TVs become art & Augmented Reality for all – new tech

New tv technology tech gdgetsThe holidays are one of the busiest times of year for technology. Retailers are getting ready for the rush by learning about what’s new. I recently had the chance to attend a mini technology trade show as manufacturers touted their newest gadgets and tech to London Drugs.

Smart TVs are amazing

TVs are no longer giant furniture-sized room hogs. Today’s newest TVs can blend seamlessly into your room by doubling as art. Samsung’s Frame TV is one of them. Engineered to hang on a wall with a slim and near-invisible cable, the Frame also has a large built in art gallery of masterworks and photography so when it’s not broadcasting television, it displays hyper-real art that looks like an actual painting, not like a shiny TV screen. It’s impossible to describe accurately in words; the effect is worth seeing for yourself.

LG has also gone the route of TV-as-art. Its new set is a sheet of glass that also features access to professional artworks. While it doesn’t have the option of getting wrapped in a wooden frame like Samsung’s does, it’s still ultra thin and the video picture is stunningly realistic in 4K resolution.

Sony showed off its near-flat TV that also features something called Acoustic Surface. Essentially it’s got a speaker built into the TV screen so the audio on a singer’s lips, actually sounds like it’s coming from her lips, not a tinny speaker under the set.

See how these Art TVs work in my YouTube video.

Augmented Reality for real people

One of the most amazing demonstrations I saw came from ASUS. The company showed off its new phones that come equipped with Augmented Reality capabilities.  Why might you need that? ASUS demonstrated the ability to virtually place furniture in your room using the Wayfair app; just use the phone’s video camera to view your room, then virtually place the furniture in your exact space. The effect is amazing, and brilliant.

Asus Zen Phone Augmented reality demo BMW car tourI saw an amazing demonstration from BMW and ASUS where you can take a virtual tur inside and outside a car, using Augmented reality and just your phone.

New tv technology tech gdgets samsung gear iconxWireless earbuds are getting better

If you’ve looked into wireless earbuds recently, you know battery life has been an issue. After all, getting just 2 hours on average from a set of buds isn’t going to do much for anyone. Fortunately manufacturers have been working hard to improve the hardware. Samsung’s IconX earbuds now boast more than double the battery life of before, going from about 2-3 hours to 7.

Similarly Jabra is now making its own fully wireless earbuds that delivers 4.5 hours of play time, coupled with a portable charging case that gives you a total 13.5 hours of power at your disposal. The Elite Sport earbuds are small and completely wire-free making them perfect for athletes or commuters.New tv technology tech gdgets

Both of these wireless earbud options now making investing in a pair of these worthwhile.

That’s just a snippet of the cool new tech I was able to see and test out in 24 hours. Watch for all the products named here to be in stores and online at London Drugs.

 

Roku Ultra – My review of 4K TV streaming gadget

roku-ultra-boxThere are plenty of TV streaming gadgets to chose from; AppleTV, Google Chromecast, and a whole array of devices from Roku. Roku Ultra is a new, top of the line media streamer with all the bells and whistles you could want. It will stream content from hundreds of online channels, it’s 4K/UHD compatible, it’s got HDR support for better colour, and it has an enhanced remote with voice search and private listening options.

I had a chance to spend several weeks with a Roku Ultra device. Here’s what I learned:

Getting Connected to Roku Ultra

Getting the Roku Ultra set up was easy, as it has been with more than half a dozen other Roku devices I’ve tested. The user interface is easy to follow and understand, even for newbies.how to connect older TV to new streaming device google chromecast, apple TV, Roku Express

The device will get you to connect to the internet first using Wi-Fi (or ethernet). After you put in your home’s Wi-Fi password it will likely download a software or firmware update.

Next, you have the option of letting the Roku Ultra to automatically select your display or TV type, i.e. HD or 4K resolution. The Ultra will blank the screen for a few seconds to auto-detect your TV’s display capabilities, then set itself to the correct choice for your TV, and ask you to confirm the setting.

