• Reviews and Hands-on

    by Published on 05-25-2015 07:00 AM
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    Last November, when the sting of disappointment from the Nexus 6 was still fresh, I proudly proclaimed that I wouldn't be upgrading to Android Lollipop anytime soon. Now, six months later to the day, I'm here to tell you about the new 5.1-based ROM on my OnePlus One.

    It's called BlissPop. It's built on a CyanogenMod base, but offers so much more. ...
    by Published on 05-21-2015 03:01 PM
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    While I’m not sure if it’s by choice, these days Microsoft has decided to devote most of its attention to the more affordable end of the market. Here’s Blu’s entry level Windows Phone, the Win Jr LTE which surprise, surprise, has support for LTE at a sub $100 USD price point.

    Entry level phones are more about what compromises you have to make to reach a certain price point and whether they make sense so let’s check it out.
    ...
    by Published on 05-14-2015 11:33 AM
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    A while back I reviewed the original Parrot Zik’s wireless headphones. They were a good looking pair of cans that sounded much worse than they looked.

    Now, Parrot has released a new version. While they look hasn’t changed much, they promise improved sound quality.

    I hate to be a cynic, but making them sound better is probably not a hard claim to make because there was so much room for improvement. Let’s check them out:
    ...
    by Published on 05-14-2015 11:15 AM
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    Last year, one of my favorite lower cost phones was Blu’s 5.0C HD. It combined ‘good enough’ specs with an interesting, eye-searing neon pink case. It targeted the “I want a decent phone that’s also fun’ segment and came through in spades.

    Of course, the 5.0C runs Android so if you were looking for something of the Windows Phone persuasion there was the Blu Win HD. Now it’s been updated with the added goodness of LTE, let’s check it out:
    ...
    by Published on 05-13-2015 07:04 AM
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    For about eight hours yesterday I had a pro subscription to MightyText, universally lauded as one of if not the best desktop SMS solution for power users. My experience was a little different.

    I've tried the free version of MightyText before, and was always bothered by the fact that my desktop browser needed these three cookies for it to work:

    Code:
    mighty-app.appspot.com
    mightytext.net
    textyserver.appspot.com
    If, like me, you block third-party cookies from your web browser (because privacy) and don't enable these three exceptions you'll find that your connection to MightyText will break from too many redirects. I've honestly never seen any other web service work this way.

    And textyserver? Really? ...
    by Published on 05-04-2015 10:39 AM
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    When Howard asked me if I wanted to review the Acer Chromebook I jumped at the opportunity. While I’ve always been tempted by Chromebooks, I had some reservations; Can they do enough? Are they fast enough? Can they stream HD video smoothly? How is the battery life? Is there enough value?

    Chromebooks are very much purpose built laptops, specifically designed to do one thing. It’s not designed to replace a PC or Mac as they simply cannot do all of the same things. These are cloud enabled laptops which are targetted at Google users; Gmail, Play Music, Books, Docs, Maps, etc. With that in mind lets see how the Acer stacks up: ...
    by Published on 05-04-2015 07:42 AM
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    ... But a refund is on the way. Thanks, Amazon!

    You'll recall that I experienced a sudden and unexpected case of BlackBerry envy a few weeks ago when my mother was having some tests done at the hospital. If you missed it, my brother was texting me with his physical qwerty keypad faster than I could reply with my virtual Android equivalent.

    As dear old mum has a follow-up visit with her doctor planned for this week, I thought it might be instructive to repeat my experience with a BlackBerry, for comparison's sake.

    Now I'm not made of money so a Passport or Classic was entirely out of the question; I did, however, manage to find myself a cheap and cheerful Q5 on Amazon—in my favourite colour, I might add. I always preferred the island-style keys on the old Curve models, anyway, finding them easier to type on than the keys on the Bolds.

    A few days and $200 CAD later I had a new BlackBerry in my hands. The first order of business (after entering my credentials) was upgrading the OS to the latest and greatest version. Only problem was, there wasn't enough space on the device to take the OTA. ...
    by Published on 04-29-2015 07:10 AM
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    Yesterday in New York City LG revealed their flagship device for 2015, the G4.

    It's as notable for the features LG didn't upgrade from last year as it is for the ones they did. Unlike Samsung, who took a very different direction with their Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, LG's G4 keeps the removable battery and support for micro SD. If only you could unlock that bootloader without an exploit, amirite?

