• Reviews and Hands-on

    by Published on 01-09-2014 08:55 AM
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    I'm still very much a fan of inductive charging, and only want you to learn from my own mistake.

    My official wireless Nexus charger from Google's Play Store works great; it's charging my Nexus 5 as I write this, in fact. I'm such a fan of the technology that decided to get two additional chargers — one for my girlfriend's Nexus 4 and another for my Nexus 7 tablet — and instead of paying the big bucks for something from a reputable manufacturer I chose to go slumming on Amazon instead.

    Bad idea.

    ...
    by Published on 12-18-2013 01:53 PM
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    The WeMo Motion from Belkin is available separately for $59.99 or part as a combo pack with the WeMo power switch which I reviewed a while back for $79.99.

    The Motion consists of the motion sensor and the power brick which are permanently connected via a 6ft long power cable.

    Officially, it has a range of 10ft but I observed that it’s actually closer to 13ft.

    The idea is that you put the sensor in one spot while the switch goes elsewhere. ...
    by Published on 12-17-2013 08:40 AM
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    Last Saturday I had to do the unthinkable — join the mad throngs of holiday shoppers in downtown Toronto. On that particular afternoon it just so happened that (1) there was a snowstorm, and (2) half of the downtown subway line was shut down.

    As I waited for a connection at St. George Station I suddenly remembered that there was free WiFi there. I immediately whipped out my phone, connected, and performed the mandatory speed test:



    Not bad.

    Some friends who are regular commuters have complained to me about how much of a pain it is to connect, but it seemed to me that the entire process took less than sixty seconds. When I again found myself at St. George Station last night, I decided to document the procedure.

    ...
    by Published on 12-15-2013 03:24 PM
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    The Huawei Ascend Y300 is a super-low-end phone that is presently sold in Canada by Bell Mobility as an entry-level prepaid phone. They usually sell it for $100 outright, but at the time of this writing (leading up to Christmas no doubt) you can buy one for just $80. It might even be possible to get it even cheaper elsewhere.

    So what does $80 buy you? And how does it stand up to the Motorola Moto G, which sells for around $180 (on sale for $150 from Koodo at the time of this writing)? Let’s find out…
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    by Published on 12-14-2013 03:26 PM
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    The G2 is the newest high-end offering from LG. It is essentially the sister phone of the Google Nexus 5, and as such quite a few of my observations on the G2 match the Nexus 5. Except for one glaring flaw in the phone I tested, I found the G2 to a worthy contender in the crown for best high-end smartphone.

    I will primarily compare the G2 to my Galaxy 4 as it is available for side-by-side testing, but if applicable I will compare the G2 to the Nexus 5, going on what I wrote in the review, and what I remember from my testing.
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    by Published on 12-13-2013 02:08 PM
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    The Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini has been around for approximately a year, but it was only released in Canada on October 4th of 2013. It sells for around $250 off-contract, and it therefore competes with the newly-minted Motorola Moto G, which has set a new standard for what to expect in a low-end phone.

    The newest version of the firmware for this device does bring to bare a number of features that were originally released on the Galaxy S4, and so when it comes to software features, the phone is no slouch. Its technical underpinnings however are nothing like the S4 however.
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    by Published on 12-09-2013 08:51 PM
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    The Moto G is new phone from Google-owned Motorola aimed at the budget shopper. It easily blows away every other low-price smartphone on the market and could single-handedly bring a lot more Android buyers who simply couldn’t justify the price of anything else.

    The Moto G isn't a high-end smartphone, nor does it even try to compete with the likes of the Galaxy S4, the HTC One, the LG G2, or the Nexus 5. It doesn't have the specs to do that. However, what it does have is excellent build quality and one of the lowest upfront prices of any smartphone on the market, mated to hardware that is way above what one might expect for the price. It feels like a premium high-end phone from 2 years ago.

