

Styling Options for Fitbit Blaze

With the Blaze, you have several options for wristbands. You can stick with a more traditional athletic wristband (“Classic”) which is made of rubber attached to the metal watch bezel, or there are also leather options in brown, grey or black. These bands will cost you about $140 and that’s on top of what you’re paying for the tracker. A gorgeous metal link watch band will set you back nearly $180. So while there are stylish options for making your band look less like a fitness accessory, and more fashion forward, they are not cheap.

Overall Review of Fitbit Blaze

One of the things I like most about my Fitbit Flex, is that it’s very subtle and still contains all the major tracking features I want. The Blaze is a whole different type of gadget for me, because it’s much larger, and more like a wristwatch then I’ve been used to wearing. But since this activity band also features heart rate monitoring as well as time display, it’s natural this device would look more like a watch them like a traditional activity tracker. It is bigger than I’m used to, but as I noted earlier despite its size and boxy shape, I quickly forgot I was wearing it, and didn’t feel that it got in my way or was overly noticeable.

I enjoyed the additional features, and definitely found myself checking in on my heart rate through the day. Having a built-in watch was a great feature, as is the notifications option. It was nice to get a subtle buzz on my wrist when I had a text message or alert.

In short, while I didn’t think I would be interested in this band as my go to activity device, I found myself liking it more and more the more I tried it. I could definitely see adopting the Blaze in my future.

Fitbit Blaze is available at Best Buy and London Drugs for $249. You can also get it from Fitbit’s website, or find more info there.

In the next couple weeks I’ll be reviewing the new Fitbit Alta too, so check back for more info soon. Already a Fitbit Fan? Check out my Fitbit Apps you’ll LOVE.

img_1443
Charging your Fitbit Blaze

 

Spyder Commuter is the ninja of extra power

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 11.15.10 AMSince our smartphones work as everything from digital wallets, to phones, to tracking devices and even keys for our homes, it’s more important than ever that they don’t run out of power.

That’s why it’s a good idea to carry extra juice with you whether it’s in your car, bag or pocket. The new Spyder Commuter pack will fit in any of those places, and can supply enough extra power to keep you going for several more hours.img_1167

The Commuter is a 3-in-1 universal battery charger. It can be used in the car, by plugging it into the wall, or as a standalone power pack for on the go needs.The wall outlet and car charger end both fold into the battery pack so it stays sleek and compact when it’s not in use.

The Commuter is a perfect companion for travellers, since it weights a scant 4.5 oz or 128 grams, and you can charge from an AC wall outlet, via USB on your computer, or in the car. Plus it works with any smartphone or tablet.

I found this device super handy for extra juice on the go. It has 2600 mAh, which on my iPhone 6 gives me one full charge. Though there are other power banks out there that will give you more power than that, often you’ll need to remember to bring along charging supplies like a car adaptor, cord or AC plug.  This one has it all built right in, meaning that even though you might need to recharge it more often, it’s much easier to do so.

Find The Commuter at Spyder’s website for $59CAD

img_1169

 

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.

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

novalight

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

microphone lens bug

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

IMG_2801
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.

360 globe madrid

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