• Reviews and Hands-on

    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.
    ...
    by Published on 08-12-2013 12:55 PM
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    Hereís the Belkin WeMo power switch. Itís a $50 power switch which you can control using your Android or iOS Smartphone.

    You just connect it to a power outlet and then plug something into it.

    Setup is straight forward:

    1. Plug the WeMo into an outlet
    2. Download the WeMo app
    3. Open up your phoneís WiFi settings menu and connect to the WeMo
    4. Open up the WeMo app, enter your WiFi networkís password
    5. Configure Switch and setup rules


    The app lets you view whether the outlet is on or off plus you can create rules about when it should turn on or off.
    ...
    by Published on 08-06-2013 05:30 PM
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    Hereís the 10.1" Samsung Galaxy Tab 3. On paper, aside from a new Intel powered processor, it doesnít seem all that different from its predecessor the Tab 2. Still, shopping based solely on specs is one of the worst things you can do. So is the Tab 3 an improvement?

    The way I see it, the 10.1" Tab 3 has 3 main competitors; the Apple iPad 2, Google Nexus 10 and Microsoft Surface RT. Letís see how the Tab 3 stacks up with them.
    ...
    by Published on 08-02-2013 01:07 PM
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    The Google Neuxs 7 was just released a few days ago, so you're probably wondering if it's as good as the Nexus 7 which was released last year. I'm still working on a full review as well as a give-away but for now here's a quick comparison between the two.

    When it was released last year, I was in awe at the amount of stuff Google managed to cram into it given it's $279 price point. This time around Google doesn't disappoint giving you even more for now $20 less.

    Pretty much every spec has been improved. While the screen still measures 7" you now get a full HD 1920x1080 display, RAM is doubled to 2GB and the quad-core processor is now much more powerful. ...
    by Published on 08-01-2013 01:43 PM
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    For those with a short attention span, the verdict is that the Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 LTE is a better iPad Mini.

    My reputation as an avid Apple fan has been challenged by reviewing other phones and tablets - and this is a critical exercise for everybody. Most iPad users I know of quickly (and ignorantly) dismiss the competition because of brain-washing marketing. But ironically, taking the time to seriously consider this Galaxy Note 8.0 had me thinking more about what I want in a tablet. Yet at the same time, I've increased my appreciation for the iOS ecosystem and user-experience.
    ...
    by Published on 08-01-2013 01:36 PM
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    Like so many of us here, I grabbed the Samsung Galaxy S4 for many reasons:

    1. I was bored of my Nexus 4
    2. I liked my S3 back when I had it but wanted a bit more battery power
    3. refer to #1
    4. it was the new, must-have phone (that and the HTC One)


    I was truly hoping that the S4 would package in a 3000mah battery back when it was announced. On baited breath, I waited and waited and waited. Finally, as the S4 got closer to launch, rumors started flying around like seagulls being chased by my kid brother at the beach. Was it going to have a huge battery? Would it last me an entire day or even, gasp, MORE?

    Now we all know that the battery packaged with the S4 is 2600mah. That itself, is a fairly large battery, but I was convinced that it was already doomed to last me 1/2 a day at most. Pushing a 1080p screen, 13mp camera and a Quad-Core 1.9Ghz processor, as well as all the other Samsung accouterments they tend to package in. I wasn't so confident it would last me.

    Regardless, I bought the S4 anyway and put it through its paces. It did get me through my average day, but nowadays I have very low usage. I check bookface once in a while, Message on bookface messenger and use Google Reader, now Feedly, to check up on my news. Nothing too crazy compared to my usage a few years ago but I use data. I'm always using data. LTE juicy goodness.

    By the time I was ready to go home, I'd have 20-40% battery left on my average day, and that simply wasn't enough to get me through the evening. Tired of always trying to top it up during the Day, I turned my sights to the MugenPower Extended battery + door for the S4

    I knew full well it was going to take the S4's thin lines and bloat them up, but I didn't care. I wanted functionality over form. All these phones today are 8-10mm thick which is great, but I'd rather have a phone that is 12-14mm and stuff extra battery in there. Maybe that's just me, but I prefer phones that can just go and go and go.
    ...
    by Published on 07-10-2013 08:42 AM
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    I recently raved about the Nokia Lumia 520. It was the first $150 prepaid phone that Iíve tried that didnít suck. Of course now that you can buy the 520 for $150, many entry-level Android phones are going to have to drop in price to stay competitive.

    So now we have a pair of $78 Android phone: the Huawei Ascend Y210 for TELUS which is available exclusively at Walmart and the Huawei Ascend Y201 on Virgin Mobile. Weíll be looking at the Y210 today.

    Before I start we need to have a reality check. The Y210 is a $78 phone. That pretty much makes it the cheapest Android phone you can buy. With a fancy phone, a review is usually about its fancy features and what you get. With the Y210 itís more about what compromises have to be made to hit the $78 price point and whether theyíre acceptable.

    Itís also worth exploring whether the Y210 and itís ultra-low price point are a worthwhile alternative to a feature phone. ...
    by Published on 07-03-2013 11:23 AM
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    Recently my home internet connection went down and was unreliable for about 2 weeks. I suspect it was due to a fiber cut though I have no proof.

