Kickstarter Spotlight: STORM 2 Sci-Fi EDC Power Bank For Digital Nomads

The STORM 2 EDC Portable Battery is not your average power bank.

There are a lot, like a lot, of different portable battery packs on the market. You see them everywhere. Like Google Home Minis, you find them everywhere you turn, even in the the bottom of the cereal box. For the most part, they are all the same boring black slab of battery with nothing that sets it apart from the others. Ever once in a while, you find one that stands out. However, they’re a pretty boring category of tech gear.


I will admit, the Pikachu one is pretty damn cool. It also has USB C for charging which is nice ⚡

I don’t use these very often any more. Mostly because they either lack the power to run everything I need them to or just don’t like to lug the ugly bricks around. Then I came across the STORM 2 Power Bank courtesy of Daniel Rubino from Windows Central. Much like Daniel, I find these battery packs tend to all be the same, but the STORM 2 has an LCD which ties into the battery pack’s OS/firmware and the housing for the battery is completely clear. It caught my attention.


I have seen a lot of comparisons to a Cyberpunk-style design, but for me it feels more like a prop from Star Trek.


STORM 2 Power Bank from Kickstarter
Microsoft Surface Duo connected to the Storm 2 Power Bank. 📸: Daniel Rubino

What is the STORM 2 Sci-Fi EDC Power Bank For Digital Nomads?

The STORM 2 is a 27,600mAh / 99.36 Wh battery pack at its core, but it has a few extra tricks up its sleeve. The housing that encases the battery is clear, which serves no purpose other than to look cool and nerdy which is right in my wheelhouse. You can see the battery, circuitry and ports.

On the top-side the STORM 2 has a LCD display which allows you to control the power banks OS/firmware. Yes, this battery pack runs its own OS. The OS runs on a 32-bit M3 ARM MCU chip.

Check out the spec breakdown:

Power100W PD In/Out
3.3-25.2V DC Out
Pass-through charging
Battery27,600mAh/99.36Wh
Panasonic-Sanyo NCR18650GA
Ports2x USB Type-C (100W, 30W)
1x USB Type-A (5V)
1x DC Output (3.3-25.2V/3A)
Display1.14″ IPS TFT LCD
FeaturesAirline Safe Compact Battery Bank
Retro Style Monitor
Manual Power Control
Voltage Protection
Short Circuit, and Temperature Protection
Lifespan500 charges
Recharge time1.5 hours
Size151 x 46 x 59 mm
Weight578 grams
MaterialAluminum Alloy/V0 fireproof chassis

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Using the single button on the battery allows you to control the batteries settings for things like temperature control, voltage, etc.



Thanks to the impressive spec list the STORM 2 can fast-charge 3 devices simultaneously. On their Kickstarter page they state you can “charge your DJI drone with the DC port, MacBook Pro & iPhone with two USB-C ports, and your smart watch at the same time to boost your productivity.” It is pretty impressive that a portable pack this small has the ability to charge a MacBook Pro plus additional peripherals.


Charge your DJI drone with the DC port, MacBook Pro & iPhone with two USB-C ports, and your smart watch at the same time to boost your productivity.


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The DC port which allows for passthrough charging is also key for the STORM 2. Many, or rather most power banks do not allow for this, unless you’re breaking the bank and getting something like the massive Anker batteries that are more akin to a car battery in size. It is this kind of convenience coupled with a good price that make this so compelling.


It is also worth nothing the Watt-Hour size of this battery, which is 99.36Wh. Why 99.36? The STORM 2 is “airline safe” and they were able to achieve this by keeping the battery capacity under the 100Wh airline restriction. When we are allowed to do things like fly again and travel you will be able to bring your STORM 2 with you keeping your devices charged, even above 30,000 ft!


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Where can you buy the STORM 2?

The STORM 2 is currently running its campaign on Kickstarter. The team behind this battery pack reached their goal of $10,000 USD or $12,900 CAD about 5 minutes after going live and the project currently has a little over $200,000 CAD in funding. If you would like to back the STORM 2, Early Bird pricing is still available for $138 CAD + $24 CAD in shipping. The campaign runs until March 25, 2021 and orders are expected to start shipping internationally in April of 2021.

Check out the STORM 2 on Kickstarter

Syrup Drop: Turn Off Google Maps Turn-By-Turn Audio.

Turn off turn-by-turn audio in Google Maps with this handy tip!

I was listening to the All About Android podcast recently, and the show’s crew was talking about the annoyance of Google Maps barking out directions while driving that was more disruptive than helpful. One of the show hosts, Ron, said that he had never come across the option to reduce or silence Google Maps voice directions in all his years of using Android.

This is a feature I have used for years while using Google Maps as a passive timer and route avoidance tool. I was pretty surprised to hear someone on an Android Podcast say they had no idea that this feature existed. I also got a laugh out of Ron stating he was too busy with twins to sit down and learn about things like that. This was funny to me, because I too have twins, but they are kid number 4 and 5!

Regardless of the humour and surprise, I thought that if the AA crew didn’t know this function, many of you might not know about it as well.


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Enter Syrup Drop; A series of posts that will feature a quick and useful tech-related tip that you may find helpful!

By default, Google Maps has all voice navigation unmuted and provides users with turn-by-turn directions while navigating from place to place. While this feature is beneficial when visiting a new destination, it can be somewhat distracting and in some case annoying when using Maps to plan you busy drive to work or some other location.

It is a pretty straightforward function to alter as well; there is no Apple-style digging through the settings to find this. The setting is staring right at you during your navigation. Check it out below.



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The options are as follows;

  • Unmuted – Full voice navigation. Each turn, a different route or traffic issue is announced.
  • Alarms only – You’ll hear alerts like traffic, construction, and crashes. You won’t hear the constant turn-by-turn navigation.
  • Muted – This one is pretty self-explanatory. When active, Google Maps will stay completely silent. The only issue with this option is that should Google discover trouble on your route or a faster route, you’re likely to miss the onscreen pop-up.

That is it for this one! Hopefully, we can all get back to travelling soon and put this handy feature to use.


If you have any other tips and tricks like this, please get in touch with me HERE.

My Favourite Apps: ß-Maniac

Another one of my favourite apps! ß-Maniac helps you find and manage beta programs for Android apps.

Favourite app time! And this time it isn’t a Microsoft App!!

This new app is very, very niche. But given the focus of GadgetSyrup, I am sure anyone who sees this post will appreciate it.



What is ß-Maniac?

ß-Maniac, pronounced Beta Manic is an Android app that scans the apps installed on your phone to see if there is a beta program available via the Google Play Store.
If you are like me and love to be on the bleeding edge of what’s next for your favourite apps, this app, despite its relative simplicity, is worth checking out.


How Does ß-Maniac Work?

ß-Maniac, as mentioned, is pretty bare-bones. After launching the app, users are presented with their entire list of apps. Apps that do not have a beta channel available show no checkmark. A blue checkmark indicates apps that have a beta stream available but are currently not active on your device. A green checkmark indicates apps that are currently enrolled in a beta stream. Finally, apps that are registered in a closed or private beta stream are indicated with a grey checkmark.



Outside being able to pick and choose which beta programs you would like to participate in Beta Maniac will also send push notifications to your device when an installed app opens the doors to a new or previously closed beta for their app. For me, this is key. I like to be involved in as many beta programs as possible. However, in a lot of cases, a popular app will open up a beta to the public, but by the time I find out, the beta is full, and no new users can participate. Having Beta Maniac installed has really helped with this.

Gone are the days of searching the web for an apk for a beta version of an app while hoping you don’t get burned with a malware-laden application


Where Can You Download Beta Maniac?

Well, only one place, really. The Google Play Store. If you would like to download and dive deep into the world of Android beta apps, hit the button below!

Syrup Drop: Make Your In-Screen Fingerprint Reader More Accurate

In-screen fingerprint readers are a great step forward, but in these early days, they can be frustratingly inaccurate on some devices.

Check out this small hack to make unlocking your phone a breeze.

Welcome back to Syrup Drop. A series of posts that will feature a quick and useful tech related tip that you may find helpful.


It is still relatively early days in the transition from fingerprint readers that are on the back of a phone to the front of the phone, embedded in the screen. As is normally the case with new technologies, like an in-screen fingerprint reader, there are often hiccups and The functionally can be unreliable and frustrating to use.

Recently I discovered a little trick or hack to improve the in-screen reader on my Motorola Z4. Check it out down below!


Moto Z4 In-Screen Fingerprint Reader (image: Android Central)

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When setting up your fingerprint, you’re required to place your finger over the reader a series of times to allow for various angles of your fingerprint to be scanned and stored. However, the 6 or so times you scan your finger often isn’t enough for these newer in-screen reader. Especially in mid-range devices like the Z4.

The fix? It’s quite simple actually. Scan the same finger multiple times as a new finger. Each time you can a new finger the reader will store more and more angles of you thumb print, ensuring for a more accurate scan when it’s time to unlock your phone.


Scan the same finger multiple times as a new finger.


I have set up my thumb 5 times on the Moto Z4. After completing this little hack, I went from being frustrated and resorting to pin unlock to unlocking my phone within a second or two!


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Thanks for checking out the latest Syrup Drop! If you have any helpful tips and tricks feel free to share by visiting this link: Contact GadgetSyrup

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Motorola Moto G Stylus Preview

Motorola has announced the rumored Moto G Stylus today. A mid-range smartphone with stylus. Check out the Moto G Stylus Preview.

Motorola took to covers off the latest editions to the Moto G family and they look very good!

First thing you’ll notice is that Moto dropped the number naming scheme used for all other Moto G phone since the Moto G2. I find this odd, since we say the Moto G8 Plus launch in late 2019. Oh well, I’m not that concerned.

There were two phones announced today the Moto G Stylus and Moto G Power.

You can read more about the Moto G Power by clicking the link below



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This year we get a new Moto G entrant in the form of Motorola’s first stylus-enabled device, the Moto G Stylus. This device isn’t meant to compete with Samsung’s incredibly successful Note series, but more something that should clobber LG’s Stylo line. Thinking about it, the G Stylus is true to the Moto G mission which is to bring a premium like experience to the mid-range.

So, what does the Stylus bring to the table? Let’s check out the specs below.



Motorola Moto G Stylus Specs

Operating systemAndroid™ 10
System
Architecture/Processor
Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 665 Mobile Processor
Memory (RAM)4GB
Storage (ROM)128GB built-in* | up to 512GB microSD card* expandable
Dimensions158.55 x 75.8 x 9.2mm
Weight192g
Display6.4″ FHD+ Max Vision display
Battery4000mAh
Charging10w rapid charging
Water ProtectionWater repellent design
Rear Camera48MP Sensor (f/1.7, 1.6μm) | Quad Pixel technology
Macro Vision (2mp, f/2.2) | minimum xxxcm focus distance
Action Cam (16mp, f/2.2, 2.0μm) | Quad Pixel technology | 117° ultra-wide angle only
Laser autofocus (TOF)
Video CaptureRear main camera: UHD (30fps) | FHD (120/60/30fps) | HD (30fps)
Rear ultra-wide angle camera: FHD (30fps) | HD (30fps)
Rear macro camera: HD (30fps)
Front Camera16MP (f/2.0, 1μm)
Bluetooth® TechnologyBluetooth® 5.0
FM RadioYes
SpeakersDual stereo speakers tuned by Dolby
NFCNo
In-box AccessoriesCharger, USB Type-C cable, guides, SIM tool
ExperiencesMoto Actions: Quick capture, Fast flashlight, Three finger screenshot, Screenshot editor, Flip for DND,
Pick up to silence, Media controls, Swipe to shrink

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A lot going on with this spec sheet that really is pushing into the top end of the mid-range phone sector. As with the Power it is brining the Snapdragon 665 and 4GB of RAM. However, it also has a few key differences. Check out some of the specs that really stand out for the Moto G Stylus


The Stylus and Moto Notes

What would be the point of this phone if not for the Stylus!?

