• Reviews and Hands-on

    by Published on 12-07-2016 08:30 AM
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    For the past week I've been sporting this gargantuan custom-made Nixon Mission on my wrist. Here's a quick tour of the watch and software, with some thoughts and observations along the way.

    This particular watch marks my return to Android Wear from Pebble. I was, as you can imagine, looking for something a little more substantial—and I specifically wanted to try a smartwatch made by a traditional watch company. I don't consider Michael Kors to be a watchmaker by any means, nor am I a fan of the flat tires on those products. Ditto for the offerings from Fossil.

    I am, however, a fan of big sporty watches like Casio's G-Shock line, and when I saw an actual Mission on display in the company's Hong Kong store, I was sold. I ordered my watch from Nixon's Canadian site that evening from my hotel room, paying a little more for this custom colour combo—a brushed steel bezel in the gunmetal finish on a grey body, with blue on black straps. I was expecting the blue on the strap to be a little darker, but overall I'm happy with what I got. ...
    by Published on 12-01-2016 10:26 AM
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    I’ve been using my iPhone 7 Plus for a few weeks now and since I don’t have time for a full review, I thought I’d share some observations and compare it with my 6s Plus.

    First off, Apple finally ditching the 16GB base model. These days, you can do so much with a Smartphone, it’s irresponsible to sell such an expensive phone with such a skimpy storage configuration. It’s like selling a minivan that only has 1 seat in it.

    Models start with 32GB which is a useful start. The other configurations have 128 and 256GB of storage, up from the 6s Plus’ 64 and 128GB respectively, at the the same price points, which in a way, makes them a better deal - if you could call a $1000+ phone a good deal.
    ...
    by Published on 11-29-2016 08:30 AM
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    Over the weekend I finally paid a visit to one of these Google pop-up shops that I've been hearing about. Mobile Syrup reports that there are 14 of them across Canada; I went to the one in the Best Buy at Bramalea City Centre.



    What especially piqued my interest was this video documenting Marques Brownlee's visit to the NYC store. Pretty swish, right? Well, here's what the Bramalea version looks like:



    Don't forget the audio!

    I counted five Pixel phones, a Chromebook, Chromecast and a VR headset that was glued shut. Immediately next to this display were others of equal size from Samsung and Rogers. And directly behind was a much larger area devoted to Apple products. I should also point out that Google's efforts went mostly unnoticed by Black Friday/Cyber Monday shoppers.



    This was my first interaction with an actual Google iPhone (aka Pixel), as the Best Buy downtown has no Pixels on display. So what did I think of it? "Meh" is the only word that comes to mind.

    Its build quality is on par with last year's Huawei Nexus 6P. Google's ROM and launcher seem snappy enough. I didn't get to do much with the camera under Best Buy's horrible lighting, but I will say this: for the exorbitant price it's just not an attractive phone. You can argue that it doesn't matter once you start interacting with the screen, and I'll disagree—you can still feel the thing in your hands, and it doesn't feel (or look) anything like a Galaxy or iPhone.

    The best thing I can say about the Pixel is that it wasn't as disappointing as the pop-up store itself. That's certainly not saying much!

    Link: Best Buy and Google to open 14 Google Shops across Canada

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    by Published on 11-24-2016 09:00 AM
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    Spoiler alert: it's maybe not quite as great as the title of this post would suggest.

    If you're visiting Japan, especially with someone else, a portable WiFi hotspot rental is a great idea. Rather than line up at an airport counter for a local SIM and futz with radio bands and APN settings you can get a hotspot delivered right to your hotel, complete with a return mailer so you can hand it to the front desk when you check out.

    For my recent trip to Osaka I rented a hotspot from Global Advanced Communications, whose name always seems to pop up when searching the likes of TripAdvisor and Yelp. I went for the "Super Premium" option, and upon arrival at our hotel was handed a package containing the ZTE 303ZT you see here. ...
    by Published on 11-17-2016 11:58 AM
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    I just checked out Motorola’s JBL Soundboost speaker, and Easy Share Projector Moto Mods for their Z series phones. Next up is their camera accessory; the Hasselblad True Zoom.

    Hasselblad is known for their professional grade medium format cameras. So what is their logo doing on this decided un-professional looking camera? Did they really help Motorola develop a camera accessory or did they just have a bunch of extra Hasselblad stickers laying around?
    ...
    by Published on 10-31-2016 08:00 AM
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    So I'm going to be away for a few weeks—after I post the news round-up later today you won't hear from me again until Monday, November 21st. As a parting gift I'd like to share an excerpt from a fantastic book I've just finished, Losing The Signal: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of BlackBerry. Whether or not it qualifies as a Halloween ghost story isn't for me to decide.

