Archive for the Products Category

Review: 2016 15″ MacBook Pro

Posted in Products with tags on January 9, 2017 by itnerd

I don’t think that Apple has put out a product that has attracted so much negative press as the 2016 MacBook ProIt’s ports force you to live what has become known as “the dongle life”, it is apparently short on battery life, and it’s more expensive. So I managed to get my hands on one for a week to see if all of this is true or not. 

The model that I got was the 15″ MacBook Pro. It came out of the box with these specs:

  • 15.4-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology and 2880-by-1800 resolution

  • 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz

  • 16GB of RAM (which is not upgradable)
  • 256GB SSD (which is not upgradable)
  • Radeon Pro 450 with 2GB of memory and Intel HD Graphics 530

  • Four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports
  • 802.11ac WiFi and Bluetooth 4.2

All of this sounds pretty decent. And it comes in a package that is thinner and lighter than the 2015 MacBook Pro that I currently own. But in my week with the 2016 MacBook Pro, I find that I have to give up a lot or seriously make changes to my workflow if ever wanted to use it as my daily driver. For example, there’s no SD card slot. That’s an epic fail as this is a “pro” machine, and many pro users need an SD card slot to transfer video and/or pictures to their MacBook Pros for editing purposes. So to do that here, I’d need a SD card adapter. Now I know that Apple really wanted to make this laptop thin. But seriously, adding an SD card slot doesn’t add bulk.

Pro users also typically use external monitors to do editing. This despite the fact that the built in display that comes with the 2016 MacBook Pro is absolutely outstanding. Thus you need another dongle for that. In fact you need a lot of dongles that are of the USB-C variety as you will not be able to use any Thunderbolt 2 dongles that you might own. You’ll grumble and complain. But you’ll buy them and get over it. Plus, in a couple of years, USB-C will likely be the standard and this will not be an issue. But today is not that day which will be frustrating for users of this MacBook Pro.

Another thing that was really puzzling was the lack of a MagSafe adapter. The fact is that MagSafe adapters are designed to disconnect if the cables are tugged, saving your expensive Mac from flying across the room. It’s omission and replacement with USB-C while understandable on one hand, is something that is going to cost users money in the long run in the form of broken laptops that could have been saved by a MagSafe adapter.

Now there are some things that are cool. Touch ID is one thing that is included with this MacBook Pro and I loved having it. You can use it to unlock your Mac if it is already booted, or to purchase things using Apple Pay. Then there’s the touch bar which I was skeptical of at first, but I loved having. It replaced the function keys and it also gives you a dedicated Siri button too. I suspect that as developers exploit the capabilities of the touch bar, it will become even more useful. The rest of the keyboard feels very comfortable. In fact it was more comfortable than the keyboard on my 2015 MacBook Pro.

Performance was mixed. While I found that I could edit 4K video with ease, opening 15 browser tabs in Safari could make it stumble. That was very odd to me. The other thing was the battery life. When I set up the MacBook Pro, I let it sit for a couple of days as per this Apple support document and then used it as my daily driver. I used it to answer e-mail, use Microsoft Office and write blog posts which are the typical things that I did while on battery on my 2015 MacBook Pro. I never got more than 6 hours of battery life. Apple promises 10 hours which is one hell of a difference that previous MacBook Pro users will notice immediately. In my case, If this was my 2015 MacBook Pro I would get around 7 to 8 hours which is close to the 9 hours that Apple promised on that notebook doing exactly the same things that I tried on the 2o16 model. And that is the biggest reason that I didn’t plunk down my credit card to get one and decided instead to hold on to my 2015 MacBook Pro.

So, what’s my bottom line? It’s thinner, lighter, and has an outstanding display. You’ll get over having to live “the dongle life.” But it’s mixed performance from a power perspective, the lack of an SD card slot, and it’s rather disappointing battery life make it difficult to recommend. I’d say that you should skip this iteration of the MacBook Pro until Apple gets these issues sorted so that it deserves you spending your hard earned money on it.

