• Reviews and Hands-on

    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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    by Published on 09-25-2013 09:48 AM
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    If you follow my reviews you'll notice I routinely complain about Super AMOLED displays and how they're not very good outside. Last year's Galaxy S III was very difficult to see, the Note II was a step in the right direction but was still not good enough. The Galaxy S4 was a big leap forward but it was still a step behind LCD.

    After I got my Note III the first thing I did was try it outside. What do you think?
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    by Published on 09-24-2013 08:45 PM
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    I just got a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 but I had to sign a sheet of paper promising I wouldn't review it in depth. So, I guess you'll have to wait a few days before I post it. In the mean time I'll post a couple of pictures of the Note 3: ...
    by Published on 09-23-2013 05:12 PM
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    It’s that time of year again. Apple just introduced their new 5s (and 5c), which is supposed to be twice as fast as last year’s 5. They’ve upgraded the camera and added a new fingerprint reader. Oh, and now you can get it in gold. How good is the new 5s? Why should you buy that instead of an Android phone? Read on!

    Comparing Android and iPhone is always really difficult because they’re so different. If they were restaurants, Android would be an all you can eat buffet (a really good one) while iOS is more of a fancy restaurant with small portions. Both appeal to two different sets of people. Heck, many iOS users will view the fancy restaurant comment as a compliment while Android would view that comment as an insult if it were said about Android and vice-versa.

    I’m generalizing here but iPhone’s strength is how well everything is integrated into one package. There’s no custom launchers or anything, you do things Apple’s way or else you’ll have to wait forever for a new jailbreak. You get Apple’s core apps and then you go download more at the App Store.

    Generally speaking, I think the good apps on iOS are higher quality than the good apps on Android. I could write a whole article about this but I’ll just leave it at that

    With Android, it’s more about choice. Since there’s so much choice, things aren’t quite as polished as they are on iOS (generally speaking). However, since there’s so much choice, there are many more types of apps - this will appeal to who like to tweak and mod their phone. ...
    by Published on 09-19-2013 08:51 PM
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    So far this year, the Galaxy S4 has been Android’s poster child. Since the GS4 launched, companies have tried to offer something slightly different rather than go head-to-head with the GS4. Motorola has focused on their touchless voice activation while Sony has been experimenting with making their phones water resistant. After all, out-Galaxying the Galaxy S4 is a tall task.

    Still, it now looks like Samsung now has some competition in the LG G2, the first phone that really takes the GS4’s strengths and tries to improve on them.

    I already mentioned that the G2 is aimed squarely at the GS4 but people who are looking at the G2 are probably also going to take a look at the HTC One, the Apple iPhone 5s and the Sony Xperia Z.
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    by Published on 09-16-2013 08:50 AM
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    With the Nexus 7 giveaway scheduled for later tonight I thought I'd fan the flames of anticipation a bit with my own thoughts on Google's second-generation cheap and cheerful tablet. I bought one to call my own last week, so you don't have to worry about competing against me in the contest.

    You're welcome.

    Why 7 Inches?

    I'll begin with the story of how I came to be a fan of this particular device size. Before I bought my first Nexus 7 in September, 2012 I was pretty wary of tablets in general, with only a vague notion of their convenience for consuming content and playing games. I ended up rolling the dice on this diminutive device for one reason alone:

    Books.

    A 7-inch tablet is, for me, the perfect ebook reader -- portable enough to take with you wherever you go but big enough to read a full page of a PDF in portrait mode. I could have gone for a Kindle for Kobo but a proper tablet has the added benefit of doing what every other tablet does.

    A 10-inch screen would probably make for an even better gaming machine but I've no complaints with 7 (that's what she...) -- anyway, I was actually going to wait for the new Nexus 10 but some review somewhere reminded me of how perfect the N7 was for reading.

    This Canadian got his from Best Buy at $20 off the original price. Futureshop has them for even cheaper than that. So here we are.

    Now onto how this year's Nexus 7 compares with the last...

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    by Published on 09-12-2013 12:04 PM
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    As the high-end continues to improve, an interesting thing has happened: While down on specs, many mid-range phones now offer virtually the same user experience that high-end phones deliver. I mean unless you’re looking at the spec sheet the difference between 1280x720 and 1920x1080 is negligible at best. Ditto for quad-core vs dual-core and the number of megapixels.

    The very same thing happened with computers a few years ago.

    Anyways, because of this, mid-range phones have suddenly become very interesting. They don’t have the same goodies as higher-end phones but when you use it you don’t feel like you’re being punished for not spending $700 on a phone.

    Just look at the Samsung Mega. It has half the number of cores as the GS4 and a lower resolution screen but there’s a twist. It has a gigantic, 6.3” screen. You don’t know how fun it is to meet up with friends and say, “Check out this phone” and whip out the Mega. Some lines you can use include: “Say hello to my little friend!”, “Who says size doesn’t matter?”, “Bigger is better.”, “Go big or go home”, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing” Are all phrases which can be used on the Mega.