    I'll set the stage for you: The year is 2010, and a delegation of RIM executives is at Mobile World Congress to meet with Verizon, their biggest carrier partner. Their relationship by that point is already strained, and Verizon is doing quite well with the Moto Droid. Anyway, in preparation for the rollout of their new 4G network the carrier is meeting with OEMs to see what 4G-capable hardware they have available.

    To borrow a hackneyed phrase from BuzzFeed, you won't believe what happens next! ...
    by Published on 10-24-2016 08:00 AM
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    Marques Brownlee—aka MKBHD on YouTube—did a thing, a side by side comparison of Siri on the iPhone 7 Plus vs. Google Assistant on the Pixel XL.

    Having not used iOS that much I was struck by how visually striking Siri's results could be, even if Google was more accurate overall. Let's face it, though, only a marketing person for Apple or Google would dare to call either of them "AI". I don't think we have to worry about the singularity anytime soon.

    BONUS VIDEO! ...
    by Published on 10-19-2016 02:49 PM
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    I’ve been playing with the Motorola Moto Z and some Moto Mod accessories for it. I recently checked out the JBL SoundBoost Speaker Moto Mod. Initially, I was unsure of how much sense a proprietary accessory would make, but Motorola managed to make it work and I loved the SoundBoost.



    Next up is their Moto Insta-Share Projector. It’s a pic projector that attaches to the back of a Motorola Moto Z family phone (currently there are 3 compatible Z family phones with presumably more to come). There are pogo plugs on the back of the projector which mate to connectors on the back of a Moto Z. It uses magnets to hold it in place which I assure you, hold it very securely. ...
    by Published on 10-19-2016 08:00 AM
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    Some embargo must have been lifted yesterday; around lunchtime my RSS feeds and YouTube queue were suddenly filled with reviews of Google's new iPhone, like the video you see here from The Verge's Dieter Bohn.

    This morning's plan was to post some links for your reading pleasure, but this longtime Nexus fan couldn't resist the urge to throw in his own snarky comments along with them. Let's start with Dieter, who says that the Pixel phones go "toe to toe" with the iPhone, and that the Pixel "doesn't fall down". This gets right to my fundamental problem with Pixel. It copies the iPhone so much, from its exorbitant price right down to the long-press actions on app icons, that it begs the question: Why wouldn't someone just buy an iPhone? ...
    by Published on 10-18-2016 08:00 AM
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    Okay, enough griping about Google iPhone wannabes... Here's a new video by Michael Fisher featuring five pretty great mid-range phones—actually, this one only really focuses on three, as the Moto Z Play and OnePlus 3 have already been reviewed on that same channel.

    Rather than just share the video and be done with it I'm also linking to some other reviews of these same devices and, as a bonus for my fellow modders, bootloader unlock information where available. Enjoy! ...
    by Published on 10-13-2016 09:44 AM
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    I’ve been playing with a Motorola Moto Z and a few Moto Mod accessories for a few days and thought I’d share some thoughts on how they work together.

    But first off, I have to mention what really jumps out about the Z is just how thin it is. I mean how can something this skinny pack flagship specs? What’s more impressive is that they managed to do this without having to resort to a gigantic bezel or skimping on the battery capacity.



    They didn’t skimp on features either, on the back are series of 16 pogo pins which allow you to attach a variety of add-ons called Moto Mods. Motorola isn’t messing around either, they sent me 4 different Mods with the Z including:


    • a serious sounding speaker from JBL
    • external battery pack for extended Pokemon Go so I can finally catch enough Dratini to evolve it
    • Camera with 10x optical zoom from Hasselblad
    • Pico Projector so the wife and I can watch Brooklyn Nine Nine on the ceiling




    These can all attach to the back of the Moto Z using magnets. In case you’re wondering; Yes, they attach very securely - they won’t come off unless you want it to and even then it takes a bit of coaxing.



    As it turns out the thinness, allows the Z to stay manageable even when you have a Moto Mod attached.



    So, far the one I’ve used most is the JBL speaker. I’ll talk more about the other mods in another write up. It’s considerably thicker than the Z and at 145g it basically doubles the weight of the package. Fortunately it’s very sculpted so it doesn’t feel too strange in my hand when I have it connected.
    ...
    by Published on 09-23-2016 11:36 AM
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    I was very excited when Pokemon Go launched, I really enjoyed playing the original Pokemon games 20 years ago, and was really looked forward to being able to play the latest version with my 6 year old daughter.

