Google Nexus Player: Like Chromecast, but bigger – is it better?

nexus_Player

Google already has a gadget in the streaming video sphere: Chromecast. But the company’s new $99 Nexus Player and Remote is aimed to offer viewers something extra than just a physical remote.

First, let’s review what was already in the market.

Chromecast is a cheap $39 dongle that plugs into a TV’s HDMI slot, and can stream everything from Netflix to what’s open on your desktop web browser.

The Nexus Player, meanwhile, looks like a small, 12-centimetre flying saucer that is connected to any TV with an HDMI cable.

The Player packs impressive 802.11 ac MIMO connectivity, meaning that your home network will never be the reason video stutters or playback fails. Few devices support that standard, and chances are it’s faster than the speeds your own router can support.

Usually, some people would prefer a hard-wired Ethernet port over WiFi for video devices, but 802.11 ac is just as good without the messy cables.

Inside there’s a 1.8 Ghz quad-core Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM and 8 GB of built-in storage. The device runs Android TV, a version of Google’s mobile operating system optimized for the big screen.

A big draw for some users is the possibility to use the Player as a gaming console with the $39 Gamepad (available separately). I didn’t have a chance to try this out, but the hardware inside the Player coupled with the Gamepad suggests the two could work well for gamers.

Otherwise, it’s hard to screw up a streaming stick or a simple set-top box these days, and the Nexus Player doesn’t disappoint here.
Streaming video to the TV from a variety of sources is easy, whether it’s from YouTube, Netflix, Google’s Play store or your own media stash using Plex.

Just use the remote to navigate to what it is you’d like to watch, and the video is piped through to your big screen. The remote also has a built-in microphone, in which case you can just tell the Player what it is you’d like to watch.

The interface is a lot more user-friendly than it is with the Chromecast, and the performance is much more reliable.

The app selection could be broader, but that’s likely to improve over time. It would also be nice if the Player had a USB port or card reader so you could play content from storage devices directly.

For some, the Nexus Player will be an ideal device to get because of its gaming potential. For others, the device is a Chromecast on steroids. Either way, it does what it’s designed to do well

How to get better WiFi signal

Screenshot_2015-02-28-11-38-41 (1)Even with a great router, I’ve been having WiFi signal problems and slow connections. Here’s how to improve the speed and WiFi reception on your home network.

For starters, I’m fortunate enough to have a great router as the backbone of my home WiFi network. It’s the beefy Linksys WRT1900AC.

This router is the Ferrari of hubs:802.11ac wireless connectivity at 1,900 Mbps, 4 Gigabit Ethernet ports, 1 USB 3.0 port and 1 USB 2.0/eSATA port, plus a 1.2 Ghz dual-core processor acting as the brains.

You think with all that power behind my Internet, I wouldn’t have any problems streaming HD video to my Chromecast? Or my phone would be able to play YouTube videos without stuttering? Wrong.

The problem is that I, like many people who live in dense cities, have lots of other WiFi connections battling for airspace.

All my neighbour’s WiFi signals, and my own, were crashing into each other, causing interference that affected the performance. Many people’s WiFi signals were on the same, or similar, channels.

I got a free Android app, WiFi Analyzer, to figure out what the wireless looked like in my home. Sure enough, my network was on Channel 1, along with at least two other people’s networks.

How is this possible, considering my router (like many new ones) is designed to automatically pick the best channel to beam from? Why couldn’t my router have used Channel 3 or 6, which appeared to be empty?

When I used the app in the basement, beside my router, it showed that there were no other networks on the same channel automatically selected by my access point. But upstairs, by the TV and in the bedroom, the WiFi channels were as crowded as pedestrians crossing a scramble intersection.

So, I logged into my router’s admin panel and forced it to use Channel 4 on the 2.4 Ghz band. This was the channel that appeared to be the least crowded from my app analysis.

After changing the channel, I streamed video from my laptop to my TV via Chromecast, and the playback was silky smooth – even at the extreme 720p HD setting.

