Mobile

Motorola Moto G LTE : a high-value Android phone

motorola_moto_gMany consumers are skeptical of cheap phones – especially inexpensive Android devices.

The phones may appear underpowered. They may have a lackluster screen with colours as dull as a 1960s photograph, a camera as sharp as your vision after a night of drinking, and a processor as fast as Toronto’s Queen streetcar during rush hour.

The Motorola Moto G LTE, currently $224.99 without a contract, could trigger such fears. But it’s far from that.

Sure, the 4.5-inch screen is on the small side compared to the larger 5-inch plus screens available from many other Android competitors. But this 720p HD display looks sharp, reproducing vivid colours that pop from a relatively small handset.

The phone’s construction is plasticky yet smooth and easy to grasp. Some may desire a sharper-looking handset, but that’s not what you get in this price bracket.

Images captured by the Moto G’s 5 MP camera appear better than what you’d see produced by last year’s budget Android phones, just don’t expect this handset to excel in low-light situations, or when trying to capture fast motion.

There is, however, the option to store all your images (and music, movies, apps, etc.) on an expandable microSD memory chip. This has the potential to vastly improve the phone’s standard 8 GB on-board storage capacity.

Battery life appeared to be on average, lasting about a day-and-a-half of above average use.

Now on paper, a 1.2-Ghz quad-core processor isn’t the fastest mobile phone brains out there. However, it zipped along quite well when running everything from games to HD video and apps. If you’re looking for the highest frame rates in intense first-person shooters, spend more on a faster phone. But coupled with the Android KitKat operating system (4.4), the Moto G pleasantly surprised in the speed category.

The Motorola Moto G LTE isn’t the fastest phone out there. But you know what? At it’s current price point and with smooth, fluid performance, the value for money proposition is strong.

Rating: 4/5

 

 

Toshiba Chromebook or Asus Chromebox – which is better?

CB30-A3120_ANGLE28-lo

So-called Chromebooks and Chromeboxes are simple, lightweight computers that run Google’s Chrome operating system. In essence, it’s the company’s Chrome web browser, as a whole computer ecosystem.

I’ve had a chance to try out two Chrome-based devices: Toshiba’s Chromebook and the Chromebox from Asus.

The Toshiba laptop costs $349.99 while the barebones Asus goes for about $199,

With both devices, there isn’t a lot of on-board storage space because the idea is that the bulk of your stuff – from music to pictures to documents – is stored in the cloud.

One downside to this is that you’ll need an active Internet connection to access and make changes to these files.

But on the other hand, your stuff is accessible no matter where you go, and its always backed up. (No more nightmares of dead portable hard drives).

With both the Chromebook and Chromebox, boot up is virtually instant, like using a tablet or turning on a light switch. The same goes for putting these devices to sleep.

So, think you’re able to live almost completely in the cloud? In a world where almost everything is done through the Google Chrome web browser (and available Chrome apps?)

Toshiba Chromebook:

The laptop feels like a poor man’s MacBook Air. Painted silver, it’s plasticky and much more inexpensive, because you’re pretty much just getting a keyboard and a screen with a few chips in between.

A 1.4 Ghz Intel Celeron processor powers this guy, coupled with 2GB of DDR RAM and 16 GB of on-board storage in the form of a solid state drive (SSD).

The 13.3-inch LED screen does an average job of displaying content. There’s no blurriness or lack of vibrancy, although it’s not a memorable screen.

But, there is an HDMI port so you can easily plug this into a dedicated monitor or a big-screen TV to watch videos or enjoy more screen real estate.

This Chromebook also has an SD card slot for importing pictures and other types of files. Two USB 3.0 ports provide for more off-board storage.

Generally, the Toshiba was quick and nimble whether you’re watching a TV show or writing emails. Battery life is quite good too – it lasted for almost five days of pre- and post-work surfing.

Asus Chromebox:

About the size of a sandwich or two slices of toast, this device is more of a replacement for your desktop than it is a portable computer. Just like the Toshiba Chromebook, it has only a 1.4 Ghz processor and 2 GB of RAM along with 16 GB of on-board storage.

But it makes up for it with a heaping of plugs to keep you connected: four USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, DisplayPort (4K video, anyone?) Ethernet, SD card reader, microphone/headphones, etc.

While the Chromebox doesn’t ship with a screen, keyboard and mouse, the latter two are fairly affordable accessories you can pick up or reuse from a previous computer.

Chromebox_AsusThe enthusiast community is also finding creative ways to use this computer without actually running Google’s operating system, such as with XBMC, for example.