    So how inexpensive are we talking? Well $180 regularly, but on sale at the time of this writing for just $150 on Koodo. Big deal you’re thinking, I can buy a high-end phone for that kind of money. However, we’re talking about OFF-CONTRACT here, the PURCHASE-OUTRIGHT price. You can buy the Moto G for this insanely low amount without signing a contract, or opening a “tab”, or without even signing up for service at all if don’t want to. If you loose one, this is all it will cost you to replace it.

    As far as which phone I compare the Moto G to in this review, that will have to be my Galaxy S4, simply because it’s my day-to-day phone and the one I have available for comparison. Before you call me out for being unfair, note that I don’t generally include much in my reviews about features and add-ons, I concentrate on the core functionality. While the Moto G isn't the greatest at any one thing, you’ll see that when it comes to core competency, the Moto G doesn't need to make any apologies.
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    by Published on 12-09-2013 09:07 AM
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    This past weekend I did something I've not done since the late 1900s: strap on a watch. Not just any wristwatch, mind you, but a smartwatch — Samsung's Galaxy Gear, to be exact... paired with a Galaxy Note 3.

    Back in 1999 I got my first PCS phone from clearNET, and the network-adjusted time on that "digital" phone made wearing a watch redundant — at least for me. I have at least one friend who has carried on wearing wristwatches to this very day; for me, the convenience of glancing at my wrist is made moot by the phone I usually have in my other hand.

    So maybe I'm not the best person to be reviewing this early iteration of a nascent product category. But hey, if the Gear can win me over then it's gotta be good, right?

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    by Published on 11-29-2013 03:14 PM
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    While a new LG G2 would be nice, not everyone wants or has the means to sign a contract on an expensive plan. They also don’t want to spend $700 on a new phone. So what can you get if you’re on a prepaid budget?

    Now, since most fancy phones are available on prepaid, I’m putting a $200 limit on the cost of the phone. $200 is still a sizable chunk of change but to be honest, if I set it lower there just aren’t enough phones that I would recommend. Let’s check out the contenders. ...
    by Published on 11-28-2013 08:37 AM
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    I have a confession, I have a cheap side. I’ll carry a bunch of fancy phones in my pocket but will balk at spending $30 on a fancy phone case. So it should be no surprise that I regularly check out the phone accessory section at dollar stores.

    Specifically, Dollarama, a Canadian chain of ‘dollar stores’. Like most, Dollarama sells a lot of merchandise that actually costs more than a buck - most of their phone accessories cost $1.50, 2, 3, etc.

    If you’ve ever been to one, you’ll know some of the stuff there is of dubious quality. So I decided to pick up a couple of items to see if they’re any good.

    Now phone accessories at Dollarama seem to fall into 2 categories, their own private label stuff under the ‘Tech 1’ brand and clear out merchandise they’ve picked up from elsewhere. I tried to focus on the Tech 1 stuff since those items are more likely to be stocked at all Dollaramas. That said, I noticed that what’s in stock varies greatly between different locations. For example, I bought the the lightning cables a couple of months ago but haven’t seen them in stock anywhere since. The multi-layer case is another hard-to-find item.

    Unfortunately, most of the accessories at Dollarama are for iDevices. The rest are generic accessories. They don’t even sell stuff for Samsung’s Galaxy line of devices. ...
    by Published on 11-27-2013 09:25 PM
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    How long should an electronic device last? You're probably thinking why does that matter but I've run into a major problem with my Mac Pro that's now 7 years old. It's a beautiful machine that has been powered up 24/7 for 95% of those years. I've maxed this computer out with 16GB of RAM, 6TB of hard drives and an SSD. I can't ever go back to using just one monitor and I've learned my lesson to back up everything. I think it's hardware failure and I have this theory that Steve Jobs' ghost has entered countdown code to doomsday… right on the eve of the new Mac Pro being released. I'm a huge Apple fan and am fully aware of the company's fallibility. I had my video review ready to post and I found my computer off the next morning unable to get past the screen with the Apple logo on it.