 

2015 Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto: 10 cars to see

The Toronto car show can be overwhelming. Many people spend too much time waiting to slide behind the wheel of a BMW M3, only to realize they’ve missed out on checking out a supercar in a different building.

Save yourself the hassle, just worry about checking out these ten must-see vehicles at the show.

1. Acura NSX

Acura NSX

Acura NSX

Gearheads have been drooling over this car since it made its official debut at the Detroit auto show. Well, prepare to pull your jaw off the ground after seeing this gem in Toronto.

Sharp, angular edges hint at the NSX’s powerful, yet modern cabin. The supercar’s rear wheels are powered primarily by a twin-turbo V6 coupled to a nine-speed DCT transmission. Two electric motors, meanwhile, power the front wheels – effectively providing four-wheel drive for the NSX.

2. Maserati Alfieri Concept

Maserati Alfieri Concept

Maserati Alfieri Concept

 

Making its Canadian debut at the show, the Maserati Alfieri Concept is sure to stun showgoers with its graceful body contours and Italian flair. It’s only fitting that a car designed to celebrate Maserati’s 100th anniversary is this gorgeous.

Exactly what’s powering this thing, and how much will it cost? As is the case with many concept cars, nothing is confirmed. But – this luxury model is an indication of what the next Maserati could look like.

3. 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

 

 

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

Ok, I’ll admit this Hyundai won’t be turning heads. There’s no Italian design or Germanic power here, but pay attention to this car. Why? It’s the first production fuel cell electric vehicle that will be available in Canada.

Sure, you have a better chance of finding snow in Mexico than finding a hydrogen station to fill ‘er up, but on the positive side, this Hyundai has a range of 425 km on one tank. Also, nothing but water comes out of the exhaust.

4. Infiniti Q80

Infiniti Q80

Infiniti Q80

 

The Q80 isn’t a car you’ll find in a dealership anytime soon. Rather, the Q80 is Infiniti’s hint at what’s to come from the Japanese automaker. It’s not just a concept car based on bold, stretched curves, but on smart and connected technology too.

Infiniti says the Q80 is an autonomous car, meaning that it can drive itself. There’s also a hybrid powertrain under the hood to keep things green.

5. Jaguar Project 7

 

Jaguar Project 7

Jaguar Project 7

 

The Project 7 is an F-Type on steroids, borrowing some design inspiration from the classic D-Type that won Le Mans three times.

The high-performance sports car from Jaguar has a lightweight all-aluminum body that wraps around a 5-litre supercharged V8. It’ll hit 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds before topping out at 300 km/h.

Don’t get too attached, all seven Canadian models have been sold.

6. 2016 Audi TTS Coupe, Roadster

2016 Audi TTS Coupe, Roadster

2016 Audi TTS Coupe, Roadster

 

Audi’s small sports car has been redesigned for the next model year. The new look blends styling cues from modern Audi design language with the TT’s original lines.

For the third-generation model, Audi is equipping these two-door cars with an all-digital instrument cluster in a move that’s designed to reduce driver distraction.

7. MINI Superleggera Vision

MINI Superleggera Vision

MINI Superleggera Vision

This is car is the most extreme MINI at the show. It’s as if a British car went to get a suit from an Italian tailor, and walked out of the shop looking like this.

It’s a hand-made concept, a collaboration with Italian design and tuning shop Touring Superleggera.

The swooping hood and wide-mouthed rear are uncharacteristic of Mini cars, but this model offers a drastic look at what happens when the British and Italians team up.

8. 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

If straight-line speed is what gets you excited, check out this Charger, which Dodge claims is the fastest and most powerful production sedan in the world.

All that oomph comes from a 6.2-litre supercharged HEMI V8 that pumps out an intense 707 hp for a top speed of 328 km/h.

The big front grille and hood scoop isn’t just for show. Those body modifications are necessary to properly cool such a big engine, and to feed the superchargers enough air.

Did I mention it’s made in Canada?

9. 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S

2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S

2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S

This is the car that little kids will want as a poster hanging on their bedroom walls, and the car that grown adults will want on their driveways.