As mentioned the G Stylus is not a Note-Killer but it will certainly bring some really fun features to the mid-range. The pen with the G Stylus is a passive stylus, meaning it does not pack any of the fancy button tricks of Samsung’s Note line, but Motorola will be launching a new Moto app called Moto Notes which will give users the ability to take notes by simply pulling out the pen and writing on the screen.

The Stylus is a polarizing accessory for phones. You either love them or hate them. I haven’t owned a Note device since the Note 4, but I always enjoyed the ability to be more precise when poking around on a smaller display. I expect much of the same with the Moto G Stylus and its pen.


6.4″ FHD+ Max Vision display

Like the G Power, the G Stylus has a 6.4″ LCD display, the same size as 2019’s Z4 which has served me really well. I expect this display to be just fine in most cases.



Camera

On paper the G Stylus really takes a leap compared the the G Power. The camera array is a triple-camera setup with a 48 megapixel shooter which should do really well in most scenarios. Next is a 2 megapixel macro sensor like that of the Moto One Macro and also found on the G Power. The third camera is a 16 megapixel action camera. The action camera, taken from the Moto One Action allows you to shoot landscape video while holding the camera vertically for a better grip.

How will the cameras perform, only time will tell as the review units start rolling in, but I am expecting a big step over previous G series devices. Until then, check out a few samples Motorola has provided.



Dual Stereo Speakers

Like with the G Power we are fortunate to have a mid-range phone with stereo speakers. Most mid-range phones have a small top or bottom firing speaker that always underwhelms. Stereo speakers are a welcomed addition here for sure.


NFC

I get a lot of use of out Google Pay here in Canada since it is accepted virtually everywhere. The G series has never had NFC, and the G Stylus stays the course. It’s not going to be a deal breaker for me, but it will be a pain to have go back to the physical card.


Battery

The G Stylus does’t pack the camera chops of the G Power, but the 4,000 mAh battery is still impressive. Getting 1.5 to 2 days of normal use should be a breeze.


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With all of that, pros and cons aside, I am very excited to see what the G Stylus will bring to the table once I get my hands on a review unit.


The Moto G Stylus will be available this spring in Canada from Videotron. Pricing in Canada is unknown right now, but the US pricing will be around $300.


What do you think about the Moto G Stylus as Motorola’s first foray into a pen-based phone?

Upcoming Motorola Edge+ with Flagship Level Specs Confirmed by New Benchmark (Updated)

Late last week notorious leaker Evan Blass, aka EvLeaks, shared details of a new Motorola device sporting a stylus. Many assumed and reported that this would be the rumoured Motorola Edge+ device, while many also argued it wasn’t. Well regardless of that debate, the Edge+ is a real device and new leaked benchmarks show off parts of its spec sheet. Check it out.

Late last week notorious leaker Evan Blass, aka EvLeaks, shared details of a new Motorola device sporting a stylus. Many assumed and reported that this would be the rumoured Motorola Edge+ device, while many also argued it wasn’t. Well regardless of that debate, the Edge+ is a real device and new leaked benchmarks show off parts of its spec sheet. Check it out below.


Stylus-enabled Motorola Smartphone Leaked by Evan Blass


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According to the Geekbench results, the Edge+ looks like it will come with a SnapDragon 865, 12GB of RAM and Android 10. With the 865 SoC, the Edge+ will likely have 5G connectivity too.


SnapDragon 865 SoC, 12GB RAM and Android 10. Yay!

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There is no way to tie the Edge+ with last weeks stylus enabled device leak yet, but given the timing, I think we can assume they are the same device. For now at least. Geekbench testing doesn’t show us anything related to the device camera, battery or physical design but I am hoping that we see a design similar to that of the Moto One Zoom and its triple camera setup on the back.


Motorola One Zoom

If you have poked around on GadgetSyrup, you will see that I am a big Motorola fan so I am very excited to see some real-world testing of a new Motorola flagship smartphone.

Update: GSM Arena is reporting that the Motorola Edge+, G8, G8 Power and another mid-range stylus device will launch on Feb 23rd, a day before Mobile World Congress.

From GSM Arena: Just a day before MWC 2020 kicks off, February 23, Motorola will host an event where we expect to see the Moto G8 and G8 Power as well as a midranger with a stylus and the Edge+ flagship. The event is scheduled to kick off at 7 PM CET but that’s the only official information we have at the moment.


What are your thoughts on the Motorola Edge+? I would love to hear from you!

And while you’re here, follow GadgetSyrup on Instagram. Every like and follow makes a huge difference!

Meet Changer: “The Swiss Army Knife of Headphones”

Have you ever wanted headphones that not only sounded good, but could share its battery with your other devices or perhaps even steal some charge from another device? Well, this is now a possibility thanks to a Chinese company named 49101 is launching the “Changer” Headphones on Indiegogo.

 Meet “Changer” from 49101 Meet “Changer” from 49101

I am on a never ending quest to find the best headphones for a decent price. Call me cheap, call me frugal, but I refuse to spend hundreds of dollars on a set of headphones. I believe that for there are headphones out there, that for a fair price, will satisfy my needs just as much as something like the Beats X, or Bose Quite-Comfort 35 IIs. Each and every time I try a different set I find something I like, something I don’t and some features that I feel rather indifferent about.

Then I came across the “Changer” from a company out of China called “49101”. I will be honest, I have never heard of this company before and do not know what they are all about. However, I will say that they have a very interesting product on their hands here.

“Changer’s magical ability to share power even lets you steal a friends charge if you need!”

— Helena Wei, Marketing Directorof 49101

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What is the Changer Headphone?

The Changer is marketed as a Swiss-Army knife of headphones and while it lacks the requisite toothpick, mini-saw and bottle-opener, it comes pretty darn close to that Swiss-Army knife.

The headphones, at a glance look like nearly every other neck-band style of Bluetooth headphones on the market, but disguised inside are a few tricks that make this product special.

The Changer headphones open on one side to reveal your standard USB Type-A connection to charge the headphones. The other side is where things get a little wild. Here you will find a multi-functional connection that can power devices using either micro-USB, Lightning or USB Type-C. Essentially, what the device is doing he is using its internal battery to provide power to another device, like a phone. This is pretty handy if you find yourself on the go and get the dreaded “low-battery” alert.

Another trick that 49101 has given the Changer is the ability to reverse the power supply of yor smartphone to draw a charge into your headphones. Say your headphones are low on power, but you need to power-up on the go to listen to some music or a podcast. No problem. Connect to your phone, or even better, someone elses phone, and steal some juice to keep you listening. Or as 49101 puts it, have someone else “donate” their battery power to you.

“With Changer, we are not only providing a premium audio experience but also solving peoples battery charging problems. ”

— Helena Wei, Marketing Directorof 49101

Changer Specs

  • 13 mm drivers with 20Hz-40KHz frequency response

  • Aluminium and Silicon design

  • 35 cm cable length with integrated volume controls

  • 1 set of foam ear tips and 2 sets of silicon ear tips

  • Support for 2A fast charging

  • Multiple connections built into the device

    • USB Type-C

    • micro USB

    • Lightning

    • USB Type-A

  • Bluetooth 5.0

  • IP5X water resistance

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So, where can you get Changer?

Starting today (Nov 19th) Changer is available for pre-order on Indiegogo.com and will start shipping to backers in “Q1 2019”

Early bird pricing starts at $89 USD. if you want to learn more about this interesting headphones head over to their launch site below!

If the opportunity presents itself, I will be sure to test these out and out through through a review. As of right now I am skeptical on how useful they will be, but I will be honest, I am rather intrigued by the Charger headphones. Stay tuned for more!

Microsoft Surface Book 2 Review: The Best Laptop Money Can Buy?

The Surface Book 2 is the newest device in Microsoft’s stable of PCs. It offers an exceptionally wide array of functionality thanks to its unique detachable clipboard design. However, the price tag of the Surface Book 2 is pushing the limits of what is acceptable for notebook in 2018. Does its steep price tag stand up to its performance and functionality?

Check out the full review of the Microsoft Surface Book 2 to find out where I stand.

I have said it before, I will say it again. I am a huge Surface fan. The devices created by the Surface team dating back to original Surface RT release have always been extremely well built and stunning to look at. The original Surface certainly did have reliability and usability issues, as I mentioned in my Surface Laptop review, but they have always had a brilliant design language.

The goal of Microsoft hardware, under Panos Panay, is to create and innovate in new product categories and not to create “me too” products in already established categories. The Surface Book and now the Surface Book 2 are the epitomai of that goal.

What is the Microsoft Surface Book 2

The Surface Book 2 is by no means a standard laptop. It is a pretty unique product that no other company has successfully been able to replicate. At a glance, it does appear to be similar in design to any other ultrabook out there, but upon closer inspection, you see that it is so much more. The Surface Book 2 is unique because unlike other two-in-one devices that allow the screen to be removed the base, it isn’t limited performance wise thanks to its incredible spec list and very creative implementation of a dedicated GPU.

Take the regular Surface Pro for example. The keyboard/base unit is nothing more than a cover with a built-in keyboard. The Surface Book 2 offers users a very powerful PC experience when attached to the base. The 15″ version the Book 2 can be configured with a Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU, which is more than capable of handling most games, but with the simple press of a button the screen of the Book 2 can be removed from the powerful base leaving you with a 13.5″ (or 15″) tablet.

 With the press of a button, the Surface Book 2 becomes a powerful stand alone tablet!
With the press of a button, the Surface Book 2 becomes a powerful stand alone tablet!

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What’s In The Box?

The Surface Book 2 doesn’t come with much in the box. It is very utilitarian. Aside from the Book itself, the only other items in the box are the Surface power supply and a small quick start manual. 

Sadly, despite the fact that this notebook sells for upwards of $4,000 CAD Microsoft does not include the Surface Pen. Yes, I know, accessories like the Pen are high margin items for PC makers, but this laptop, like other top-shelf devices, is already high margin! To have to shell out another $150 or so for a Pen is unfortunate. 

Review Unit Specs

Thanks to Microsoft for the review device! The package spec’ed out below will set you back $3,849.00. Ouch.🤯

  • 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8650U, 4.2 GHz
  • 16GB RAM
  • 1TB SSD
  • Nvidia GTX 1050 discrete GPU w/2GB GDDR5
  • 13.5″ PixelSense touchscreen display (3000×2000 resolution)
  • SDXC card reader (128 GB max capacity)
  • Up to 17 hours battery (base and display)
  • USB-C (not Thunderbolt 3) port
  • USB 3.1 (2) ports
  • FullHD 1080p front (5 MP) and rear camera (8 MP)
  • Windows 10 Pro Creators Update 64-bit

What I Liked About the Surface Book 2

Keyboard

One thing that I really did not enjoy when I reviewed the Surface Laptop, was its keyboard. It was fine, but the key throw was not as good as I was expecting, especially when I compared it to my 2016 Lenovo X1 Carbon.

