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”

BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock review; it wakes with light, can call you an Uber

Beddi glow smart alarm lightCan BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock help me wake up better?

There are few sounds that irk me as much as the screech of my alarm clock. It goes off each day at 2:50am so I can snooze it a few times before I finally crawl bleary-eyed and groggy from my warm covers at 3:30 to head to work. Believe it or not, snoozing like that actually helps me feel like I got ‘extra sleep’. (Does anyone else do that?)

I’ve always hated the sound of ringing alarms. I use the radio sometimes, but I find it disconcerting to hear people talking in my room before I’m fully conscious and know what the hell is going on. It’s all the more unsettling when I realize the radio is tuned to Coast to Coast AM and they’re talking about a phenomenon of people waking up with the demonic Hat Man shadow-person standing over their beds. Shudder.

Better, more gentle wake up?Beddi glow smart alarm light

There has to be a better, more gentle way to wake up, and I think I may have found it.
I was recently sent a BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock for testing and review. BEDDI Glow allows you to wake with a simulated sunrise light, your own music, or FM radio. It’s also got a host of other neat features that makes it pretty handy.

BEDDI Glow alarm Features

The BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock gives you options for your wake up. I’ve been using the simulated sunrise feature and the ‘relax’ sound effect. More on how it works and how I like it in a sec.

The clock is about the size of a ‘traditional’ alarm clock, and it’s got a time/display panel and a speaker on top of the face, and a light panel on the bottom. The brightness can be adjusted so it won’t disturb you. A series of buttons on the top can be configured to perform the tasks you choose; from turning the light panel on, to playing audio traffic or weather info, to playing various white noise effects. Each button cam perform multiple functions since it can support a single tap, double tap or a long hold. It works with iOS8 and above, and most phones with Android 4.3 or above.

A neat feature I like; if you unplug the clock, or the power goes out, the time will reset itself automatically once you reconnect.  No annoying flashing time, and no ‘tap tap tap tap tap’ to try to reset it.

Mood Light

I love coloured lighting. Particularly as the day winds down, it’s nice to have a soft warm glow to greet you as you head for bed. BEDDI Glow’s Mood Light feature lets you enjoy a soft rainbow glow that shifts colours across the spectrum.

Using the app and settings for the mood light, you can choose a fade effect, or a rainbow transition. To stick it on one colour, go into the mood light settings, select the ‘normal’ and it will give you a colour spectrum to choose from.  It’s not easy to get to, but it’s there making the mood light cool, fun and functional.

White Noise for sleepBeddi glow smart alarm light

I find white noise most helpful on airplanes or in waiting lounges where upset children are on the rampage. I’ve not really used white noise to get to sleep. Since it’s available on the BEDDI Glow, I thought I’d give it a try. There are 10 white noise settings from rainforest, waterfall, and ocean, to motor, fan and shower. For the most part they sound realistic and were enjoyable. I found myself gravitating to the ‘shower’ setting as it sounded most like rain falling outside a window. You can choose how long to leave the noise running and it will shut off automatically.

I though the ability to use the white noise settings for wake up sounds was something that was missing from the app. I’d much rather wake up to the soft sounds of a storm than a beep… but perhaps most folks would sleep right through them?

Get traffic & weather info as you wake up

Beddi glow smart alarm lightThis is a pretty cool feature. Using the app you set your location to get accurate weather data and current conditions will display in the app dashboard. It’s very simplistic showing only the temperature and a single weather icon. I think having the ability to click into the weather settings and get 3 or 5 day forecast info, or even a forecast for the rest of the day would be helpful. I’m surprised that’s not already built into the app.

The traffic feature takes your current location as its input for the weather info (or a different location you choose) and then lets you add a ‘destination’ address and the time you’d like to arrive for work. In the app it will display the drive time for that time and destination. You can also configure the alarm so that when the alarm goes off, it will tell you the weather and traffic info. Pressing one of the smart buttons can also deliver the same info, delivered by a friendly robotic voice.

Waking with Sunrise light & gentle sound effects

The sunrise setting is perhaps my favourite thing about the clock. The light can be set to come on gradually over time (from 5-30 minutes) or to come on a minute before the alarm.I set mine at 15 minutes and found it was enough to help me wake.