Its wide, gracefully curved body makes the GT S one of the most elegant yet athletic vehicles at the show. Power comes from a beefy 4-litre V8 biturbo engine tuned by AMG, which is the performance arm of Mercedes. The 510 hp engine will get the GT S up to legal highway speed in 3.8 seconds.

Possible deal breaker? No back seats.

10. 2017 Ford GT

2017 Ford GT

2017 Ford GT

The GT dropped jaws when Ford unveiled it to the world in Detroit last month, and now we’ve learned that there’s a Canadian connection.

The 2017 GT will be built in Markham, Ont. beginning later next year, but you can check it out now at the Toronto show’s Ford booth.

The mid-engine car features a twin-turbo V6 engine that’s designed to pump at least 600 hp to the rear wheels. Carbon fibre construction means the weight is kept low, so this car should deliver dramatic results on the road.

 

Self-driving cars – the best part of CES

Look ma, no hands required. A modified Audi A7 drives on its own.

Look ma, no hands required. A modified Audi A7 drives on its own.

The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas used to be all about…consumer technology. From sleek new 4K TVs to next-generation connected home devices to wearable fitness trackers, most analysts and journalists appeared to ignore the automotive side of the show, until now.

This year, several keynotes were delivered by auto industry bigwigs as they flaunted the latest features their cars will ship with next year, or next decade.

From better connectivity to cars that drive themselves, CES is now one of the biggest shows to show what’s next for the auto industry.

Volkswagen at CES: Golf R Touch virtual dashboard

Volkswagen, for example, showed off the Golf R Touch. Its dashboard is comprised of several touchscreens. There’s no traditional tachometer or speedo, just a display you can customize to show exactly that.

Although the dash can be controlled with touch, controls can also be managed with motion from the driver or other occupants.

No longer will drivers be distracted by searching for the rear defroster button, buried at the bottom of their dash centre stack. It’ll be just a matter of waving your hand over a certain part of the cabin, with a twist of the finger to control the intensity of the heat.

Audi shows off self-driving cars

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Last year, Audi unveiled a self-driving car which contained a computer that was significantly smaller than the self-driving A7 they brought to CES in 2013. This year, the Germans sent their cars driving around Vegas on their own.

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Video: Top Gear Christmas Patagonia special

TG_patagonia_special

Just a few more days until Top Gear’s Christmas special airs. It’s a big favourite for any car fan – and especially TG fans.

The Top Gear Christmas special airs in two parts. The first half of the episode airs Saturday December 27 at night at 8:30 p.m. The second half airs Sunday December 28 at 8 p.m.

Top Gear released a video trailer of the special, and it looks as epic as any TG special would.

In this episode, James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson attempt to drive three older sports cars on an epic 1,600-mile trek through Patagonia to the most southern city in the world.

Anyways, watch the Top Gear Patagonia Christmas special trailer here:

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Review: The size is right with HTC’s Nexus 9

nexus9This holiday season, there are tablets for almost every price range and size. The newest entrant, the Nexus 9, offers users a pure tablet experience with no gimmicks.

The screen measures in just a tick short of the nine inches implied in its name (it is 8.9” to be exact). For the most part, the screen displays colours well and the brightness is good for most reading situations. The sharpness was quite good.

I found a bit of LED backlight ‘bleed’ when viewing particularly dark images, which can be distracting during gaming or when watching dark video. It’s possible this was due to my review unit being an early model.

Size-wise, the Nexus 9 is smaller than the iPad Air but is convenient enough to easily toss in a small bag for commuting or travelling.

Audiophiles, take note here. Front-facing stereo speakers means you hear the best of whatever sound is playing – not the people behind you.

HTC actually builds the Nexus 9 – and you can tell with the tablet’s quality feel. It has a smooth plastic backing and overall solid construction. Like HTC phones, the Nexus 9 is one of the best-designed tablets out there, and it’s a shame the company’s products don’t get more attention for sharp styling.

The camera 8 MP rear-facing and 1.3 MP front-facing cameras proved adequate for regular photography, but struggle in situations with dark lighting or fast motion. This isn’t the tablet to get for impressive photos, but really, few tablets excel in this area.