The keyboard on the Surface Book 2 however, is a thing of beauty. The key throw is perfect, the sound is perfect, everything about it is nearly perfect. I have been using the been using the Book 2 almost exclusively for two months now and aside from the less than stellar back-lighting of the keyboard I cannot find anything to complain about on this front. Every keyboard should be this good.

Gaming Performance

The Surface Book 2 brings the power with a GTX1050 or 1060. This isn’t the top-end of the GPU space, but for the vast majority of games you could or would want to play on a portable machine will run great on this machine. I am by no means a gamer, at least not anymore. My gaming on this PC was limited mostly to playing F1 2017 from Codemasters. With the settings dials up, the game almost never stuttered. If it did, it was because some other rogue process outside the game decided to spike, causing the overall system to slow down. Slightly frustrating, yes. I binned my car on more than one occasion thanks to a momentary lag from the system. However, despite those few lags, I got exactly what I expected out the Surface Book 2 when gaming.

One note to be aware of when using the Book 2 for gaming is the fan noise. Nearly every time I fired up F1 2017 the fans would run very loud in an effort to keep the machine cool. It achieved the cooling part better than I had expected. However, the noise created by the fans, which vent at the top of the base neat the fulcrum hinge was very loud and very irritating.

The Clipboard

This kind of goes without saying. One the stand out features of this device is its power, but also the ability to remove the screen and take advantage of a high quality, lightweight tablet. It took some getting used to, having a tablet so large when you’re used to devices the size of an iPad mini, but that transition didn’t take long and in no time using the device as a tablet become second nature. The clipboard is heavy though, so using it for extended periods will start to wear you down.

Display

The Surface Books 2 has an absolutely stunning 3:2 ratio display that is very easy on the eyes. Working with the display for hours on end does not lead to tired or strained eyes because it is very precise and clear. 

Circle back to 3:2 ratio for a moment. This aspect ratio is something every professional/business class laptop should be adopting. The days where 16:9 and 16:10 laptops were the go to are or should be over. Laptops are productivity devices mostly, not multimedia consumption devices. Most of that “play” time has moved to iPads and smartphones. Working in Excel or Power BI on a 16:9 display is a less than fun experience. I hope that other PC makers, I’m looking at you Lenovo, start to adopt this aspect ratio on a larger scale as the laptop market continues to evolve. 

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What I Didn’t Like About the Surface Book 2

Keyboard Backlight

One of the things I praised about with the Surface Book 2 was the keyboard. It is great, but one thing I never thought I would have a need to complain about was a keyboards backlight. The backlighting on the Book 2 is some kind of awful. When activated in anything less than near-complete darkness, it renders the keys nearly invisible. Fortunately, there is a dedicated key to turn the back-light off. Something I did almost immediately after turning the Book on.

I/O on the Clipboard

I’m not sure why Microsoft made the engineering decisions they did when designing the clipboard portion of the Book 2, but the positions they selected for the power button, volume buttons and headphone jack (its existence I am very thankful for, by the way) are absolutely horrible when using the Book.

The power button and volume rocker are located on the outside-edge, top-left of the clipboard. I am constantly finding that I have accidentally turned on the computer while carrying it or transporting it in my laptop bag. I also find myself hitting these keys when I am taking the clipboard off the base and turning to portrait mode. Like my smartphone, when turning to portrait, I rotate the device counterclockwise. When done with the Book 2, the button position is almost guaranteed to lead to an accidental powering down of the machine. I do not know why Microsoft had to put them there, perhaps they had no choice, but having them on the outside edge of the right-side of the clipboard, much like the vast majority of mobile devices today, would have been a far more logical choice.

The headphone jack, who’s existence I am grateful for, is in the upper right-hand side of the clipboard. The exact location I think the power and volume rocker should be. I understand the jack needs to be on the clipboard, so you can use headphones when in tablet mode, but to location selected really limits your range of motion unless you are on a very long wire.

Where’s the Pen!

 I mentioned this earlier, but it is worth bringing up again. The review unit I have here in front of me retails for nearly $3,900 CAD. That is very expensive. The device is geared towards creators and productivity power users. No “average” consumer is going to even give this computer a second look. If you are buying this device, you are likely going to need or want the Surface Pen. One would assume that a device this expensive, with this sort of margin, Microsoft would perhaps feel slightly charitable and include the Pen at no extra charge.

Conclusion/Should You Buy the Surface Book 2?

This is a tough one. If you have the cash to burn or simply have to have the latest and greatest, then yes buy this laptop! If you need to have an extremely powerful notebook for your work, say, designer, videographer, etc. Then yes, but this laptop! If you are looking for a solid, well designed, minimalist notebook that is built to last I would steer towards the Surface Laptop. I reviewed it last fall and really enjoyed it. 

However, if you are thinking of picking this up to be a gaming laptop, I wouldn’t recommend it. It can game, yes. I really enjoyed playing F1 2017 on the Surface Book 2, but heavier games are sure the lag and struggle to keep up. The Surface Book 2 with a 15″ display and GTX 1060 will fair better but will also put a larger dent in your wallet. If gaming is your objective, look to traditional gaming rigs for that. 

The bottom line is; if you are a power user, and want a notebook that can literally do everything, and do it very well, the Surface Book 2 is for you. Just be prepared to pay for that robust functionality.

If you’re looking for a good mouse to go along with your Surface Book or Laptop, give the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic mouse some consideration. I also reviewed it last year and am still using it to this day. You can check that out right here.

Thanks for reading my Surface Book 2 review. I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Moto Mods – “Modify Your Smartphone”

Motorola was kind enough to send along a few Moto Mods to test drive with the Moto Z2 Play that they have also sent for review. Check out the Moto Insta-Share Projector and the Polaroid Insta-Share Printer!

In 2016 Motorola made a splash when they launched their Moto Z line of phones which come with a unique ultra-thin design with an array of exposed pins on the back which allow you to connect various members of Motorola’s “Mod” family of devices. Their success to date has been debatable since many “mods” are targeted to very niche audiences. 


What Are Moto Mods?

As I mentioned above, the Moto Mods are attachable devices that allow users to augment or modify their phones functionality by connecting via magnets and pogo pins to the back of any Moto Z phone model. At the time of this article, there are currently seven members of the Motorola Z line, released over two years. We will see more Moto Z branded phones in 2018 as well since Motorola committed to supporting the Moto Z design-language for at least 3 years, perhaps longer (depending on how well Moto has done with mods).


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Meet The Mods

Motorola was kind enough to send over two mods to test out and see how they perform. I will be diving into a full review of the mods once I take delivery of the Moto Z2 Play, which is currently in-transit.

First up, we have the Moto Insta-Share Projector mod. This mod, as all mods do, snaps onto the back of your phone and instantly turns your phone into a multimedia projector capable of projecting the equivalent of a 70″ screen on any flat surface.

The resolution is not incredibly high, coming in at WGA, which is 854×480. Otherwise referred to as 480p. The contrast ratio is 400:1 and the brightness is listed at 50 lumens. The Insta-Share Projector will set you back about $200 (USD). Compare that to a middle of the road Epson projector selling for $800 at Best Buy (Canada) it is no match. The Epson is capable of full HD 1080p resolution, 15000:1 contrast ratio and 3100 lumens. It’s no match, clearly. But the Insta-Share snaps to your phone and weighs only 125 grams, to the Epson’s 5.95 kg.

The projector also comes with a small built-in battery which gives your phone an extra hour of battery life according to Motorola and can be recharged via USB-C.

The amount of use the average person may get out of a projector is perhaps minimal, but it is a pretty handy accessory.



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The second mod I received is perhaps even more niche than the projector. The Polaroid Insta-Share Printer mod is a zero-ink printer (ZINK™) that prints 2″x3″ photos with an adhesive backing that allows you to “stick them anywhere to share the fun.” The printer mod does have a camera shutter button, which is an excellent add-on and takes me back to the good old days when I carried the Lumia 1020 and Lumia 1520 which, like most Windows Phones, had a physical shutter button.

It is also worth noting that the printer can print any photo stored on your phone, but just recent shots from your gallery. As mentioned, the printer is a zero-ink, so you never need to replace an ink cartridge at all. The only consumable is the zero-ink paper. Included with the mod is a starter pack of 10 sheets. Replacement ZINK™ packs come are available in 20 and 30 packs for $9.99 and $14.99 (USD) respectively. On the low end, you are looking at $0.50 per print. Comparing that to Costco Photo, which is $0.12 per 4×6 print, the printer mod is extremely expensive to print from, so you will need to use it sparingly.

Like the projector, the printer also contains a small battery and charges over USB-C.



Overall I think the Moto Mod ecosystem is very fun and exciting, these two mods included. I look forward to putting through their paces over the next few weeks.

Stay tuned for the full review shortly!

Add QI Wireless Charging To (Almost) Any Phone

Qi wireless charging has been around for several years now. However, most phones, flagships included have chosen to skip adding the feature to their devices each year until Apple invented the technology when they announced the newest iPhone, the iPhone X. With such a limited supply of Qi enable phones accessory makers have begun to fill in the void left by the manufacturers by creating USB-connected Qi wireless dongles.

Check out this review of the Nillkin Qi Wireless USB-C Charging Receiver.

Qi wireless charging has been around for several years now. However, most phones, flagships included, have chosen to skip adding the feature to their devices each year until Apple invented the technology when they announced the newest iPhone. With such a limited supply of Qi enable phones accessory makers have begun to fill in the void left by the manufacturers by creating USB-connected Qi wireless dongles.


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What Is It?

The Nillkin Qi Wireless Receiver is a small, approximately 2.5 x 1.5-inch, dongle that connects to the USB C port of your USB C enabled smartphone, in my case, the Google Pixel XL. There are also micro USB versions of this dongle available as well (links below).


What I Liked

Well, the product itself worked as expected, so it is safe to say I liked that. Nillkin states that this dongle charges at ≥70% efficiency.

Other than basic functionality being reliable, which is always a gamble with third-party devices like this, the USB C connection was very snug. Several USB C cables I have tried with my Pixel have been very sloppy and easily disconnected. This connection did not suffer from the same problems as others.



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What I Didn’t Like

I am not sure if there is a way around this, but the bulk added to the Pixel when placed back in its Spigen case made the phone look chunky and added a bit too much wobble when lying on a flat surface.

I also particularly disliked the USB C connector. Wait, what? Didn’t I just praise the USB C connector? Yes, but I dislike it sure to one major issue. Nillkin touts how thin and low profile this dongle is. However, the USB connector is so unnecessarily large it makes it really impossible to put a case on the phone without stretching it out. I can get past this with my particular case, but any dual layer hybrid-shell design will struggle to install this dongle in any usable fashion.



Should You Buy It?

In a word. No. If you’re looking for wireless charging, make that a top priority for your next phone. This solution is proven to be a workable solution but it is far from elegant and the pros simply do not outweigh the cons.


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Nillkin Qi USB C Dongle on Amazon.ca.

Nillkin Qi USB C Dongle on Amazon.com.

Aukey EP-B61 Bluetooth Headset Review: Apple Beats X on a Budget?

Like the design of Apple’s Beats X neck buds? Don’t like the price tag they carry? Check out my review of the Aukey EP-B61 neck buds to find out if you can get the Beats experience on a budget.

