• Reviews and Hands-on

    by Published on 11-04-2013 08:00 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 ó 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 08:12 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 weíve 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 youíll now need to spend ore per month. If you want a more affordable plan you can still get a phone but it wonít have all the bells and whistles unless youíre willing to spend a lot more on the phone.

    So now thereís a demand for more affordable smartphones which are better than what youíd usually get on prepaid. Itís 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 donít want to spend so much per month youíll have to settle for a cup of Tim Hortons coffee GS4 Mini which also costs $149. So whatís the difference between the 2? ...
    by Published on 10-14-2013 08:10 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 youíre about say. ďBut Gorilla glass is really tough! Iíve watched the demos of them using nails on a piece of itĒ. You may have seen the demos but Iíve 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 wasnít me - all these review units came that way.
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    by Published on 10-07-2013 07:45 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 11:56 AM
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    When you look at the Smartphone market, right now itís dominated by Samsung and Apple. Things are going great for them but if you were to ask them what competitor they fear most Iíd bet you their answer would Huawei. Not HTC, LG or Sony.

    I mean eventually Smartphones will reach a point where companies canít 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 donít compete at the very top of the market, many people donít realize but Huawei actually makes really good affordable Smartphones. The Y300 I tried a while back isnít going to win ďPhone of the YearĒ but for what it costs itís an amazing deal.

    Now we have the Huawei Ascend Mate. Itís a phone with a 6.1Ē phone that only costs - wait for it - $400 off contract. At $400, itís 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 6.1Ē the Mate should be awesome at media consumption. If youíre sitting on the train, there arenít many phones which are better than the Mate for watching and streaming videos - Right? Letís 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 doesnít really have any competitors. There arenít that many phones with huge 6Ē+ 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 10:32 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 04:17 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 08:30 AM
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    Iíll 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 wasnít 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. Letís 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 08:46 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, theyíve replaced the old 5 with a new model - the 5c.

    Apple isnít saying why they choose the letter ďCĒ, 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 itís cheaper, itís still priced like an iPhone. Probably the best guess is that the ďCĒ stands for colour. Yup, you can get the 5c is white, blue, yellow, green and pink.

    Itís funny but coloured phones arenít that common in the marketplace and when there are different colours, theyíre 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 08:48 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 07:45 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 04:12 PM
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    Itís that time of year again. Apple just introduced their new 5s (and 5c), which is supposed to be twice as fast as last yearís 5. Theyíve 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 theyíre 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.

    Iím generalizing here but iPhoneís strength is how well everything is integrated into one package. Thereís no custom launchers or anything, you do things Appleís way or else youíll have to wait forever for a new jailbreak. You get Appleís 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 Iíll just leave it at that

    With Android, itís more about choice. Since thereís so much choice, things arenít quite as polished as they are on iOS (generally speaking). However, since thereís 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 07:51 PM
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    So far this year, the Galaxy S4 has been Androidís 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 GS4ís 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 07:50 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 11:04 AM
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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 youíre 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 donít have the same goodies as higher-end phones but when you use it you donít feel like youíre 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 thereís a twist. It has a gigantic, 6.3Ē screen. You donít know how fun it is to meet up with friends and say, ďCheck out this phoneĒ and whip out the Mega. Some lines you can use include: ďSay hello to my little friend!Ē, ďWho says size doesnít matter?Ē, ďBigger is better.Ē, ďGo big or go homeĒ, ďAnything worth doing is worth overdoingĒ 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 theyíve 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 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.

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    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. ...
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