 

Review: Matias Quiet Pro Keyboard

Posted in Products with tags on January 4, 2017 by itnerd

I grew up learning how to type on a real typewriter. Then when PCs came out, their keyboards felt like typewriters when you typed on them because they gave real feedback when you typed on them. Then that changed with the latest Apple keyboards which do not come close to feeling like a keyboard that I was used to. So I have had to make due and adapt to that as best as I could. But I could never really feel comfortable with them no matter how much time I spent with them.

That changed when I discovered the Matias line of keyboards. They had a reputation of making keyboards with high quality mechanical switches that feel like what I was used to. I went up to their office which is located just north of Toronto and had a look at what they had to offer and settled on the Quiet Pro Keyboard for Mac. Though, I will note that they also make a version for PC

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It’s a solidly built full size keyboard with a plastic housing and a very long USB cable to enable you to place the keyboard wherever you need it without needing to resort to extension cables. It also is heavy and feels like a quality product. 

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On each side of the top part of the keyboard is a USB 2 port which is similar to what Apple offers in their wired keyboards. USB 3 support would have been nice, but it’s intended for wired mice and USB sticks, so USB 2 is more than acceptable.

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There’s also a third USB 2 port on the back. That’s handy, and something that’s missing from Apple keyboards.

The key point of the Quiet Pro keyboard is that you get tactile feedback while not annoying those around you. The ultimate win win as far as I am concerned. I really like the feel of it and felt right at home immediately. Another thing that helps me feel right at home is the fact that it is sclupted so that it feels really great and makes it easy to type and keep my fingers in a natural position. But a cool key feature is that it has anti-ghosting circuitry. What is ghosting? Most keyboards allow only a few keys to be pressed at once, so they can’t keep up with very fast typists. The net result is that you end up with letters missing from what you actually typed. This is called ghosting. I type at 60 words a minute so this is a big plus for me. 

Now a quality keyboard like this doesn’t come cheap. It’s $150 CDN. But well worth every penny if you know how to type and you want a quality keyboard. If that’s you, consider this keyboard a must have.

 

Review: Linksys Velop

Posted in Products with tags on January 3, 2017 by itnerd

Let’s say you have a large home and need to have WiFi accessible everywhere. You likely need to either cover your home in WiFi range extenders, which may or may not help you get WiFi where you need it, or accept that you will have dead spots in your home. Or let’s say that you have my use case which is a condo with thick concrete walls. They play havoc with WiFi as I get amazing speeds in my bedroom and den, but significantly lower speeds in my living room and on my balcony. In either case, getting top notch speeds via WiFi is a problem. Linksys now has a solution for you called Velop.

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Here’s a Velop node. It doesn’t look like WiFi gear does it? You could actually put it on a shelf and nobody would have a clue what it is.

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Here’s the back side of the Velop unit. There’s a lot of holes for ventilation which no doubt will help to keep it cool.

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Underneath you get a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports. You can plug in your wired gear into them, or plug in your cable and DSL modem into one of them. If you look at the bottom right corner, you can route your cables through there to keep things neat and tidy.

Here’s the deal. Linksys calls this “Whole Home WiFi”. By that they mean that this isn’t a router or a range extender. It’s basically a new category of networking gear that combines both into one product. I got three of these which I was able to create what is called a “mesh network.” In short, the Velop nodes can connect to each other over wired or wireless links, and will choose the best path to route data between a client and the internet. If a node loses connection to another node, the remaining nodes will self-heal and re-establish internet connection through other nodes in the network. Besides that, no matter where you are in your home, you can move freely between each node’s coverage area and maintain a stable, uninterrupted connection. And you don’t have to worry about managing them individually as they all communicate with each other to ensure that all settings are synced.