Once that’s finished you will need to ‘activate’ your Roku to access content. From your PC, phone, or tablet go to roku.com/link then enter the code displayed on your TV screen. Once done, the screen will automatically advance and allow you access to the device.

Auto update is easy

roku-ultra-5With that process complete, you’ll log into your Roku account. Then, very helpfully, Roku will automatically update your preferred channels, if you already have an account with them. That means that if you have more than one Roku device, you can access the same stuff on all of them without having to set each one up individually. The setup process couldn’t be simpler. The longest portion of it will be creating a new account if you don’t already have one.

What you need to use Roku Ultra in 4K

Roku Ultra is one of the company’s three devices which is made to support 4K resolution. 4K TVs are a higher quality TV than HD, and have four times as many pixels as HD TV, so there’s a sharper, clearer video picture, but there are some things you must have in your set up to make it work.

For starters, you’ll need a 4K TV. As I noted, 4K TVs have higher resolution, and more pixels in each screen, so you’ll need one to display the 4K picture correctly. You’ll also need 4K content; including made-in-4K movies, or TV shows. Fortunately there are many dedicated 4K channels, and you can search for 4-only K content, so it’s easy enough to find.

HDR support

Another advancement in TV technology is HDR.  HDR provides better colour replication in video. Roku says it allows you to get, “rich, realistic color detail—even in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights—when you stream HDR content on a compatible HDR TV. HDR displays a wider range of colors, brighter whites, and deeper blacks to create more natural, beautiful, and true-to-life imagery.” Similar to 4K, you’ll need a TV that’s HDR compatible, as well as content optimized for HDR to get the most from this technology.

Using Roku Ultra

Roku Ultra is easy to navigate, with a simple main menu. You can search for or add shortcuts to your favourite channels so everything is easy to get to. Speaking of easy to get to, the Roku remote has a couple of shortcut buttons. You can navigate to Netflix, for example, with the touch of a button.

Roku Ultra Remoteroku-ultra-remote- erinLYYC-review

While you can use your smartphone as a remote control for many streaming devices, this one included, Roku comes with a physical remote too. I like the convenience of having a dedicated remote because I sometimes fund it clunky to grab my phone, access the lock screen, find the remote app, open it and then make my move. Assuming the remote isn’t under the sofa, it’s quicker to use.

Lost Remote Finder

But even if it IS under the sofa, you’ll know in an instant. There’s a built-in lost remote finder. You push a small button on the Ultra box, and the remote beeps loudly. I tested this with the remote stuffed under a cushion and could still hear it well enough to locate it.

Built-in Voice Search

The Roku Ultra remote has voice search capabilities. Just push and hold the search button while you talk. For the most part this works well, but you need to push it and wait half a sec, or you’ll clip your request, and the device will get confused. The Ultra does have some trouble with some words, mainly more obscure names.

If you’d asked me, I’d have said the voice search worked correctly ‘most’ of the time, but then I did some testing on the tool by running repeated requests. I did 20 searches, and the device got only 11 correct. Some searches took multiple tries to find, but found them eventually, others, it never found via voice but did locate using text search. I wouldn’t say the voice search was frustrating, but it could use some improvements. You definitely need to speak slowly and clearly.

Private Listening

The remote also features private listening. I love this feature, since it allows you to effectively silence what’s being watched, without a need for additional or complicated wireless headphone set up. You plug the included earbuds into the side of the remote, and voila! Instant quiet. It’s great for kids when you don’t want to hear Toopy and Beanoo for the millionth time.

Streaming Speed

The Roku Ultra was fast enough for my needs, and I never experienced any buffering or delays. It was quick and responsive. Roku says that’s thanks to its “fast quad-core processor and 802.11ac dual-band wireless”. Of course some of this is dependent on your homes Wi-fi speeds and in some cases you’ll be at the mercy of your service provider. Before you go looking for a device like the Ultra, it’s best to check with your internet provider to make sure your home has enough bandwidth to allow it to work properly.

