Samsung Galaxy S5 launches April 11th in Canada

The Galaxy S5 comes to Canada on April 11th through just about every wireless carrier and it’s likely to be one of the top sellers of the year. With Samsung’s marketing muscle behind it, the Galaxy S brand has become the preeminent Android smartphone on the market.

The devices have been, generally speaking, solid challengers to Apple’s iPhone. The Galaxy S5 continues that tradition, even if there isn’t much about it that’s terribly new or exciting.

Featuring a 5.1-inch Super AMOLED screen, with a resolution of 1080 x 1920 pixels and 432 pixels per inch, the Galaxy S5 has one of the sharpest screens out there. And though it’s still made of plastic, it feels better in the hand than last year’s S4 thanks to a dimpled back cover, a little more weight and corners that are a bit less rounded. By nailing that all-important “hand feel,” Samsung has all of the basics down.

Otherwise, most of what’s new about the Galaxy S5 is incremental, and some of it is questionable, starting with the fingerprint sensor. Samsung’s version works differently 9701849from Apple’s in that you have to swipe your finger down over the home button at the bottom of the phone, rather than just hold it over the button for a microsecond. I wasn’t sure I’d initially like the feature on the iPhone 5S but I quickly became a convert after seeing how quickly and accurately it worked. That’s not the case with the S5. The iPhone’s scanner can pick up your print from many different angles but on the Galaxy S5 your swipe has to be precise, which makes it easy to mess up.

Samsung is opening up the sensor to other app developers so that it can be used for more than just unlocking the phone (PayPal is on board for payments, for example), but I got so frustrated with it that I ended up turning it off. I can’t see too many app developers jumping on board unless this issue is fixed.

The same goes for some of the phone’s S Health tracking functions. The step counter doesn’t appear to be very accurate. I found it often wouldn’t track me while I was walking and then mysteriously add steps while I was sitting at a desk. Moreover, the function needs to be turned on and off, which is a pain to remember (who wants to track the tracker?). Step counting thus seems better suited to an always-on device such as a wristband fitness tracker, like perhaps Samsung’s Gear Fit. I did like the heart-rate sensor on the back of the phone just under the camera – you simply touch your finger to it for a second or two and it tells you how fast your ticker is going.

Samsung has also incorporated some innovative connectivity technology into the Galaxy S5 that combines both cellular and Wi-Fi signals into faster downloads. It’s a nifty addition, but again, it doesn’t seem very practical – or at least not in Canada, where download speeds on both cellular and Wi-Fi are generally pretty good. Indeed, the primary reason to jump onto Wi-Fi with your phone is to avoid using up your precious monthly data allotment, so why you’d want to do that and still use wireless data is puzzling.

I did like some of the new features added to the Galaxy S5′s 16-megapixel camera, with “selective focus” being a particular standout. With the function enabled, you can shoot a close-up subject (less than 50 centimetres away) and get the same blurred background effect that you might with a proper single-lens reflex camera. You can also reverse the blur in “post-production,” with the camera blurring the subject and bringing the background into focus. And, not to be outdone, you can also just simply bring everything into focus.

It works well. Although phones will probably never match the capabilities of full SLR cameras simply because lens and sensors sizes do matter, I continue to be amazed at the improvements being made. The decision to bring along a full, heavy camera on a trip is getting harder to make with each passing iteration of phones.

I’m also a fan of the S5′s “ultra power saving mode,” which shifts the phone’s screen into black-and-white and shuts off all non-essential functions. Only a few necessary apps can be enabled in this mode, including phone, text messages and the Internet browser, although comically, Google+ is somehow among the small handful of available apps. In any event, the mode greatly boosts available battery time – if you turn it on with 10% of your battery power left, you can just about squeeze another full day out of it.

The S5 is also largely water- and dust-proof, able to stay submerged in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Some users might find these features handy, but as someone who has never gone swimming with a phone or used one in the heart of a desert, they’re more nice-to-haves than have-to-haves.

And so goes the story of both Samsung’s new flagship device and smartphones in general. Most of the major manufacturers have got the basics right, with further innovation and differentiation really a matter of throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. The Galaxy S5 gets a couple of these things right while a few of them flop. I’d like to have seen more of the former and less of the latter, but perhaps they’re just iterations that will be improved on with the inevitable Galaxy S6 next year.