    Anyway, the G4 has a lot more going for it than just holdover features from the G3. Here are the notable specs, via HoFo user rogue17:

    Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 808
    Operating system: Android 5.1 Lollipop
    Display: 5.5-inch Quad HD IPS Quantum Display (2560 x 1440, 538ppi)
    Storage: 32GB eMMC ROM, microSD card up to 2TB
    RAM: 3GB LPDDR3 RAM
    Size: 148.9 x 76.1 x 6.3-9.8 mm
    Weight: 155 grams
    Rear camera: 16MP with f/1.8 aperture / OIS 2.0
    Front-facing camera: 8MP with f/2.0 aperture
    Battery: 3,000 mAh removable
    Network: 4G / LTE / HSPA+ 21 Mbps (3G)
    Connectivity: WiFi 802.11ac / Bluetooth 4.1LE / NFC / USB 2.0
    Colours: (Ceramic) Metallic Gray / (Genuine Leather) Black ...
    by Published on 04-27-2015 10:07 AM
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    If you’re familiar with Alcatel OneTouch, recently their portfolio has had 2 parallel families of devices. The Idol X line had beefier specs like full HD displays but no LTE, plus they utilized MediaTek SoC’s. The Idol S line used Qualcomm SoC and some include LTE but they’re less attractive on paper.

    Now we have the Idol 3, which appears to consolidate the 2 lines. It has a full HD display and is the first device I’ve tried with Qualcomm’s 64bit octa-core Snapdragon 615 processor.

    Looking down the spec sheet, you’ll find many features from last year’s flagships like the 5.5” FHD display I mentioned, along with a 13 megapixel camera, 2GB of RAM, stereo speakers and a large battery that approaches 3000mAh.

    However, one thing that’s decidedly un-flagship about the Idol 3 is the price.

    You can pick it up for only $249.99 USD unlocked direct from Alcatel OneTouch. it occupies a part of the market that is currently not very crowded. While there are bunch of less capable phones that cost less than $200 and many flagships that cost $500 and up, $250 is a pretty lonely place.

    When I was trying to think of competitors, flagship alternatives like the OnePlus One and Nexus 5 cost a bit more than the Idol 3 while budget stalwarts like the Moto G 2nd Gen and ZTE Grand X Plus are a bit cheaper. I guess right now, the Idol 3 is competing with the the used and refurbished market. ...
    by Published on 04-27-2015 09:50 AM
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    The Lumia 830 is marketed as an affordable flagship here in Canada. For around $400, you get a phone with a slick metal frame, a 10 megapixel camera with image stabilization, running Windows Phone 8.1.

    It’s tailor made for people on a “Lite” type contract, who only want to spend slightly more than they used to, but also don’t want to drop too much on a new handset.
    ...
    by Published on 04-16-2015 07:45 AM
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    Just yesterday I topped up my mom's SpeakOut Prepaid account for another year. You wouldn't think that a housebound senior would have any need for a mobile phone, but the benefits are actually twofold: (1) I get peace of mind in case the power goes out, taking her cordless landline phone system with it, and (2) she gets to enjoy a network-connected timepiece—not at all what I expected but she loves it for that reason alone.

    It helps that her handset, the Snapfon ezTWO, was made expressly for seniors. But what if the elder in your life prefers a flip phone form factor? If that's what you're after, I've got just the device for you... Meet the Jethro SC213B, $44.99 unlocked from Amazon Canada. My girlfriend bought one for her 70 years-young mom, and it looks like another winner for seniors. ...
    by Published on 04-13-2015 07:55 AM
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    I booked an appointment over the weekend at my local Apple store to try on the Apple Watch. Any expectations I had about what would go down were entirely due to a post I caught on Mobile Syrup last Friday—to quote its author, Dan Bader: "There is plenty of greatness in this try-on experience."

    ... Which is interesting, because the greatness was decidedly lacking in mine. ...
    by Published on 04-10-2015 07:40 AM
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    JavaPay may or may not be Pebble's killer app, but it's an undeniably handy utility for anyone with a Starbucks card. Using the app has provided me with just about the most frictionless and altogether pleasant mobile payment experiences that I've ever had—and in my quest for something approximating Osaifu Keitai here in the West, believe me, I've had a lot of them. ...
    by Published on 04-09-2015 08:58 AM
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    Trust me, this is the Apple Watch you want.

    To really understand the hype that's hitting the web right now you need to take a few steps back, hopefully clear of Apple's reality distortion field, and consider exactly what's being said—like Ryan Whitwam of Android Police did with The Verge's Apple Watch review:

    "The Apple Watch ... is kind of slow."

    "Sometimes apps take forever to load, and sometimes third-party apps never really load at all. Sometimes it’s just unresponsive for a few seconds while it thinks and then it comes back."

    "It’s also surprisingly heavy."

    "[The] side button is extraordinarily confusing."

    "In the first of many moments where the Watch felt underpowered, I found that the screen lit up a couple of ticks too slowly: I’d raise my wrist, wait a beat, and then the screen would turn on."

    "Having a screen that constantly flips on and off is definitely behind the curve."

    "There’s no particularly great digital face, and there’s no ability to load up your own watch faces or buy new ones from the store."

    "There’s no master switch to turn all notifications on and off, which is a huge pain."

    "By the end of each day, I was hyper-aware of how low the Apple Watch battery had gotten."

