• Reviews and Hands-on

    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, 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 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, 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 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 10” and 7” tablets. Now we have many sizes with the 7” tablets becoming the entry level models. It’s the sort of tablet you buy for your toddler - not yourself. You might get one to use while you’re watching TV, that sort of thing. It’s going to be a companion device that doesn’t really replace anything.

    Here’s Samsung entry level tablet - their 7” 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 7” tablet from first and second tablet manufacturers like HP, ASUS, Acer that are cheaper and pack more hardware.

    If you’re looking at the 7” Tab 3 you might also consider both the 2012 and 2013 Google Nexus 7’s, 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 I’m 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 - they’re young enough that this isn’t creepy (yet).

    Which brings us to the Belkin’s NetCam HD. It’s 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 you’re in the market for an 8” 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 8” which I’m 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.

    Let’s see how they size up.
    ...
    by Published on 08-12-2013 12:55 PM
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    Here’s the Belkin WeMo power switch. It’s 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 phone’s WiFi settings menu and connect to the WeMo
    4. Open up the WeMo app, enter your WiFi network’s 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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    Here’s the 10.1" Samsung Galaxy Tab 3. On paper, aside from a new Intel powered processor, it doesn’t 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. Let’s see how the Tab 3 stacks up with them.
    ...
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