Inside each Velop node, you get the following:

  • Quad Core ARM Cortex A7 CPU
  • 4GB of flash storage and 512 GB of DDR-3 RAM
  • Three 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi radios (one 2.4 GHz and two 5 GHz) to
    balance the wireless workload.
  • MU-MIMO: For devices that support this standard, they will operate with greater efficiency.
  • Beamforming support.  This precisely adjusts, steers and monitors the direction and shape of Wi-Fi signals for better performance with any wireless device. Client devices that support explicit beamforming will see even greater speed and range.
  • Six internal antennas
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE. We’ll get to why that’s there in a second.

This isn’t low end hardware by any means.

I managed to set up a three node Velop system in my condo in under 30 minutes. Here’s what I had to do:

  1. I plugged in my cable modem into the first Velop node via Ethernet and plugged it into AC Power.
  2. I installed the Linkys Smart WiFi app on my iPhone.
  3. The Linkys Smart WiFi app was able to find it via Bluetooth 4.0 LE and walk me through the setup which included naming my network and making sure my Internet worked. It then asked me where the Velop node was physically located. In my case, it was in my living room.
  4. It then offered to add a second Velop node. I did so and upon finding it, the Velop note automatically setup onto my network. It then asked me where this node was located. In this case, it was in my den. I then plugged in my NAS box into the Ethernet port.
  5. I repeated step 4 with the third Velop node which was in my bedroom. I then plugged in my VoIP phone into the Ethernet port.
  6. Done. Declare victory and have a beer.

You can only set up the Velop system via the Linkys Smart WiFi iOS or Android apps. If you want to use the Linkys Smart WiFi website, you’re out of luck. I must admit that I prefer the website to the app as from my experience, I can do a lot more via the website in terms of tweaking the configuration of a Linksys router to the way I want it, plus rebooting it if you have to. But other than that gripe, I really had no issues with the setup process as it was easy.

Now the next question is how fast is the Velop. Fortunately the Linkys Smart WiFi app has a built in speed test that uses OOKLA’s speed test technology that tests the Velop from the Velop itself. That in theory should give you a very accurate speed test result. This is what I got via my gigabit connection to the Internet:

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Now, this isn’t as fast as I have gotten in the past as my Linksys AC5400 WiFi router consistently got into the low 900 Mbps range for a downstream connection. But it is a result that I will not complain about. In terms of the quality of the WiFi, I was able to get excellent coverage across my condo thanks to the fact that I was able place each node in places where they could do the most good. Thus I was able to get full signal strength in places that never had anything close to that before. On that front, the Velop is an #EpicWin.

There is one thing that I noted. None of the MacBook Pros that I used for testing never connected to the Velop above 867 Mbps as per this:

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I was able to replicate this result on a PC with an 802.11ac card as well. By contrast, the Linksys AC5400 was able to hit a Tx rate of 1300 Mbps as long as you were in the same room as the router or near enough to it. I believe that this is likely caused by a combination of having to work in an environment where the Velop nodes had to compete for channel space with other WiFi gear, not to mention cordless phones and baby monitors. Such as my condo development which may have dozens of these things in a small space. I confirmed this by using the Linksys Smart WiFi app Channel Finder function to optimize the performance of the Velop to get this result. Thus a less crowded environment may yield better results. Handoffs between each node was seamless. And general usage of the Internet seemed fine. The only thing that I noticed in the way of abnormalities was that when I played Team Fortress 2 where lag was present. The lag only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough to affect my ability to pwn the competition. In fact, when the lag disappeared, I was typically pwned by the competition. Again, I attribute this to the crowded wireless environment that the Velop has to operate in as I have seen the same behavior with the Linksys AC5400 router. One of the things that I am planning on doing is doing a test in a environment that has less wireless gear for it to compete against to see how well the Velop does. Watch for that in the coming weeks.

Velop also supports Amazon Alexa. While I did not test this as I do not have an Amazon Alexa, this sounds intriguing as it would allow you to do things like enable guest WiFi on the fly without having to open the Linksys Smart WiFi app to do it. That’s not only a time saver, but it lowers the complexity of managing Velop.

