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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.

 

Review: 2017 Mazda3 Sport GT – Part 5

Posted in Products with tags on November 11, 2016 by itnerd

So I’ve come to the end of the review of the Mazda3 Sport GT. First, let me tie up some loose ends. At the end of my week with it, I registered an impressive 7.2 L/100KM in mixed city and highway driving, a lot of which was in rush hour and stop and go traffic. But it also included an overnight trip to Algonquin Park. Clearly Mazda’s SkyActiv technology works to save you gas. But you still get a car that is excellent on the highway and handles even better than previous iterations thanks to G-Vectoring Control.

The Mazda3 Sport starts at $24,695 and as tested goes for $27,900. Speaking of which, you’ll want to cross shop it with the Ford Focus, the VW Golf, the Toyota Corolla IM, the Chevy Cruze Hatchback, and Hyundai Elantra GT to name a few contenders in a crowded field. 

Here’s why you need to consider the Mazda3. You’re getting a hatchback that is sporty, frugal on gas, roomy, loaded with technology, and very luxurious in the GT trim level. All at a price that won’t break the bank. If you’re in the market for a compact hatchback, the Mazda3 Sport has to be on your list.

Review: 2017 Mazda3 Sport GT – Part 4

Posted in Products with tags on November 10, 2016 by itnerd

If you’re looking for technology in the 2017 Mazda3 Sport GT, there’s a lot of it. Let’s start with the safety technology:

  • Blind Spot Monitoring: This system keeps an eye out for cars in your blind spots so that you don’t hit them when changing lanes. It works well as the area of detection was large enough to keep me safe, but not so large that it created false positives.
  • Lane Departure Warning With Lane Keep Assist: If you cross over into another lane, this system will buzz you on either the right or the left side. The buzz really gets your attention I must say. You can also set it to vibrate the steering wheel. However, it has one extra trick, the system will proactively guide the Mazda3 Sport GT back onto its intended path if the system thinks you’re getting out of shape. I found it to work very well during my week with the Mazda3 Sport GT. 
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert: If you back out of a parking space in a busy shopping mall and you have limited visibility to your left and right, you’ll love this system as you will be warned of any cars that cross into your path.
  • Adaptive Front Lighting System and High Beam Control: I wrote about this previously and I have to admit that on some of the back roads that I drive at night, this feature comes in handy. I was always able to see what was in front of me clearly. One thing that I really appreciated was the fact that the Bi-Xenon headlights were very bright.
  • Radar Based Cruise Control: I really liked this feature as you can set the speed you want and the distance that you want to have between yourself and the car in front of you, and you can pretty much let it slow down and speed up depending on the conditions. It’s very handy on long highway drives.
  • Smart City Brake Support: Let’s say that you you do not react in time to a car that panic stops in front of you. This Mazda3 Sport is capable of coming to a stop on it’s own, or slowing down to make the impact less severe. You can get more details on this system here.
  • Rear Backup Camera: The camera is a fisheye camera that has an impressive degree of clarity. You can see anything and everything that is behind you when you’re backing up. One thing to note is that the camera is exposed, so I have to wonder how clear it will be when it is dirty. Another thing to note, there are no backup sensors that warn you of objects that you might hit when backing up. 
  • Mazda Active Driving Display: This is a green piece of plastic that flips up from the dash when you start the car that put various pieces of info in the drivers line of sight. This iteration projects vehicle speed, chosen cruise-control speed, information from the navigation system (including turn-by-turn directions, distance and lane guidance) as well as notifications for the blind spot monitoring system, lane departure warning system, and road signs onto the windscreen. All of this information is within the line of sight of the driver, which means you never have to look away from the road. That’s why I consider it to be a piece of safety tech. Once I tweaked my seat position as well as the position of the display, I found it to be extremely useful.
  • You get anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, and electronic brake force distribution. 
  • Finally, you get dual front air bags, dual front side air bags and dual side air curtains.

The GT trim level gives you a proximity key with push button start. Thus all you have to do is press a button on the driver’s door handle. Press it and the car will unlock. Get in, hit the start/stop button and drive away. One nice touch is that the start/stop button will light up with a green light if you press the brake pedal to start. That’s a nice touch to remind you to press the brake pedal to start the car. When you’ve reached your destination, press the start/stop button to turn off the car. Then get out of the car, close the door and walk away. You’ll hear two beeps. One after you close the door and one about 10 seconds later. When you hear both, the car is locked. You never need to pull out the key fob to do any of this. But the key fob does have the ability to lock and unlock the doors as well as pop the trunk, plus it has the ever useful panic button. As an added bonus, it has a backup key inside the key fob should you need it.

The best piece of technology that is in the Mazda3 Sport is the inclusion of Mazda Connect. The combination of the 7″ touchscreen  and the HMI (Human Machine Interface) Commander Switch gives the driver a easy to learn, easy to use infotainment system. I wrote about it in detail here. Because I was testing the ZTE Axon 7 Android smartphone, I was able to try out the Mazda Connect’s abiltiy to receive text messages (and have them read to you) and respond with pre-canned responses. Now, while I did find that this was cool, I can see how this might also be distracting. I would only use this once I was fully comfortable with how it worked. Another point to note that this is a feature that works only on the Android OS. If Mazda could get this to work on iOS, that would be really cool. 