This Galaxy S5 review was written by Peter Nowak. To read the original article please click here.

Z30 from Blackberry shows off the Jekyll and Hyde of the company

Blackberry is an interesting case study. As a blogger reviewing its devices, particularly the new Z10 and Q10 earlier this year I was impressed about how the new devices stacked up against Apple and Android devices. The BB10 operating system launched in January of this year was a serious step forward from iOS and Android at the time and Blackberry seemed to be re-establishing its place as a premier smartphone maker.

Launching in Canada one month ago The new Z30 is attempting to carry that torch now and is equally impressive with its large screen and blazing fast speeds on Telus 4G LTE network.  My previous frustrations using the 9360 have all but been erased with these new phones particularly the Z30.

But as a follower of the company formerly known as RIM, I’m still scratching my head as the company continues its downward spiral as one wonders how much longer it will be around. Blackberry faces an uphill battle against waning consumer sentiment and some drastic changes within the manufacturer. I’m guessing Z30 has a lot riding on it given the state of the company now. It’s a great phone that doesn’t disappoint but I wonder how many more of these phones we will see before it’s so long Blackberry.

Screen Size and Battery Power

That aside, I’m going to focus on evaluating this product objectively because the newer z10 and Q10 models were great to Z30use. I’m starting with display because that is a focus of everyone these days, screen size and quality. Samsung users always mock me with my iPhone saying their screens are bigger and better. The BlackBerry Z30 display trumps both the iPhone and the Galaxy S4 in my book. I love this display. So easy to look and the colors are rich and warm. Blackberry lists it as a 5inch screen and that is the largest on any device ever released by the company. Samsung products like the Galaxy Note 3 come in at 5.7 inches but I find those a bit bulky at times. The Z30 gives you the nice screen without the extra bulk.

BlackBerry advertises 25 hours of mixed use battery life. This is further broken down into 18 hours talk time, 16 days standby, 90 hours of audio playback, and 12 hours of video playback. I did use this phone for an hour at a time on my morning commute, moving between apps, the web and phone. I was using the LTE network with a Telus SIM card provided to me and I did not push the battery that hard on this phone.The draw on the battery would be greater if on the outskirts of cell coverage so you should push the battery life to see how the Z30 stands up.

BlackBerry Z30 software

Having used the Z10 and Q10 I’m used to the BB10 software platform which is substantially different from iOS. Having recently upgraded to iOS 7 on my iPhone, I noticed how the “hook” gestures have been nicely lifted for newer versions from BB10.While I wasn’t used to them on the Q10, I must admit i love them now. This hook gesture means that you start from the bottom of the screen and swipe up and to the right. It takes a bit of practice but I could not live without it now. The OS also looks and feels better than Android. I find Android based devices to be the weakest between Blackberry, Apple and Android from a UI standpoint. Blackberry does do this very well, with Apple’s iOS in second. They also have tutorials on gestures that are found on their website.

Typing on the BlackBerry Z30

The QWERTY keyboard was such a huge part of the Blackberry brand for a long time that they released the Q10 to satisfy demand for the traditional physical keyboard. I’ve never needed a physical keyboard to type on any smartphone and I’d rather having a bigger screen to look at while not typing. The Z30 is a lot better I think than the Z10 and Q10 phones for typing and it uses the virtual keyboard. You can also use gesture-heavy typing for deleting earlier words, picking predictions for new ones, or hiding and summoning the keyboard.

BlackBerry 10 apps

While using the Z30 I’ve attempted to load as many of the apps on my iPhone onto any other phone I review. I like to see if I can make a seamless transition to another OS with minimal interruption. The fact that Blackberry lags so far behind iOS and Android is well-known now so there is no need to belabor the point here. There is the option to port apps via Android and I should have explored this option more. I should have pushed a little harder to do this so any comments from people who have done this is welcome.

We know that the popular Instagram isn’t available and I went through an Instagram phase but have begun to use it less and less. Blackberry does offer Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, and Twitter already installed on the Z30 and this is a nice bonus. They tie nicely into the Hub as well and it is great to go straight to the Hub to look at associated messaging.