The model I tested initially crashed and would be in a reboot loop when I would log in with my Google account, but worked fine when using a different account. Performing a factory reset eventually solved my problem, which seemed to be a disappointment for a computer system that’s traditionally as easy to set up as it is to lace up Velcro shoes.

Whether you’re considering the Toshiba Chromebook or the Asus Chromebox, both devices offer an affordable way to get online and complete basic tasks for not a whole lot of money. But if you need to run Mac or Windows-specific applications, then skim over these two devices.

Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2 Review: Big screen tablet that doesn’t come cheap

GalaxyNote12_2_tabIf 10- and 11-inch tablets aren’t big enough, Samsung has rolled out the new Galaxy Pro Series that’s headlined by the 12.2-inch NotePro.

For starters, the thing is huge, but neither too heavy nor thick. There’s so much screen real estate it could double as a serving tray. It does feel a little on the hefty side, but this is a 12.2-inch tablet.

Anyone would have a good grasp on the device thanks to the grippy, soft, leather-like backing.
Photos
NotePro 12.2

The 16×10 screen, like others, looks great when watching TV shows or movies because you don’t get the black bars you’re used to seeing on more square-like tablet screens.

And it looks sharp too, with a 2560X1600 resolution screen and enough brightness to light up a small room.

Behind it all is a fast octa (eight) core processor that blasts through tasks with ease – particularly important since you can multi-task with up to four separate windows on the screen at the same time.

Did you just hear “windows” and “multitasking”? Yes.

Samsung is really pitching the productivity aspect of this tablet, and they’re backing it up with included free access to apps like Hancom Office (think Microsoft Office but for Android tablets) along with Remote PC, which does as it says. Several other productivity apps and services are also bundled for free.

According to Samsung, customers want to produce content and they want to do it on a large-screen tablet. Compared to most other tablets on the market, the NotePro 12.2 does the job.

GalaxyNote12_2_tab2

But when multi-tasking, you can only use a few apps optimized for doing so. When it works, it’s great. The selection of multi-tasking apps, however, is still small.

The NotePro comes with a stylus that at first I thought was gimmicky. But over time I became addicted to writing with it, using the tablet’s text recognition software to turn my chicken scratch into legible print.

In some ways, the NotePro 12.2 could easily replace the laptop that many people lug around (in addition to their tablets). Toss in a wireless mouse and keyboard, and the average user would have a tough time justifying two very similar devices.

But at $769, this device may seem pricey for those who just want a tablet for checking email and writing memos.

There is an inexpensive version of the 12-inch tablet, the TabPro costs a hundred bucks less and you don’t get a stylus: $669.99 for the 32GB version.

Apple expands iPhone trade-in program to Canada

Canadian iPhone users looking to save some money on a new phone will now be able to take advantage of Apple’s handset recycling program, the company announced Monday.

Customers who trade in their working iPhones will be able to receive a store credit of up to $275 for the purchase of a new iPhone at Apple stores.

The value of the credit will be determined by staff in Apple’s retail stores. Both consumer and business users will be able to receive a credit for their old devices.

A similar program was made available to U.S. customers last summer.

In a statement, Apple also says the “Reuse and Recycling Program” will be good for the environment.

[via Apple]

Review: Asus Transformer Book Trio bridges gap between tablet, laptop

Asus_Transformer_Book_TrioIn this connected mobile world, most people’s laptops are collecting dust while their fingerprints smudge up their tablets from constant use.

But not everyone is throwing in the towel on their laptops. While powerful Android tablets and iPads are almost as capable as their Windows (and Mac) counterparts, some people still need to get stuff done with programs that only run on Windows.

The Asus Transformer Book Trio is one such device that bridges the gap between mobile tablets and traditional laptops.

You see, it’s actually three devices in one. It opens up like a laptop and can run Windows 8.1.

But, you can also use the mouse and keyboard like a laptop with the Android operating system that’s built into the screen — the screen which is detachable (and can function as a standalone tablet).

Essentially, this is the crossover vehicle of laptops, or the Swiss Army knife of tablets. But is the Trio a jack of all trades and a master of none? Nope.

From a technical perspective, the Trio ticks the boxes.

Both “devices” share an 11.6-inch HD touchscreen that appears to be one of the most vibrant I’ve used with a laptop.

The tablet has a dual-core 1.6-Ghz Intel Atom processor that performed much faster than I had expected, while the laptop features a powerful Core i7 4500U processor.

You’ll get 2 GB of tablet RAM with the tablet in Android mode and 4 GB of RAM from the base laptop when running Windows. An array of ports from USB 3.0 to micro HDMI will keep you well-connected.

