Archive for the Products Category

Review: Urban Armor Gear Leather Watch Strap For Apple Watch

Posted in Products with tags on June 10, 2019 by itnerd

I am jealous of my wife as she’s using the a classy looking yet rugged leather Apple Watch band that I would love to get my hands on. It’s the Urban Armor Gear Leather Watch Strap:

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My wife got her band in brown and the lugs, which have less play that I am used to, give the Apple Watch a bit of a different look.

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One of the unique things about this band is this snap that locks everything into place so that there’s no way the watch will come off your wrist. In her time wearing the band, my wife noted that she didn’t feel that the strap was in any danger of coming off at any time. The strap is made with Italian Leather and intricately hand stitched. You can feel the quality of the leather and smell it as well. My wife made the comment that her co-workers thought it smelled like cuban cigars and they thought that it was a quality product. As you can see in this picture, it has a begun to patina which is a sign of a quality leather band. That’s something that my wife’s co-workers picked up on as well. All the branding is discreet and the band looks very upscale which makes it great for almost any situation. In summary, it’s a great looking and functional band that my wife loves wearing.

The Urban Armor Gear Leather Watch Strap goes for $95 and comes in black and brown. Urban Armor Gear has a great band on its hands. Now I have to get my hands on one as my wife can’t be the only one to have a good quality leather Apple Watch band

 

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Review: Tinkering Labs’ Electric Motors Catalyst

Posted in Products with tags on June 5, 2019 by itnerd

Getting kids into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) at an early age is important because careers in STEM are going to be the future for the next generation. Which is why when Tinkering Labs’ came to me to pitch a review of their Electric Motors Catalyst tinkering kit, I jumped at the chance. 

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In front of you is the complete kit which is comprised of:

  • 2 Electric Motors with Detachable Wires
  • 1 Battery Pack with Switch
  • 2 AA Batteries
  • 1 Wooden Chassis
  • 12 Wooden Wheels in 6 Sizes
  • 6 Wooden Connectors in 3 Shapes
  • 2 Metal Axles
  • 4 Metal L-Brackets
  • 10 Small Bolts with Wing Nuts
  • 2 Metal Springs
  • 12 Bushings for Motor and Axle Connections
  • 12 Rubber Bands
  • 1 Pair of Safety Glasses, Child Size
  • 3 Washable Markers
  • 1 Large 3-Foot Wide Paper Work Surface
  • 1 Full-Size Phillips Head Screwdriver
  • 1 Cloth Storage Bag
  • 1 Clear-Top Metal Hardware Tin
  • Printed Tips & Guides
  • 10 Challenge Cards
  • 1 Clear Challenge Card Holder
  • 1 Safety Tips Card
  • 1 22-Page Building Techniques Booklet

That’s quite a lot of stuff. The whole idea behind this kit is that challenges the problem solving skills of kids that are 8 or thereabouts. Not only that it challenges their creativity and ability to invent. All within a STEM framework. There are 10 challenge cards that give the child a series of challenges that they have to build. That allows them to understand how this kit works so that they can then use their imagination to build whatever they want.

Now this all sounds great. But I actually needed to validate this. Thus I enlisted the help of an 11 year old neighbor named Zavier who I knew would be able to tell me what was good and what wasn’t good about this kit from the perspective of the target audience of this kit. Here’s his feedback:

I have been playing and tinkering around with the Electric Motors Catalyst. All around this is a very fun kit. It is very fun and easy to use. Some challenges do arise even though the instructions for the challenge cards help, they aren’t descriptive enough. With a little more detail they would be very helpful. I like how there are many different pieces that do many things. There is also a lot of room for creativity which is nice. This kit is very fun and helpful to learn how to engineer things. This kit is really good and I would definitely recommend it!

Zavier has a future in product reviews quite clearly as while he did have one negative, everything else was positive. One other thing that is positive is that Zavier is still using this over two weeks after I gave it to him to review. That implies that this isn’t going to be something that a child tries out and then quickly forgets about. Which is great for parents as anything they purchase for their children should have long term value.

The Electric Motors Catalyst tinkering kit is available on their site ($55 USD) and on Amazon ($59 USD) where it is an Amazon Choice. It gets the seal of approval from Zavier. Which means it gets my seal of approval because it engages kids and helps them to start down the road to being interested in STEM. 