In early 2017 Apple released the Beats X neck buds to mostly positive fan-fair. The Beats X features a variation of the increasing fashionable neckband design initially seen on the LG Tones. The biggest feature of the Beats X was the inclusion of the W1 chip, also found in Apple’s Air Pods, allows for nearly instant pairing with compatible iOS and macOS devices.

The most significant issue with the Beats X for most is the price. In Canada, the Beats X will set you back $179.99. For most, myself included, this price tag is way beyond what would be considered acceptable.

Earlier this year I reviewed a similar Aukey neck bud product, the EP-B20, which were less Beats X and more LG Tone. I argued that despite differing in design from the Beats X, they were one of the most affordable alternatives. However, Aukey had recently released their EP-B61 neck buds which are a near clone of the higher priced Apple offering. The big question is, how do they perform?


What’s in the Box?

Inside the box, you’re greeted by the typical minimal-Aukey packing (which is a good thing).

  • AUKEY EP-B61 Neckband Magnetic Wireless Earbuds
  • Micro-USB Cable
  • 3 Pairs of Ear-Tips
  • User Manual
  • 24-Month Warranty Card

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What I Liked

Battery Life

As is always the case with battery life, your mileage may vary based your usage of the headset, but in my time with the EP-B61 neckband, the battery life has been superb. On average I have been able to get two to two and a half days between charges with the majority of my use is listening to audiobooks and podcasts with the odd phone call mixed in here or there.

Dual-Device Connectivity

Most budget headsets I have encountered are only able to pair in a 1:1 configuration, meaning the headset can only maintain an active connection to one device at a time. The Aukey EP-B61s can connect in a 1:2 configuration allowing it to maintain an active connection with 2 devices at once. I have enjoyed this feature a lot during my time, allowing me to jump seamlessly from a podcast on my phone to a YouTube video on my laptop.

Comfortable Fit

I have used dozens of different Bluetooth headsets with an in-ear bud design. For the most part, they fit fairly well, but in some cases, the size of the bud plus the ear tip selection makes the seal too tight for my ear. I have been very happy with the comfort of the EP-B61s and can wear them for hours on end.

Tactile Buttons

The buttons on the EP-B61, which are volume up and down with a power/play-pause button in between. I have found with the majority of the Bluetooth headsets in this price range the buttons are very gummy-like. These buttons are very “clicky” and responsive.



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What I Didn’t Like

Wire Length

When I first took delivery of the EP-B61 Bluetooth headset, I was excited about the design with the neckband and the longer than average wired portion of the headset. When wearing both earbuds, the design works fairly well. However, when wearing them with only one earbud in or when the buds are just resting around your neck the longer than normal wire is constantly getting in the way. It hangs about halfway down my midsection and nearly to my stomach. Again at this price point, it is not a deal breaker but, since this headset courageously borrows the design of Apple’s Beats X, I would be slightly more aggravated if I paid $150 for them.

Missed Opportunity

Last year I reviewed another budget-priced Bluetooth headset, the MPOW Magnetos. That review can be found HERE.

One of my favourite features of the Magento was the play-pause functionality added to the magnetic part of the earbuds. When playing a song or podcast sticking the two earbuds together would pause your playback. Separating the earbuds and playback would resume. A very simple, but incredibly useful feature. The EP-B61s have magnets in the back of the earbuds which allow them to stay paired together when hanging around your neck. They do not, however, have the play-pause function and feel this is an opportunity missed.

Bluetooth Still Stinks

This is not entirely the fault of the EP-B61 headset, but more the failure of Bluetooth technology. The headset is Bluetooth 4.2 enabled, as are the devices I have been using them with. There have been countless times where my phone is in my back pocket, and the headset will cut out or lose connection momentarily. Bluetooth 5 is here and will be working its way into many more devices as we enter into 2018, but until then, budget devices like this will continue to suffer from laggy, unreliable Bluetooth connectivity


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Should You Buy This?

If you are looking for a Bluetooth headset that is more reliable than not, has excellent battery life, a comfortable fit and offers useful features like multi-device pairing, then yes, I would absolutely recommend these to you. The long wires coming off the neckband can be annoying, but for the most part are manageable and is by no means a deal breaker.

Sound quality was fine for the most part, but I am not using these to listen to music for the most part. My time, as mentioned, is mostly spent listing to audiobooks, podcasts, and YouTube videos. The music I did listen to sounded fine to my ears, but music listening is a very subjective experience. It is also worth noting that phone calls were handled very well by the EP-B61s audio quality on both sides of the call were good to great in my experience.


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Where To Buy

The Aukey EP-B61 Bluetooth Headset can be purchased from Amazon.com for $19.99 USD and Amazon.ca for $25.99 CAD.

Microsoft Surface Laptop Review

Having been a huge Microsoft hardware fan for years and a Surface Pro owner myself I was ecstatic when the Surface Laptop was announced. I could not wait to get my hands on. Well, I have had my hands on the Surface Laptop for a while now. Check out my full review here!

I have been a big fan of Microsoft’s Surface lineup since day one. Although very dated by today’s standards the original Surface design language was unlike anything on the market at the time. It was a full-fledged laptop PC in the body of a (slightly large) tablet, and that is exactly how Microsoft potitioned it. “The tablet that can replace your laptop.”


 The original Microsoft Surface Pro
The original Microsoft Surface Pro


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Now, let’s be completely honest though. The first Surface Pro device absolutely could not replace your laptop. The kickstand, despite being revolutionary in design only had one position available, the keyboard/cover was flimsy and the typing experience was a nightmare. 

Even the Surface Pro 2 was not the laptop replacement Microsoft kept pushing on everyone through various marketing campaigns despite Microsoft’s best attempts to address the Surface’s shortcomings with a more sturdy keyboard/cover, a two-position kickstand and an improved trackpad.

It was not until the Surface Pro 3 and 4 that the marketing pitch of “a tablet that can replace your laptop” could be taken seriously.

However, despite the major leap forward in functionality fans of Microsoft Hardware still wanted more. Microsoft released a few iterations of the Surface Book which is more “laptop-like” than the Surface Pro devices but the Book still has a few functionality issues that steer your everyday laptop user away.

Finally, in 2017 Microsoft decided to complete their hardware lineup with the Surface Laptop. This product release, though welcomed, was surprising since Microsoft’s stance with hardware releases was to only create a new product if it was going to define a new category, not enter into an existing category. This justification was a way to keep its partners happy. Companies like HP, Dell, Acer, and others were put-off when Microsoft released the original Surface Pro because it looked like Microsoft was directly competing with its partners. This was not intended to be the case, but the optics were not good.

It was also reiterated by Microsoft’s Chris Capossela just before Christmas 2016 on an episode of TWiT’s Windows Weekly with Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley. He was clear that Microsoft does not want to compete, it wants to lay the groundwork for a new category and aide its partners in creating great products. Which is exactly what has been seen over the last year. Looking at any major PC makers lineup you will be sure to find near exact copies of the Surface Pro, with maybe one or two tweaks.

Despite all of that though, Microsoft still decided to move forward with the Surface Laptop despite the device not being first in a new category.

If I were HP, Dell or another OEM partner of Microsoft’s I would be upset with Microsoft. As an enthusiast though, I welcome the Surface Laptop to the market because I am, 1) a big Surface fan and, 2) I feel the Surface Laptop will continue to push OEMs to build even better laptops. Take the Dell XPS 13 or HPs Evo lineups. Those two laptops are leaps and bounds ahead of the Surface Laptop.

Now, enough history, we’re here for a review!


What’s In The Box?

 I know, Brad! I was shocked too. Microsoft released a laptop! It must have taken
I know, Brad! I was shocked too. Microsoft released a laptop! It must have taken ” courage.” 


Not a lot comes in the box with the Surface Laptop. My unit shipped with only a Surface power adapter, power cord, and the Surface itself. Nothing more, nothing less. The Surface Pen is not included with the Laptop, but is compatible.



Review Unit Specifications

The review unit Microsoft was nice enough to loan me for this review retails for $1299 USD or $1649 CAD

Display: 13.5″ PixelSense™ Display with 201 PPI, 10 point multi-touch and 3:2 aspect ratio

CPU: Intel® Core™ i5-7200U (i7 on other models)

RAM: 8 GB (up to 16 GB on other models)

SSD: 250 GB (up to 512 GB on other models)

Windows Version: Windows 10 S (can be updated to Pro*)

Ports: mini DisplayPort (DP 1.2 MST enabled), USB 3.1 Gen 1, headphone jack and Surface™ Connect (power/docking)

Complete specs from Microsoft can be seen HERE.


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The Good

Build Quality

The industrial design of the Surface Laptop is very polarizing. Some users say it is too plain while others absolutely love the minimalist design. I find myself loving the design of the Surface Laptop. It is clean and crisp with very little getting in the way visually.

The laptop is just over half an inch thick but is a tad on the heavy side weighing in at 2.8 pounds. This is not extremely heavy when compared to my Lenovo X1 Carbon (2.6 pounds), the Surface is a fraction of a pound heavier, which can be attributed to the metal materials used for the body of the laptop. Despite being slightly heavier than similar machines it is a pleasure to use and travels well.



Windows Hello

Many people have ridiculed Windows Hello, Microsoft’s iris scanning technology which allows users to sign in quickly thanks to the iris scanner built into the top bezel of the display. I am a huge fan of this functionality. For me so far, it works so well that most times I do not even see the lock screen when the laptop comes out of sleep mode because the iris scanner has picked me up so quickly. The key I find to making Hello work correctly is to let it scan you in decent natural light. Getting the saved iris scan right has allowed Hello to pick me up and log me in quickly, even in less than desirable lighting conditions.

Alcantara

Microsoft also took some heat from the media and potential consumers over the use of Alcantara for the top covering surrounding the keyboard and trackpad. Alcantara is a fabric that is commonly used in high-end luxury cars for the headliner and other fabric covered accents in the vehicle. I was skeptical prior to the Surface arriving, but now that I have been using the laptop for a while now I actually really like this material. I was expecting more of a felt-like feeling, much like the keyboard/cover on my Surface Pro 2, but it is considerably thinner and therefore more firm. It has not picked up any staining during my use and my palms can rest and slide with easy on the palm rests. I think most of those who were against the fabric covering were complaining for the sake of complaining.



Display

I also am in love with the display on the Surface Laptop. It is very bright, the saturation levels are perfect (for me) and having touch is a major benefit. My previous Lenovo X1 Carbon was a touchscreen model. When I upgraded to the 2016 model it came sans-touch. Having touch, and Surface Pen support, on the Surface Laptop is great. Even if you only use to scroll web pages and emails or pinch-to-zoom on an image, it is a feature worth having.

Software

Windows 10 S has been surprisingly pleasant to use during my time with this laptop. Windows 10 S, if you were unaware, only allows users to install an application from the Windows Store. Installing Win32 legacy application (.exe files) is not possible. When attempted the OS will prompt you that it is not able to perform this task links to a page explaining how to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Yes, I am missing being able to use Photoshop, but Elements is in the Store if needed and the Photos app that comes built into Windows is incredibly powerful and will only get better once the Surface Laptop receives the Fall Creators update. It hasn’t all been great with Windows 10 S though, continue to “The Bad” for more on that.