Mobile Scanner Review: Visioneer RoadWarrior 3

The Visioneer RoadWarrior 3 mobile scanner was a delight to review. It worked as advertised and exceeded my expectations. A compact little unit, the RoadWarrior weighed in at only 380g (13.4 oz) with dimensions of 290*54*38 mm (11.4″*2.2″*1.5″) (W * D * H) making it a truly mobile device. This one can fit easily in your laptop carrying case alongside your other peripherals. In fact no external AC power is required as the unit is USB powered which means no bulky power bricks to lug around.

Find a mobile scanner at Amazon

The RoadWarrior ships with a bunch of software including:

  • PDF Converter: which allows you to create, convert, edit, assemble and securely share PDF files.
  • PaperPort: a fast way to organizae, receipts, expense reports, documents and photos.
  • OmniPage: OCR analysis software which means the ability to create searchable PDF files.
  • OneTouch: automates some processes into a touch of a button to scan your documents to a destination or to a cloud provider such as Evernote.
  • Acuity: helps to improve visual clarity of the scanned document with functions like auto-straighten and auto-rotate.

mobile scanner

 

mobile scanner

 

What I liked about the RoadWarrior

Besides the compact size and weight I really liked the fact that the program automatically prompted me to create an OCR version of the scan. This is super important for me especially as I store a lot of my documents in management systems such as OpenText DM.

I also liked the fact that as soon as the unit grabbed a sheet of paper it just started scanning. It was actually super easy and quick to get scans underway.

mobile scanner

 

What I didn’t like about the RoadWarrior

Personally I thought there was almost too much functionality thrown at me off the bat with all these buttons. I think this is just one of those things you get over with time but it did feel a little overwhelming at first considering my old scanner basically has one button and a couple of fields to fill in.

Also I found the install process a little cumbersome but that could have been because I was using a 7 year old Windows XP computer (actually I can almost guarantee that was the problem). I really need a new Windows computer! Actually my Macs are about the same age so sometime in my future I’m going to be shelling out a small fortune!

mobile scanner

Find a mobile scanner at Amazon

Overall the Visioneer RoadWarrior 3 was pleasant to use and review. I think the pros definitely outweighed the cons and I would have no hesitation recommending this unit to anyone looking for a mobile scanner. If you have any questions, comments or feedback about this little gadget do please leave a comment below! Thanks, Jay

Motorola Moto X: OK Google Now!

At first using the Motorola Moto X didn’t seem much different than any other Android device but when I drilled deeper into the functionality I was pleasantly surprised. On the device I set up my default services including Gmail (Google Account) and Twitter.

As with other Android devices I really like the notifications functionality compared to other smartphone vendors. The notifications are easy to find, read, and dismiss with a swipe of the finger. But one difference I noticed right away was the phone would “glow” with a Twitter icon occasionally. I found that if you pressed the icon more information would become available about the notification and you could even swipe into it to open the app directly.

According to the Motorola press release, this functionality is called Active Display, “Moto X is always ready to tell you what you need to know. Instead of an unhelpful blinking light, Moto X gives you useful info at a glance with Active Display, which appear right on screen.”

But the feature that really got me sold on the device was the voice command. After a quick voice training lesson all it took was saying “okay Google now… ” and the “open Twitter” for example. and it just did what I wanted. I actually found that the Google now voice command was more accurate and responsive than Apple’s Siri. Plus it was less prone to misinterpretation. I think Google has really hit the nail on the head with Google now.

Find smartphones at Amazon

Motorola Moto XAs for the smartphone design I found the Moto X nice to hold and I like the back which is a flat matte design and stuck to my hand nicely. Compared to other smartphones that have a smooth  surface on the back the matte surface makes sense and I felt the device was firmly in hand and not about to slip away.

Another thing I noticed right away about the Moto X was the absence of physical buttons on the face of the smartphone. There is a power button on the right hand side along with volume controls below that but for the most part buttons on the device face are of a virtual nature.

I also appreciated the fast camera access which came when I twisted my wrist a couple of times to activate. The Motorola press release sums it up nicely, “Moto X knows you need a camera, and it’s always ready to go. Just twist your wrist twice and it’s ready. Touch anywhere on the screen, and you’ll get the shot. All in just a few seconds. Continuous shooting capabilities, as well as a ten megapixel camera…” Being a photographer this is a feature I can truly appreciate as I know that if you’re not on top of the action its easy to miss a shot.