    I mentioned the mid-range is suddenly interesting. When I think of competitors for the Mega I think of phones priced around the same level along like the Motorola Moto X, and phones with gigantic screens like the Huawei Mate. I also included the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III because they’ve been around for a year and you might be able to get a deal on one.
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    by Published on 09-06-2013 01:14 PM
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    I was at a wedding a couple weeks ago and the conversation centered around cross-border shopping. I was particularly intrigued by this secret method of expediting the customs lineup called "Nexus". It magically allows you to use a special queue that produces a giggle directed at the others waiting impatiently. I knew it wasn't a special feature on the Google Phone or tablet although that's probably not too far in the future. And I knew it wasn't that waveform in that Star Trek movie. Nexus is everywhere and I'm sure there's a few evangelical churches that try to use the term. With so many uses (and misuses) in media and culture, this word loses its definition and dilutes its meaning. This is absolutely true with the Google Nexus 7.

    Nexus has a few definition and I postulate Google aimed for the one about connection. My daily phone is the Nexus 4 and it indeed connects me to my digital surreality. This Nexus 7 is a forgettable tradeoff between phone capabilities and a bigger screen. There isn't anything compelling (including the price) about the Nexus 7 and thus isn't worth keeping in your techie napsack. ...
    by Published on 09-06-2013 10:51 AM
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    Can you hear me now? Are you there? It’s been awhile since I’ve tested a signal amplifier. There are a couple of reasons. First off, they usually require installation, which can be quite costly if you can’t do it yourself. You have to install an ugly antenna outside and then run wire from your roof to inside where there’s no signal. It’s a hassle.

    It can also be difficult to find a good place to test them. If you live close to a tower, network signal strength may not be low enough to notice a difference. After all, these days, many phones usually sound fine right up until they’re about to drop a call.

    Fortunately, my house is the perfect candidate for a signal booster. On the top floor, you can actually see the tower that services my houses from the window. However, it’s about 1.5km away. This means I get excellent signal in my bedroom and virtually none in my basement.

    Which brings me to the Cel-Fi signal booster. It’s a HSPA booster for Rogers (T-Mobile and AT&T units are also available). It’s wireless so you don’t have to run any wires besides plugging it into the wall. It consists of 2 parts; a window unit and a coverage unit. You put the window unit somewhere where you get the strongest network signal (usually a window) while the coverage unit goes where you have bad signal (probably a basement). ...
    by Published on 09-06-2013 08:31 AM
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    Howard was kind enough to lend me his Motorola X last weekend. Without stepping on the toes of his excellent review, I thought I would add a different perspective on this Rogers exclusive (in Canada, at least) and first real hardware collaboration between Google and Motorola.

    And I'll not mince words; I wouldn't recommend this international version at all.

    The X's trump card is, after all, the available customization options through the Moto Maker website; without that it's ultimately just another mid-range Android device, albeit one you can yell at.

    Its back cover is especially disappointing. Given that Rogers customers can only choose between all black or all white I was shocked to see how cheap and tawdry the "textured look" back panel was on both. It photographs well, and at arm's length could even be mistaken for carbon fiber. But hold it up close and you'll realize that it's little more than a well-applied sticker.

    I agree with Howard that the general build quality on the Moto X seems like it's a few generations behind other manufacturers. The drilled speaker holes, also on that back panel, make for a good example. Whereas on the HTC One they are a thing of beauty, on the X they seem like an afterthought, the last hurried bit of construction before a batch of these things gets packed up and sent out the door.

    The speaker is plenty loud, at least. That's something.

    ...
    by Published on 09-03-2013 06:41 PM
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    While I review a lot of high-end phones, I have a bit of a confession - I really like to check out low and midrange phones. While manufacturers continue to outdo each other in terms of hardware specifications, about a half year ago, we crossed this invisible line. We started seeing phones with 1080p screens and quad-core processors. These phones have just gotten so good that even though the specs keep getting sweeter, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. Don’t get me wrong, eventually the software will probably catch up but for now, there’s little benefit to upgrade if you already have a nice phone.

    So what does this mean for entry and mid-range phones? It means that they’re going to reach a point where they’re ‘good enough’. You won’t have to fork out big bucks on a phone to get something decent.

    A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Nokia Lumia 520. The first entry level smartphone I’ve tried that wasn’t utter garbage. It had a decent screen, acceptable performance and was a good all-arounder. I hate to say it, but the worst thing about the 520 is that it ran Windows Phone. Some will like that but overall I think it hurts it’s appeal. When I reviewed it, it was around $150 on prepaid but I’ve seen it go on sale for as low as $100. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to people on a budget.