    "You only get a charging cable, which is lame. For $700, you should a nice charging stand, like you get with the $249 Moto 360."

    "There’s virtually nothing I can’t do faster or better with access to a laptop or a phone except perhaps check the time."

    "There’s no question that the Apple Watch is the most capable smartwatch available today."
    Wut?

    As an Android user I've some obvious bias here, but I'll let you in on a little secret: Android Wear is nothing to write home about, either.

    Who knew that the diminutive Pebble—not even Pebble Time, but the one you can buy right now—would be the one smartwatch platform to rule them all? ...
    by Published on 03-31-2015 07:52 AM
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    On this, the dawn of my second full day with the 1st-generation Pebble, I've pretty much decided that Android Wear, if you'll pardon the pun, has been a colossal waste of my time. We're still in the honeymoon phase here, to be sure, but remember, I haven't worn a watch in twenty years—and yet so far I'm really liking this thing!

    Today I'll walk you through the process of getting started with the companion app for your Android smartphone. The iOS equivalent, as far as I know, has the exact same functionality. ...
    by Published on 03-26-2015 06:19 PM
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    When you think of phones, each manufacturer has carefully created a set of expectations that customers like us can look forward to in their devices. HTC tries to make phones that are all metal with no gaps and an emphasis on the camera and multimedia experience. Sony’s are all about their water resistant with glass and metal bodies and integration with their media services. That sort of thing.

    Samsung is all about lots of features - they try to give you as much choice as possible. 2 years ago, when the industry trend was to move away from memory cards, Samsung stood firm and had one of the only flagships that still included this useful feature. Ditto for removable batteries.

    However, that was then and now, Samsung seems set on redefining their brand. Witness their newest flagship, the Galaxy S6 which is quite a departure from previous Galaxy S models.

    The removable battery and memory card slots are now a thing of the past as is the practical plastic body. Those have been traded in for an elegant glass and metal body.
    ...
    by Published on 03-23-2015 06:38 AM
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    It looks like this year's flagship from HTC has received its final, production-ready software. Or a press embargo has been lifted. Either way, in-depth reviews of the One M9 are now being posted on notable tech sites.

    The biggest change from last year's M8 is the replacement of the 5 mega—sorry, UltraPixel Duo camera with a more traditional 20 megapixel rear shooter. I myself am of the opinion that this is a good thing; while UltraPixel excelled in low light photography the Duo part ended up being a bit of a gimmick.

    Back to the reviews, are you the sort of person who usually just skips to the end to read the final verdict? So am I. So let's do that now! ...
    by Published on 03-12-2015 12:11 PM
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    Just got my Samsung Galaxy S6 here are my first impressions:

    Edge or Flat?



    This time around, there are 2 Galaxy S6’s. One is the regular GS6 which we’ll call the flat in this section and a variant called the GS6 Edge which has a screen that curves into the Edges.



    While phones with curved glass are nothing new, the Edges screen actually bends over the sides. Pictures don’t do it justice, it’s quite striking in person. Otherwise, aside from the Edge having a slightly larger battery, the GS6 and GS6 Edge are identical.



    If you want the Edge, you’ll need to pay an extra $100.



    Next, you have to decide whether you want white or black and then how much storage you need. They come in 32, 64 and 128GB sizes. I think 32GB will be enough for most people while power users will probably be satisfied with 64GB. Kudos to Samsung for making 32GB, which is already quite generous, the smallest size.



    The GS6 Edge is really cool in person but if you’re a power user you may prefer the flat version. After getting over the curved sides, you may get tired/annoyed of having a screen that only curves on the edges.
    ...
    by Published on 03-10-2015 07:50 AM
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    What we're looking at here are the default home screens of two custom ROMs from Team Slim—the Android 4.4.4-based SlimKat on the left, and the new Android 5.0-based SlimLP (for Lollipop) on the right.

    While SlimKat for my OnePlus One is a stable build SlimLP for the Nexus 6 is a very early alpha. Today, through the magic of screen grabs, I'm going to use the former to show you what's currently missing on the latter—or in other words, why there's no need to flash a Lollipop-based custom ROM on your device just yet.

    Let's dive in! ...
    by Published on 03-06-2015 12:15 PM
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    When Motorola released the original Moto G, it really turned the industry on its side. Before it came out, all the brand name phones at its price point where not very good. The Moto G was really one of the first affordable phones that didn’t make any serious compromises.

    Motorola followed it up with the original Moto E. With an even more budget friendly price tag, many hoped it would bring the cost of getting a decent phone down even more.

    However, when it launched it was clear it had some serious compromises. The 4.3” screen was too small and cramped, it came with very little storage (4GB) and while it had plenty of megapixels, the camera was terrible.

    Now Motorola has a new Moto E that addresses most of the original’s shortcomings plus it comes with an unexpected extra - LTE support. Let’s check it out: ...
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