It would be fun to be able to wake up to the colours of the mood light, but I guess that’s not really the point…

I use the ‘relax’ sound effect to wake me combined with the sunrise light. The alarm goes off, softly at first, then it gradually increases until I hit snooze, then the cycle starts over. By the time the sound starts, the light is already on, so it helps me adjust to waking up. It also makes it harder to just go back to sleep since the room has brightened.

BEDDI Glow also has the ability to set multiple alarms on different days so you can have one wake up time for weekdays and another for weekends or early meetings. Smart!

Adjustable snooze bar

The snooze bar settings can be adjusted to give you anywhere from 1 to 10 more minutes of sleep, or it can adjust itself in decreasing time intervals all on its own.

Save outlets! USB Charging is built in

BEDDI Glow has 2 built-in USB ports in the back of the device, so you can charge phones and tablets without taking up valuable outlet space. It’s smart and convenient. There’s also an aux jack for those that might need it.

Configurable app dashboard

One of the things I liked about this device is that I can configure the dashboard for the alarm clock to include information, tasks, and shortcuts for things I need. In my app I have alarm settings, weather and traffic information as well as the white noise control. There are also a series of buttons along the bottom of the dashboard that allow you to instantly play audio from the phone to the Bluetooth speaker, to turn the white or mood lights on or off, or set a timer.

For the most part the app is very intuitive and easy to use, though a few of the settings are buried deep within menus and sub menus. It takes a bit of exploring around the app to get to know where those settings are.

Connect Spotify and UberBeddi Glow Uber smart sleep light clock alarm

Since the clock is connected to your smartphone, you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker to play music or podcasts, or have music set to be your wake-up. BEDDI Glow connects with Spotify (premium accounts only) and Apple Music too to give you your own personal music experience if that’s what you prefer.

I found the fact that the BEDDI Glow smart alarm clock can call you an Uber to be a bit weird. It’s not a service that I’d use (if I did need a ride after waking up I’d probably just use the app on my phone so I could track the driver) but I’d be interested to hear what others think about that.

Once you’ve logged into your Uber account with BEDDI, you can configure one of your smart buttons to call you an Uber with a single press of a button. I think that’s a bit dangerous, since in my sleepy haze I’d be liable to accidentally call myself a ride and not even realize it. The clock will then alert you when your ride arrives.  Talk about high tech and easy!

Overall review of BEDDI Glow – It’s AWESOME

After several weeks of testing I can confidently say that I love this alarm clock.

I love how many options there are for you to choose precisely how you wake up. The sunrise setting is one of my favorites and I find it helps ease me into my day. Since I’m a huge fan of colored lighting, the fact that it has mood light built in is also a huge plus.

I think the integration with local weather and traffic information is also genius; it’s the kind of information I like to have, but rarely have time to go looking for as I’m rushing around trying to get ready. Having it spoon-fed to me first thing a handy time saver.

I’ve also been enjoying the white noise option and find it quite relaxing.

In short, the BEDDI Glow Smart alarm clock works precisely as it should and the features are easy to configure and operate. I highly recommend this device if you’re in the market for a newer, smarter alarm clock and a better wake up experience overall.

BEDDI Glow sells for about $80USD /$107CAD. Get more info on it here.

Heads Up display review: You’ll love Hudway Glass but hate its partner apps

We may not have self driving cars yet, but there are other ways to improve and streamline the driving experience. I recently received a sample of Hudway Glass. This compact plexiglass panel allows you to turn your smartphone into a heads-up display for your car. Continue reading “Heads Up display review: You’ll love Hudway Glass but hate its partner apps”

Rowkin wireless earbuds are Apple Airpods competitor

Ever since Apple announced it was removing the headphone jack from its new iPhones, the world is going crazy for completely wireless earphones. Apple’s Airpods are both a trendsetter and the gold standard when it comes to wireless headphones or earbuds. But plenty of competitors have come on the market to compete with them. Most notably, Samsung released its IconX headphones for Android phones and devices. But there’s also another option. Rowkin makes a competing set of earbuds it markets as “the world’s smallest”. While Rowkin wireless earbuds are definitely small, and cleverly designed with a rechargeable case, how well do they hold up during real-life testing, and how do they compare to Apple or Samsung’s models? I received a pair of Rowkin earbuds for testing and review. Here’s what I found after spending several weeks with them.

