Archive for April 13, 2017

Review: 2017 Fiat 500X Lounge AWD – Part 4

Posted in Products with tags on April 13, 2017 by itnerd

The technology in the Fiat 500x Lounge AWD is an interesting mix. Let’s start with the safety technology:

  • You get 7 airbags
  • There’s a rear back up camera with backup sensors. The camera has great viewing angles and clarity. You also get backup sensors tossed in as well so that you don’t hit anything when backing up.
  • Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist. In short, if you drift out of your lane, you’ll get a notification on the dash. If you don’t do anything, the car will gently put you back to where you should be. One thing that I noted is that if you don’t have both hands on the steering wheel if you drift out of your lane, the car will get very upset at you by making a very loud and shrill beep and telling you via the TFT screen in the dash to put both hands on the wheel.
  • While not a piece of technology as such, the fact that when you use a turn signal or turn the wheel while the headlights are on, the corresponding foglamp will turn on to give you additional visibility is an excellent safety feature.
  • Forward Collision Warning with Active Braking.
  • The usual traction control, stability control, tire pressure monitoring systems.

The next thing is the key. It’s a proximity key that allows you to walk up, open the door, press the start button, and drive away. You can also remote start the 500X, and unlock the doors. Like other FCA vehicles I’ve reviewed, there’s also a real key on the inside of the fob. When you want to lock the car, simply press a button on the door handle when you get out of the car. Net result: You never have to take the proximity key out of your pocket.

Now on to the UConnect infotainment system. It’s now into its fifth iteration and it’s still very good. Navigation is still provided by Garmin which is a good thing. And as usual, it took me seconds to pair my iPhone via Bluetooth and make everything work the way I expected. Plugging in my iPhone via either of the USB ports allowed me access to all the music and playlists on it. The voice recognition was good, though I had trouble with street names. The system is powered by a 6.5″ touchscreen which while smaller than I am used to, it is clear and easy to read in all lighting conditions. There are redundant controls that are well designed and easy to reach. When it comes to the design part, I’ll use the controls on the steering wheel as an example. Individual buttons have their own feel so that once you know what the functions are, you can use them purely based on feel. A key feature is the fact that it comes with Siri Eyes Free for those of you who have iPhones. What’s cool about this is that when you pair your iPhone to the system, it gives you a tutorial on how to use Siri Eyes Free. That’s something that I’ve never seen before and I am sure will help iPhone users who drive this vehicle.

No matter where I was sitting, the audio was fantastic thanks to it being powered by Beats Audio. It has crisp highs and well defined bass with zero distortion. I was very impressed by that. Kudos to FCA for providing a top notch stereo.

The final part of this review will tie up some loose ends and I’ll give you my final verdict. Watch for it on Friday.

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Symphonica Acoustic Speaker for Smartphones Launched on Kickstarter

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 13, 2017 by itnerd
Despite being recognized for his ingenuity by audiophiles, Freddie Kwoh, an audio engineer and the holder of multiple patents, did not see his proudest invention fulfilled. Kwoh passed away in 2016 at the age of 68 before the Symphonica, a totally acoustic horn speaker that naturally amplifies and enhances the sound of iPhone and Android smartphones, could be brought to production.
Now a team of Kwoh’s close friends and associates are bringing his dream to market by launching a crowd-funded Kickstarter campaign aimed at raising the $35,000 needed for initial manufacturing and operations costs. They’ve made a number of improvements to Kwoh’s original design, in particular to the sound quality, appearance, and construction, moving it closer to the end product that Kwoh first envisioned so many years ago. Along the way they also added compatibility with one of the most popular Smartphones on the market, the Samsung Galaxy S, greatly expanding the market for the speaker.
Symphonica is handcrafted of sustainable woods using environmentally friendly practices. The passive horn speaker — sculpted to acoustic perfection — organically boosts the volume of sound collected from an iPhone or Android device’s external speaker try up to 6 decibels or more without electricity, making it ideal for background ambiance or for listening in a relaxed setting, such as bedside or in an office. Symphonica is also designed to enhance the sound, adding the body and warmth missing from many plastic smartphone speakers.
Drawing from his decades of experience Kwoh created an innovative and beautiful product in the Symphonica which not only serves a useful purpose, but pleases the eye as well. Subtly reminiscent of the iconic gramophone with its Victrola-style speaker horn, the Symphonica exudes elegance with its graceful curves and swirling wood grains that give each horn its own unique character, and make it an object of natural beauty and an instant conversation starter.
Symphonica is compatible for iPhone 5 and later, the Samsung Galaxy S series, and any other smartphone with a similarly placed bottom mounted speaker and charging port.
Symphonica is using Kickstarter as a platform to get to market faster, introduce its creators, explain its design process more thoroughly and at the same time, gain a more direct dialogue with its consumer base. Special early-bird packages starting at $25 are available featuring rewards such as matching wooden smartphone cases, docking stands and a rechargeable Bluetooth remote for control of phones, tablets and computers.
Visit the Kickstart page for Symphonica: http://kck.st/2oc4ib5 and watch this video for more details.