Inside sits a Tegra K1 2.3 Ghz dual-core 64-bit processor. True, on paper it’s no quad-core behemoth. But I found the Nexus 9 fluid and responsive for a variety of tasks, including gaming and just basic web browsing.

This likely helps battery life, as the tablet appeared to last for about three days with average use.

Another area where the Nexus 9 really stood out was in the connectivity department. The tablet has 802.11ac WiFi transmitters, which let it take full advantage of my equally fast router for quicker file transfers and great streaming performance. It’s a huge and noticeable step up from most tablets.

A lot of what makes the Nexus 9 unique is the operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop. Compared to previous versions of Android, this one is faster than ever, streamlined and more efficient on a device’s hardware.

There are still some apps, however, that are not perfectly optimized for tablets and/or this device, and the scaled-up versions of phone apps don’t look great. At the time of testing, the BBC News app was one example.It’s likely this will improve as more app developers adapt.

Pricing starts at $429 for the 16 GB model. It’s not a bargain, but it provides users with a pure Google Android experience and fast hardware in a solid package.

Rating: 8/10

Toyota Mirai: Fuel cell vs hybrid has only one winner

The 2015 Toyota Mirai runs on hydrogen.

The 2015 Toyota Mirai runs on hydrogen.

Deciding between a hybrid gas-electric car and a hydrogen fuel cell car is like deciding whether you should floss on a daily basis, or whether you should get a root canal.

Such is the issue that many drivers will soon face as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles come on the market.

And the Toyota Mirai is the first of a possible onslaught of fuel cell cars, part of a new trend that will shape the future of our roads.

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Review: Moto 360 smartwatch looks good, but segment still growing

moto_360The problem with most smartwatches is that they’re either ugly, or they’re as user-friendly as a modern computer running MS DOS.

The new Moto 360, however, is the first of several devices aiming to prove that’s it’s not just an uber-geeky timepiece.

For starters, it looks relatively normal-ish with a round colour touchscreen display and a lone button on the right side – there’s no hidden power plugs or extra buttons.

My test unit was black with a black leather wrist strap, but stone, light stainless steel and dark metal style combinations are also available.

The watch has an IP67 water resistance rating, which basically means you should be able to shower and wash your hands with it on, but take it off before going for a swim. And you probably shouldn’t get the soft leather wristband anywhere near water.

The 360 also packs a built-in pedometer and an optical heart rate monitor, but more on that later.

The watch runs Android Wear, a special version of Google’s mobile operating system designed for wearable devices such as, um, watches.

After you sync the 360 with your Android phone via Bluetooth, you’ll begin receiving push notifications on your wrist. This includes everything from emails to traffic delays to sports scores, whether you’re stuck in traffic or in a meeting, they can silently or obnoxiously alert you.

For the most part, the Android Wear scales the push notifications well so they make sense on the small 1.56-inch display.

The size felt well-suited for someone like me, who would never go a day without wearing a timepiece.

A variety of apps are designed to work specifically with Android Wear devices. I spent some time with a fitness app that displayed exercises, a countdown timer and rep analysis on my wrist. The watch senses when you’ve done a complete rep of an exercise, then once you’ve done a set it switches over to measuring your rest time.

Just as you can dictate voice commands to your phone, you can do the same with the 360. It works incredibly well when your hands are occupied, such as when you’re driving.

Just say “Navigate to…” and specify an address, then the 360 will pull up directions and begin provide step-by-step navigation to the destination you read out.

Something that didn’t work incredibly well was the battery life. With the ambient screen (the clock display) enabled, 360 ran out of juice before getting through a full day.

With ambient screen switched off, the Moto watch made it – just barely.  For someone who is used to looking down at their wrist to check the time, without necessarily used to flicking the write to ‘wake up’ the watch, keeping the ambient sensor off took some time to get used to.

When the 360 does run out of juice, just drop it on the cradle and the watch charges wirelessly.

The optical heart rate sensor is neat, when it works.  If you’re sitting at a desk, lying on the coach, snoozing in bed, it quickly shows your heart rate and relays that to relevant apps.