The Bad

The Keyboard

The Surface laptop, like all other Surface products before it is an exceptional piece of hardware. I only have one complaint about the hardware, and it is a pretty big one. As I mentioned before, my “daily-driver” laptop is a Lenovo X1 Carbon (2016). Lenovo has for years been known as king-of-the-hill in the battle for the best laptop keyboard. No other manufacturer has been able to beat them (in my opinion). I had extremely high hopes for the Surface Laptops keyboard, but I am sad to report that this keyboard just does not cut it. For a laptop at this price point with such a great overall build quality the keyboard should be near perfection. They key-throw is too shallow, and the entire keyboard seems to wobble or shift around when typing. It is good, and for most people, it may be perfectly acceptable, but if the keyboard on the X1 Carbon eats the Surface Laptop’s lunch every day of the week. One win I will give the Surface over the X1 Carbon is the function key (Fn). When pressed it remains engaged while you complete the action you are performing; such as ALT+F4 to close a window. The key has a small LED to indicate that the F-keys are enabled. It does not automatically disengage, which would be nice, but is better than having to hold the key like on other laptops.

 Trackpad: Great! Alcantara Fabric: Excellent! Keyboard: Meh!
Trackpad: Great! Alcantara Fabric: Excellent! Keyboard: Meh!

Microsoft Edge

The software experience with Windows 10 S has been mostly positive, but there is one major complaint I had to share. Microsoft Edge. The browser that took over for Internet Explorer seemed poised to be a real contender against Chrome. This is not the case. Now, don’t get me wrong though, Edge is lightyears ahead of where Intenet Explorer was. During my first week or two with the Surface, Edge was snappy and responsive. In recent days, however, it has felt more like a Samsung phone suffering from “OS-rot” after 4-6 months of use (come at me Samsung fans, you know it’s true!). Up until this part of the review, I was using Squarespace, via Edge to type this review, lousy keyboard and all. I reached a point though where I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Everything was lagging including keystrokes, clicking links sometimes left me waiting for several seconds before responding, which leads to double or triple-clicking said links. Yes, Edge does has made a lot of progress since Windows 10 first came to market and just recently Microsoft has been touting that Edge now has more than 70 extensions available in the Store. Extensions are great, but Edge is simply not


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The Bottom Line: Should You Buy The Surface Laptop?

For most, the keyboard on the Surface Laptop will be perfectly acceptable. I didn’t even mention the trackpad either. It is near, if not at, Macbook (pre-force touch) levels of quality. 

The largest drawback for most is going to be Windows 10 S. For me, aside from Edge being mostly a pain to use, staying within the Windows Store is fine. Now, I was a Windows Phone 7/8/8.1/10 user, so I was able to get buy with limited and slightly lower quality app selections for years. However, if you need to have Adobe Photoshop or Premier you’re going to want to make the jump to Windows 10 Pro. Fortunately, Microsoft is allowing Windows 10 S users to upgrade to Pro at no extra cost until December 31st, 2017. Starting in 2018, customers will need to pay a one time fee of $50 USD. 

So, would I recommend the Surface Laptop? Yes, absolutely. This may be the best Surface product Microsoft has ever released. The hardware experience overall is excellent. Battery life has been excellent. Windows Hello login is a major win. The only thing that is holding this laptop back is Windows 10 S, but that can easily be remedied at a fairly low cost.

You can purchase the Surface Laptop directly from Microsoft HERE.


One More Thing

There has been a lot of buzz of late regarding Microsoft potentially exiting the hardware space by 2019. The Surface Laptop could be a key indicator of this desire since it is not a new and innovative product category and was released merely “just because.” I do not see Microsoft getting out of the hardware space anytime soon. The Surface lineup allows Microsoft to showcase the power of Windows 10. One of the problems Microsoft has faced over the years is OEMs picking and choosing what parts of Windows customers can take advantage of thanks to the inclusion or exclusion of specific hardware (touchscreen, iris scanning, etc.). By keeping the Surface lineup around Microsoft can continue to innovate with Windows and showcase that innovation with their hardware. 

It is also worth noting that while I was writing this review, Panos Panay, the head of the Surface team has publicly said that the news of Microsoft killing off the Surface line and getting out of hardware is “so far from the truth.”


What do you think? Would you consider the Surface Laptop for your next laptop? Would you give Windows 10 S a chance or go Pro immediately?


Cozmo Goes Global With Collectors Edition and New Functionality

Everyone’s favourite robot, Cozmo, from Anki is now available to a much larger audience! He is also about to evolve dramatically thanks to a major update to his app which is being pushed out now too!

You can also pick up the Collectors Editon of Cozmo too. Which comes in a sleek Liquid Metal finish.

Check it out!

I have spent a lot of time with Cozmo since he arrived in Canada this summer. Every time Cozmo wakes up and begins to interact with you I am amazed at just how awesome this tiny little piece of tech is. He has learned a lot on his own and has become incredibly more skilled at playing games and completing tasks than he was the first few days he was with us. A game of keep-away was an easy win early on. Now Cozmo can keep up and in a lot of cases, win with ease, forcing us to watch him spin around and brag about his latest victory of us inferior humans. The work Anki has put into the development of Cozmo is truly amazing.

Check out my original Cozmo review right HERE

Since his USA launch last year, Cozmo has grown up a lot, and now he is primed for another growth-spurt.

It has been a pretty incredible run for this little guy. Cozmo had been in development for 5 years before we finally met him last year. He changed a lot over the course of his development before taking his final form at launch. Now, a little less than a year later and only a few months after coming north to Canada, Cozmo is ready to take over the world (in a cute and fun way, not in a Skynet rise of the machines kind of way. I promise…I hope).


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The work Anki has put into the development of Cozmo is truly amazing


Prior to today, Cozmo was only available in the USA and most recently, Canada. However, thanks to a lot of hard work from Anki, Cozmo is now available in the U.K., Japan, France, Germany and the Nordic countries. I mentioned above that Cozmo was primed for a growth-spurt too. Aside from rolling into new countries today, Cozmo’s application is seeing a major update to take your interaction level up significantly. 

Prior to today, Cozmo was pretty easy to manage and get a long with. You would play with him by teaching him new games and tasks and play them with or against him with the goal being to fully charge his emotions to unlock more functionality. The update being pushed today is set to “transform” the way you interact with him. 


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Cozmo now has three specific “needs” to keep his development moving along.

  • Play: Cozmo is smart (maybe too smart), and that means he’ll get bored without entertainment. You can keep his Play meter filled by playing games with him, helping him perform tricks, and letting him explore and interact with his Power Cubes.
  • Feed: You have to eat every day, right? So does Cozmo. Except he eats energy, which he gets from his Power Cubes. He needs your help to stay fed. When he’s satisfied, he’s more likely to play!
  • Tune Up: Cozmo’s a robot, and like other robots, he needs a quick fix every now and then. You can help him stay in tip-top shape by giving him a Tune-Up.

 If you don't play with Cozmo he will get bored. He is a pretty intelligent little guy, so lots of play helps him grow and learn more.
If you don’t play with Cozmo he will get bored. He is a pretty intelligent little guy, so lots of play helps him grow and learn more.

 Keep Cozmo fed to boost his energy levels.
Keep Cozmo fed to boost his energy levels.

 Like any robot, Cozmo may need a tune up after a busy day of play and exploration.
Like any robot, Cozmo may need a tune up after a busy day of play and exploration.


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As was the case before, the more you put into Cozmo, the more you get out of him. Just like training a pet. If you focus a lot of time and energy on him, the quicker he will pick up skills and be able to do more on his own.

If you have not had the update pushed to your Android or iOS device yet, sit tight, it should be ready for download soon.

Along with being available in more countries and seeing a major app update, Anki is also bringing us a new version of Cozmo, the Collectors Edition which is essentially the same Cozmo we all know and love, but in a sleek Liquid Metal finish. I haven’t been able to get my hands Cozmo just yet, as he seems to be taking the scenic route to get up to Canada. However, as soon as he arrives and meets his elder sibling I will be putting him through the paces to see how they two compare and most importantly, interact with each other. Stay tuned!



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While we await the CE edition of Cozmo, some homework.

  1. Check out my original Cozmo review right HERE.
  2. Check out the blog post from Anki announcing the upgrades to Cozmo’s app right HERE.
  3. Check out a few of the Cozmo accessories now available!
    1. Tread Pack: You can outfit your Cozmo in a new set of treads in the following colours: Osmosis Blue, Luminous Lime, New Dawn Yellow and Crimson Flame.
    2. Carrying Case: Cozmo deserves more than the bottom of your bag. Let Cozmo travel in style in a custom molded carrying case that holds Cozmo, his power cubes and charger.


As mentioned, the CE edition of Cozmo is on his way here to meet his big brother. So stay tuned for a full review soon and let me know what you think of the work Anki has put into Cozmo.

Will he be on your Christmas list this year?

**Updated** Unleash Your Inner Star Lord With This Replica Bluetooth Helmet From Marvel.

I don’t know about you, but I am very excited for the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie set to premiere later this year. As part of the marketing push from Marvel, we will see a lot of new toys and gear popping up everywhere. This on has to be the best one so far. Check out the Marvel Legends Series Star-Lord Electronic Helmet.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has come and gone from theatres, but as the video release nears the Star Lord Bluetooth Helmet is now available on Amazon.com for $108.99. It will be coming to Amazon Canada on September 1st, but can be pre-ordered now for a whopping $178.45.


The countdown is on for the release of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2. As part of what will likely be an onslaught officially licensed items leading up to the premier, Hasbro and Marvel have shown off a replica Start Lord helmet. 


This isn’t just any plastic replica helmet, though. It also comes with a Bluetooth headset built in.

Pop this helmet on and your practically Peter Quill.

The helmet will retail for $100 USD and can currently be pre-ordered on Amazon.com.

It currently is not available on Amazon.ca, but my fingers are crossed!

Oh, and here is the latest Guardians of the Galaxy trailer that dropped yesterday as well.

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Summer 2017 Essential Travel Camping Tech

If you are heading out for a camping trip or road trip this summer you should step up your travel tech game. Check out this list for a few ideas on some essential travel and camping tech gear for this summer.

If you are heading out for a camping trip or road trip this summer you should step up your travel tech game. Check out this list for a few ideas on some essential travel and camping tech gear for this summer.


UE WONDERBOOM Super Portable Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker



When you head out on any camping trip, bringing along a Bluetooth speaker is a must. Whether it be looking from some tunes to listen to during the day, at the camp fire or tunning in to listen to the game, a good speaker is key. For this summer I would recommend the UE WONDERBOOM Super Portable Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker.

Available on Amazon for $129.99 the UE speaker is available in black, red, orange and blue and offers 360-degree sound thanks to its cylindrical design.

The UE speaker offers up to ten hours of battery life and typical Bluetooth range of about 100 ft.

Why the this UE speaker though? The version of the speaker is “seriously waterproof” and will float thanks to its IPX7 rating.

Click the link below to pick one up now!

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SITPACK portable seat

Finding a good place to sit when on out and about hiking on a camping trip can be a challenge. With the SITPACK seat, you can mitigate this problem.



Weighing only 1.32 lbs and collapses down to the size of a 50cl can the SITPACK can hold up to 220.


You can pick up your own SITPACK directly from the the manufacturer here.

The SITPACK is currently avaiable for $60 USD


BioLite CampStove 2

The CampStove 2 is a portable wood burning stove that converts heat into electricity.

The CampStove 2 generates up to 50% more power output than the original CookStove while also containing a 2600 mAh battery. Something the first generation lacked.

Aside from producing clean and storable energy, the CampStove 2 can also be used for more conventional purposes such as cooking meals and boiling water using the Portable Grill and KettlePot add-ons.