As a daily device, the Trio makes total sense. Although the pre-production unit I tried out had a few early niggles, the tabtop (my new name for this segment) fit into everyday life.

Editing photos with Adobe Lightroom, the Trio tore through batch processing tasks with ease. There’s plenty of power for other demanding tasks.

But then I began running the tabtop with Android more than with Windows for everyday tasks such as email, surfing and social networking. Using a normal keyboard with a tablet really kicks ass, especially when you want to write long emails or documents.

Then, when it’s time to kick back on the sofa with just the tablet and no keyboard, simply detach the screen and the device runs like any other Android tablet. It’s quite seamless.

The tablet was a tad heavier than most I’ve used, and it would be neat to use the tablet in Windows mode too (not just docked in the keyboard).

Otherwise, the Asus Transformer Book Trio is a good device to bridge people’s digital worlds between tablets and laptops.

Curved OLED TVs, big tablets and smart jewelry: 5 things at CES you’ll want to buy

From self-driven cars to voice-activated thermostats and TVs that bend on command, the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show was rammed with the latest gadgets and a peek at what’s to come in the years ahead.

But what really stood out? And what’s more, what at the show would you actually want to buy?

Here’s a roundup of our Top 5 picks:

LG’s 77-inch 4K OLED TV (pictured above)

Whether curved or not, OLED TVs are just so damn thin — and LG’s curved 4K OLED TV stood out amongst all others.

The technical difference between OLED TVs and most other televisions — the majority of which are now LED — is where the light comes from.

The latter uses light-emitting diodes (LED) to illuminate the liquid crystal display (LCD). Organic light-emitting diodes (OLED) can light themselves, leading to fewer parts and thinner screens.

With a super slim display panel and the curve for viewing comfort, LG’s 77-inch OLED TV displayed gorgeous picture. Now with webOS, it appears to be the slickest smart TV interface around.

(Availability, pricing TBA)

Samsung Galaxy NotePro 12.2 tablet

Samsung's Galaxy NotePro

You don’t realize how nice it is to have a big tablet until you go back to using a smaller device. That’s when the extra screen real estate is missed.

With a 12.2-inch screen, the NotePro offers users enough space to multitask on the Android platform with up to four separate “windows.” This device, just larger than a standard 8.5×11 sheet of paper, has the potential to blur the lines between a tablet and a notebook computer.

The NotePro 12.2 jumped from app to app with ease and appeared to show no lag when tapping around, a trait that can be credited to the tablet’s two quad-core processors.

Sure, it’s a little big to lug around. But that hasn’t stopped people from buying phablets.

(Available Q1, pricing TBA)

Mio Link & Mio Go app

Mio's Link and Go app

This smartwatch from the Vancouver-based company Mio monitors your heart rate, and then uses that data to create a virtual workout adventure for you.

The wristband is simple, with three LEDs that can light up depending on the heart zone you’re in (green, yellow, red). It’s the interaction with the app, however, that really sets this product apart.

Using the heart rate data from the wristband, you can go on virtual exercise adventures shown on an iPad.

For example, cyclists can take a virtual bike ride using the Mio Go app via an iPad mounted on a stationary bike. Especially during our cold Canadian winters, this could be a nice way to feel like you’re exercising outside, while staying warm inside.

(Available in March, MSRP $99)

Revolv

Revolv home kit

The Revolv home “awesomation” kit is designed for the do-it-yourselfer who wants to connect various parts of their home, without having to get a second mortgage to afford it.

The teardrop-shaped device packs seven different radios designed to communicate with a range of connected home devices, like the Nest thermostat, Sonos speakers, or Belkin WeMo plug-in hubs.

While the list of compatible devices is a little short, Revolv tells me they packed seven different radio transmitters inside the unit for future compatibility. Compliance with ZigBee is expected later this year.

(Now shipping, $299)

Netatmo June

Netatmo's JUNE bracelet

This smart bracelet is designed to protect you from the sun’s harmful rays, measuring exposure throughout the day and suggesting ways to protect yourself.

It syncs with a user’s smartphone using a low-power Bluetooth connection, regularly sending exposure readings to the phone.

The app then uses that data to suggest whether the user should slap on some sunscreen, seek out shade or even be outside in the first place. It’ll also suggest what SPF rating you should be using.

The app learns its user’s schedule and can predict if they’re going to get too much sun based on the weather forecast.

(Available this spring, MSRP $99)

What gadget from CES did you hear about that interests you most?

How do you get linked home devices to play nice? Solving smart home problems

LAS VEGAS — Booths showcasing connected home devices spanned several hundred square feet at the Las Vegas Convention Center at the Consumer Electronics Show. But the fact remains that not all of these devices can play nicely together.