The Motorola Moto X ships with Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean) and overall is a hit with me. I wouldn’t  hesitate to recommend this smartphone if you’re in the market for an Android device.

Jabra Solemate packs a punch as a portable speaker

I must admit I’m new to the phenomena of portable speakers. Add bluetooth into the mix and I have a fresh challenge on my hands which is why I love to blog and write about tech. Having played with the Jabra Solemate now for a few weeks I’m impressed by the power this little speaker packs being that it’s as small as it is.

Price and Product SpecificationsJabra Solemate

The Jabra Solemate is $199 comes in black or white and is available at select Bell stores, BestBuy.ca and TheSource.ca.

It connects to any device that can play music – either corded or wirelessly – using Bluetooth technology, a 3.5mm audio cable or USB cable. This includes a mobile phone, tablet, iPad®, iPod®, mp3 Player or laptop.

It weighs about 610 grams or 1.2 pounds and comes with a bag provides that provides an extra layer of protection when you take it outdoors or to work with you. I think this is a great case because it fits the Jabra Solemate, charger and USB cable for connection to computer easily. It would help to have a bit better strap for the outer bag because I struggled to fit my hand through it and would like to have been able to sling it around my wrist so I don’t drop it while carrying it.

I loved the design of the unique rubber ‘sole’ that stores the 3.5 mm audio cable. The cable itself hooks right into your iPhone or iPod headphone jack but you don’t have a lot of room to work with here which is why the USB and Bluetooth options are better ones. I’d suggest using the 3.5mm cable as an option like I did. The Jabra was sitting next to my MacBookPro while I was at work at my desk with the cable plugged in. The boost in sound from the Jabra Solemate is a huge improvement on using laptop speakers. The speakers themselves in the Jabra Solemate include an integrated subwoofer and dual tweeters.

Battery Life

Like any portable device battery life is a big question for me. With the Jabra Solemate you’re looking at 10 hours Talk Time as the most before it runs out of power. Standby Time is 960 hour(s) for the Solemate to stay powered on. It’s chargeable by USB cable and it’s Battery Status Indicator reveals the remaining battery time. The indicator button is on top of the Jabra Solemate.

Zyroshell car and desk phone cradle review

Originally a Kickstarter project, the Zyroshell car and desk phone cradle is making its way out of the labs and into our cars and offices.

I’ve had the Zyroshell phone cradle for a while now and almost forgot I had it as it has blended in so well. It’s a gadget that’s so simple but functional. I’ve used this in a couple of cars the first of which is an Acura and it was nice to have something to hold my phone during the morning and afternoon commutes. The only negative thing I would have to say is that when I removed the device from the one car to move it to another there was a degree of residue left behind. In fact you could see the outline of where the unit was adhered to the dashboard.

phone cradle
phone cradle

Now that I’ve moved it into the Honda I think its found a permanent home as the entire family has found value in it whether it be from using the maps and GPS applications in our smartphones to watching videos on Netflix like SpongeBob Squarepants. I like the metallic look of the unit and the fact that my smartphones quickly adhere to the cradle. This is a refreshing option compared to some of the plastic-y types of units available. One word of caution though, just make sure you push your smartphone firmly onto the cradle. There is a gel pad that is used to temporaily attach your phone and if you don’t push firmly enough you may find your phone on the floor. Also remember to replace the dust cover to the gel pad after every use otherwise the life of your unit could be compromised. Here’s a description from the Kickstarter page.

The baseplate attaches to dashboards or desks using a gel pad (non-adhesive sticky technology). The gel pads leave no sticky residue, are reusable, as well as washable.

The ultra-low profile (2.4mm), soft and flexible design of the baseplate conforms to curved dashboards and console areas. The upper wing of the cradle has a strong gel pad to hold the phone securely through extensive vibration. However, it can easily be detached by hand.

Overall I would rate this item a “BUY”. It’s solid and works as advertised. There were a couple of issues though but I’m sure the vendor is looking at getting those resolved.