Gripes? Only one. The Velop nodes have a light at the top of them that can fill a room because it is so bright. That means if you drop one of these nodes in a bedroom, you’ll get a blue glow that will make it difficult to sleep. Now other Linksys hardware has the ability to disable the lights on their routers to avoid this. But you can’t seem to do this with the Velop. Hopefully Linksys adds that functionality in the form of a software or firmware update.

The Velop comes in one, two and three node units. That allows you to buy the number of nodes that fit your use case. For example, three units will cover 6000 square feet of real estate. Conversely, you could get away with a single node for an apartment. Maybe two if you have my use case. A three pack will go for $520 USD. A two pack will go for $370 USD. Finally a single Velop node will go for $199. If you need to cover your entire home with WiFi in a way that is easy to set up and gives you good performance, the Linksys Velop is very much worth looking at as it covers all of these bases with ease.

 

 

 

Review: Babbel

Posted in Products with tags on December 12, 2016 by itnerd

By Ms. IT Nerd

Have you ever wanted to learn another language for work, to talk to your in-laws, to connect with the local people in another country or to learn for the joy of learning? For me it was the desire to learn French on my own schedule so that I can converse with Francophone speaking people when I travelled to French speaking cities of Canada such as Quebec City or any other French-speaking country in the world.

Why Babbel? The idea of learning in the privacy of my own home on my schedule was very appealing to me as I am still have memories from my experience in high school French class. Babbel offers instruction in many languages: German, English, Turkish, Italian, Portuguese, Indonesian, Dutch, French, Spanish, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian Polish and Russian.

From the first lesson I can tell that the Babbel language program is designed for all ages with different learning styles that can be self-directed at times. It is an intuitive program each lesson within the course starts off with pronunciation with pictures then builds on it with grammar and along the way provides you with tips and setting you up slowly to conversational level French. I notice on the app it allows you to practice a phrase indefinitely if you have voice recognition turned on (which I highly recommend) then you can have it correct your pronunciation until you get it right. However, when I use my laptop and login via the Internet Babbel will only allow you a finite number of tries before you are move on to the next phrase or word. While I may be frustrated at times, Babbel does a good job of not only teaching pronunciation, but also corrects you on your grammar and spelling. Having said that, Babbel does an excellent job at bookmarking your spot from your desktop to mobile phone app as it’s all under your account.

One thing I wish was for Babbel to have a rewind button while you are in the middle of a lesson. While Babbel will repeat a phrase on the screen it does not allow you to go back to a previous screen within a lesson unless you are willing to start over. Another item on my wish list (after all this is the holiday season) would be for Babbel to have a chart of verbs in a similar way they have a running list of vocabulary of words that I have already learned. Finally, for any future updates Babbel a value-add would be to provide users with an explanation as to why they are wrong. Currently, it will beep and show the correction but I am slow sometimes and I have to look at the correct answer closely and reason out the various reason I was wrong as there could be a variety of reasons such as mis-spelled by one letter, I forgot part of a phrase, I used the wrong feminine or masculine form or plural or apostrophe, or I was missing an article in a sentence.

Babbel pricing is subscription based and can be viewed here. I enjoyed learning again with Babbel it’s intuitive and it’s easy to get started and use. Compared to other options it’s reasonably priced and more convenient than an in-person classes.

 

Review: Netatmo Healthy Home Coach

Posted in Products with tags on November 28, 2016 by itnerd

There’s a saying: Your home is your castle. Part of making your castle is to figure out what you have to do to make it comfortable. You can take the guesswork out of how to make it comfortable by using tech to do so. In my case, I will be using the Netatmo Healthy Home Coach figure out how healthy my condo is. Here’s what it looks like.

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If you’ve seen my review of the Netatmo Welcome camera, it looks similar to the Welcome. But it isn’t a camera. It contains sensors to measure temperature, humidity, noise and air quality in the form of CO2 and connects to your smartphone or tablet via WiFi. The ideal is that by measuring these, it can help you have a healthier home. That sounds great in theory. Let’s see how it works in practise.