TheMazda3 Sport GT has an 9 speaker Bose sound system that I have to admit that regardless where I happened to be sitting, the sound was excellent as the highs and lows were perfect and the audio was well balanced. Listening to David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Moby, and U2 was very cool. Phone calls were clear on both ends of the conversation as well. Listening from an iPhone and from the ZTE Axon 7 worked perfectly. Plus, there’s a CD player included for those of you who have lots of CDs in your colleciton. 

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.

Review: 2017 Mazda3 Sport GT – Part 3

Posted in Products with tags on November 9, 2016 by itnerd

The 2017 Mazda3 Sport GT has taken a huge step forward in terms of the Interior quality. Let me show you how big of a step forward this is via photos taken with the ZTE Axon 7.

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The door is a great example of this step forward. There’s leather, soft touch material, and very upscale looking metal and plastic which combine to give an upscale feel.

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The driver’s seat is heated and six way adjustable. It was easy for me to find a good driving position. The passenger will have to do all their seat adjustments manually.

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The driver’s footwell has a dead pedal which is great for ensuring comfort on long drives, and above it are the switches for the various electronic overseers.

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The steering wheel is leather wrapped and has redundant controls for the infotainment system as well as controls for the cruise control.

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The gauge cluster is unique. The center gauge has a digital speedometer and an analog tachometer. On the left and right are everything from how much gas you have, your current fuel economy, and what gear you’re in. Along the bottom are various information and warning lights. I have to admit that this arrangement works well as it focus you on the info that you need to see.

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Then there is the Mazda Active Driving Display which places speed, navigation, speed limit signs, and stop signs right in color and in your line of sight. It works really well once you tweak its position. I will talk more about this tomorrow.

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There’s a 7″ touchscreen to allow you to interact with the infotainment system, or in my case, listen to some David Bowie.

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Below that, you have the dual zone HVAC controls, the CD player, and a storage area that is big enough to hold a iPhone 6.

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Here you see a very upscale looking gear shift, HMI Commander Switch for the infotainment system, electronic parking brake, and sport switch. Behind all of that are the cupholders which holds a Venti Starbucks coffee with ease.

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There’s a storage area of decent size which has a 12v outlet and two USB ports for your devices. Plus you get a coin tray.

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You get a decent sized glove box as well as…..

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….. A decent sized sunroof.

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The back seats are comfortable. Two people will fit back here and be comfortable. Three might be a stretch.

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If you don’t need to seat three, you can use the cupholders that are built into the rear seats.

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Seeing as this is a hatchback, you get 572l of space with the seats up…..

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…. And with the seats down, you get 1334l of space.

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And that space makes it easy to go grocery shopping.

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The hatch has a handle to allow you to close it without getting your hands dirty.

Everyone who has been in the Mazda3 Sport commented on the fact that this hatchback felt way more expensive than it was. No squeaks, rattles, or other annoyances were noted during my week with the Mazda3 Sport.

Tomorrow, I will look at the technology in the Mazda3 Sport, and there’s a lot of it for me to cover. Stay tuned for that!

Review: 2017 Mazda3 Sport GT – Part 2

Posted in Products with tags on November 8, 2016 by itnerd

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This is the 2.5l 4 cylinder Skyactiv engine that puts out 184 horsepower and 185 pound feet of torque to the front wheels. It’s mated to a 6 speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted. In a vehicle this size, this is an extremely potent combo as it is very willing to rocket forward whether it is to pass a transport truck, or beat cars off the line. It sounds great when you put your foot down thanks to engine note that sounds sporty without being over the top. And if you want all of this amped up, simply hit the sport mode switch which changes the throttle response, transmission behaviour and engine note all for the better. Steering is heavy and feels similar to many German performance cars and it doesn’t interfere with your ability to feel what the Mazda3 Sport GT is doing underneath you. 

Combine this with really great handling that is enhanced by the addition of G-Vectoring Control for 2017. This works behind the scenes to achieve a smoother, less fatiguing drive for you and your passengers by subtly adjusting engine torque and intentionally optimizing vehicle weight transfer during everyday commutes and spirited drives alike. The result is steering that is more precise and a ride that is more comfortable for drivers and passengers. 

Here’s a video that shows the difference between a Mazda with and without G-Vectoring Control:

Now G-Vectoring Control does make this car more fun to drive for you and your passengers. But I have a real world example of how G-Vectoring Control can be a safety feature. Shortly after picking up the Mazda3 Sport, I drove down highway 404 from Mazda Canada HQ and then merged onto highway 401. Shortly after doing that, I came behind a transport truck that panic stopped in front of me. Now I have taken a variety of driver training courses over the years, and that training kicked in instantly. I looked right and left and found an escape path to the left. I also noted that I had space behind me as well. That allowed me to quickly change lanes to the left while flooring the accelerator to pass the transport truck safely. The thing that I noticed at the time and when I thought about it afterwards is that the Mazda3 Sport is incredibly composed and there was close to zero oversteer or understeer that I noted. That allowed me to put the Mazda3 Sport exactly where I needed it to be. Quite simply, I am a believer in G-Vectoring Control as it worked without question to get out of this situation safely.

Muted road noise is the only thing that I hear, unless I put my foot down of course which results in a nice sounding engine coming through. Fuel economy is absolutely a strong point with the Mazda3 Sport. I am currently getting 7.4l / 100 KM’s and I expect it to get even better as the week goes on.

Part three of this review will cover the interior of the Mazda3 Sport GT which has been improved for 2017. Stay tuned to see how nice it is.