Proprietary software, different frequencies and different software can make settling on an affordable solution as easy as it is to untie a knot while wearing gloves.

For example, there’s a Bluetooth-enabled door lock that can turn on the lights and warm up the house as soon as your iPhone gets within range.

But unless your light switches are made by a particular company, home automation could leave you in the dark.

“In the case of the smart home, there is no one winner,” says Ron Goldberg, content director for the Z Wave Alliance.

Z Wave is a system that lets locks from Kwickset speak to thermostats from Honeywell, and allows your mobile device to control light switches from Leviton, for example. That connectivity, however, can only work when they’re all a happy family.

Goldberg says the fragmentation in connected home devices is like the battle between VHS and Beta, or Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, but just colossally bigger.

When there are different platforms in your home that can’t speak to each other, the benefits of home automation are nixed.

With some 1,000 Z Wave approved products now available, Goldberg says the alliance’s ecosystem is growing well.

Another alliance, ZigBee, appears to have fewer vendors in its own ecosystem, but it’s still a separate platform that requires consumers to stick to one — or the other.

One Toronto-based company wants to change that.

MMB Networks, which makes other devices for the ZigBee alliance, is working on a hub that will let consumers enjoy the benefits of home automation, without locking into an ecosystem.

“We want to support everything out there,” says Daniel Lee, account manager at the Toronto-based company.

He says that the device, about the size of a wallet, will have ZigBee support, but they’re also hoping to add Z Wave alliance compatibility as well.

With it, there’s the potential for one app to control all of your home systems, rather than a separate app for each separate component of your house made by different companies.

Soon, perhaps, consumers will be able to have the choice of even more connected home platforms.

Lee says MMB wants to partner with an OEM for a 2014 launch of the gateway, expected to sell for $30 per unit.

The future has curves: Samsung, LG show off bendable big-screen TVs at CES in Vegas

LAS VEGAS — In the race to build the biggest — and most flexible — TV, Samsung threw the first punch at CES with a prototype 85-inch HD TV that goes from flat to curved with a push of a button.

But then LG swung back, announcing late Monday afternoon that it was unveiling a 77-inch TV that could do the same, except it was an OLED model — which means it consumes less energy and can be built very thin.

If you can’t tell how fierce the competition is between the two, just check out the respective taglines for the show. LG: “It’s all possible.” Samsung: “Discover the world of possibilities.”

The two South Korean electronics companies, along with Sony, showed off their latest and greatest televisions at International CES on Monday.

Samsung announced it will sell the world’s largest curved 105-inch UHD TV, and more sensibly-sized U9000 Series TVs in 65-inch and 55-inch flavours. The sets look gorgeous and are as slim as a picture frame.

The press conference wasn’t without any hiccups. Hollywood blockbuster director Michael Bay appeared to get confused when the teleprompter didn’t show him the right line. After a few awkward moments, he stormed off stage.

But a fair chunk of Samsung’s presentation focused on the company’s growth into the connected home sector with the launch of Samsung Smart Home.

It’ll consist of three main features: device control, home view and smart customer service. For example, voice control will be used to dim the lights and turn on the TV.

At CES Unveiled on Sunday, Samsung already previewed Dropcam-like surveillance cameras. But there is still more to be explored here.

On the appliance front, Samsung is launching a high-end appliance lineup called the Chef Collection. Android capability and innovative features (a dishwasher that won’t miss the corners of the tub) are the feature’s you’ll find in this bracket.

In the mobile segment, Samsung didn’t unveil any new phones but it did pull the wraps off a new “Pro” series for its tablet lineup, anchored by the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2.

A 2,560×1,600 pixel display, quad core processor and 3 GB of RAM highlight the 12.2’s feature sheet.

The Pro series will also have faster wireless connectivity thanks to 802.11ac MiMo (multiple in and multiple out) WiFi, faster than the transmitter affixed to the iPad Air (and most other tablets).

Samsung says users can also have both WiFi and LTE connections active simultaneously, to speed up the time it’ll take to download movies and TV shows.

Sony stresses 4K, wearable tech

Over at Sony, the company pulled the wraps off new 4K TVs and really preached about how great the super-high resolution standard is.

Newly appointed Sony president Michael Fasulo stressed how the company delivers 4K content “from the scene to the screen,” through equipment that shoots live sports in 4K to the TVs that display the finished product.

For those who want to shoot their own 4K material, Sony unveiled a new Handicam video camera that can record the super-high resolution material, but costs only $2,000.

Sony isn’t immune to the wearable tech craze — it’s gone to the dogs. Literally.

The company says its Action Camera can be attached to your dog with a special harness.

