• Reviews and Hands-on

    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...

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    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!

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    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? ...
    by Published on 10-14-2013 09:10 PM
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    You know that feeling when you get a brand new phone? Now remember that feeling when you accidentally throw your keys in with your shiny new phone, and find a scratch on your screen?

    Yeah I know what you’re about say. “But Gorilla glass is really tough! I’ve watched the demos of them using nails on a piece of it”. You may have seen the demos but I’ve been fortunate enough to review many, many phones different phones with glass screens and let me tell you something; HTC One, One X, Samsung Galaxy S II, III, 4, Note 2, Motorola RAZR, etc. Most of them had scratches on their screen. Now before you point fingers, no it wasn’t me - all these review units came that way.
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    by Published on 10-07-2013 08:45 AM
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    Last week I weighed in with my thoughts on the ZTE Open's rather unremarkable hardware. The real story is, of course, Firefox OS -- the brand-new mobile operating system that runs on it.

    Firefox borrows heavily from both Android and iOS, making it instantly familiar and easy to use. To show you exactly what it looks like I reset my ZTE Open over the weekend and took a brunch of screen grabs from first boot onwards. One thing about grabbing screens: if you're searching the web for how to do it pay no mind to this post -- using adb and terminal commands will certainly work, but simply holding the power and home keys at the same time will save a screen directly to your gallery.

    Anyway, here is Firefox OS!

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    by Published on 10-05-2013 12:56 PM
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    When you look at the Smartphone market, right now it’s dominated by Samsung and Apple. Things are going great for them but if you were to ask them what competitor they fear most I’d bet you their answer would Huawei. Not HTC, LG or Sony.

    I mean eventually Smartphones will reach a point where companies can’t keep charging up to $800 a phone. If that ever happens there will be a big race to the bottom to see who can make the best, cheapest phone. If that happens many people figure Huawei will be in a good position.

    While they don’t compete at the very top of the market, many people don’t realize but Huawei actually makes really good affordable Smartphones. The Y300 I tried a while back isn’t going to win “Phone of the Year” but for what it costs it’s an amazing deal.

    Now we have the Huawei Ascend Mate. It’s a phone with a 6.1” phone that only costs - wait for it - $400 off contract. At $400, it’s not going to have going to have specs like the LG G2/Galaxy Note 3/Sony Z1 but for what it costs you get a get a pretty good deal.

    With a 6.1” the Mate should be awesome at media consumption. If you’re sitting on the train, there aren’t many phones which are better than the Mate for watching and streaming videos - Right? Let’s check it out:

    Huawei has found a pretty good niche for the Note. At $400 off-contract, or $99 on a 2 year with the $40 a month, plan it doesn’t really have any competitors. There aren’t that many phones with huge 6”+ screens on the market and the ones that come close cost significantly more. About the only one that comes to mind is the Samsung Galaxy Mega and maybe a used Note 2.

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    by Published on 10-05-2013 11:32 AM
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    Many people don't know that LG stands for "Lucky Goldstar". When Panasonic and Sony were all the buzz in consumer electronics, Goldstar just couldn't compete. That classic Japan vs Korea battle also applied to Honda vs Hyundai or Toyota vs Daewoo. It's a very different landscape right now and the Kimchi is everywhere doing very well. It's amazing what a rebranding strategy can do: Howard, I think it's time to kick it up, Gangnam style.

    As with all my reviews, here's the bottom line for those with ADHDhhddhhdhddh - The LG G2 is not worth the $200 (on-contract) pricetag. I'd still get the Nexus 4 at the current rock-bottom price or get all the frilly bells and whistles of the Samsung Galaxy S4. The LG G2 is clearly a precursor to the G3 (or whatever nomenclature they choose to avoid colliding with Samsung) and you'll be swimming in regret throughout that 2yr contract.
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    by Published on 10-03-2013 05:17 PM
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    Today I had a chance to play with both the Xperiz Z1 and Ultra Z.



    You can think of the Xperia Z1 as being similar in size to the Galaxy S4. It has a 5", 1920x1080 display, with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage - it one ups the GS4 with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core SoC, 20.7 megapixel camera, support for more LTE bands plus it's a Cat 4 device. You also get a sexy aluminum frame and a glass front and back. Best of all, you get all that stuff in a device that's water and dust resistant.



    Speaking of water resistance the Z1 is now more water resistant than it's predecessor the Z. At the same time, they've made it easier to use because now there's now no cover over the headphone jack. I am a little annoyed that they didn't make the microUSB jack water resistant too. ...
    by Published on 10-01-2013 09:30 AM
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    I’ll admit, when the Note II came out I wondered if we hit a point where phones would keep getting better but at a slower pace. While the Galaxy S4 was a good phone when it was released it wasn’t a huge jump forward from the Note 2. However, when Samsung unveiled the Note 3, it began to look like they were about to release a monster on the market. Let’s check it out.

    If you want a second opinion on the Note 3 please check out our other review of the Note 3 here.
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    by Published on 09-28-2013 09:46 PM
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    Apple recently released their new flagship phone, the iPhone 5s. However, unlike previous years where they took the old iPhone and discounted it, they’ve replaced the old 5 with a new model - the 5c.

    Apple isn’t saying why they choose the letter “C”, but the first things that come to my head are Cheap, Colour and Chinese. Apparently Apple is really targeting China with the release of their new iPhones. As for cheap, the 5c is only $100 cheaper than the top-of-the-line 5s. So, while it’s cheaper, it’s still priced like an iPhone. Probably the best guess is that the “C” stands for colour. Yup, you can get the 5c is white, blue, yellow, green and pink.

    It’s funny but coloured phones aren’t that common in the marketplace and when there are different colours, they’re usually just white and black with maybe some other colours being made available months after launch. With the 5c you can get it in all 5 colours from the very beginning.

    Outside of the 5s and the 5, people might cross-shop the 5c with the Samsung Galaxy S4, HTC One which cost similar money or are slightly cheaper on-contract.
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