But in between sets during a workout, or trying to catch my breath after a run, the 360 struggled to detect my heart rate.

However, the 360 did keep up with my daily steps, and the phone it was paired with used that data to tell me how healthy a lifestyle I was living.

In fairness, the Moto 360 appears to be the best Android Wear smartwatch out there. If you can tame the battery use, and if fitness tracking isn’t at the top of your wish list, then the Moto 360 is a worthwhile option.

Samsung Galaxy Note 4 Review: Sturdy Android phone packs punch

Samsung_Galaxy_Note_4One of the first things I noticed about my introduction to the Samsung Note 4 was that the marketing director wasn’t really talking my ear off about the phablet’s software features.

That was kind of odd, considering how much time during previous Samsung product briefings was dedicated to things like S Note, S Health, and other Samsung touches.

Instead, the focus was on key things most people are immensely concerned with, such as battery life and the screen. There was also mention of the Note 4’s fast charger. It was all very straight forward, like going to a big-box retailer and not being pitched on the extended warranty.

The Note 4 is Samsung’s latest productivity phone, designed for professionals and average consumers who want a gigantic screen, a stylus and cutting-edge hardware.

Inside the Android-powered phone sits a 2.7-Ghz quad core processor and 3 GB of RAM, which provides for responsive and fluid use of the device.

Sharper screen, photos

That’s key, since the 5.7-inch display affords space for productive multi-tasking. You can compose an email in one window while watching a video in the other. Or scan Twitter in one third of the screen while browsing the web in the other chunk.

The 2,560 x 1,440 pixel Quad HD Super AMOLED screen appears sharp with such high pixel density, and the colours are deep and saturated — perhaps a little too much in some cases where photos may appear to pop a little more than you’d expect.

At a time when almost everyone from kids to CEOs snap selfies, this phone’s 16-megapixel rear camera seems almost irrelevant, although it’s quite good. The rear-facing camera also features optical image stabilization in order to snap sharp photos, even if you’re a little shaky.

If you have short arms, the next feature may be your favourite.

Samsung_Galaxy_Note_4_stylus

The most noticeable photographic improvement here is with the front-facing camera, which features a 3.7-megapixel sensor and an f1.9 lens that’s designed to capture images from a 90-degree range.

Stronger handset

While Samsung spruced up the feel of the Note 3 with a soft faux-leather back, the Note 4 feels incredibly more solid and refined. The difference is like stepping up from a Toyota to a Lexus.

This improvement is largely due to the phone’s new metal trim, which adds a feeling of elegance and sturdy confidence to the handset.

The stylus that pops out from the phone’s edge – the S Pen – has been improved for the Note 4 and seems to be more natural to use and more precise on the screen.

Battery management

Honestly, all these features are useless if your phone is dead, or about to die, after a day (or less) of heavy usage. To that extent, the Note 4 features Ultra Power Saving Mode, which can selectively turn off features yet still let you make phone calls and send/receive texts for hours once the battery is down to 10 per cent charge.

There’s also the adaptive fast charger, which can drastically juice up the battery in a shorter amount of time. Samsung says a dead battery can hit 50 per cent charge in as little as 30 minutes.

From my experience, it went from 5 to 45 per cent in 25 minutes. Not bad.

While the phone’s battery capacity isn’t drastically improved compared to the Note 3 (3,200 mAh vs. 3220 mAh), the adaptive fast charger and improved power saving features helped me easily get through a day during heavy use.

Is the phone too big? Most would say yes. But the few who appreciate a big screen, a sturdy handset and improved battery life should consider the Samsung Galaxy Note 4.

Rating: 9/10

  • Screen: 5.7-inch QHD Super AMOLED
  • Processor: 2.7 Ghz Qualcomm cuad core
  • RAM: 3 GB
  • Storage: 32 GB (internal, microSD expandable)C
  • Camera: 16 MP rear with OIS, 3.7 MP front
  • Connectivity: LTE, 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1

Available Oct. 24 for $299.95 on a two-year contract, $799.95 without.

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

 

 

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