Linksys Max-Stream Router review (AC2200)

A router is no longer a hidden piece of technology relegated to the basement. Routers are key components to our home networks, whether it’s for surfing the web on a computer, running smart home gadgets, or streaming 4K video. You need something powerful and fast. I asked blogger Ron Leung to tackle the review of a new product on the market. Here’s his review. -Erin

Today I had the opportunity to test the Linksys Max-Stream AC2200 Mu-Mimi Tri-Band Router. The name is definitely intimidating – especially for those who cringe at the thought of setting up a new router. Linksys has been a router and Wi-Fi pioneer since the dark ages of surfing the web when Al Gore claimed to have invented the “interweb”. Continue reading “Linksys Max-Stream Router review (AC2200)”

Jam Xterior Max portable speaker review

JAM Xterior Max Rugged Wireless Bluetooth Speaker (HX-P950) As sound quality on mobile devices improves, portable Bluetooth speakers continue to impress in both design and sound quality.

By special guest blogger Ron Leung

JAM Xterior Max Rugged Wireless Bluetooth Speaker (HX-P950) review

I had a chance to test the Jam Xterior Max which is a rugged Bluetooth speaker designed for the outdoor enthusiast. The speaker claims to handle rough and tumble conditions while still providing superior sound quality. Continue reading “Jam Xterior Max portable speaker review”

Google Wi-Fi now in Canada – My review

google wifiOne of the biggest complaints about making our homes smarter is Wi-Fi. After all, if you’re streaming TV, running lights, connected appliances, tablets, smartphones, computers and a host of other accessories, your Wi-Fi is bound to get bogged down. Not to mention getting decent coverage across the whole house can be a challenge. Making Wi-Fi better has often involved getting a new router, buying signal boosters, or chasing a signal by moving around the house. Now a new technology called mesh Wi-Fi has come onto the market to help improve speed and coverage. The new Google Wi-Fi, launching today in Canada, utilizes mesh Wi-Fi to improve your coverage at home.

Google Wi-Fi launches today in Canada, but I got my hands on an advance test kit for a review.

What is Google WiFi?

google wifi router single router problem
A single router or modem-router unit is a problem

Google Wi-Fi is a ‘mesh’ Wi-Fi system. It connects to your home’s modem or modem-router unit (also called a ‘gateway’) and spreads your Wi-Fi signal across the home (or business). Mesh Wi-Fi creates multiple connection points so you don’t get dead spots.

Google writes, “a mesh network is a group of routers that communicate wirelessly to each other to create a single Wi-Fi network that provides a blanket of connectivity. This allows you to have multiple sources of powerful Wi-Fi throughout your home, instead of just a single router.”

How does Google Wi-Fi work?

google wifi blanket mesh
How mesh Wi-Fi works.

Google Wi-Fi is not just a signal booster; it’s a whole new Wi-Fi system that takes the signal from your home’s modem, and spreads it all over the house. It creates multiple connection points in the house so under-serviced areas like the basement, top floor or distant rooms can get as strong a Wi-Fi signal as you can being near the router/modem.

Google Wi-Fi plugs directly into your modem. (The modem is of course the device that brings the internet signal into the home; it’s often hard-wired in to a cable in the wall.)

Google Wifi plugs into modem
Google Wi-Fi connects to your modem (gateway)

Usually your modem is connected to a router, and the router is what allows your internet to become wireless. The trouble with a single router is that it can only cover so much and extend so far; traditionally user complaints have been that some rooms are dead zones, or that top floors and basements can’t get a strong enough signal.

Google Wi-Fi addresses that by creating a series of connection points all over the house, wherever you need them. You can have as many Google Wi-Fi points in the home as you need (up to 32 Google tells me!) and adding Google Wi-Fi eliminates the need for a router.

“The system is flexible and scalable, so if you have a larger home, connect as many points as needed to get better Wi-Fi in every room (a 3-pack covers up to 4,500 sq. ft), says Google on its website, “Wifi points connect wirelessly, so you don’t need to run Ethernet cables throughout your house.”

So what does it do?

Since Wi-Fi is broadcast from each Google Wi-Fi point (and not just that lonely router in the basement laundry room), and each point connects seamlessly to each other, Google Wifi provides more coverage over a wider space.

What do you need to use Google Wi-Fi?