    The 2 of us have managed to make it up to level 28 mostly because I play a lot when she’s not around. However playing a lot of Pokemon Go causes 3 problems. Can the Pokemon Go Plus solve them? ...
    by Published on 09-06-2016 08:30 AM
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    [For any non-Pebblers reading this, I ask that you watch this less than two-minute video primer before proceeding...]

    So last week my Pebble Time Steel was the sudden recipient of a major software update—seriously, I had no idea this was coming, as the new Pebbles aren't due in Canada until mid-October. Anyway, my verdict on the new OS is that it delivers a very Apple-like experience. And that's not a compliment; what I mean is, the new software seems designed to necessitate a new hardware purchase, because it's made my current hardware much worse than it was before.

    I'll go through the new features step by step, in the order that they are demoed in the video above. ...
    by Published on 08-31-2016 03:03 PM
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    I just got a chance to play with the new Motorola Moto Z and the just announced Moto Z Play. Motorola is differentiating the Z line by putting a proprietary connector on the back of each Z phone which allows you attach specially designed accessories to it.

    Accessories include a battery back from Incipio, Insta-Share Projector, JBL SoundBoost speaker and a camera attachment with a 10x zoom lens from Hasselblad. ...
    by Published on 08-23-2016 08:30 AM
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    Here's the girlfriend's OnePlus 3 capturing the action at Heskjedalsfossen, a photo opp on a fjord cruise to Mostraumen, Norway. This was the first big road test for our pair of OP3s, and they performed admirably.

    Usually when we go on vacation I pack a pair of small tablets for us to use at the hotel, while our phones are recovering from a long day of sightseeing. But with the OP3's Dash Charging and the big battery/HD screen combo those tablets lay dormant in my suitcase for the duration of the trip.

    This alone makes the OnePlus 3 a good choice for those who like to travel. But of course there's an even better reason to bring this phone with you abroad. ...
    by Published on 07-07-2016 08:00 AM
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    The OnePlus 3 was released last month to mostly favourable reviews. One of the few notable exceptions was AnandTech, who called out the screen as the worst display they had ever seen. The reason cited was the display calibration, and OnePlus was quick to address this with a software update that included an option for sRGB colour space in the developer options.

    I flashed that update on my OnePlus 3 this week, and thought it might be instructive to compare sRGB with OnePlus's default colour calibration. The catch? I'm not going to tell you which one is which; you're going to have to guess! ...
    by Published on 07-04-2016 07:48 AM
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    That's right, I'm observing the 4th of July with an external review of a Chinese smartphone.

    Not just any Chinese smartphone, mind you, but one that will almost certainly provide some serious competition to the already-popular OnePlus 3. Over the weekend, TechRadar got some hands-on time with it. Scheduled for a U.S. release any day now, ZTE's Axon 7 offers a significant bump in specs over the $399 OP3, for a rumored price of $450 USD—only $51 more. ...
    by Published on 06-23-2016 06:50 AM
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    Time to see what that camera can do!

    Yesterday I took the OnePlus 3 with me on a photo walk in downtown Toronto's Graffiti Alley. Most of the photos you'll see here were taken in direct morning sunlight, and a few in the shade—I'll leave it to you to figure out which ones are which.

    Note that all the images here are embeds from this Flickr gallery—you can click/tap on each photo to see it in its native resolution and accompanying EXIF data. Perhaps more importantly, you can also compare the same subject matter photographed by the Nexus 5X and OnePlus One, among others.

    Enjoy! ...
    by Published on 06-22-2016 08:20 AM
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    Yesterday I set up my OP3 and played around with its default launcher for a bit. Being an avid fan of Nova Launcher I'm quite used to ignoring the bundled alternatives on Android custom ROMs—Trebuchet, Launcher3 and the like—but since the only way you can currently use the OnePlus Launcher is with an actual OnePlus phone, I thought I should at least show you what it's all about.

    The OnePlus Launcher offers the user 16 unique backgrounds, plus some rather uninspired "live" wallpapers that date all the way back to the Galaxy Nexus. You can see some of the more artsy options on their designer's website. ...
    by Published on 06-21-2016 08:15 AM
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    I also have one, but it's still in the box.

    Rooting my better half's OP3 and transferring her app files via Titanium Backup took most of yesterday evening, giving me a chance to get to know the phone a little better.

    Unboxing a OnePlus 3 in 2016 doesn't have quite the same "wow" factor as the OnePlus One did in 2014, if only because an OP1 in 2014 was a lot harder to come by. It didn't help that our shiny white OP3 boxes arrived a bit banged up (thanks UPS); fortunately the phones inside were unharmed.

    Here, then, are some initial observations about the OnePlus 3. ...
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