Setup was almost trivial. You plug it in, download the Home Coach app which is available for iOS and Android, and follow the on screen instructions. That’s where I ran into a few snags. First, the app uses the whatever WiFi network your smartphone is on. In my case, I had my iPhone on a 5Ghz WiFi network. However the device didn’t see my 5Ghz WiFi network. Instead, I had to pick my 2.4Ghz network from a list of networks that it saw. That wasn’t a big deal. But what was a big deal was the fact that when I tried to set it up with Apple Homekit, I ran into problems. First, when it tried to set it up in HomeKit, it gave an error about not being able to sync to the cloud. I didn’t really understand what the error was until I decided to open the HomeKit app, which in turn made me turn on iCloud KeyChain. Once I did that, I was able to get past that problem. That led me to the next problem which was that once I gave a name for my condo (which I unimaginatively called it “My Home”) and gave it a name for the room that the Healthy Home Coach was located in (which was the “Bedroom”), it asked me to turn the Heathy Home Coach over to scan a 2D bar code after click next. But nothing happened when I clicked on next. That confused me for a bit until I closed the HomeKit app. Once I did that, I was able to scan the bar code. From there I had to choose to set it up for an asthmatic, a baby, or for the whole family (I chose the whole family). That completed the setup. But clearly there’s some bugs on the iOS app that they need to iron out.

Once it’s set up, here’s what the app looks like:

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If you click on each item, you see something like this which explains what the item is, why it is important, and what you can do to improve things:

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So it looks like I am good on the CO2 front. You can track historical data as well. That way you can see when something changes and perhaps that would give you a clue as to why it changed. The app also supports multiple Healthy Home Coach units so that you can put one in each room in your home and get a holistic view of your home.

So that you’re not constantly checking the app, The Healthy Home Coach and receive notifications when any of the different measurements aren’t at the right level. That gives you the ability to tweak things in your home to make things better. Because I was testing this on an iPhone, I utilized the fact that The Healthy Home Coach is HomeKit compatible. Thus you can use the HomeKit app to see the status of whatever room The Healthy Home Coach is in:

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 It also allowed me to ask Siri questions:IMG_0013.PNG

But why HomeKit compatibility really matters is that beyond cool Siri party tricks is that you can use The Healthy Home Coach to drive the behavior of other HomeKit compatible devices such as thermostats and fans. That way a reading of high CO2 will trigger the fans to come on. Or a radical change in temperature will result in the thermostat adjusting the temperature accordingly.

The big question is, did it do anything to help to make my condo more comfortable. Well, it did reveal is the bedroom could be better on the humidity front. Thanks to the data from using this for a few days, it’s convinced my wife and I that maybe we need to look at a humidifier for that room. We’re also going to see what we can do about ventilation as CO2 levels in the bedroom hovered below 900 ppm which while still good, is a bit higher than we’d like it. We did lower the temperature by a degree as it was as high as 23.5 Celsius which is outside of where it should be. By doing those things, maybe it will help to give my wife and I a better nights sleep.

The Netatmo Healthy Home Coach is $119 CDN. Check it out if you want to gain insight into how healthy your home is and how you can improve your comfort in it.

 

 

 

Review: Leef iBridge 3

Posted in Products with tags on November 24, 2016 by itnerd

My last few iPhones have been 16GB models. That eventually presented me with a problem. I was constantly running out of space. After all, unlike many Android phones, you cannot add additional storage to your iPhone. I had to make decisions on what I could store on it and that was kind of difficult as to get content on and off of it on the fly wasn’t possible. Thus, I had to make decisions up front on what I wanted on my iPhone. At the time, I wish had something like the Leef iBridge 3 to help me manage what was on my iPhone. Here’s what the iBridge 3 looks like:

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On the left is the iBridge 3. It comes in capacities from 16GB all the way up to 256GB. On the left carrying case for it. The iBridge 3 has a Lightning connector at one end to plug into your iPhone or iPad and a USB 3 connector at the other end. You need the iBridge 3 app that’s available at the app store to move content on and off the device to your iOS device. The app is very simple to use as illustrated by this:

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Here’s what each function does:

  • Transfer Photos: This allows you to move photos on and off your iDevice.
  • Leef Camera: This offers a simple camera function that allows you to take photos on your iPhone or iPad which are saved directly to the iBridge rather than the internal device memory.
  • Media: You can use this to move music, movies and the like on and off your iDevice.
  • Manage Files: This is a file manager that allows you organize files on the iBridge 3.

For security purposes, you can assign a PIN code or use Touch ID to lock it down. There’s one other thing. Users can then set up an automatic backup in the settings that allows you to back up photos and contacts. That gives you a means to back up your iOS device easily. Alternately you can plug the USB 3 end of the iBridge 3 into your Mac or PC and move files on and off it as iBridge 3 is recognized as a standard USB drive. All of this can be done easily by novices and power users alike. I really didn’t find anything negative to say about the iBridge 3. It works as advertised and works well. 

If you are looking for a device to free up storage space on your iOS device, and backup your data then I recommend the iBridge 3. It is available from http://www.leefco.com in sizes from 16GB at a cost of $49.99 USD to 256GB at a cost of $399.99 USD. Check it out if you are challenged for space on your iPhone or iPad. 

Review: Letgo

Posted in Products with tags on November 14, 2016 by itnerd

Everyone has stuff that they want to get rid of. And to do so, you have lots of options. A garage sale, Craigslist, and eBay just to name a few. But a new option has just popped up in Canada called Letgo. It’s a mobile phone application that is available for iOS and Android that allows you to not only easily sell the stuff that you don’t want, but it also allows buyers to easily contact you. The app also leverages the location services in your smartphone to help you to find items that you’re looking for in your area. Best of all, it is free to both sellers and buyers and the company doesn’t take a percentage of the sale from either party. I test drove the Android version of this app over the weekend to see if is truly another option for those who want to buy and sell items privately.

For sellers, all you do to get an item listed is the following:

  1. Download the app
  2. Create a profile and tap the Camera icon. (You can have multiple photos for each item that you list)
  3. Select a picture from your gallery or take a featured photo that clearly shows the item.
  4. Set a reasonable price or leave it as negotiable and tap the “Done” button.
  5. To add a title, a description or a category, tap “Add more details”.

It is literally that straightforward and I was able to get several items online very quickly. Not only that, I got responses to everything that I posted well within 24 hours. Though I will note that people on Letgo appear to be more inclined to want to haggle about what they want to pay more than on Craigslist or similar classified services.

When it comes to buyers, all they have to do is explore the different categories or browse the home page for interesting items. When you see something you like, tap the item and start a chat with the seller by tapping the chat button at the bottom of the item’s photo.The chat is an instant message style chat and it’s a quick as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or any other instant message system. Alternately, you can tap the “Search” icon and enter the name of the product you want to buy. I did some test searches and everything from smartphones to cars were not only available for sale, but easy to find.

Now while this is a smartphone app, they do have a website that you can log into and do most things that the smartphone app does with the exception of post items for sale. That’s a bit of a #fail as there is a use case for people who may want to use photos that are on their computer rather than their smartphone. Another possible #Fail is the fact that the app shows an approximate location of where the seller is with no option to not show a location. The reason why I consider that to be a possible #fail is due to the fact that there are likely some out there who would feel that displaying even an approximate location is problematic. Thus there should be some means to control that in my opinion.

Letgo is available now in Canada and is worth a try to sell items that are occupying space in your home and to find second hand items that you’re looking for in your area. It’s easy to use and is an alternative to the usual online classified services and eBay. Just make sure you’re using it from an iOS or Android device.