For starters, you’ll need internet service from a provider. (For many of us, you’ll get your modem that will bring internet into the home from the outside, and your bill is paid to companies like Rogers, Shaw, Bell or Telus.) Google says its Wi-Fi is compatible with all service providers and virtually all modems. You’ll also need a smartphone, or tablet (Android or iOS) and the free Google Wi-Fi app.

Setting up Google Wi-Fi

google wifi kit canadaI was not looking forward to setting up the Wi-Fi. My experience getting things like routers set up in the past has been that it’s tedious, difficult, and often requires tech support.

I opened the box and right away marvelled at the small card with set up instructions; just plug one of the Wi-Fi points into your modem with the ethernet cable, then download the Google Wi-Fi app.

The app will ask you to identify which of the pods is tethered to the modem. (There are numbers on the back of each of the pods and that’s how you will identify them.) Once you tell it which one is plugged in you’ll scan a QR code on the back of the device (Google says this is for security and encryption to make sure the devices are yours and with you).

The next step is to name your network and assign it a password. To keep everything straight, give it a new name and password. There’s also a school of thought that says you should name the network the same as you previous network and give it the same password so that you can fool your smart home devices, for example, into not knowing you’ve switched networks on them. In theory this would save you from having to charge all those smart devices to a new network (which in some cases means resetting them and starting from scratch.) Does this work? I’ve only had the system a few days, so I’m not sure yet.  I’ll try it and update this blog shortly — if you’re dying to know, post a comment here or message me on Twitter @ErinLYYC.

google wifi appOk, back to set up… after connecting the first Wi-Fi point or pod, you will then connect the other two Wi-Fi pods using the same process: identify them by their number on the back then name them according to where you’ll be placing them.

After that, launch the app and do a connection test. While you’re at it you can check things like the speed and test how fast the connection to your phone, tablet or computer is.

It’s easy… so easy

I can’t say enough how simple this set-up process was. The app made it absolutely foolproof, and the whole set-up went smoothly with absolutely no snags.  I test a lot of gadgets and seamless easy set-up is one of the features I give high marks to. In this case, I have no doubt even a child could get this hooked up in minutes. There’s no IP addresses to worry about, no calls to the internet service provider and no confusing instructions. I had the whole network up and running in under 10 minutes; it took longer to go up and down stairs and plug them in than it did to set up.

How fast is Google Wi-Fi?

google wifi speedI tested our home’s Wi-Fi with the existing dual band modem-router unit. On the 2.4 ghz band we were getting 27 mbps. On the 5g network we get 60 mbps. After we installed the Google Wi-Fi units, the speed went up to 68 mbps overall. That’s fast enough to stream data-heavy 4K video without buffering.

Where to place your Google Wi-Fi pods

Only you will know where best to place your pods. They should probably go to high traffic areas where people are often using their devices, or to known dead spots in the home. If you live in a multi story house and have typically have trouble getting a signal on a floor far from the router, that’s a good place to start. Similarly if you have a room that has notoriously poor coverage, place one of the pods there. While the starter kit I received came with three Google Wi-Fi pods you can add as many as you like, up to a total of 32.

What can Google Wi-Fi do for me?

Smooth connectivity, at all times, no matter where you are
Google Wi-Fi has something built in called Network Assist. This invisible genius is always working to put your device on the closest Wi-Fi point and fastest connection, so you can move around at will and not drop the signal.

The assistant also is constantly working in the background to keep you on the least connected channel.  What does that mean? Wi-Fi travels in our neighbourhoods on shared channels, which can get crowded (for proof, just open your phone or device’s Wi-Fi settings and look at all your neighbours’ networks that are out there).  All those networks are sharing ‘channels’ or bands. Network Assist works to ensure your  Wi-Fi points are using the clearest channels to connect to one another, and to your devices. Whether you’re using the 2.4GHz band or the 5 GHz, Google Wifi automatically connects your device to the band that will be fastest based on your location.

Priority Device
The Priority Device setting allows you to prioritize Wi-Fi traffic to a specific phone, tablet, computer or device. This works great in a house with several family members where everyone is often online at once. By prioritizing mom or dad’s phone or laptop, the kids can keep using the Wi-Fi, but the majority of data will go to the person that really needs it. That way everyone’s devices aren’t slowing down or stalling.google wifi schedule kids stop internet turn off bedtime

Family Wi-Fi – schedule pauses for dinner, homework, sleep
Family Wi-Fi setting allows administrators of the account, most likely parents, to control exactly who gets Wi-Fi time and when. Using this setting, you can schedule pauses in Internet use during homework time, dinner hours, or at bedtime. There’s no fighting over devices, or negotiating “just 10 more minutes”. You schedule the Wi-Fi to shut down, and it shuts down.