Continue reading “Rowkin wireless earbuds are Apple Airpods competitor”

New Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 – reviewing mini photo printer

While most of the photos we take stay locked forever on our smartphones, it’s now getting easier to print them at home. In part one of a three part series here on the blog, we’ll take a look at some of the gadgets out there that will print photos for you. First up, the Fujifilm Instax Share printer.

Testing the Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 photo printer

Fujifilm has recently upgraded its pocket photo printer, the Instax Share, to make numerous improvements; the new model is known as the SP-2. It prints mini size photos only, that measure 62mm x 46mm. I had a chance to test this device for several weeks, and here’s what I found. I previously reviewed the Instax Share SP-1, and you can read that review too.

Set up wasn’t intuitive

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review
The Instax Share app interface

Setting up the Instax Share printer wasn’t very intuitive. With the printer charged, and the app downloaded, you might think you can just open the app and print. Not so. In the initial set up, you select which type of printer (sp-1 OR sp-2) you’d like to use. But after that it doesn’t tell you where to go or how to move forward with setup.

How to  set up and connect Fujifilm Instax Share

Fortunately for me, I’ve set up enough Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices to know that at this point, I needed to exit out of the Fujifilm app, and go to the phone’s ‘settings’ menu. Select ‘Wi-Fi’, then switch the printer on.

At this point you should see Fujifilm/Instax/Share or some combination of those words pop up as a Wi-Fi choice. Select it, then once it’s connected, you can close settings and return to the app. By now you should see the new printer in the app, if you don’t click ‘Connect and print’ and the app should connect.

Once the set up process is complete, printing is ultra easy. Simply select the photos icon in the app or take a new photo. Once you’ve chosen what you want, select “connect and print”. There are several other printing options, but we’ll get to those in a bit.

Constant re-connection

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review
The difference in prints from Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 (photos on the left) and Polaroid (photos at right).

Annoyingly, the printer will go to sleep after a few minutes, so it’s important to note if you left it unattended for a period of time, you may need to turn it back on and reestablish the Wi-Fi connection before you can connect again. This involves basically repeating part of the set up process each time you want to print. I find this a huge pain. You can’t just turn the printer on an pop out a few prints, and because the printer automatically goes to sleep after about 5 minutes it’s a constant on/off/reconnect process.

Fun new films – but who owns Polaroid film technology?

The photos printed on the Fujifil Instax Share SP-2 are on a retro-style ‘Polaroid’ frame. Fujifilm now has this technology, though Fujifilm rep Florence Pau tells me, “Fujifilm has a long history with instant film and Instax has no affiliation with Polaroid brand or technology. Essentially, the borders are there to seal the film.”
Polaroid was more blunt when I asked them why Polaroid cameras don’t use their original iconic film. Stephanie Agresti told me in an email, “Polaroid does not presently own the previous film technology. Polaroid products now integrate Zink Zero Ink technology to produce images instantly.”Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review

Since my last test run with an Fujifilm Instax Share printer there are a variety of new instant films that have been released; all of them are mini sized, similar to what you might get from a photo booth. Available in 10 packs, you can now get printed borders on the film, including stripes, a colourful checkerboard (called ‘stained glass’), film with XO XO on it, or in new monochrome black and white, among just a few. While I thought these were a bit gimmicky initially, once the photos were printed out, they had a really nice unique quality to them. I kind of got attached to the stained glass frame.

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC reviewCan you swap film or cartridges on the Instax Share?

The films come in plastic boxes that clip into the printer by opening a wide door in the printer’s body. You would think that makes it easy to swap cartridges back and forth, and that there’d be no worry about exposing the film too early. Turns out that’s not the case.
I swapped a few cartridges back and forth in the printer. Each time I’d make a swap, the printer would spit out a new blank photo, essentially wasting one of your precious photos. The ensuing print jobs came out with white streaks across the film, or otherwise appeared overexposed.