Overall thoughts on Roku Ultra

I definitely recommend this device, and frankly, I don’t hesitate to recommend all Roku devices. They’re very easy to use, easy to set up and after testing numerous Roku devices, I have yet to encounter any major (or minor) problems with them. They’re consistently bug-free. I own two Roku devices already (both Streaming Sticks) and wouldn’t hesitate to pick up the Ultra for my 4K TV set up, or for the additional features like the enhanced remote and private listening.

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Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016

I’ve tested a lot of gadgets and gear this year. Picking favourites is hard, because unlike previous years, many of the items that have come into the tech test kitchen in 2016 are really high quality, and work well, so picking the cream of the crop is a challenge. Nevertheless, here are the Top 10 tech gadgets I highly recommend having in your life. Continue reading “Top 10 tech gadgets of 2016”

Great gear for back to school – CTV Tech Talk

tech-talk-sept16This week on CTV Tech Talk I showed you three cool gadgets that can make back to school easier and more fun.

Moleskine Smart Writing Set

moleskine-smart-writing-set-erinlyycThis gadget has really surprised me in terms of how versatile it is, and how well it works. It would be great for students, artists or just compulsive note-takers who never want to lose their notes, or who need an easy way to share them with others.

We barely had time to scratch the surface of everything this device can do on Tech Talk, so be sure to click the link below and read the full review.

The Moleskine Smart Writing Set  consists of a thick notebook in traditional Moleskine style; a bound and wrapped cover with an elastic to keep it closed, plus a special pen (called Pen+) that has the ability to connect to your smartphone, and automatically and seamlessly transfer whatever you draw or write in the notebook, direct to digital format, using the free Moleskine app.

The pen is larger than a standard pen and has built-in technology.  You push a button on the end of the pen, and connect it to Moleskine’s M+ Notes app.  Then, it tracks where you write on the page, and transfers it in real time to the app, in your own handwriting, or converted to text. The uses for this really cool technology are almost endless.

Read more about exactly how the Smart Writing Set works, and my full review of it here.

Roku Insignia Smart 4K TV4k-UHD-Insignia-Roku-TV-Best-Buy-Canada-1024x536

4K TV is the newest innovation in TV technology, and it’s all about the pixels. A 4K TV has millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

While the screen resolution is amazing, the Roku Insignia TV is also smart. You can stream shows with it, using Netflix, and you don’t need a seperate streaming device.  You can also surf the web, watch YouTube or play digital content. A 4K Roku TV brings you the best available resolution plus all the smartest TV features.

Click here to read the full review I did of this TV, as well as more about 4K technology.

Epson Ecotank ET-2550 Printer

It’s been more than a decade since I’ve had a printer in my home.  I haven’t missed having one for many years, that is until I started testing some new ones.

It’s not that I haven’t needed to print anything, but you know, you find other ways around that; snapshot photos, email copies, and yes, printing stuff at the office.

I have to say, that since I’ve re-adopted having a printer in the house, I’ve found them quite handy; and so has my family. Particularly because they’re now easier to use, more versatile, and there’s less fussing with ink and cartridges.

No ink cartridges in this printer!

epson-ecotankOn Tech Talk I showed off the Epson Expression ET 2550 EcoTank Printer. It’s a wireless printer/copier/scanner/fax/ethernet, which has a unique feature: it doesn’t use printer cartridges.  Instead it contains “eco-tank” ink bottles that are equivalent to about 20 cartridge sets. The printer I have includes enough ink to print up to 4000 pages in black or 6500 pages in color. That’s a long, long time before I’ll need to worry about running out of juice; possibly a couple years.

I reviewed a different model of EcoTank printer, one that has a slightly higher print capacity; read that review of the Epson Workforce ET-4550 here.

Whether it’s watching documentaries in glorious 4K resolution, printing book reports without the fuss of cartridges, or taking and sharing notes instantly and digitally, these three gadgets can help make back to school season easier, more productive, and more fun.

Contest – Enter to Win!

Want to enter the contest we talked about on CTV? Click here to be re-directed to the contest page. (*not active until Tuesday Sept 13)

Roku’s new 4K TV is easy to use with a gorgeous picture

roky tv4K or Ultra HD is the newest revolution in TV technology.