Guest Post: NordVPN Discusses The Difference Between A VPN & A Proxy

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 13, 2017 by itnerd

There has been lots of increased interest in staying private online due to the new developments in privacy and security. For example, Investigatory Powers Bill was launched in the UK last November, which allows the government to hack into people’s computers; Australian government tightened the rules of accessing many websites, and most recently, the U.S. gave Internet Service Providers the right to collect and sell user data without their consent.

People around the world started getting concerned about privacy, and researching tools that help them stay private – such as VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) and proxies. NordVPN, a VPN service provider, has noticed their user inquiries triple after the latest development in the U.S., which gave ISPs the right to freely sell user data. Overall, Google searches for VPN increased by quarter after US Congress decided to cast away ISP privacy rules. Similar trend was noticed after each change in privacy rules around the world: for example, when Australia strengthened copyright infringement rules, VPNs saw a 500% surge in subscriptions.

While most people realize that they need to protect their privacy online, they often wonder which privacy tool they should choose – a VPN or a proxy – and whether it will be easy enough to use.

VPN vs. Proxy

What is the difference between a VPN and a proxy, and how to choose the best option?

Both VPNs and proxies are similar in one major feature: they hide one’s IP address and make it seem that a user is connecting from another location. However, the main difference is that proxies do not encrypt Internet traffic, while encryption is what makes VPNs security and privacy oriented.

Proxies are great for streaming geo-blocked content, as they do not slow Internet traffic – or for by-passing content filters. However, any entity – such as ISP, government, or a hacker who can snoop on anyone using Wi-Fi in a coffee shop – can access your data despite the proxy. In addition, certain Flash or JavaScript elements in a user’s browser can easily reveal their identity. Moreover, a proxy is only configured for a certain application, such as a web browser, but is not installed computer-wide. Those who are not concerned about keeping their Internet traffic safe, and only want to stream a movie, can use proxies. However, they should be looking at one of the paid options, as free proxies are sometimes known to steal user data themselves.

VPNs. VPNs are a main tool for those desiring to protect their online privacy and security. VPNs are set up computer-wide and protect the traffic of each application used -each Internet browser, email app or online game. How does a VPN work? A user’s Internet traffic gets encrypted and routed through a secure tunnel between two points: the computer and a remote VPN server. This way, no one can access the data that passes through the tunnel – it becomes completely invisible to ISPs, government snoopers, advertisers, identity thieves and hackers. When a user installs a VPN and goes online on an unprotected Wi-Fi = at a hotel, restaurant or airport – their data will also be automatically encrypted, and they can even proceed with their online banking or shopping.

Is it hard to install a VPN? While VPNs were initially a tool used mostly by early adopters, currently many VPNs have updated their user interfaces and are easy to use by anyone who goes online. For example, NordVPN has developed apps (for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac) that starts working simply by turning an ON button. The app can quickly connect you to the desired destination by simply clicking on the country name, as it automatically selects the quickest server available. For those who like to tinker with custom server options, a detailed list is available with load and distance information – change between them with a simple click. The application contains many user-friendly features, including kill switch, detailed server list, access to SmartPlay technology and more.

Australian Hyundai Owners Irate At Decision Not To Retrofit Cars With Android Auto/Apple CarPlay

Posted in Commentary with tags on April 13, 2017 by itnerd

I’ve been tracking the story of Hyundai Australia owners trying to get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for a few months now. Well, the news is out that Hyundai Australia is saying that the 2018 Tucson will come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto standard across all trim levels. But it’s this next part that has existing owners irate. Apparently if you already own a Tucson, there will be no Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for you according to Hyundai Australia. Here’s some examples of how owners feel about that via their Facebook page.

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In the interest of understanding this better. I’ve managed to get interviews with existing owners. Because it’s one thing to track rage online. But it is another thing entirely to hear about this sort of thing directly from the people involved. Thus I put the word out there that I was looking for first hand feedback on this topic and I was asking four questions:

  1. What attracted to you to the Tucson in the first place?
  2. Why is Android Auto/Apple CarPlay integration important to you?
  3. Some would see that selling your vehicle is an extreme way to express your disappointment. Why did you go this route? (I asked this question as I have heard that some people are so mad, they are either planning to sell they cars or have already done so)
  4. What were you expecting from Hyundai Australia and why?