I checked with Fujifilm directly and they confirmed my findings; film cannot be switched back and forth. You must use an entire cartridge until it’s empty or risk ruined film and wasted money.

So the bottom line is, while you might think it’s possible to switch films and cartridges, you really can’t.

Fujifilm Film cost and print qualityFujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC review

Film packs come with 10 prints per pack and cost anywhere from $13 to $24, so it pays to shop around. The prints use high resolution ( 800×600 dots at 320dpi ) files to print crisp, clear photos, even if they are quite small.

Mercifully, there are no ink cartridges to worry about in this printer, and that’s because the photos develop on the paper itself. If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember original Polaroid instant prints that popped from the camera blank, then developed over a few minutes. These work exactly the same way.

Other options for photo printing

There are plenty of options in the Fuji Instax Share app for improving, changing or playing around with your printed photos.

There are filters you can add to the photo (black and white, sepia), or seasonal frames. You can also add text boxes over part of the photo or crop it square, or print two photos on one print. I found that kind of useless, as the images are so tiny, most detail is lost. There are also enhancements you can make to less than stellar snaps to improve their quality.

Check marks on the photo grid in the app helpfully lets you know which ones you’ve printed so there won’t be any accidental duplicates.

Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 printer photo photography erinLYYC reviewPrint speed -Fujifilm Instax Share SP2

The Instax Share SP2 prints pretty quickly, once you’re connected. Fuji says, “when users send an image to the “Instax SHARE Smartphone Printer SP-2” via wireless LAN, they can get photos in just 10 seconds,” and that was about my experience with it too. Plenty fast enough for me.

Battery life

The Instax Share  SP2 has a rechargeable battery which uses a micro USB cable. Fuji says the battery life on the printer will last about 100 prints, which could be weeks depending on how often you’re using the device. During my two-plus weeks of testing, and printing about 30 photos, I certainly never needed to recharge it. A battery indicator also gives you a heads up on power status.

Overall review of Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 photo printer

Of all the mini photo printers I’ve tried, I like the prints from this device the most. I like the Polaroid style border, I think the new artsy borders are fun and I like that there are many print options, though I didn’t find I used them very much.

I think the setup interface could function better, as I believe this will be very frustrating for people with less tech savvy. I also found it quite annoying that the printer goes to sleep so quickly and then requires constant reconnection. That aside, the user interface is simple to navigate and easy to use. The various filters and add-ons are also easy enough to manipulate.

The printer operates absolutely silently, which is nice, and the battery lasts a long time.
The Fujifilm Instax Share SP2 is available in gold or silver, and sells for about $199 at the Source, Best Buy, and London Drugs.

Inside The Vault – hidden storage for the world’s coolest cars

The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYCWith an electronic click a biometric scanner grants us access to a giant underground compound. The door thunks closed, and the silence is palpable.

Surfaces gleam, everything shines, and it’s possible for a moment to think you’re the first person ever to be ushered inside.

An invitation to The Vault

It’s not every day you get invited to take a look inside a vault. But this is no ordinary bank lockup, and it’s about 10 times the size of the average one. This Vault is located under the sand of the Mojave in Palm Desert California, hidden behind the gates of one of America’s most exclusive clubs.

Approaching from the west, down a curved driveway, The Vault is an impressive sight. With two massive circular doors reminiscent of something from Fort Knox, and human-size lettering across the front, there’s no mistaking that you’ve arrived at a very special place.

Bighorn’s ‘club within a club’The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYC

The Vault is essentially an ultra exclusive club within an ultra exclusive club.

Located at the very private Bighorn Golf Club where some of America’s richest and most powerful families own property, The Vault is a facility with a very special and specific purpose; it’s a giant, meticulously appointed showroom-garage for elite collectors and automobile enthusiasts.

The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYC

The Vault is for elite car collectors

The Vault was constructed as a pristine and secure storage facility for specialty collector automobiles and fine expensive cars.

It was conceived when one of the members of Bighorn noticed some other members spending tens of thousands of dollars adding garage space to homes at the club to store their luxury automobiles.

A large centralized facility was proposed that members could essentially buy storage space in, for less than the cost of a home reno. Dozens of members lined up to back the plan.