If you’re new to this TV term, 4K is all about the pixels. Millions of pixels. Millions more than the next best TV which is 1080p.

If you think of a TV screen as a giant grid made up of minuscule squares, a 4K image has about 4,000 horizontal pixels (that’s where the name “4K” comes from). In total, it has about 8 million pixels on the screen, or about 4 times as many as the next best TV. To explain it in a visual way, manufacturers are jamming as many total pixels as there are in all of a 1080p set, into about a quarter of a 4K screen. That’s a lot of pixels.

4K TVs are becoming much more common, and even though there are complaints there’s not enough content to watch, that’s starting to change.

Meeting the 50” Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV

I had several weeks to test and review a new 4K TV to see what all the fuss is about. I cobbled together a temporary set up in my basement to test it out. The TV is the 50” Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV. For the newbies, Insignia is the manufacturer, and Roku is the smart software or operating system platform that the TV uses. Roku is a well known maker of smart streaming devices like the Roku Streaming stick, and it’s a platform that’s bug-free and easy to use.

Set Up – Insignia Roku LED 4K/UHD TV

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Setting this TV up is very easy. Unpack it, plug it in, and connect to your home’s Wi-Fi. You’re ready! You can of course also connect to a 4K Blu-ray player (I tested it with the Samsung UBD-K8500 Ultra HD Blu-ray player) or other 4K compatible device. Yes, you can connect other non-4K devices, but the whole point of a 4K set up is to enjoy maximum resolution.

The full review of this TV was done for Best Buy’s Plug In blog.  Check it out HERE.

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.

‘Magic Wand’ is a reality on Kickstarter

Magic wands are the stuff of sci-fi and Cinderella. While once upon a time a Fairy Godmother used a special stick to sprinkle magic and turn pumpkins to coaches and mice into horses, it turns out a magic wand, of sorts, may actually exist.

gestor 4.jpg

Developed in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the Gestor is “wireless air mouse” that can be used to control your computer, power point presentation, even your smart TV or smartphone.

How does the ‘Magic Wand’ work?

Gestor is a cool looking stick-shaped device with touch-ring buttons. If you rotate it in your hands, it scrolls the content on your screen. What makes this mouse different is that it doesn’t need to touch any surface to work. It functions by touching and holding its ring buttons, and pointing it; you can move a cursor on your computer screen by tilting Gestor up or down, back and forth. You can use it with any computer or any device that supports a traditional USB mouse. Gestor buttons have gentle ‘haptic feedback’, which means when you touch the buttons they vibrate gently back at you so you know it’s working.

Watch the video of how Gestor works

Using Gestor does feel like magic

I had a chance to play with a Gestor at CES 2016 where the company that makes the devices gave us a private showing. It’s actually a really neat experience and feels like you’re using some futuristic gadget.  It’s a bit strange to get used to the motions and gestures of using a mouse off a surface, but it worked perfectly and was very responsive.

Helpfully, Gestor will work with both Mac OS and Windows operation systems.

Made in Calgary, Canada

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While many companies outsource their production overseas, Gestor is making their air mouse locally. The company explains in their Kickstarter campaign they use, “local companies in Calgary for plastic injection molding, metal tubes cutting, painting, PCB manufacturing and final assembly.”

To check the Gestor campaign on Kickstarter click HERE.

  


 

 

Seeing Panasonic’s Invisible/Transparent TV

It turned out to be the coolest thing I’ve seen in technology in the last few years. At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Panasonic was showing off its futuristic Transparent TV.

While the model on the show floor was a prototype, the Panasonic rep told me this TV could become reality in about 2-5 years!

The screen is almost perfectly see-through when turned off, and it’s easy to see art or knick-knacks behind the screen. Once it fires up though (with some cool sound effects) the screen goes completely opaque and a gorgeous high-def looking video picture emerges. I was standing pretty close to the prototype, and I couldn’t tell that it had any transparency when it was playing videos. It truly looks like a regular HD TV.

The screen can slide up and out of the way completely when it’s not in use.

While it’s still technically future technology, it looks like it could become real soon, and I can’t wait!

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