    Here's where I'm going with this: for the premium I pay Apple, I expect their products to outperform and outlast the competition. I do not have this same expectation for Samsung. It's not a bad thing if that's what their business model is designed for (i.e. high volume, low margin).

    One other point is more of a challenge: can you post a review (with photos and video clips) using only a tablet? I had high hopes for the Note 10.1 but it's not quite there yet. Apart from not being able to create an article on this forum, I think we're almost there. Howard? Any takers on that challenge?

    Bottom line for those with a short attention span: the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition has outstanding specs on paper but doesn't execute appropriately. In other words, it doesn't get the horsepower to the road. The Apple iPad is still the clear leader in this field. I see the potential in the Note 10.1 but it might be the 2015 Edition that pulls it all together. ...
    by Published on 11-20-2013 10:15 PM
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    Now that 2 year contracts are the norm we’re experiencing an influx of mid-range phones for customers who want a subsidized phone, but don’t want spend 80 bucks a month on service. Among the mid-range phones, two tiers are starting to emerge. Lower-end, mid range phones and higher-end ones.

    Here’s the latest one from HTC, the Desire 601 it sort of slots in-between high and low end. It has LTE, a 960x540 display and stereo speakers like you’ll find on a higher-end unit but the camera sensor is only 5 megapixels which you typically find on something cheaper. If you want something fancier from HTC there’s the One Mini which fits in between the Desire 601 and their flagship the HTC One.

    In terms of competitors, the first two that come to mind are the Samsung Galaxy S III Mini and the recently released Motorola Moto G. After thinking about there’s also the Nokia Lumia 625 and maybe even the Google Nexus 4. Let's take a look at them. ...
    by Published on 11-20-2013 09:20 AM
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    An unabashed Nexus fanboy writes about Windows Phone... What could possibly go wrong? Plenty, I'll bet. So I'll leave it to the experts here to drop some science on whatever I get wrong.

    Not so long ago it was all about the Nokias for me. The first thing I would do after cracking open the box of a new S60 device — like an E71 or N86 — is spend an evening changing around all the menus and soft buttons so that they would make sense to me. In much the same way, yesterday afternoon I sat down with a Lumia 1020 to figure out its on-board OS.

    Here are my observations...

    ...
    by Published on 11-15-2013 01:10 PM
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    The other day Steve Punter (site) and I decided to do a camera shoot out. Right now I have almost all the flagship devices sitting on my desk including the new Nexus 5 so we figured why not?

    I remember back in the day when most phones came with VGA or megapixel cameras. The megapixel phones were much better than the VGA ones but either way, they took pretty lousy pictures.

    Back then, a built-in camera was a nice thing to have but if you wanted to capture an important memory, you’d be wise to bring a proper camera along with you be it a point-and-shoot or even something with a large sensor and removable lens.

    In the past couple of years a funny thing has happened. While point-and-shoots have improved during that time, they passed this invisible line where they took pictures that were ‘good enough’ for most people.

    Yeah, a SLR with a fast lens will take better pictures in a variety of conditions but then again, there’s that saying that that the best camera is the one that’s with you. A SLR will run circles around a camera phone in terms of handling, performance, speed, and quality but then again, a camera phone fits in your pocket - It’s always with me. So which one really is best?
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    by Published on 11-14-2013 11:33 AM
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    The Nexus 5 is the newest iteration of the Pure Google Experience smartphones. Like the Nexus 4 before it, this one is manufactured by LG (and it has their logo on it lest you forget). It’s roughly based on the new LG G2, but the two phones differ in a number of ways. The most obvious is that the G2 has a 13-megapixel camera and a 5.2-inch display, while the Nexus 5 has an 8-megapixel shooter and a 5.0-inch display.

    This time around Google has decided to officially support LTE. While there was a working LTE radio in the Nexus 4, it could only be made to work on Band 4 which virtually limited it to use in Canada, plus you had to make a change to the settings each time you booted the phone to get it to work.
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    by Published on 11-07-2013 12:04 PM
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    Ray's been playing with the Z30 and just finished up his video review. Check it out:



    The Z30 we're playing with is from TELUS. I've used it a little. While the Z30's screen doesn't have any more resolution than the Z10 the extra size makes a big difference. The keyboard is easier to use and it's more pleasant to look at.