Redline Lounge is a haven for collectors

Once through security, and up a few steps, there’s a beautiful lounge area with a bar, cushy leather seating reminiscent of fine automobiles, TVs, tables and auto-inspired decor. Known as the Redline Lounge, the area is accessible only to members who store cars here.

One wall of the lounge is floor-to-ceiling windows, and it overlooks the garage and the precious collection within. The floor is polished concrete so shiny it reflects both the overhead lights and the neon colours of some of the orderly rows of vehicles resting on the surface.

Vintage cars & new automobile technology in The Vault

The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYCCars from last century are parked beside some of the newest and most technologically advanced vehicles of today. Every vehicle is absolutely spotless, dustless and there’s not a speck of dirt to indicate these cars have ever seen the open road. They have, of course; members are free to take their cars out any time they please, but the care that goes into their use and storage is obvious. Engines gleam under the canopy of hoods, tires shine and grilles glint.The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYC

Bathrooms too pretty to use

Even that bathrooms inside the Vault are a sight to behold, and its obvious no expense has been spared. Polished steel toilets, and glowing LEDs under glinting lucite surfaces inside the bathroom lend it an otherworldly feel.The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYC

The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYCThe Vault at Bighorn Golf Club inspires

As an outsider, getting a private tour of this incredible space for this blog was fascinating. It’s hard to imagine being so rich you can buy storage space in a millionaire’s private vault, but it was definitely inspiring to see what success can get you.

The Vault door whooshes closed behind us, and we step back into the dry desert air, heading back to the main area (a mini downtown?) of the property. Bighorn offers more than just a fancy garage. There’s several restaurants, a spa and even a Starbucks, all reserved exclusive for members of this community.

Bighorn’s motto is “No limits, nothing ordinary” and the property definitely lives up to that. If you’re inspired to inquire about membership, you’ll first need to own property at Bighorn. Current real estate prices range from $1.7 to $11 million USD. Your yearly membership fees are on top of that. But hey, it gives us all something to aspire to, right?

 

The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYC

The Vault Bighorn golf Palm Desert ErinLYYC

 

Beauty gadget review – Curl Secret by Conair

Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYCIt’s a mighty odd looking device for a curling iron. The Curl Secret by Conair (also labelled on the box as Infinity Pro) arrived to my tech test center recently, and I’ve been trying it out.

You’ve probably seen this gadget advertised (As seen on TV!); it looks kind of like a giant lollipop, or a bulbous weapon of some sort.

Despite its distinctive shape, the Curl Secret from Conair promises lush bouncy curls with ease.  Does it live up to the hype? I have naturally straight hair and have lots of experience with many kinds of styling tools, so my review will focus on those parameters. You might have a different experience if you are a neophyte with naturally curly hair.

Video review of Conair Curl Secret

Figuring out the Curl Secret

The Curl Secret definitely took some getting used to.  I consider myself pretty adept with curling irons and wands and even using a flat iron to curl my hair, but the Curl Secret works like nothing I’ve ever tried before.Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYC

You clamp the device on a 1/2 to 1″ section of dry hair. The device pulls hair into a round heated chamber, and warms it at the same time it wraps the hair around the inner barrel. When the timer beeps, your hair is ready, you open the clamp, and your beautifully curled hair falls free.

Important note

The opening of the curl chamber must always be facing your head , no matter what side you’re working on. That’s important, because if you mix this up, as I did on one of my early tries, your hair gets stuck. Really stuck. More on that later.

For the most part, the device is easy to use.  It helps enormously if your hair is brushed, so it’s smooth and free of tangles. Then it slips into the chamber easily, and will fall out with ease.

Curl quality of Conair Curl Secret

conair curl secret review erinlyyc
A freeze frame from my video showing rather random curls from the Conair Curl Secret

I found the curls to be rather loose for my hair texture and length, but then I changed some of the settings on the Curl Secret. There are 3 timer settings and 2 heat settings which are supposed to provide may different variations on curl, from light waves to tighter spirals. I found (not surprisingly) that the curl was tightest and lasted longest on high heat and for the longest time. The Curl Secret definitely gave me curls that lasted well into the next day.

conair curl secret review erinlyyc
Care must be taken to get uniform curls using the Conair Curl Secret Infinity.