Review: Urban Armor Gear Active Watch Strap

Posted in Products with tags on June 3, 2019 by itnerd

Thanks to the folks at Urban Armor Gear, I’ve found the best Apple Watch strap for those who lead active lifestyles. And it’s called the Urban Armor Gear Active Watch Strap.

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It’s a two piece band made of high strength nylon and it has a large amount of Velcro as well as a lot of stainless steel for the lugs and one section of the band.

57cmjNIiTvaTrC6jJbwoLQ I am going to focus in on the lugs for a second. They have very minimal play and they are on the large side which gives the Apple Watch a bit of a different look.

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Most of the branding on the strap is seen below. The only other branding is on the buckle. And if you are wondering what the ISO 22810 means on the logo that’s on the strap, here’s a quick description from here:

ISO 22810 defines no minimum standard for water resistance; instead, it presents testing criteria for the widest possible practical range for non-dive watches, and also makes it the manufacturer’s responsibility for stating “warranty conditions and precautions to be taken to maintain the quality of the watch over an extended period of time.” Rather than requiring any tests, it provides testing procedures which it is then the manufacturer’s responsibility to define at the production stage “if he wishes to be able to guarantee that they satisfy the requirements of the International Standard.” 

This is a reference to the ability of the Apple Watch Series 4 to survive in 50 meters of water during activities like swimming and the like as described here.

So, when my wife and I got our respective straps from UAG, we wondered how to test them. Our first test was to do a 50 KM training ride our our bikes which would help to prepare us for our upcoming fundraising ride later in June which I have written about previously. The strap felt very secure and stable on our wrists during the two hours on the bike and it was very comfortable. But my wife took it to the next level by taking it to her CrossFit gym and did a full workout involving weights, apparatus, and doing things like burpees and the like. Again, there were no issues as according to her. But again my wife took it to the next level beyond that. She signed up for an obstacle trail race called Rugged Maniac. Here’s how the organizers describe it:

our 3-mile course packed with 20+ epic obstacles designed to both challenge and thrill Maniacs of all fitness levels, from couch potatoes to marathoners.  

What they don’t say is it also has mud that deep enough to suck your shoes off and water deep enough to be interesting. And there was a fire pit too. If there was one test that would really highlight the strengths and weaknesses of this band, this would be it. When she lined up in the start pen, a lot of people thought that she was nuts for wearing an Apple Watch for something like this. Even she was skeptical given that this wasn’t exactly the best environment for an Apple Watch even though it was water resistant. But she ran the three miles in under 84 minutes, and had to overcome stuff like this:HhEWAW1gTL+T1+ld4d090Q

And this:

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And this:

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And here’s what her Apple Watch with the UAG Active Watch Strap looked like at the end of the event:

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The Apple Watch was a mess and it took me over half an hour to clean it. The UAG Active Watch Strap was a mess too. But I solved that by throwing it in the washer. As for the Apple Watch, it was in working order as well. According to my wife the Apple Watch was solid on her wrist the entire time and she never felt it was going to come off her wrist. Clearly if this band can survive this, it will survive anything.

Gripes? In the case of my wife, she did comment that on her slender arms and on her 40mm Apple Watch, the band can look overwhelming. In my case, a reflective option like the Apple Nike band would be welcome. But neither of those are deal breakers in any way as this is a great Apple Watch strap overall.

The Urban Armor Gear Active Watch Strap goes for $83 CDN on their website. It can clearly survive anything we threw at it, which means that it will survive your active lifestyle with ease.

Review: ASUS Chromebook Flip C434

Posted in Products with tags on May 23, 2019 by itnerd

I have a different sort of ASUS notebook to review. It’s a Chromebook which means it runs the Chrome OS. It also can be run as a notebook or a tablet. And it feels like one of the more upscale offerings from ASUS. It’s the ASUS Chromebook Flip C434:

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Here it is in notebook mode. The first thing you’ll notice when you open it is the 14″ barely-there bezels that surround the display. It has a 87% screen to body ratio which means you get a whole lot of screen real estate to work with. It is a 1080p touch screen, which is fairly bright and vivid.

