• Reviews and Hands-on

    by Published on 09-06-2013 12:14 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 09:51 AM
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    Can you hear me now? Are you there? Itís been awhile since Iíve tested a signal amplifier. There are a couple of reasons. First off, they usually require installation, which can be quite costly if you canít do it yourself. You have to install an ugly antenna outside and then run wire from your roof to inside where thereís no signal. Itís 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 theyíre 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, itís 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. Itís a HSPA booster for Rogers (T-Mobile and AT&T units are also available). Itís wireless so you donít 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 07:31 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 05:41 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, weíve reached a point of diminishing returns. Donít get me wrong, eventually the software will probably catch up but for now, thereís 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 theyíre going to reach a point where theyíre Ďgood enoughí. You wonít 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 Iíve tried that wasnít 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 itís appeal. When I reviewed it, it was around $150 on prepaid but Iíve seen it go on sale for as low as $100. I wouldnít 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). Itís a $100 entry-level Smartphone available on Bell and Virgin that runs Android 4.1. Like the Lumia 520, it has a 4Ē 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! Letís check it out. ...
    by Published on 08-26-2013 08:17 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, itís much more similar to last yearís Android flagships, like the Samsung GS III and HTC One X, rather than this yearís Samsung GS4 and HTC one. So people arenít drooling over the Xís 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 hasnít 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 OEMís when it comes to this.

    Still, it doesnít mean that the X doesnít 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. Itís always listening for you to say ĎOK Google Nowí. When you say that, it launches the Google Now app which is sort of like a personal assistant/search program.

    Letís check out the X. ...
    by Published on 08-20-2013 06:44 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 06:31 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. ...
    by Published on 08-19-2013 11:33 AM
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    In past 2 years, the Android tablet market has really changed. Initially, we only had 10Ē and 7Ē tablets. Now we have many sizes with the 7Ē tablets becoming the entry level models. Itís the sort of tablet you buy for your toddler - not yourself. You might get one to use while youíre watching TV, that sort of thing. Itís going to be a companion device that doesnít really replace anything.

    Hereís Samsung entry level tablet - their 7Ē Galaxy Tab 3 which is priced at around $200.

    A year-and-a-half-ago, a $200 tablet would have been quite a deal. These days, you can get 7Ē tablet from first and second tablet manufacturers like HP, ASUS, Acer that are cheaper and pack more hardware.

    If youíre looking at the 7Ē Tab 3 you might also consider both the 2012 and 2013 Google Nexus 7ís, the Kobo Vox and the Amazon Kindle Fire. ...
    by Published on 08-15-2013 05:03 PM
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    I have a bit of a confession, as the father of a newborn and a toddler Iím a bit obsessed with IP cameras. I actually have 7 of them deployed around the house. All of them have WiFi, night vision, microphones, some support 2-way audio, a couple can pan and tilt plus a few have megapixel sensors.

    When I want to take a break from working, I love being able to tune in and watch my kids - theyíre young enough that this isnít creepy (yet).

    Which brings us to the Belkinís NetCam HD. Itís an IP camera with a megapixel sensor, night vision and a built-in microphone. ...
    by Published on 08-13-2013 05:07 PM
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    If youíre in the market for an 8Ē tablet there are 3 main choices. The Apple iPad Mini which I reviewed a while back, the Note 8.0 that Ray looked at and The Galaxy Tab 3 8Ē which Iím looking at today.

    Aside from the iPad Mini and Note 8.0 you might also consider the rest of the Samsung Tab 3 lineup and the 2013 Google Nexus 7.

    Letís see how they size up.
    ...
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