    Performance is snappy but what really stands out are the speakers. They sound almost as good as the HTC One's but what really sets the Z30 apart is that they're much louder than One's. They're the loudest speakers I have ever heard on a phone.

    Battery life also seems pretty strong. Battery life on the Z10 was a weak spot so I'm glad Blackberry fixed this on the Z30.

    The camera is similar to what you get on the Z10/Q10 - it's not terrible but it's not particularly awesome either. Then again, you don't buy a Blackberry because you want an awesome camera. ...
    by Published on 11-07-2013 09:29 AM
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    With its 6.44” display the Sony Xperia Z Ultra is a pretty unique device. On one hand it competes with other large phablets like the 6.3” Samsung Mega and 6.1” Huawei Mega. On the other hand, under the hood the Ultra packs much more of a whallop compared to the Mega and Mate which are mid-range phones. It’s the only high-end phone with a 6”+ display right now.

    As such, it doesn’t really have any competitors. Sure, the Samsung Mega and Huawei Mate have similarly sized screens but they sport more modest specs and are they’re substantially cheaper.

    The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 has similar guts but it only has a 5.7” display which sounds big but when you have them side-by-side, the Ultra is substantially larger. They’re not really competitors either.

    So, sorry, I’m not going to compare the Ultra with anything though I will say, if you want an enormous phone then it doesn’t get any bigger than the Ultra.

    If you want the biggest possible screen with the highest specs and water resistance this is your only ticket. ...
    by Published on 11-04-2013 08:55 PM
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    Let’s face it, the real reason I tested this phone was to try out the camera. The lure of a 41-megapixel camera was just too great. Now I can’t speak for most people who might get the Lumia 1020, but I strongly suspect that the camera will be at the top of their list of reasons for buying it. For that reason the bulk of this review will be devoted to the camera, though I do touch on most of the other hallmarks of my phone reviews.
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    by Published on 11-04-2013 09:00 AM
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    Though its name doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, MiniSuit's Keyboard Stand Case for the Nexus 7 reminds me so much of a small netbook that when using it I consistently reach for a track pad that isn't there.

    Howard and I were chatting last week about me making a tablet my primary computing device for a few days to see how I could get on. The truth is that I've already done that — the last two times I hopped on a plane I left my ThinkPad at home and ended up doing just fine without it.

    A possible next step would be a blog post suitable for publication here written entirely on a tablet. Unfortunately I couldn't quite do it -- at least not to the same technical standards that a traditional computer allows. But this is due to various limitations of Android software, not the MiniSuit keyboard itself. So on with the review!

    ...
    by Published on 10-22-2013 09:12 PM
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    In Canada, earlier this year most of us said goodbye to 3 year contracts and hello to 2 year ones. This has had an interesting effect on how we buy phones and how carriers subsidize them. Previously, when 3 year contracts were the norm, carriers were willing to subsidize phones more heavily. This meant most phones sold where either expensive top-of-the-line models or cheap entry level ones.

    However now that we’ve bid adios to 3 year contracts an interesting thing has happened. Carriers now have two tiers of 2 year contracts. In order to get carriers to subsidize phones like they used to you’ll now need to spend ore per month. If you want a more affordable plan you can still get a phone but it won’t have all the bells and whistles unless you’re willing to spend a lot more on the phone.

    So now there’s a demand for more affordable smartphones which are better than what you’d usually get on prepaid. It’s the rise of the mid-range phone.

    For $149 you can get the cappuccino with 4 shots of foam Samsung Galaxy S4, but it will cost you each month. If you don’t want to spend so much per month you’ll have to settle for a cup of Tim Hortons coffee GS4 Mini which also costs $149. So what’s the difference between the 2? ...
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