The keyboard is also a huge plus. In an age where Apple notebooks have horrible keyboards due to their lack of feedback and reliability, it is refreshing to use a keyboard that has excellent feel. I can’t speak to the reliability, but because it uses traditional keyboard switches I expect it to be reliable. The keyboard is also backlit which is handy in dark rooms.

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When you flip it to tablet mode, it makes the Flip C434T usable in environments where a full notebook would be unusable. And you can stand it up like this to make it a hand free media streaming device for example.

Here’s the specs of the review unit that ASUS sent me:

  • Intel Core m3-8100Y processor – 1.1GHz dual-core with Turbo Boost (up to 3.4GHz) and 4MB cache
  • Integrated Intel UHD Graphics 615
  • 14” LED-backlit FHD (1920 x 1080) 16:9 standard display
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 64GB eMMC
  • 802.11 ac WiFi
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • HD Camera
  • 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C (up to 5Gbps)
  • 1 x USB 3.1 Type-A (up to 5Gbps)
  • 1 x microSD card slot
  • 1 x Audio combo jack

All of this is great for running Chrome OS for the most part. I noticed some minor lag when switching between tabs when I opened up 20 tabs at the same time, but the Chromebook Flip C434 did a great job overall. The bottom-firing speakers on the front of the Flip C434 pump out clear sound that’s loud enough to fill a large room. The webcam like most webcams these days is average. In terms of battery life, I got about 9 hours which is more than respectable.

So, the only question is how much does the ASUS Chromebook Flip C434 cost? I found it on Amazon for just over $700 CDN which is a bit pricey for a Chromebook. But the other side of this argument is that if you need a notebook with a lightweight OS and a fair amount of functionality in the box, then this might be an option. The Chromebook Flip C434 is a standout 2-in-1 that gives Mac and Windows users a compelling reason to switch to Chrome instead of grabbing another Windows or Mac laptop.

Review: The Watch Strap Company Mesh Loop

Posted in Products with tags on May 21, 2019 by itnerd

Today I am reviewing the second of the two bands that I got from The Watch Strap Company. You can read yesterday’s review of the The Watch Strap Company Link Bracelet here. And in a unique twist, you’re getting two reviews of their Mesh Loop (their term for the Milanese Loop) for the price of one. The one that I am reviewing is the Black one:

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And my wife is reviewing the Rose Gold one:

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The first thing that we noticed is that the stainless steel that they use is very soft and comfortable to wear. In fact, it’s the best feeling Milanese Loop style Apple Watch we’ve come across with the exception of the Apple Milanese Loop. And even then, the differences if they exist are slight. Like other Milanese Loop style bands, it uses a magnetic clasp band that both my wife and I noted was very strong and stayed in place the entire day. Another thing that we noticed is the lugs have far less play than any other third party band that we’ve tried. That’s a sign that someone took the time and effort to make sure that they were putting out a quality product.

One thing that I should note that this band does have branding, but it is very minimal:

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And another thing to note is that the Rose Gold band actually is the exact color of Rose Gold. We know this because our wedding rings are Rose Gold which gives us a perfect means to judge the color quality:

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On the left of the wedding ring is the Watch Strap Company Mesh Loop. On the right is a Milanese Loop from Amazon that bills itself as being Rose Gold. The Watch Strap Company Mesh Loop is much closer to rose gold than the Amazon sourced loop. My wife also noted that when she wore the Watch Strap Company Mesh Loop, she got a lot of compliments as it made her Apple Watch look very upscale. That was notable because she had worn the one Amazon sourced loop several times in the past and nobody said anything. Read into that what you will.

I’ll also note that the bands seem very durable as one common complaint with the knock off bands that one typically comes across is that the painting or anodizing comes off very easily. Not so here. So far it is proven to be very durable. Especially the black band which with other bands tends to show scratches pretty easily. While I wouldn’t work out with it or anything like that, it does seem to be able to survive the rigors of daily life.

One final note, the box that the bands came in was lined with a felt like material and the band itself was wrapped up very well to protect it during transport. It all felt very high end and premium.