The generator & power pack of the CampStove 2 contains USB Type-A ports for powering or charging your devices. It also contains 3 LED strips allowing you to keep tabs on fire strength, power output, and fan speed.

The CampStove 2 can be purchased directly from BioLite for $129.95 USD and qualifies for free shipping in Canada, the USA and Europe.


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Anker PowerCore+ 20100

Having a portable battery pack is an essential pretty much all the time these days thanks to the bevy of devices we carry with us. When camping it is even more of a necessity.

The Anker PowerCore+ 20100 is one of my favorites thanks to the flexibility and power offered by the USB type C port on top of the two USB type A ports.

As the title states, the battery comes with a 20100 mAh battery which is enough to charge most phones 4-5 times over.

Thanks to Anker’s “PowerIQ” and “VoltageBoost” technology the PowerCore+ 20100 offers rapid charging to most mobile phones and can also charge laptops like Apple’s MacBook.

You can pick it up on Amazon down below.

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AirSelfie

Now, this one may not be essential, but it will be sure to be both useful and fun.

The AirSelfie is a pocket-sized drone with a 5-megapixel video camera. It only has a three minute flying time per charge and a range of about 20 meters but would make an excellent companion when hiking unknown terrain, allowing you to scout out the area and avoid getting into an undesirable position.


The AirSelfie will set you back about $280 USD, so it is far from inexpensive, but if used effectively, will be worth every penny.

You can learn more and pre-order the AirSelfie here.


What do you think of the list? Anything you will be picking up for heading out this summer?

Anything you would add to the list?

Let me know below!


Sphero is at it again: Now you can own your very own Lightning McQueen

Love your Sphero BB-8 App-enabled Droid? Then you’re really going to love what Sphero has come up with next. Check out the Ulitmate Lightning McQueen, just in time for Cars 3.

I love my BB-8 droid from Sphero. Being able to have your own app-enabled, semi-autonomous robot that can roam around, project messages and watch Star Wars with you is every geek’s dream.  Add in a Force Band, and you’re living the dream. Now imagine if you could also have another nostalgic app-enabled gadget to do these same things with or at least some of it. Well, now you can.


Sphero is at it again with their latest release. With the next installment in the Cars franchise, Cars 3, right around the corner, the company has teamed up with Disney-Pixar to release the Ultimate Lightning McQueen. And by all accounts, they have brought their A-game with this one.



All previous Sphero devices have been round or cylindrical shapes (hence Sphero), but Lightning McQueen is a full-fledged car with a ton of the life like personality kids and adults have enjoyed while watching the Cars movies.

Lightning McQueen has animated LCD eyes, an animatronic mouth, running LED headlights & taillights and emotive vehicle suspension allowing him to convey his feelings while he interacts with you.

Controlled via Bluetooth and the Lightning McQueen app which is available for iOS and Android devices users can take advantage of the following Lightning McQueen features:

  • Driving – Emotive suspension allows Lightning to move like a champion.
  • Drifting – Drift and do donuts Lightning-style with authentic movement.
  • Reactive Touch – Master Lightning’s latest moves with a simple tap.
  • Build Strategy – Match wits with Lightning and sharpen your skills.
  • Acting Studio – Create animations for Lightning to perform.

As mentioned, Lightning is Bluetooth controlled and has a range of about 30 meters. He also can drive at speeds of up to 6 mph with an approximate 40-minute battery life.


Ultimate Lightning McQueen App – Available for iOS and Android devices:


Sphero is doing a lot of really amazing things right now with both their consumer-focused and educational-focused robotics products, and I am sure the Ultimate Lightning McQueen car will continue that trend.

 

 


I hope to get my hands on the Ultimate Lightning McQueen shortly for a full review and showdown with BB-8.

What do you think of the Ultimate Lightning McQueen toy? You can pick one up here for $299.99 USD.

Oh, and while you are there. Have a look at the app-enabled Spiderman tease too

Midnight Black OnePlus 3T Mini Reivew

Meet the OnePlus 3T in Midnight Black. An already great phone made even better! Click through for my min-review.

I would like to start off by saying. Everything should be matte black. Especially electronics. 

Having owned the OnePlus 3 for the better part of the last year, I was skeptical of the benefits to moving up to the OnePlus 3T, so I stuck with the OnePlus 3

However, I was given the opportunity to review the new Midnight Black OnePlus 3T and had went into it with low expectations. I expected the phone to be great, but not a noticable upgrade from the 3 to the 3T. 

But after using the phone for a short time one thing is obvious. This is everything the OnePlus 3 should have been. It is snappier, packs in a few additional specs and looks stunning!


WHAT’S IN THE BOX

The unboxing experience of the OnePlus 3T was identical to that of the OnePlus 3 except for the inclusion of a silicon/TPU case and a few OnePlus logo and Dash Charge stickers.


So, where does the OnePlus 3T differ from the OnePlus 3?

Design wise; there is no difference. The same unibody metal design was used on both devices. In fact, there is no was to tell the difference from the 3T vs. the 3 except the colours. The 3 was only available in silver, with the 3T coming in a different gunmetal gray or midnight black.

 Left: OnePlus 3, Right: OnePlus 3T
Left: OnePlus 3, Right: OnePlus 3T


The changes from the 3 to the 3T are under the hood.

The OnePlus 3T comes with an upgraded Snapdragon 821 processor which is supposed to provide better battery life, improved camera performance and a tad snappier performance wise.

The battery in the 3T also got a slight bump from 3,000 mAh to 3,400 mAh. My OnePlus 3 struggled to get through a full day (5:30 am to 10:00 pm) without needing a top up on the way home. The slight bump should hopefully be enough the get through most standard usage days. So far I have been squeeking through the day with about 15% left. Not a great improvement, but I will take it.

The rear-camera did not change, sensor wise, however, was outfitted with a sapphire glass lens to replace the glass on the 3.

The front-camera however, did see a significant upgrade. Moving from an 8 MP sensor to a 16 MP sensor. My selfie game on the original OnePlus 3 was subpar due to the less than exceptional quality of the sensor. The bump in resolution is nice to see. So far I saw a slight improvement but, still fell the quality lacks behind when I compare shots against the Nexus 6P.

Anyone who used the OnePlus 3 will be pleased to know that the 3T uses the same software, Oxygen OS, which is possibly the most stock/vanilla version of Android we have seen since the Nexus 5X and 6P were replaced by the Pixel line. This version of Android paired with the amazing specs OnePlus has outfitted the 3T with provides an incredible experience from a usability point-of-view.

On the topic of software, OnePlus has been keeping to their word and has provided updates to Oxygen OS at a very regular cadence. As of this week, all OnePlus 3 and 3T models were pushed Android 7.1.1 with the March 1, 2017, security patch. The big question remain though; Will OnePlus forget the 3 and 3T exist when the rumored OnePlus 5 launches later in 2017? Previous OnePlus devices were ignored when the next model came out. I’m going to remain optimistic that the OnePlus 3 and 3T will see Android O later this year. OnePlus has transformed themselves into a very mature company in the last 12-14 months.


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The camera quality of the 3T, when compared to the 3, is pretty much the same. I did notice that the shots were slightly more clean and crisp with less digital noise. This can be attributed to the CPU differences and improvements on the software front. Using the HD mode in low-light scenarios has proven to be more effective when compared against the 3


OVERALL & SHOULD YOU BUY THIS

Overall, the OnePlus 3T is an absolute killer phone at an excellent price. If you are in need of a phone right now and do not wish to break the bank on a new Galaxy S8 or LG G6, the OnePlus 3T is the only phone I would recommend.

Most reviews of the 3T have referenced some bugs, but in my use, there has been nothing to report on the bug front. The performance has been excellent, battery life is acceptable and the experience almost entirely positive. 

If you are just starting to kick the tires on a new phone or are currently using the OnePlus 3, I would suggest sitting this one out. The specs are great, but so are the OnePlus 3’s. So, unless the matte black is calling your name and you just have to have it, I suggest waiting for the OnePlus 5.

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Special Anki Overdrive “Fast and Furious” Edition Coming in September

Anki is back it with an upgraded special edition Overdrive Kit featuring some of your favourite cars and characters from the Fast and Furious franchise.

Last year I reviewed the Overdrive Starter Kit from Anki, makers of the Cozmo robot. We had a lot of fun testing these AI-powered Super Cars out using the included specialized start track. Check out that review here.


There is a bevy of different Supercars, Supertrucks and track accessories available for purchase to keep the fun going, but Anki is bringing something new this fall, just in time for the holidays.

Anki has formed a partnership with the Fast and Furious franchise to release the Fast and Furious Edition which will be available this September for $229.99 (CAD) or $169.99 (USD).

The special edition will give Overdrive fans Dom’s Ice Charger, Hobbs’ MST and a “new exclusive track piece.” This new track piece is listed as the “Power Zone” in the specs for the new kit. It is also worth noting that the new kit ships with one less straight track piece than the standard starter kit and includes in 12 guardrails.

It is worth noting that users will need to download a different version of the Overdrive app, designed specifically for the Fast and Furious Edtion. 

Anki also told me that Hobbs’ MXT and Dom’s Ice Charger will not be made available as stand-alone vehicles for purchase. So, if you are looking to experience Overdrive the Fast and Furious way, you will need to purchase the entire kit. 

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Pre-Orders for the Fast and Furious Overdrive edition begin May 16. You can sign up for notifications on Anki.com.

You can read the full press release from Anki here

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Meet the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ & Where To Buy In Canada

Check out the specs, pricing, and availability of the S8 and S8+.

The day has finally come.

Samsung has finally taken the wraps off their next flagship devices. The Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+. 

Samsung delayed the launch of their 2017 flagships because they were still cleaning up the dumpster fire that was the Note 7 🔥🔥. So instead of new Galaxy’s at MWC we were blessed with a tablet, the Tab S3 Pro. 

Egar to move past all of that, we knew Samsung was going to bring it this year, and by all accounts, it appears they have done just that.

The North American versions of the S8/S8+ will be powered by the Snapdragon 835 SoC, 4GB RAM a 12MP rear-facing camera and a 8MP front-facing camera.

Both cameras are sure to eat the lunch of all other phones launched in the last 6 months.

Check out the breakdown of the full spec sheet below.

In Canada, the S8 and S8+ will be available on April 21st in Midnight Black and Orchid Grey. Two other colours, Arctic Silver and Maple Gold will be available elsewhere. 

I find it funny Canada will not see Arctic or Maple. Seriously?

Canadian carriers that have announced the release of the S8 and S8+ are Rogers, Bell, Bell MTS, Virgin, Fido, Koodo, SaskTel, Tbaytel, Freedom Mobile and Videotron.

Carrier contract pricing looks to be $249.99 for the S8 and $319.99 for the S8+, both on 2-year terms.

You will be able to purchase the S8 and S8+ unlocked as well for $1,035 and $1,115 respectively.

What do you think? Were you impressed by what Samsung showed off today? Or would you rather sit on your wallet and wait for the Pixel 2 later this year?

BioLite CampeStove 2

Remember when camping involved packing up the car with a tent, sleeping bags, matches, clothes, food and bug spray?

 

Forget all of that. We can’t camp today unless we have smart devices and power to keep them charged! The BioLite CampStove 2 is here to meet that need. Check it out!

Remember when camping involved packing up the car with a tent, sleeping bags, matches, clothes, food and bug spray?