This setting also allows you to select specific devices and alter the times of use for those devices; your younger child’s tablet can shut down at seven, while the older children can keep on surfing until nine.

All of the settings and features are very easily controlled and adjusted in the Google Wi-Fi app.

Multiple account managers
Another cool feature of Google Wi-Fi is the ability to have multiple managers of your network. While the original account needs to be set up by one person with a Gmail account, it’s easy to add another person as an administrator simply by typing their Gmail address into the app.

Out of home connection
You can access your Wi-Fi settings, make changes, and otherwise adjust configurations even if you are not inside the home. The Google Wi-Fi app works no matter where you are.As you’re connected to the internet, you can manage things at home, and see who’s online.

Help out without hopping in the car
Having an out of home connection also means that if you’re the one in the family who manages mom and dad’s internet network, granny’s connection, or you’re always on call to help the neighbour or your sister, you can manage and access all your settings and even troubleshoot those networks, all from your phone if you get those folks a Google Wi-Fi kit.

Guest Wi-Figoogle wifi 3 home internet wifi faster
Another way to keep your home secure, is to enable the guest Wi-Fi feature. This allows you to create a separate network for guests, with its own password. This means that when kids have friends come over, or if you’re throwing a party, you can grant people Wi-Fi access without revealing the password to your private home network.

Is Google spying on me? – Security & Privacy

Been much written about Google and how much data the company has on each of us. Not surprisingly it raises the question for many potential customers about whether giving Google full access to your Wi-Fi, not just the Google search site, is opening the door for even more info to end up in the hands of a large corporation.

Google says it’s not getting any additional info from you by running your Wi-Fi.

“The information your Wifi points and the Google Wifi app collect helps us deliver the best Wi-Fi experience possible. Importantly, the Google Wifi app and your Wifi points do not track the websites you visit or collect the content of any traffic on your network. However, your Wifi points does collect data such as Wi-Fi channel, signal strength, and device types that are relevant to optimize your Wi-Fi performance.”

Read more on Google’s privacy policy here.

Overall Review – Google Wi-Fi

Overall I had a great experience with Google Wi-Fi. It improved my connection speeds, it was very easy to set up and manage and changing settings or adjusting the network for kids or guests was ultra easy. I’m still working with the kit and still learning more about it. If I find out more facts that should be shared, I’ll update the blog. Please post questions if you have them.

Google Wi-Fi sells for about $439 for a 3-pack and additional pods are $179.
Google Wifi system (set of 3) – Router replacement for whole home coverage

What do Smart Light Bulbs Do? And do you really need one?

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Our homes are getting smarter every year; dishwashers can now figure out what’s wrong, and assist in getting it fixed. Refrigerators can tell you when you’re low on butter or creamer.  Now light bulbs are getting smart too!

LED light bulbs (most of today’s ‘smart’ bulbs are LED) are becoming more common because they’re extraordinarily energy efficient; many bulbs can last 30,000 or even 40,000 hours. That’s up to 23 years! That’s good because while smart light bulbs and LEDs will cost you more in the short term, in the long term they’ll mean fewer replacements are needed, and you’ll have a smaller energy bill too.

Smart light bulbs are becoming more popular, because adding connectivity allows you to do things like turn them off or on whenever you want, whether you’re home, or while away. You can even use geo-locating to have light bulbs switch on when you arrive home, or at work, and shut off when you leave. Smart bulbs can be set to slowly come on at your bedside, giving you a gentle wake-up, or slowly softening to black to help you drift off to sleep. Those are just the practical uses; many of these ‘smart’ bulbs also come with fun options too, like colour, which can give the room a nice ambiance for entertaining, or relaxing. Smart bulbs can also give you the option of supplying brighter task or work lighting when you need it, or mimicking a candlelit table when you don’t! Plus, there are holiday applications. I used my LIFX test bulbs to create a bright orange glow in the window on Halloween to give my jack o’lantern some extra kick. At Christmas, I coupled two bulbs together by the Christmas tree in red and green. And at Valentine’s it will make a nice soft warm peachy glow for a romantic dinner. Smart bulbs have a multitude of uses!