Gripes? We haven’t got any. We both love these bands and would highly recommend them. Though the price may put you off slightly. These bands go for $101.75 CAD which isn’t cheap. But considering that Apple wants $195 CAD for their Milanese Loop, you have to look at it this way. You’re getting something much better than a $20 Amazon knockoff at a price that’s less than what Apple is charging while getting something close to or equal to the quality of the Apple product. That to us is a win and it makes this a very easy recommendation.

 

Review: 2019 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD – Part 5

Posted in Products with tags on May 17, 2019 by itnerd

I’ve come to the end of my review of the 2019 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD and this is a car that was difficult to give back to Mazda Canada. That was due to the fact that for yours truly, this is the perfect car for me. Here’s why:

  • The fact that it is a hatchback gives me a lot of versatility.
  • Because it has AWD it allows me to feel more secure in inclement weather or winter.
  • It sips gas as I registered an outstanding 8.4L / 100 KM which I got in a mix of city roads and highways, not to mention a lot of rush hour traffic. That’s pretty good given that there’s all wheel drive on board which usually impacts fuel economy. Not to mention that I wasn’t exactly driving in a fuel efficient manner. Clearly Mazda has got that part nailed.
  • The Interior is top shelf in every way.
  • The exterior is a head turner.
  • The tech on board is impressive.
  • Finally, because it is a car, it handles exceptionally well.

Thus don’t be surprised if I post something saying that I am now the proud owner of one.

Here’s the bottom line. Mazda clearly put a lot of time and effort to come up with a compact car that will rise up the sales charts. But if you must cross shop it, the only direct competitor that I could come up with was Subaru Impreza as is the only compact car that I can think of that comes with all wheel drive. But the Impreza doesn’t match the interior of the Mazda3 Sport, nor does it match the engine and transmission combo. And when it comes to the usual suspects in the compact car space like the Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, and the like, it’s simply heads and shoulders above those vehicles and everything else in the segment.

The Mazda3 Sport GT AWD goes for $33,295 including freight and taxes. But you can get a Mazda3 Sport for $27,200 to start. Quite frankly, Mazda has a winner on its hands here. If you’re in the market for a compact car, you should consider Mazda3 Sport a must test drive.

Review: 2019 Mazda3 Sport GT AWD – Part 4

Posted in Products with tags on May 16, 2019 by itnerd

If you’re looking for technology in the Mazda3 Sport GT AWD, there’s a lot of it. Some of it which is really different. And some of it is new for 2019.

First let’s start with the driving experience. You get a proximity key with push button start. Thus all you have to do is press a button on the driver’s door handle. Well, it’s not a button. It’s more like a touch sensitive indent on the front door handle. And it took me a while to figure out how to use it because I didn’t read the manual. Specifically:

  • If the car is locked, grabbing the door handle will unlock the door.
  • If the car is unlocked, touching the indent will lock the door.

My challenge came when locking the door as grabbing the handle and touching the indent would not lock the door. Once I figured that out, it became second nature to me.

Once you get in, hit the start/stop button and drive away. When you’ve reached your destination, press the start/stop button to turn off the car. Then get out of the car, touch the indent on the door and walk away. 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 and it has the ever useful panic button. As an added bonus, it has a backup key inside the key fob should you need it. And you can set the car to auto lock if you so desire which will allow you to just walk away from the Mazda3. The car that I had this week was set up that way and it was a very handy feature to have as I never had to think about locking the car.

Let’s go to 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. One cool thing is that unlike a lot of systems which only work when the car is above a certain speed, this system seems to work all the time for an extra level of safety.
  • 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. And it gets really loud if you’re too close to a car and you’re in danger of hitting it.
  • 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.
  • Rear Backup Sensors: The Mazda3 has sensors that help you to revers into a spot without hitting anything. And the Mazda3 is capable of stopping itself if you are about to revers into something.
  • 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 LED 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 Mazda 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 and the camera is insanely clear. One thing to note is that the camera is exposed so that the potential exists for dirt to obscure the camera.
  • You get anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, and electronic brake force distribution. Plus you get hill launch assist which keeps you from rolling backwards when you’re on a hill.
  • Finally, you get dual front air bags, dual front side air bags, dual side air curtains and knee air bags.