Well; those days are over. It is time to come to terms with the new way of camping which involves several smart devices, battery packs and things of the like. I have accepted this reality and stress before a camping trip about things like; Do I bring one portable battery or two? Should I bring a second lightning cable? Does the tablet have enough movies and shows for the kids? 

Welcome to the future! Isn’t it great!

The CampStove 2 from BioLite is something I am seriously considering for this year’s camping outings. I am always tweaking the packing list for each years camping, and something like this is certainly going to be beneficial for my family and me.



What is it?

The CampStove 2 is a portable wood burning stove that converts heat into electricity.

The CampStove 2 generates up to 50% more power output than the original CookStove while also containing a 2600 mAh battery. Something the first generation lacked.

Aside from producing clean and storable energy, the CampStove 2 can also be used for more conventional purposes such as cooking meals and boiling water using the Portable Grill and KettlePot add-ons.

Click here to check out all compatible BioLite add-ons

The generator & power pack of the CampStove 2 contains USB Type-A ports for powering or charging your devices. It also contains 3 LED strips allowing you to keep tabs on fire strength, power output, and fan speed.


Check out the CampStove 2 promo video from BioLite.


The CampStove 2 can be purchased directly from BioLite for $129.95 USD and qualifies for free shipping in Canada, the USA and Europe.


What do you think? Is the CampStove 2 something you would consider bringing on your next camping adventure?

Do you miss the old days of roughing it in the woods? Or have you embraced this new way of camping?

Review: Aukey Neckband Bluetooth Headset (AUKEY EP-B20)

Looking for a more affordable alternative to the Apple-Beats X Bluetooth headphones? Check out my review of the AUKEY EP-B20 Neckband headset. For $23 how do they stack up?

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of buzz around the release of the Beats X from Apple. 

The Beats X take advantage of Apples W1 chip, which is also found in the Apple Airpods. The W1 chip allows for nearly instant pairing to most Apple products. Open the dental floss case of the Airpods, or turn on the Beats X near your iOS or macOS device and you are immediately prompted to pair. You can also use the aforementioned Apple products with Android device too, but you will not be met with the instantaneous pairing. The Airpods also end up being pretty limited in their use.

I am not an iOS or macOS user, and I am not too concerned with the instant pairing offered by the W1 chip. What I am concerned with is having a quality set of Bluetooth earbuds or headset that work consistently, when I turn them on, each and every time. Something that, unfortunately, most Bluetooth headsets do not offer.

With all of this in mind, I almost pulled the trigger on the $179.99 (CAD) Apple Beats X headphones (sorry the Airpods are not my style). They looked good; they appeared to function well according to most reports in the media, but wow, they are expensive. Being expensive is a Beats tradition. You are paying a Beats/Apple tax when you buy these products because they are just as much a status symbol as other products from Apple. Don’t get me wrong, though; Apple hardware is almost always the best quality you will find in the consumer market.

Eventually, I decided not to buy them, at least not yet, and thought, maybe there is an equivalent product on the market that performs just as well (on Android) for a fraction of the cost. My first stopping point was Amazon. I immediately chose to see what Aukey had to offer since I have been every impressed with their other headset options in the past. I recently reviewed a foldable over-the-ear set (https://www.gadgetsyrup.com/home/2016/12/6/review-aukey-foldable-bluetooth-headphones), as well as a behind the head sport-style headset (https://www.gadgetsyrup.com/home/2016/9/14/aukey-water-resistant-sport-bluetooth-headphones) and enjoyed them both very much.

After looking through the different offerings, I found the Aukey EP-B20s which are a neckband style headset more like the LG Tones than the Beats X, but it was the closest available at this moment in time.

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The Aukey Neckband Headset will set you back $22.99 (CAD) on Amazon Canada right now, which is nearly $160 cheaper than the Beats X.

Now, obviously you are thinking, a $23 headset will not stand up to a $200 headset, and you are likely right. The question, however, is if they are good enough.

WHAT’S IN THE BOX



Inside the box, you will find the familiar packing items found in all Aukey products

– Headset
– microUSB charging cable
– small and large ear tips
– manual
– warranty insert



BUILD QUALITY

The first thing I will say about the build quality is to remember that this headset costs only $23.

The makeup of the headset is mostly plastic with some rubberized components as well. These materials provide for a very light headset, making it very comfortable for you to wear around your neck for prolonged periods. The trade-off, however, is that they feel as cheap as they cost. I’m not very confident that this headset will stand up for very long. 

The power button is a toggle style switch that feels as though it will break apart at any given moment. Often I have to toggle it a few times to turn the headset on or off. I am pretty sure this will be the first point of failure for this headset.



My next concern with the build is the call and playback controls. Overall, they work fairly well, but they are rather gummy, and on a few occasions the Play/Pause button has gotten stuck, which required some massaging of the button to release it again.

The lightweight build of the neckband should logically lend itself well to exercise and fitness. It is a mixed bag here. For weight lifting, sure, they are fine. However, they can get in the way in some cases when compared to a traditional Bluetooth headset.

Running with the neckbands, however, is not a desirable experience. Regardless of their weight, this style will cause a lot of distraction during a run. I ran for about 30 minutes on the treadmill with them on and while they did stay in my ears no problem, but the band itself was always banging off my collarbone. 



SOUND QUALITY

The audio output of the neck buds headset was pretty respectable for a budget pair. I have said it many times before, but let me repeat it. I am not an audiophile in any way at all. However, I can discern and appreciate the difference between “good” and “bad” audio output.

Most of my listening is to audio books and podcasts. Not very often do I listen to music through a headset. The Aukey’s do offer more bass than most other budget brands found on Amazon such as MPOW. However, it is not a significant improvement.

Never did I experience any issues with the audio levels being too high or low and volume levels can get high enough to be heard in a busy environment.

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BATTERY LIFE

I think the most impressive aspect of the neckband is the excellent battery life. I have been using the Aukey EP-B20’s for about two weeks now, and I have found that the battery just keeps going and going.



On more than one occasion, I have left the band turned on for hours on end with intermittent periods of listening or standby. Not once have I heard the familiar “chirp-chirp, battery low” interruption. I usually plug the band in every 2-3 days and let them charge back up overnight. 

SHOULD YOU BUY THESE?

Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised with how positive my experience with the Aukey EP-B20 neckband has been. They are comfortable for extended periods of time, designed fairly well, and have excellent battery life. There are some shortcomings and limitations to their design. However, I feel that the positives outweigh the negatives enough to recommend these to others. Remember, they are only $23, not $200, but they deliver much more than the $23 price tag would lead you to think.

What do you think? Are the Aukey’s an acceptable budget alternative the Beats X or would you rather shell out the dough to get the more premium offerings?

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse Review

Check out my review of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse. I recently decided it was time to improve my ergonomic setup after taking a few weeks off of work, only to return to a considerable amount of discomfort when I started using a mouse again.

I recently took a few weeks off of work, spending next to no time at all using a mouse. My computer use was limited to either my Surface Pro as a tablet or my Nexus 6P phone.

Upon returning to work, I almost immediately felt discomfort and pain in my right hand. At first, it was not significant, but after a few days of using my mouse again my hand was considerably irritated. Clearly the discomfort was being caused by the use of a mouse. 

I had often considered an ergonomic mouse in the in the past, but alway stuck with my traditional standard notebook mouse from Logitech. The older Logitech MX Anywhere to be concise.

However, the direct correlation between my hand pain and mouse use was enough to kick the search for a better, more ergonomic mouse into full gear.

I was strongly considering the Anker offering which looks much like a shark fin. However, after using it on-loan from a co-worker for a week or two, it was too dramatic of a design to be useful for me. I have larger than average hands which made the shark fin design almost more challenging to use than a traditional style mouse.

Having used and enjoyed the Bluetooth Microsoft Sculpt Comfort mouse in the past I decided to “pull the trigger” on Microsofts Ergonomic mouse.



The Sculpt Ergonomic mouse is shaped much like a baseball and does an effective job of keeping your wrist and hand in a more natural position. When holding a traditional mouse, your radius and ulna are crossed with each other. This will inevitably lead to discomfort. A more natural resting position for your arm/wrist/hand is found when holding your arm on its side, or with your palm up.

I have used the Sculpt Ergonomic mouse for a little over two weeks now. I am very pleased with the immediate comfort and relief provided to my hand and wrist in such a short period.

The mouse comes with a few useful features as well that any modern mouse should come with at minimum.

  • Scroll wheel
  • Windows Button
  • Back Button

Those are pretty basic features found on most mice today. However, many ergonomic offerings lack these, as they are focusing on the form, more than the function. 

The absence of a forward button is unfortunate considering that amount of space available on the thumb side of the mouse.

My biggest issue with the mouse is not with the physical mouse itself but rather its choice of connectivity to the PC. In a time where port-limited ultrabooks reign supreme, Microsoft elected to use a 2.4Ghz wireless connection which requires a dongle.


#DONGLELIFE


Almost all wireless peripherals today are using Bluetooth rather than 2.4Ghz wireless, including many of Microsofts own keyboards and mice. Not only did they choose the #donglelife for users of this mouse, but the size of the dongle used is a bit disappointing.



The mouse takes advantage of Microsofts “BlueTrack” technology, which allows users to use the mouse on nearly any surface, including glass and is powered by two AA batteries.

Another thoughtful design choice Microsoft made with the Sculpt Ergonomic mouse is the battery door. Rather than a traditional click-in design, this one uses magnets to keep the door secure. Removing the door also reveals a slot to stow-away the massive wireless dongle for safe keeping while on the go. 

SHOULD YOU BUY THIS?

I would absolutely recommend this mouse over others for users who are either dealing with some sort of discomfort while using their current mouse or simply wanting to make a healthier choice ergonomically to avoid future unwanted pain while using the computer.

The Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse can be purchased from Amazon for $55.43 CAD with a Prime Membership.


Review: Anker SoundCore Sport Waterproof Speaker

Changing things up with a speaker review this time! The Anker SoundCore Sport is powerful Bluetooth speaker in a tiny package, and it is waterproof! Check out the full review!

Taking a bit of a detour from headphones and headsets, I’ve decided to try out the Anker SoundCore Sport mini Bluetooth wireless speaker. I don’t spend a lot of time listening to audio through actual speakers. My working environment lends better to the use of headphones. However, there are times, such as at the beach, out by the pool or having a backyard BBQ where I may want to play some music. If you’re going to invest in a speaker for this type of use, you don’t want just any cheap speaker; you want one that is going to be able to withstand the elements. 

Well, I think I have found the perfect speaker to foot the bill here.

The Anker SoundCore Sport is an extension to the ever-growing line of Anker audio products. It is extremely affordable and contained in a tiny package. Read on below the break for the full review and final verdict.


 Brad, we do this every time...
Brad, we do this every time…

WHAT IS IN THE BOX

SoundCore Sport Speaker
Manual + warranty info (18 months)
Charging Cable (Micro USB)
Silicon wrist strap


SPECIFICATIONS

Weight: 227 grams
Dimensions: 8.5×8.5×4.5 cm
IPX7 rated for resistance to water, snow, dust, and sand
3W driver and subwoofer delivering Hi-Fi sound quality
33-foot range
10hr playback
Built-in microphone, for taking calls from your connected device


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BUILD QUALITY

Despite the exceptionally small size of the SoundCore Sport, I was very satisfied with the quality feel of the speaker. This premium build is the case for most Anker products, however.