The first response I got was from James:

1. I was choosing between the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, and I was very split between them. They are largely the same vehicle (based on the same platform) but are slightly different. I was looking for a new car for our growing family and if I was going to buy a brand new car I wanted to get the best value I could, which either of these vehicles represented. I had actually decided on the Sportage, as I preferred the driving over the Tucson, even though I preferred the styling of the Tucson. As I said though, they are so similar that the differences were really immaterial and each had all the key features I wanted, with the exception of Android Auto. I was told by more than one sales person from Hyundai that whilst it wasn’t standard in the Highlander that it would definitely come in the future. They said it was just a software update, which, after all, is a perfectly reasonable thing to expect. I had offers for both vehicles at the exact same price with all the inclusions I wanted, but at the end of the day I was able to take delivery of a Tucson sooner than the Sportage and as I said the choice was so close so I purchased the Tucson.

2. The head unit in the Tucson is serviceable. It’s adequate as far as manufacturer head units go, which is to say it is not particularly good, and certainly not of an equivalent level of quality to that of the vehicle itself. Which is understandable, it is the same with any product with a digital component, where the digital component is not the primary feature of the product – TVs for example. It doesn’t matter how good your TV quality is, the graphical user interface you use to control it won’t be as good as the GUI of a device where the GUI is largely the primary component of the product, for example a phone or computer. None of this would really matter, you buy a car for the car, not for the GUI of the head unit after all, except that now thanks to Apple Car Play and Android Auto it is possible to get this level of quality in a vehicle head unit. Just like how some TVs now use Android to run the GUI, and it is immediately better than the typical manufacturer GUI. This is great news, not only for consumers, but for vehicle manufacturers as well. Now they don’t need to spend as much time or resources on their own poor offerings, all they have to do is enable Apple Car Play and Android Auto and all of a sudden Apple and Google provide a better product for less effort on their part. On the consumer side, the head unit will now always be up to date with the latest GUI and their SatNav will always have the latest maps. It’s a game changer and it benefits everyone. In short, I wouldn’t have even considered a car without it, and had I known it wouldn’t be possible to upgrade I wouldn’t have even considered the Tucson in the first place. I would have purchased a Sportage and I would have Android Auto.

Completely skipping the ridiculousness of Hyundai’s original thought process that their own SatNav was the premium option for the Elite and Highlander and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were the cheap consolation prize for the lower models, the fact that they won’t allow for an upgrade is just a complete cop out. They have stated that the software is not compatible with the Highlander head unit, and that the Active and Active X head unit is not able to be fitted to the Highlander. Now that the new model Tucson was been announced with CarPlay and Auto standard across the range, I am hoping Hyundai does the right thing by their customers and allow the new head unit to be installed in the older model. I certainly won’t be buying another Hyundai if they don’t.

3. Not applicable as I didn’t end up selling, although I strongly considered it.

4. My expectation of Hyundai was that a software update should be developed in order to enable Car Play and Auto on the Elite and Highlander. This is so beyond reasonable that it is utterly unacceptable that Hyundai has not been willing to commit to it. If this is truly unachievable, then they ought to provide an upgrade, free of charge, to replace the head unit in older Highlander models. It is as simple as that. If they want to foster any sense of loyalty whatsoever amongst those customers who purchased the top end model of their flagship vehicle then they will need to provide a solution, especially since so many of us were told by Hyundai dealers that this would happen. I would also like to mention that Hyundai only promises two (!!) map updates, as opposed to literally limitless updates with Google Maps. So at the very least I am going to be insisting on map updates at every single service for the life of my car, if they fail to provide an actual upgrade to enable Android Auto.

 

The second response I got was from Phillip:

1. I once owned an 87 GL Excel and it was an incredibly reliable car, ended up driving it across the Nullabor and around Tassie for a few years before another driver T boned me in it, even then the other car was written off but my good old Excel was repaired, after such a good run with Hyundai I thought I would be fine buying another one, boy was I wrong.
We had had test driven the Santa Fe but the wife found it a tad too big and clumsy where as the tucson was just a nice size with good fuel economy (we prefer diesel) and it looked far nicer than the competitors, also the warranty was a major consideration, also it drove nicely, was quiet and had all the toys.
Sadly I did not test the sound system before leaving the dealership, never did I expect a new car to have a sound system so bad.