Find Phone Cradles at Amazon

If you’re interested in buying the Zyroshell you can get one on their website.

 

 

phone cradle

zyroshell

instructions

honda phone cradle

Cutting the cord with the netTalk Duo Wifi

Back in August our Tech News team posted some information on the netTalk Duo and now that I have had time to use it a bit here is my review.

The fact that I am not using a telephone company like Telus to run my telephone seems a bit odd to me. We did post an article on VoIP technology in April of 2012 and I haven’t caught this phenomenon until now.

I just actually received my Telus bill yesterday where they informed me that my phone will cost me 43.11 for the month. I have voice mail, 3 Way Calling, Call Display, Call Forwarding. Though I love the netTalk I wasn’t quite ready to cut the cord as of yet but the netTalk old Telus is getting the heave-ho.

netTalk Cost and How it Works

The NetTalk Duo is 74.95 and it comes with a tonne of features.

Those include free local and long distance calling to the U.S. and Canada, Free DUO-to-DUO-calls anywhere in the world as well as Call waiting / caller ID / call forwarding. Telus likely can’t beat ability to move your phone anywhere there is wifi or the one time price you pay for the unit compared to a monthly telephone bill.

The netTalk is 39.95 a year after the first year to use. Live technical support, 5 days a week could be a problem since phone companies are available 7 days a week to take your calls but the one year of free service from netTalk could make up for that.

Technical Specifications

Using Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP technology, the netTalk will work with router-to-duowifi, home router or computer. I’ve included a picture here of one configuration. VoIP is hardly a new phenomenon but it is to me and I’ll be hard press to turn back to the traditional telephone lines now.

In terms of quality while on the telephone for local or long distance calls, I did not notice any difference between my phone line or the netTalk. Now some might wonder why I would bother testing the netTalk but it’s hard not to compare a unit such as this with traditional phone lines when that’s all you have ever used. It’s seamless to say the least.

So well done netTalk it looks like I’ll be cutting the phone cord sooner than I expected. Long live the VoIP revolution.

SafeCase a sturdy and protective option for the iPhone 4S

Having already reviewed the Snugg iPad 4 case back in the spring I figured it was time to try another of their cases SnuggSafeCasefor my iPhone 4S. At first glance I was amazed how sturdy the Safe Case was and then I realized why upon reading the packaging. It’s meant to protects users from electromagnetic radiation emitted from your phone.

I hadn’t realized that the iPhone 4s is one of the highest radiation emitting smartphones on the market and that’s a concern for anyone who uses the phone as much as I use mine.

Why Use the SafeCase

The SafeCase is designed to cut the SAR (Specific Absorption Rate) given by iPhone units up to 92%. It will also limit hot spot radiation (EFI) by 90%.  The SafeCase is also made from non-hazardous materials and will not compromise the performance of your cell phone unit.

I have had the case on my iPhone for about two weeks and haven’t noticed anything via WiFi or 3G in terms of weak internet or app usage or dropped calls.  The case itself also takes a pounding and whether the manufacturers intended it or not, I’ve dropped my iPhone a couple of times and not even seen a scratch. SafeCase is available for both iPhone 4 & 4S and that works well for me.

Can I buy it in Canada?

I visited Snugg’s Canadian version of their website and found the case for sale for 44.99$. Shipping will run you $7.50 for a five-day postal delivery and courier delivery of two days will cost you $10.00. I would say this case is a worthwhile investment for both the health risks associated with cell phone use and the durability of the case. I’d recommend this as a case for iPhone 4S users and I plan to use this case for a while.

Bang and Olufsen devices produce sweet sounds for the music lover

bangandolufsenIn the realm of audio Bang and Olufsen offers some great gadgets for those who are true audio nuts or who just love to listen to their music really loud.

Back in late August I visited the store on West 7th Ave in Vancouver and met with Albert Iglesias and we ran through some of the company’s offerings.

Bang and Olufsen H6 and H3

We started with some of Bang and Olufsen’s headphones including the H3 and H6. While it’s hard to translate how good the sound quality in a short video clip let me just say that the H6 pounded like nothing i have ever used. I demo’ed them on my MacBook Pro and iPhone. While they would be awkward for running and exercise they would be great should you be sitting at a desk or on the couch. The H3 headphones are better for portable use but treat them with care because they are far more expensive than a pair of Apple headphones. They retail for $274.95.