Back to humans, the company announced the Sony SmartWear platform, which takes the shape of a “Smart Band” bracelet that tracks everything you do throughout the day.

Other than that, few other details were announced about SmartWear, other than more details will be announced at the mobile phone conference in Barcelona next month.

Tomorrow, the doors of the convention centre are open to all — and expect to hear about more wearable gadgets and connected appliances.

Follow @mcacho and @hainsworthtv for more updates from CES

Sorry hunny, I’m instant messaging our washing machine: CES highlights from Monday

LAS VEGAS – Appliances that talk to you and the return of webOS highlighted LG’s offerings at CES on Monday.

The Palm brand behind webOS might be a distant memory, but LG has brought the intuitive mobile operating system webOS to the big screen in its latest smart TVs.

The new smart TV platform features what appears to be a simple way to interact with television sets.

LG CTO Scott Ahn told reporters Monday that most consumers think smart TVs are too complicated, and the hope is that webOS on TV will make watching content on the big screen simple again.

With a user interface that seems like a hybrid between a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox One but as simple as a light switch, people guide a playful pointer icon (BeanBird) to select what it is they want to watch, from whatever source it’s available on.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings was also on hand to announce that the company will offer 4K streams of select shows, such as House of Cards.

Next-generation 4K TVs, such as the latest from LG, will be able to play back such content from the video streaming service.

Flex phone

Reporters got a chance to see the LG G Flex, a curved phone, for the first time in North America. (It was unveiled late last year in South Korea).

The 6-inch curved OLED screen is designed to offer a more cinematic experience when watching video, LG says.

The company also had to design a curved battery to fit in such a device, while improving the amount of charge it can hold.

“Innovation for innovation’s sake doesn’t work with consumers. We’re looking for products that offer tangible benefits,” says Frank Lee, head of LG’s mobile phone unit.

What are the other benefits to having a curved phone? After spending a few minutes with the handset, it did actually feel more comfortable to hold, slip in my pocket, and hold up to your head.

Connected appliances

Meanwhile, LG is launching a platform designed to let all your home appliances talk to each other – and people that use them.

LG HomeChat will let users message their appliances to find out how they’re doing, such as asking the clothes dryer: “How long until you’re done?”

Likewise, the appliances will be able to message users, informing them of completed actions or just to wish them a nice vacation.

Panasonic sets sights on cars

Sure, the company still makes TVs and typical home electronics, but Panasonic spent considerable time talking up its work with automakers.

Indeed, Panasonic North America CEO Joe Taylor said Panasonic is moving beyond TVs to automotive innovations.

“Automotive is the largest and fastest growing segment in North America” for Panasonic, Taylor said Monday.

For example, the company is making smaller heads-up displays that are designed to distract drivers less, and it says it will supply electric automaker Tesla with millions of lithium ion battery cells for the next two years.

Sharp TV bridges gap to 4K

Sharp, meanwhile, unveiled a full HD TV that attempts to look as ‘sharp’ as a 4K TV, but not cost 4K money.

The Aquos Quattron+ TV lineup with Revelation Technology can upscale normal HD video and take advantage of Sharp’s subpixel technology to display images that appear better than what you’d see from a typical HD TV set.

It’ll also be able to play back 4K content in a downscaled manner, theoretically future-proofing yourself from the next generation of display technology.

While pricing hasn’t been announced, expect these TVs to cost more than HD sets, but less than pricey 4K TVs.

Next iPhone to have bigger screen?

apple iphoneIf you were expecting a larger screen on the iPhone 5S, the next phone from Apple might make you a little happier.

Reports suggest the tech giant is working on new iPhones that feature larger – and curved – screens.

According to Bloomberg, Apple is reportedly working on an a 4.7-inch iPhone and a larger 5.5-inch iPhone.

Currently, the screen on the iPhone 5S measures in at 4 inches diagonally.

But by comparison, Samsung’s Galaxy S4 has a 5-inch screen.

It’s logical to see why Apple would want to slap a 4.7-inch screen on the next iPhone. But why 5.5 inches?

The trend lately with phones is that bigger is better. Just look at the Mega’s 6.3-inch display, one of the latest phablets (a mix between a phone and a hybrid) to hit the market. Sure, it’s ludicrously big – a far cry from the smaller-is-better phone commercials from yesteryear.

The curved screen will likely make the iPhone much more ergonomic and comfortable to hold.

Bloomerg’s source is apparently someone familiar with Apple’s plans and says the new phones with larger screens may be launched in the third quarter of next year.

But with phones featuring larger and larger screens, how big is too big? Or what’s too small? What’s the perfect phone screen size?

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