2. Although the features of those systems are great what really shocked me was the difference in sound quality between the CarPlay and non CarPlay unit, I find it hard to use the word “sound quality” as the unit in our Highlander had no quality of any kind, I have not heard an OEM system that bad since my fathers 1982 Mitsubishi Sigma, the radio sound is fair at best but anything streamed or played from USB has all the tone of a transistor radio,

3. Well, replacement cost of a basic double DIN unit with the same features but better sound was around $3000 plus fitting (with a reputable brand not an Ebay special) add this to the fact that Hyundai speakers are awful things plus I have no doubt that any warranty issues down the track would have been blamed on changing the stereo.
This was to be our next 7 years car but I could not bear the thought of dealing with Hyundai Australia for any longer than I had to let alone the local dealer, the attitude from both was disgraceful, Hyundai I care or I don’t care as I now call it was pathetic at best, they quite happily acknowledged that the sound quality was poor but it was a case of just too bad, better luck next time, when the local dealer first heard the sound in the highlander compared to the base model he agreed there must be something wrong and instantly ordered a replacement, weeks later they decided mine was in fact working properly and instead payed for an Alpine subwoofer and 2 new front speakers to be installed, this at least gave it a little base bu tit still sounded terrible and at maximum volume you could quite happily carry on a conversation it was so quiet.
Then there was the bonnet catch debacle, our car started beeping madly one afternoon as we were doing 80ks on the Devonport bridge, turns out our bonnet had popped open, we knew about the re-call but as it had been back to the dealer a few times we assumed it had been looked at, well we shut the bonnet and drove straight to the dealer only to be told I had not shut it properly and that ours was not involved in the re call so after being talked to like a child and having the manager insist on showing me how to properly shut a bonnet we drove home and I hopped on Facebook and asked Hyundai I don’t care if this was correct, next day I get a call from the dealership in Burnie as our car was indeed in the re-call.
After this my wife lost all faith in this vehicle, turns out it was the secondary catch that had also been giving problems, imagine that happening at 110ks on the highway with the kids in the car, she would not drive it again.
On top of all this we had the leather on the seats bubble up and need replacing twice, the transfer case seal leaked and had to be replaced, at random times we would find the electric hatch wide open, the auto sensing feature would not work from day one, in the end I had to convince the service guy that our Highlander actually had that feature, he actually drove another one up to show us it didn’t, he was quite pleased when we tried walking up to the back of the car and it didn’t do it on this one either, that is untill I showed him how to turn the feature on on the in dash menu, in the end I discovered that when they fit towbars it’s easy to unclip the sensor which after a tirade from the same guy about googling problems he then climbed under and found the sensor unclipped.
I do have a full list here somewhwer but I think this gives a pretty good idea of our experience with Hyundai.

4. All I expected from Hyundai was a decent car for the price, even after a face to face meeting with one of the rep’s it was very obvious they simply don’t give a damn.
Why on earth you would install a sound system that’s not as good as a base model in a so called top of the line vehicle defies belief,

In the end we traded it in on a used Toyota Hilux, no where near as many features but it is such a relief to have a nice simple vehicle, having said that Toyota pride themselves on how basic the Hilux is yet the sound system is brilliant, exactly what would have expected from the Highlander, plenty of volume, great bass plus it has the Toyotalink system for pandora AND voice recognition PLUS a CD player.

I have bought Mazda’s, Honda’s and Suzuki’s but never have I been treated as badly as I was during my Hyundai experience, the sense of relief is worth far more than the changeover price.

Here’s the problem that Hyundai Australia has. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are quickly becoming the standard in cars everywhere. Consumers want this functionality in their cars, and many other manufacturers are offering upgrades for free or for a fee so that a portion of their existing owners can get this functionality. Now they can’t update everyone because the infotainment systems in older cars may not support that functionality. Owners get that. But to not even try really rubs owners the wrong way. Take the example of Kia Canada who is offering up these upgrades for a fee for vehicles going back to 2014 or older in a couple of cases. Or Ford North America who brought this functionality to millions of cars last year for free. If you’re a Hyundai Australia owner, you have to see that and feel that you bought the wrong car.

The thing is by not even trying to bring this functionality to existing owners, paid or free, risks this sort of backlash as the car company will be perceived rightly or wrongly as not caring about their customers. It also likely doesn’t help that Hyundai Australia’s dealer base seems to be sending one message (that people will get these upgrades as per the screenshots above) and Hyundai Australia corporate is sending a radically different message. While this isn’t a United Airlines scale of PR disaster, this issue isn’t going to help Hyundai Australia sell cars.

I will continue to track this as I strongly suspect that things are about to heat up down under.