Bang and Olufsen Beolit Play

One of my favourite Bang and Olufsen products was the Beolit Play. It offers a wireless and portable music system that works with your digital devices. I took my iPhone and MacBook Pro along for the demo and was able to use its Virtual Airplay to play music from my iTunes through the speaker. Granted I had wifi access while at the store and this is something you should know. That being said the sound was awesome.

Bang and Olufsen A8

I also had a chance to demo the A8, another of the Bang and Olufsen products that is one-piece stereo brings your music to life from your digital devices. It functions as a docked or undocked device when you insert an iPod or iPhone and like the Play produces rich quality audio. I’ve put a short video on our You Tube Channel as well of this device and you should note the connector is on the top of the device. I did not slot my iPhone or take an iPod to try and we again employed the virtual airplay feature.

Bang and Olufsen A9

Albert and I also demo’ed the A9 and one of the features I loved in this product was the ability to glide your hand over the top of the A9 to increase and decrease the volume.
The A9 is a giant speaker situated on top of a stand and like the A8 packs a wallop in the sound department. The B and O products are all sleek and stylish and the bass delivered by the A9 really pounds at high volume.

 

Apple iOS 7 – the fireplace, blanket and hot chocolate have been stripped away

I’ve heard at least one tech columnist refer to the new Apple iOS 7 as looking like the user interface fell into a “bucket of clown makeup.” Now while I have to agree that the new interface is vastly different from its predecessor is this really an improvement? I understand that Apple wants to achieve minimalism in its products and this is definitely a step in that direction. Gone are lines and the look and feel of a pad of paper when using the “Notes” native app.

apple ios 7
apple ios 7

As a long time iPhone user it feels to me like something is missing, something familiar. You know that feeling that you get in the dead of winter when you cuddle up with a blanket in front of a fireplace with a mug of hot chocolate and a good show on the TV. To me it feels like the fireplace, blanket and hot chocolate have been stripped away.

When all I see is a white expanse in the Notes app I keep asking myself what’s missing and it’s the ruled paper look of the app. Personally it seems like the app is unfinished now. The other comparison I’m making is that Apple is copying the Windows Metro app look and feel. Take for example the Mail native app, many of the lines and dividers are gone in lieu of minimalism. Perhaps when I’m feeling sentimental I could always pull out my iPad 1 to look at the old and familiar interface though! But enough about the detractors as I would like to reflect on what has improved and the positives.

I like the fact that I can get spotlight from anywhere on any of the home screens by simply swiping down in the middle. This is a nice change and gets me quickly

apple ios 7
apple ios 7

to where I need to go. I also like the fact that I can swipe down on the lock screen to access my notifications and swipe up from the lock screen to see a bunch of other commonly used apps such as music, stopwatch, calculator and camera. The new wallpapers are also very nice and add to the sereneness of the new user interface. Another feature I really like is the new multitasking. This one was long overdue and Apple was falling behind here as vendors like Microsoft and Android were offering cleaner multitasking usability. AirDrop also sounds like a great feature as I often end up texting photos to friends with iPhones close by.

I’ve heard about a number of people suffering from bricked iPhones and so before taking on the task of updating my phone I did the following (which I cobbled together from various posts and forums):

  • Backed up and synced my iPhone with iTunes.
  • Synced my photos and videos with iPhoto and then deleted all from my iPhone to free up space.
  • Went into Settings > General > Usage and deleted any old unnecessary apps and app data which may have been taking up valuable space.
  • Updated iTunes to 11.1.x
  • Downloaded iOS 7 using the Download Only option.
  • apple ios 7
    apple ios 7

    Ensured that I had enough free space on my iPhone as issues related to bricking were happening in many cases because there were only a few MB of free space. At last check I had 15+ GB free space so no issues there.

  • Once the download completed I plugged my iPhone back into my iMac and updated via the update button in iTunes.
  • Proceeded to update my apps as they became available.

 

All went as planned and I was able to update my phone without any bricking issues. How about you? Have you had a chance to check out iOS 7? Let me know what you encountered on your upgrade journey.