The plastic housing of the speaker feels very durable, as do the speaker grills on both the front and back. As mentioned, the Sport is IPX7 rated, but it is not designed to withstand extreme physical abuse. Based on my experience, the Sport should have no problem surviving small falls, but its plastic construction could be prone to breaking if dropped from too high.

The buttons on the Anker are typical of other waterproof speakers with a nearly flat design that is sealed off to stop water from entering between the button and the external chassis.


PERFORMANCE

I was blown away by how much pop this speaker had. Compared to my older, but much larger JBL speaker, the Anker was much louder, clearer and has so much more base.

Listening to a variety of different podcasts, audio books, and music the Anker could be heard clear across any room in the house, even when competing with other noises.

Controlling the functions of the speaker via the volume, power and call answer buttons was rather difficult. The buttons are so flush and being sealed, that pressing them is almost impossible to do unless you make a conscious effort to ensure you press the button correctly.


BOTTOM LINE – SHOULD I BUY THIS?

For the price, and the pop provided by the speaker; you should buy this. This is worth every penny. A small gripe with the buttons is easy to get past since you can control most functions of the speaker from your paired phone or computer.

Christmas is close, but if you order soon, this would be a great stocking stuffer!


Review: Aukey EP-B18 Foldable Bluetooth Headphones

Having tried many different earbud style Bluetooth headphones this year, I felt it was time to try on a pair of on-ear style headphones. Check out the the GadgetSyrup review of the Aukey EP-B18 Foldable Bluetooth Headphones.

I’ve spent a lot of time testing and reviewing different Bluetooth ear buds this year. I have used many good and not-so-good sets of in-ear earbud headsets. Every single pair though has the same problem for me. That problem is that they are not comfortable to wear for any extended period. The same can be said for wired earbuds as well. The in-ear design, for me, is not comfortable for long periods. 

I have never really considered a simple pair of on-ear headphones since they historically have been bulky, heavy and uncomfortable. However, times have changed, and many manufacturers are producing affordable, high-quality on-ear headphones. 

I have had the opportunity to test out the Aukey Foldable EP-B18 on-ear headphones, and I have been impressed by the quality and comfort they have delivered. Read on below the break for the full review.


WHAT’S IN THE BOX

 Relax, Brad. It's just headphones.
Relax, Brad. It’s just headphones.

Delivered in relatively simple packaging you are met with the headphones, micro USB charging cable and a 3.5mm male-to-male cable which can be used to convert the headphones into a wired set.

You will also find the warranty information card, which is for two years.


SPECS

Aukey lists the playback time for this headset at 10 hours. While also stating 200 hours of standby time. In my use, I was able to achieve about 7-8 hours of playback on a single charge. Your mileage may vary.

Like most other Bluetooth headphones these days, they contain Bluetooth A2DP, which stands for Advanced Audio Distribution Profile. What does this mean? Simply put, it allows audio to transmit from your phone to your headphones without compromising the sound quality. Bluetooth audio is still well back compared to the quality of wired, but having this tech built in does usually lead to a better listening experience. You will also find that pairing and use of the playback controls work better with devices containing A2DP.


BUILD QUALITY

 You can call Dr. Venkman & the Ghostbusters using the EP-B18s! They have a mic for making phone calls too!
You can call Dr. Venkman & the Ghostbusters using the EP-B18s! They have a mic for making phone calls too!

The overall build quality of the headphones is fairly decent. They do feel a tad cheap due to their plastic construction. However, the quality and comfort of the foam earpiece covers are slightly above average.

The slightly sub-par build quality though did not lead to an unfavorable experience when it came to comfort. Since these are on-ear, the headphones were extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods. I spent most of my time wearing them while at work, sitting at my desk. Unlike earbuds these headphones never cause any irritation while I was using them.

The USB connector on most Bluetooth headphones I have used is consistently sub-par in their design and hard to access. The ease of access on the Aukey’s however, was excellent in comparison to others. Most of this attributes to the size of the headphones compared to the earbud design. The same applies to the 3.5mm auxiliary jack on the opposing earpiece. 

The headphones are also foldable. The ability to fold these down is welcomed, making them easier to put in your laptop bag while on the go. They do not fold completely flat like some other designs can. However, they do fold down to be compact enough to travel well.

 Easy to use folding design allows the EP-B18s to travel well.
Easy to use folding design allows the EP-B18s to travel well.


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PERFORMANCE

The audio quality of the Aukey EP-B18 is good. Not great, just good. For spoken audio such as podcasts and audio books, the quality is slightly above average. However, music is a somewhat different story. It is passable in most scenarios, however, for songs that have high treble with sharp sounds you will find that the audio is quite tinny. 

If you are like me, listening to mostly podcasts and audio books, these are completely passable, particularly in the price point, these are offered. If you’re any audiophile, which I am most certainly not, you may want to move up to a higher price tier to find something more suitable. 

Switching over to the 3.5mm wired option I did conclude that the tinny pitch was not quite as noticeable. So the previously mentioned tinny sounds can be attributed to the quality of Bluetooth audio. It has improved significantly but still has a way to go before it is on-par with a wired connection. Once the 3.5mm cable is connected, the power to the headphones shuts off, which will save you battery for when you need it.

The volume controls, which are positioned on the right ear piece, leave much to be desired. First, they do not function when using the 3.5mm connection. When using them over Bluetooth, I found that the controls were hard to locate and use. There is a small raised “nib” on the volume up/down controls which are supposed to make it easier to find. This was not the case for me, and I would prefer that they used a dimple-style design for you fingers to slide into. 

 The power button is tactile, but the volume controls are sub-par.
The power button is tactile, but the volume controls are sub-par.


BOTTOM LINE – SHOULD I BUY THIS?

So; should you buy these? For $35.99 CAD, absolutely. They are decent enough quality that you will not be disappointed with the purchase. If you are seeking a high-quality music experience, you’re not looking at this price point. You are likely looking to something like the Bose QC35 headphones. 

These are best suited for someone looking for a decent listening experience for podcasts and spoken audio but may also want to play music from time to time.

You can purchase the Aukey EP-B18 from Amazon.ca.

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Anki Overdrive Review

After talking about Anki and Overdrive for months, I finally got my hands on the Overdrive Starter Kit to review.

If you’re still looking for that big gift for the kids, this may be exactly what you are looking for!

I’ve been talking a lot about Anki’s products over the last few months. It started with Cozmo, which is giving the NES Classic Edition a run for its money in the battle for top toy supremacy this holiday season. 

After I had learned about and fell in love with Cozmo and Anki, I discovered their other AI-powered product, Overdrive. 

Overdrive, as I have explained it, is akin to a Hot Wheels track on steroids combined with Mario Kart. It is app enabled and AI driven. It is also loads of fun! 

Thanks to the folks at Anki, I have now had the opportunity to test out the Overdrive Starter Kit. Read on for the full review!


WHAT’S IN THE BOX

 Relax, Brad. It's just a race track.
Relax, Brad. It’s just a race track.

Inside the Overdrive starter kit, you will find the following.

– 2 Robotic Supercars named Skull and Ground Shock
– 6 curved track pieces
– 4 straight track pieces
– 2 track riser pieces
– 1 tire cleaner
– 1 charging base, which accommodates up to 4 cars

Once you have unpacked and set up your track in one of 8 possible configurations, you will need to head over to the Apple App Store or Google Play Store to download the Anki Overdrive application. Sorry Windows Mobile users…

The Overdrive app is available on devices running iOS 8 and up, and Android 5 and up.


HOW DOES THE AI WORK

So how exactly does artificial intelligence drive this “toy”? Well, you have a lot of input, and control over your own Supercar, but the cars you are racing against will use their AI to scan the track, allowing them to set the best racing course. Your opponents also use AI to understand your racing habits while it plans out how to track you down and disable you. 

Each car and virtual commander can consider more than 50,000 possible actions to defeat you on the track. Anything from zipping around you on the last turn or disabling you with a flurry of weapon attacks from the onset of the race.

Each car has a unique set of attributes and arsenal of weapons to use during a race. Skull, for example, is not the quickest Supercar, nor does he have the greatest defense, but his firepower packs enough of a punch to take down nearly any opponent. Whereas, Ground Shock packs a lot less firepower but can use his speed to stay far enough ahead to avoid weapon blasts.

SETUP AND GAMEPLAY

After setting up the track, which clicks together using magnets, you are ready to go. Launching the app on your phone or tablet then prompts you to place your Supercars on the charging base so they can sync with your device and perform any needed updates. 

Once that it is out of the way, the app will prompt you to place the cars on the track and choose from one of the following game modes.

– Race – First across the line wins
– Battle – Take our your opponents, scoring points to win
– Time Trial – Race the clock
– King of the Hill – Hold the lead longer than the rest of the pack to win
– Tournament – Battle the AI through various challenges. Take them all down to win!

The controls of the app while racing is very easy to figure out. My only gripe with the app was that I could not flip the controls horizontally on the screen. I was forced to use my left hand to control my cars speed. I would have preferred to flip it, giving speed controls to my dominate hand.

Before you start racing, each car needs to learn the track configuration you have setup. To do this, the Supercars are equipped with dedicated CPUs and IR camera scan the specially coated track 500 times per second. The cars will now know exactly where they are on the race track.

Once the track scan is complete, this is where the real fun began for me. The race to an observer may be rather boring to watch, but being in control of one of the cars is a lot of fun. 

You start off at full speed and jump ahead of your opponent, only to look down and see your being pulled in by a tractor beam. Once you’ve been reeled in, you are now under fire from a short range missile attack. Firing back with your tractor beam brings your opponent back into range will allow you to take them down with something like a plasma cannon. That may not be enough, though. To deliver the final blow and pull away from your enemy, you may need to slow down to crawl, get in line with them and drop a depth charge to stop them in their tracks. Now you can floor it and take the lead for the remainder of the race.

All of the above is done with your smartphone or tablet with a few simple controls. I should also add; you can steer your car by tilting your device left of right to move across the four racing lanes.

Between the gameplay on your device and seeing the cars zip around the track is a lot of fun. Kids are sure to love it, and even the kid in all of us will enjoy joining in on the fun.

 You're dog may want to join in on the fun too!
You’re dog may want to join in on the fun too!


QUALITY

The quality of the track, cars, and app are all excellent. 

The track, as mentioned snaps together using magnets. Not once did I encounter any issues with it staying together,  even when using the riser pieces to add a small hill to the racing environment.

The cars are made mostly out of plastic, especially the outer body. I had no issues with their durability during my testing period, however, over time there could be cause for concern if you frequently use the collision figure 8 track setup or introduce the much larger, heavier Supertrucks into the mix. I do not think this is a major concern, but something to consider.

Back to the track. I was amazed at how well the cars clung to the track. I recall growing up; I had a race car track that used remote controlled, motorized cars that held onto the track with the weakest of magnets. Every turn at high speed would send your car sailing off the track. This was never the case with Overdrive. With the tight turns, banked corners, and moderate collisions the cars stayed on the track. Even when the clipped the edge of the track, the AI was able to get you car back on track and remain in the race.


BOTTOM LINE – SHOULD YOU BUY OVERDRIVE

Absolutely! The cost of this product may seem high when compared to other similar products, but the gaming experience and the intelligence of the AI-powered opponents make it worth the extra investment.

There are also several ways you can add to the Overdrive fun by adding additional track pieces, other cars, and trucks which can inject new life into the product once the shine wears off.

You can buy Overdrive starter kits addition Supercars or Supertrucks and accessories from Anki, Amazon, and Toys R’ US.

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