    So now, the battleground for a good entry level phone has moved to $100. Which takes us to the Huawei Ascend Y300 (insert hilarious Chinese spy-phone joke here). It’s a $100 entry-level Smartphone available on Bell and Virgin that runs Android 4.1. Like the Lumia 520, it has a 4” 800x480 display, a dual-core 1Ghz processor, 512MB of RAM, 5 megapixel camera and a relatively large 1730mAh battery. On paper, it looks like a match for the 520 - However, while I was working on this review, I noticed that the Y300 was on sale at Futureshop for $70! No contract or tab needed! Let’s check it out. ...
    by Published on 08-26-2013 09:17 PM
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    I was really surprised by all the buzz surrounding the Motorola Moto X. The RAZR and RAZR HD were solid phones but they hardly set the market on fire. So why all the sudden interest in the Motorola Moto X?

    On paper, it’s much more similar to last year’s Android flagships, like the Samsung GS III and HTC One X, rather than this year’s Samsung GS4 and HTC one. So people aren’t drooling over the X’s specs.

    My guess is that since Motorola is now owned by Google, people will assume that the X will like a Nexus phone and receive regular updates from Google. Personally, I doubt this will happen but who knows. In the past, at least in Canada Motorola hasn’t been very good with updates. There are also political reason within the Android eco-system why it would be bad for Google to elevate Motorola above other Android OEM’s when it comes to this.

    Still, it doesn’t mean that the X doesn’t have interesting hardware. Motorola has made it so the X is able to listen in with its microphone all the time with minimal impact on its battery. It’s always listening for you to say ‘OK Google Now’. When you say that, it launches the Google Now app which is sort of like a personal assistant/search program.

    Let’s check out the X. ...
    by Published on 08-20-2013 07:44 PM
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    In the automotive world, the Q5 makes perfect sense: "He" gets the A5 and "She" gets the "Q5". "Her" needs are different because she will drop the kids off at soccer practise and pick up the groceries. It's a great strategy to keep the brand in a given family unit. No longer do you need to go to Chrysler or Honda for that other vehicle; you can shop at Audi for all of your transportation needs. In case I've lost you, Audi is a car manufacturer and they have an SUV model called the Q5. And the gender references aren't intended to offend but merely as an illustration (I drive the minivan in my family).

    And once again for those with the ultra short attention span, the Q5 (Blackberry this time) is one of the best communication devices available but has success highly dependent on price. If carriers gave this phone away for free, Blackberry will claw back market share.


    Blackberry Family
    In my analogy above about a brand family, we know that Blackberry currently has 3 offerings for it's BB10 operating system: Z10, Q10, and now the Q5. Does this mean that "Dad" gets the Q10 because he is on the go and uses the practical keyboard to get his messages sent quick and fast? And does "Mom" use the Z10 for the larger screen to look at what's on sale at the outlet mall? It is entirely possible that the "kids" are awarded the Q5 to allow the entire family to communicate via BB Messenger. Like I said, if the pricing of the Q5 is such that it's a "disposable" expense, then Blackberry has hit the nail on the head. This younger generation can text better and faster than writing cursive with a ballpoint pen. With the entire family in the Blackberry brand, this opens up opportunities for a broader product roadmap that spans a couple generations. It's the same way that Apple is capitalizing on the iOS ecosystem/cult: once you're in, it's tough to get out.

    The logical extension of this is the corporate enterprise world where Blackberry is preferred. With the blip in technological progress during the iPhone/Android launch, my theory is that RIM at the time could not catch up leaving a gap that still exists today. This gap is about shareholder and end-user confidence. I have yet to hear a success story about BB10 exceeding information security requirements. This leads to my assumption that this new Blackberry Q5 is like that odd cousin that just doesn't make sense. To equip a small business, a "free" price point for the Q5 makes a compelling business case. But unfortunately at the enterprise level, the Q10 is the best choice making the Q5 ignorable to say the least. It will not help Blackberry get into the black. ...
    by Published on 08-20-2013 07:31 PM
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    I just at a Moto X event and got one to play with. First off, check out the demo. It's long but interesting:



    People have been moping about the Moto X's specifications. While it's true that it doesn't have a quad-core processor and a 1920x1080 display, it does have 2GB of RAM which in my opinion, is more important than the other two specs.

    Anyways, the Moto X isn't priced at the level of the Samsung Galaxy S4. Look, it would be foolish for Motorola to think that they can "Out-Galaxy" the Galaxy S4. If they made their own version of the GS4 it would compete directly with the GS4 and well, you can probably guess how that would turn out.

    Going from dual-core to quad-core results doesn't mean performance doubles. Generally, quad-cores do better in benchmarks but in real life it's debated how much of a difference it makes. Companies use quad-core because it looks good on paper mostly.

    The 1920x1080 screen resolution spec is thing that looks good on paper. In real life, the difference between a 1280x720 and 1920x1080 on a 4.7" screen is minimal. ...
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