On this week’s CTV Morning Live Tech Talk segment (Watch it here), we looked at three types of Smart light bulbs:

drift

Drift and Sense bulbs by Saffron $29/BULB – DRIFT-LIGHT.COM

I’ve been testing these lights recently. The Drift bulb doesn’t have any wifi ability, but it is smart. A simple click of the switch, and it operates like a regular bulb. Two clicks of the switch on your lamp or wall and the Drift bulb will flash back at you, indicating it’s set. In this mode it will slowly fade out over 37 minutes, the period of time of the average sunset. What this does is tune your body to the fact that it’s night time and sleep is near. I found it quite soothing, and felt after a few days of use that it did give me a feeling of being ready to sleep by the time the bulb went out. The company says these bulbs will increase your body’s natural production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, helping you get into a restful state naturally.

If you give the Drift bulb three clicks, it will fade out over the same time frame, but keep a bit of light as a night light, making it great for kids’ rooms.

The Sense bulbs by Saffron are slightly different.  They are able to detect ambient light, and will turn on when it gets dark, meaning you can leave your porch light or interior switch on, but not waste energy all day long with the bulb burning away in daylight.

These bulbs are plastic cased, making them nearly break-proof

lifx2

LIFX Smart Bulbs   $99/BULB – LIFX.CO

These bulbs are some of my favourites; they’re easy to use, programmable, and give you a great array of colour options, from warm white, to cool blues, and specialty colours all over the spectrum.

The bulbs connect to your home’s wifi network, and then are manipulated using an app. There’s no hub to fuss with; all the hardware is in the bulb. Now, for that reason, the bulbs are large and may not fit in some fixtures, but in my in-home testing, they fit easily in a living room lamp, and in an overhead fixture in the dining room.

You simply screw in the bulbs, and turn them on. Using the app, connect to wifi and set up the bulbs. Then, the app becomes a remote control for your lights; allowing you to control one at a time, or multiple bulbs all at once. You can dim or brighten the bulbs, or change colour options. Basic white light can be warmed or cooled, depending on the type or colour of light you prefer; my personal preference is for warm white-ish pink light in the house. I find it soothing. If you lose wifi, the bulbs still work, reverting to the last setting you used. That’s one other think I liked about the LIFX bulbs; when you switch them off, and then on again, they’ll still be set to the colour you last used, whereas some other bulbs (Philips Hue, below), resets itself each time you shut it off. You can select an infinite number of colours, both strong and subtle, and the app allows you to dim them too. You can also use the app to build your own favourite colour combinations, and it remembers them for you. And if for some reason the bulbs are reset, they’ll still function as regular white-light LED bulbs.

Take note that these bulbs are not for outdoor use.

One other point worth mentioning; I had some difficulty getting one of the bulbs to connect to my home’s wifi. I got great customer service help from a patient person at LIFX, who was able to walk me through some troubleshooting, and help me update the bulb’s firmware online. I can always forgive a glitch if the customer service help that’s available is rock solid.

Philips Hue Bulbs     $99/STARTER KIT – MEETHUE.COM

Philips Hue are another wifi enabled bulb, but these differ in that they require a hub, or what Philips calls its “bridge”, to function. The bridge must be physically connected to your home’s router via an included Ethernet cable, which I found to be an annoying extra step (and something else taking up space on my desk). That said, the use of the bridge appears to allow Philips to make their smart bulbs smaller than the LIFX version.

The Hue kit was easy enough to set up; once the bridge is plugged in, you use the app to set up the system, and then to control your bulbs. I liked the simplicity of the Philips app, which has 2 pages of shortcuts to give you lighting profiles like candle light, ‘underwater’ and ‘hammock’ to name just a few. The Hue, too, will allow you to use an infinite number of colours, in both warm and cool light. Philips also has an online portal which will allow you to access your bulbs from any computer, anywhere. Want to make it look like you’re home? Switch the lights on or off or program them as you wish. No need for those outdated timer boxes.

I’ve been absolutely loving having smart bulbs in my home, primarily because I use them to create relaxing atmospheres, to make the room seem warmer on cold nights, or to create a flattering candlelit glow. Most of them are easy to set up, and even easier to use. I recommend getting your feet wet with one bulb first to see how you like it.

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