    During that time I had to figure out a way to keep the 20 or so devices I have at home connected to the internet. When something like this happens the first thing that Iíll do is grab some phones and tether off of them. While good in a pinch, itís not a long term-solution. Data costs aside, many of my devices are wired plus the wireless ones arenít configured to attach to my phoneís hotspots anyways.

    Ironically, a day after my problems were fixed, a box with the Hauwei B890 showed up. Itís a router with both a WAN port and a LTE modem. Would it have helped during my outage? ...
    by Published on 06-19-2013 01:17 PM
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    Looking around at the mobile phone market, Android and iOS dominate the top end of the market. Interestly though, Iíve found some of their lower-end offerings leave much to be desired. You just donít get much phone for $150.

    However, if you add another $150 then you can get yourself a Nexus 4.

    The Nokia Lumia 620 I reviewed a while back is a great phone for 250 dollars. Of course the problem is that for another 50 bucks, you can get a 8GB Nexus 4. While the Nexus 4 lacks the Lumia 620ís memory card slot, it gives you more of everything plus it runs Android. So, if have to buy your phone off contract then the 620 is a harder sell.

    To address this shortcoming, Nokia now has the Lumia 520. Itís available for $149 from Rogers and Koodo and $129 at TELUS. At this price point, I have no idea why more carriers didnít pick this up.

    On paper, itís quite similar to the 620. You actually get a bigger screen and battery, same resolution camera minus the flash, same processor, RAM, storage, etc. On paper, it looks like an awesome deal.

    Does anything else even come close? ...
    by Published on 06-10-2013 10:46 PM
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    Apple just announced iOS 7 today. It's for iPhone 4, iPad 2, iPod Touch 4 and iPad Mini or newer. Sorry 3Gs and iPad 1 users. Here are my first impressions of iOS 7 on my iPhone 5:

    The new look is a big pretty change but overall they've done a good job with it. So far with regards to the user interface it all feels pretty polished.

    Apple has replaced the signal bars with dots (or are they nipples). Anyways, I don't like it but I guess I've already gotten used to it. Maybe it's time to update the HoFo logo with those idiotic dots:

    "AT&T: More dots in more places"

    "I have full dots of reception" ...
    by Published on 05-28-2013 01:39 PM
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    12 months ago was a tumultuous time for Blackberry. Back then, many people had written off Blackberry (then RIM). Most of us expected that RIM would be split into two or three companies and sold off. Many figured weíd never actually see BB10. You get the idea.

    Anyways, recently I get the feeling that things are starting to turn around. Back in January, Blackberry finally announced the first device powered by their new operating system BB10.

    Oddly enough, their first BB10 device, the Z10 is a touch-screen only device. Itís weird because Blackberry once ruled the Smartphone market with their QWERTY phones.

    Still itís very surprising that in the 18 months or so since Blackberry released their last QWERTY flagship the Bold 9900 none of their competitors have really released a serious competitor. Sure there were a couple of QWERTY Android phones but they were mostly low specíd entry level devices. Thereís a bit of a vacuum in the market for this class of device.



    So in the ultra-competitive Smartphone market Blackberry managed to catch quite a break. Their first BB10 QWERTY phone, the Q10 comes to market with virtually no competitors.

    The Q10 I'm reviewing here is running on the TELUS LTE network. ...
    by Published on 05-14-2013 03:58 PM
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    Our very own HC - NO "i" just handed my his review for the ZTE F160. No, it doesn't have a 5" 4K display, 16 core processor or 8GB of RAM with dodeca-band LTE support. Instead, it's a feature phone (AKA dumbphone). Here it is:



    It's inevitable. Now that smartphones have out shipped feature phones for the first time. Mundane usage like voice calls and even SMS are declining for many subscribers as these activities are being replaced by social networking (e.g. Facebook, Google+), on-the-top messaging (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) and VoIP calls (e.g. Skype, Google Talk).



    Here at HoFo, we mostly focus on smartphones these days. Smartphones like my brand spanking new Samsung Galaxy S 4 which is the very definition of Ďall the bell and whistlesí.



    So when I told my fellow HC that I wanted to check out the F160 candy bar handset from ZTE, he wondered if I was really serious. ...
    by Published on 04-25-2013 12:50 PM
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    Samsung has done so well with their Galaxy S line that a) many people donít know what Android is b) people think other Android phones are copies of the Galaxy S series (the irony).

    So, without a doubt, one of the most important phones of the year is the Samsung Galaxy S4. Itís a 5Ē 1920x1080, quad core monster with a 13 megapixel camera and a giant 2600mAh battery.

    However, there are a number of alternatives like the HTC One and Sony Xperia ZL with similar specs that are cheaper alternatives. So, letís see if the GS4 has what it takes to stay on top. ...
    by Published on 04-22-2013 07:00 PM
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    Three years ago, when thought of a high end Android phone, the first name that would come to most peopleís mouths would have been HTC. HTC has always had a heritage of releasing great hardware. While people were ooh-ing and aww-ing over Blackberry Boldís, HTC was releasing monsters like the HTC TyTN II. In fact, even though HTC hasnít been doing so well in the marketplace lately, theyíve never stopped releasing awesome hardware.

    Hereís their latest, the HTC One. A phone with a 1920x1080 display wrapped in a sexy metal body. HTC has bucked the trend and gone with a Ďless is moreí approach with the Oneís camera. It also has a new version of Sense and louder speakers.
    ...
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