The problem I had with the device’s curl quality is that it’s quite unpredictable. If you’re not careful to use uniform pieces of hair, and hold the machine in the same way, at the same distance from your head, you can get quite a random head of curls (See my video above for what that looked like). During a couple of tests I got both light waves and spiral curls during the same session and with the same settings, probably due to the fact I was inadvertently varying the size of the pieces of hair I was using. I was forced to do several pieces over again to try to gain some uniformity.

I also noticed that after each test, on the next day my hair felt rougher once the curl was brushed out, kind of like the strands had been fattened up or roughed up by the previous day’s experiments. I needed to wash my hair to get it smooth again.

What happens when Conair Curl Secret malfunctions or it goes wrong?

The Curl Secret has a mechanism that prevents hair from getting stuck.  If it senses resistance via a tangle, it stops drawing hair in and beeps and you must open it and start the curl over. This fail-safe works well, and I had no major problems with tangles or stuck hair.

Curl Secret Conair ErinLYYCThis mechanism obviously seems to work best if the wand is held correctly. Once I accidentally turned the curl chamber away from my head and started the curl process. It sucked in all the hair and heated it but wouldn’t release it. It was then I realized it was hopelessly jammed.

I struggled to free my curl but it was absolutely not budging. With visions of a smoking singed stump on my head, I unplugged the Curl Secret and tried to work the curl free with my hands and some tugging.  It still wouldn’t budge. I ended up having to work the end of a plastic comb into the curl chamber to help pull it free, but it was truly no easy feat. (I’ll say it again: unplug the device and only use plastic if you’re going to stick something into an electrical appliance) Fortunately there was no damage to my hair. You can bet I took extra care never to make that mistake again.

Easy to hold, cool to touch

The outside of the Curl Secret remains cool to the touch so you can manhandle it as you need to. That makes it easy to find a grip or a handhold that works. The device isn’t heavy, certainly no heavier than a blow dryer, though I’d say it felt a wee bit heavier than a large curling iron.

Overall review impressions – Conair Curl Secret

My overall impression was that the Curl Secret was just okay. The box promises “perfect curl… every time” but I’d say that’s not accurate in my experience.

conair curl secret reviewOnce I learned how to use it it was easy enough to use and it gave me a decent enough curl most of the time and the curls did last into the next day.  If I had to name the cons about this device, it’s that you have to be so cautious about how you use it. That tangle I had was no small snarl. With a curling iron or wand you can just release your hair, with this, it felt a lot more desperate when it jammed.

I also felt like the curls were not as smooth as I’d get with a wand or iron. Particularly the next day after I brushed out my curls the hair felt roughed up, something I’ve never felt with my existing wand, tourmaline iron or curling iron (though this device says it too is ‘tourmaline ceramic’).

Another part I didn’t love about the Curl Secret was that I wasn’t able to get the curl very close to my scalp. Just the way the Curl Secret is built, it can’t physically get close to the root, so I’d say I had a 2” area of hair near my scalp that I was unable to curled.

I have straight hair (just below the shoulders in length) and found the device worked fine on me, but I can’t say what the experience would be like for those with curly hair, or with very long hair.

I didn’t care for the randomness of the curl using the Curl Secret. Care must be taken to get very uniform sections in order to get a nice even curl. In my experience, it was quite hard to get even results, unless I took much more time than I would with a curling iron or wand. Even then, sometimes when I thought I was being quite deliberate, I still had sections that needed redoing.

So, would I buy myself a Curl Secret? The answer is no. I feel like I’m faster and more adept with the traditional styling tools I already own, and I can virtually guarantee my results come out soft and even with these other devices. Would a total newbie have a different or better experience with the Curl Secret than I did? I don’t have that answer.

Even so, I think this would be a good starter device for younger people who are learning to do their hair themselves (harder to get burned with this), or those with a bit less dexterity who don’t want to fuss with other pro-sumer tools. For ladies with more experience and dexterity doing their own hair, this is probably a gadget to skip.

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.

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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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