The next piece of technology that stood out was this:

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The Mazda Active Driving Display is a heads up display that places everything from speed and blind spot monitoring info, to navigation and warning for the lane monitoring, and how close you are to the car in front of you. On top of that, the car is capable of reading speed limit and stop signs so that it can display them on this heads up display (as is the case here) in color. It works very well with the only thing that I should mention is that polarized driving sunglasses will filter the display out. Thus choose your sunglasses carefully.

But Mazda has a new feature for 2019. Mazda has a new version of Mazda Connect. Here’s a look at the screen which is an all new 8.8″ super sharp widescreen, which for the record is not a touch screen. More on that in a second:

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The interface is clean and easy to understand. As you can see there’s a list of functions that you can scroll through. And it takes one only minutes to figure out. Another feature is that you can set up either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto to pop up automatically when a phone is plugged into the system. That’s a very cool feature as there are some who will just want to use either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto instead of Mazda Connect. And Mazda has fully leveraged the screen real estate for both Apple CarPlay as displayed above or Android Auto.

The screen is not touch sensitive as mentioned earlier so to interact with Mazda Connect, you have to use this:

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This is the HMI (Human Machine Interface) Commander Switch. It’s been redesigned and feels a lot better in the hand and becomes second nature to use after only a few uses. The logic behind forcing you to use the HMI Commander Switch rather than a touch screen is that it is way safer than a touch screen. And I would agree with that as I didn’t realize how distracting a touchscreen in a car is until I started using Mazda Connect. I say that because touchscreen usage while driving takes my attention from the road. But using the HMI Commander Switch for me is far less distracting.

One other thing. this new version of Mazda Connect is fast. It’s fast on startup, it’s fast in terms of navigating it, it’s fast in terms of how the screen responds. It’s just plain fast. I was impressed as it was one of the fastest car infotainment systems that I have ever seen.

Mazda Connect comes with SiriusXM which include the following:

  • More room for song/artist/genre metadata.
  • Album art display.
  • Channel logos on Now Playing and Station List screens.
  • New SiriusXM features: TuneStart, TuneScan, and TuneMix.

On top of that, SiriusXM Traffic Plus is now onboard and it includes the following features:

  • Live Traffic: View traffic flow and incident information directly on the Mazda Navigation map. This feature is available in 20 different Canadian communities. It ties into the on board navigation system to allow it to better route you.
  • Weather: View Forecasts, Radar Maps, and Severe Weather Alerts.
  • Fuel Prices: Find the lowest fuel prices or the closest fuel stations and see the available fuel types.
  • Parking Information: Find parking locations, pricing, and hours of operation.
  • Sports: Follow your favorite teams sports with play-by-play details and game/event schedules.

SiriusXM Traffic Plus is free for five years. This is separate from the three month trial SiriusXM audio subscription.

The only hiccup that I noted with this new version of Mazda Connect was that if I used Apple CarPlay, it would disable the ability fo the Mazda3 to display traffic signs either on the Mazda Active Driving Display or in the instrument cluster. I wondered if this was a bug or was it by design. It turns out it was the latter when I asked my contact at Mazda about it. Mazda’s goal was to avoid inconsistent speed limit displays between what is shown on the gauge cluster with Traffic Sign Recognition and what Apple Maps, Google Maps, Waze, etc. would show on the center display.

I should note that I will be doing a separate story on the new Mazda Connect so that you can see how much it has changed.

A 12 speaker Bose audio system is on board. It impressed my wife who usually isn’t impressed by many car stereo systems as she is a classically trained pianist and takes audio seriously. My wife compared this sound system to one that was a $4000 option in a $75000 SUV we recently spent time in which is great company for Mazda to be in. My new audio torture playlist which includes LookLA, Ruelle, Snoh Aalegra, SAHED, Astrud Gilberto, Jorja Smith, Kali Uchis, 10,000 Maniacs, Death Cab For Cutie, Chicago, Röyksopp, and Thutmose & NoMBe sounded amazing on this system and the one thing that stood out was that Blue Lights by Jorja Smith sounded amazing as the stereo separation that the song has was next level on this audio system.

One last bit of tech that caught my eye was the fact that the windshield wiper nozzles were integrated into windshield wiper blades. That means that the fluid gets sprayed directly onto the windshield where it will be most effective. It also means less waste when it comes to the fluid which is a good thing.

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