• Reviews and Hands-on

    by Published on 03-15-2018 09:45 AM
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    Spoiler alert: Spotify is the clear winner, at least for me.

    I suspect that hardcore music enthusiasts who use Android will have already chosen their music streaming service; for anyone else thinking about which one is worth paying for, here's a summary of my own experiences with three popular apps.

    Amazon Music
    If you have Amazon Prime then you've also got Amazon Prime Music, the ad-free version of their streaming service. Their music catalogue seems fine, and the Android app can also cast to Android TV. Unfortunately their web player requires Flash, which tends to slow down my already taxed Chrome browser.

    Google Play Music
    If you want PC playback of your streaming music then Google is your obvious choice, with a web player that's optimized for Chrome and an Android app that effortlessly casts to Android TV. And if you wanted an ad-free YouTube experience then the paid version of Google Play Music would also be the obvious choice, as a subscription also includes YouTube Red. Unfortunately that perk is not yet available to those of us living in Canada.

    Nonetheless, I took a 30-day free trial of Google Play Music, in the hopes that YouTube Red would one day make its way here. That would have been the end of the story, but my girlfriend suggested that I try out some other services before committing to GPM. That turned out to be some excellent advice.

    With some 70 million registered users Spotify is far and away the world's most popular music streaming service. They also offer a 30-day free trial, so I signed up with the intention of doing some A/B testing between Spotify and Google Play Music, and see if I could stump either one with a random music request.

    The track that tipped the scales in favour of Spotify was this very random Japanese single that showed up in the girlfriend's YouTube feed. I'm guessing that it translates to The Futon Song...?

    Bizarre, right? Anyway, Spotify has this track; Google Play Music does not. Advantage: Spotify. And then I discovered that Spotify also has native clients for Debian, Linux Mint and Ubuntu. Game over; Spotify wins.

    Hopefully this little write-up will be of use to someone who's not yet decided on an Android music streaming service. Feel free to add your own insights and/or opinions directly below.

    Play Store links: Amazon Music, Google Play Music, Spotify

    by Published on 03-07-2018 07:45 AM
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    ... Which Apple in turn copied from the Palm Pre. And the cycle of tech "innovation" continues.

    What I'm talking about here is gesture-based navigation, currently all the rage on the latest fruit phone. As luck would have it, it's also an option on the latest Open Beta of OxygenOS for the OnePlus 5T—the one without the capacitive buttons and front-facing fingerprint sensor / home button. Here's a close-up of my current home screen running the beta:

    Notice the complete absence of software navigation buttons. It doesn't seem like such a big deal at first, but it very quickly makes my FHD+ screen feel bigger and the entire OS more modern. A few more examples:

    Here's what typing looks like with the navigation buttons enabled...

    ... And here's what it looks like without. To be fair, a dark background behind the navigation buttons would make them look a lot better, but still not nearly as elegant as not having them at all.The gestures themselves are intuitive enough that they'll very quickly become second nature. Here's all you need to know:

    Home screen - swipe up from bottom-centre and release;
    App switcher - swipe up from bottom-centre and hold;
    Go back - swipe up from bottom-left or bottom-right and release.

    If still unclear, here are the gestures in action, courtesy of Droid Life:

    I wouldn't yet call it perfect on the OnePlus. If you've never seen the navigational aid that Apple has on their iPhone X, it's a thin black strip at the bottom of the screen from which you can begin your swipe upwards. On the 5T there's no such aid, and swiping successfully can sometimes take a couple of tries. Yet I am convinced that this is a much better way to get around your phone. Hopefully this feature will make it to a stable build of OxygenOS, and to other Android phones as well.

    Links: Android Central, OnePlus Forums

    by Published on 02-14-2018 07:30 AM
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    Yesterday this Canadian received his Amazfit Bip from a grey-market reseller. With shipping, taxes and duties the final cost was about $100 CAD—pretty much the same price that I paid Amazon for the Pebble 2 SE on the left. How do the two compare? Let's break it down...

    Buttons / UI

    Every late model Pebble has four buttons with four programmable long press actions. The Bip has only a single button on its right side. A short press unlocks the screen; a long press can start or stop the workout of your choice, or turn the watch off. The Bip does have a touch screen, though, and while there are no fancy animated transitions it's still likely to be a more intuitive UI for most users.

    Advantage: Draw


    The two devices handle notifications very differently. Once granted access through your phone (on Android anyway) a Pebble will send through all notifications by default, with the option of blocking certain ones through the Pebble app on your phone.

    With the Bip notifications are opt-in, meaning that you have to manually enable notifications on a per-app basis through the Mi Fit app on your phone. Perhaps more importantly, you can't take any action when a notification comes through on a Bip. You can't even customize the vibrations on the watch.

    Even without the Pebble servers you can still use Gadgetbridge to build a list of customized canned responses for incoming messages. Advantage: Pebble.

    Watch Faces

    The Bip has 10 built-in watch faces, and room for one more that can be sideloaded from the Mi Fit app—the included selections are shown above. Just don't expect anywhere near the breadth or depth of what's available for download (or to archive) from the Pebble app store. Advantage: Pebble.

    Fitness Tracking

    Here's where the Bip pulls ahead. With its long battery life, built-in heart rate sensor and GPS, plus an easy shortcut to start and stop your workout, the Bip makes a compelling case for a cheap and cheerful exercise companion. The Mi Fit app is no slouch, either; it was able to chart all the above data from an hour-long walk yesterday afternoon. Advantage: Bip

    As a fitness tracker I think the Bip is a fantastic buy. But if it's a Pebble replacement that you were looking for then I'm sorry to say that you might have to keep looking.

    Link: Amazfit Bip on geekbuying

    by Published on 02-09-2018 12:26 PM
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    Article Preview

    Besides “the notch” the other X’s other distinguishing feature (aside from the heart stopping price tag) is its facial ...
    by Published on 02-08-2018 10:10 AM
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    Article Preview

    One of the iPhone X’s most controversial features is its screen or rather, the fact that parts of it are missing.

    Yes, I’m talking about the “Notch”.

    While previous iPhones had large bezels at the top and bottom of the phone, the X’s design features a display that takes up the entire front of the phone. That means the iPhone’s most iconic feature; the home button is a thing of the past.
    by Published on 12-01-2017 08:00 AM
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    To see what its camera setup could do I took the OnePlus 5T with me on a walk through downtown Toronto's Graffiti Alley. It was maybe an hour after high noon and the sun, though weak, was fairly direct.

    All of the photos here are straight from the phone; the only editing I've done is to scale each of them to 1200 x 900 pixels for faster loading.

    This first shot seems just about perfect, with nicely saturated but still accurate colours. Even light seems to be the 5T's friend.

    This one didn't turn out quite as well. The shaded wall is correctly exposed but the sky on the left is clearly blown out.

    This face forced the OnePlus 5's camera into portrait mode and the fake bokeh effects that come with it. The 5T did much better.

    Taken in direct sunlight... the blue bin here looks good but the colours on the wall seem washed out.

    This one looks better. And I have to say that I'm impressed by the detail in the shadows on the ground. Maybe that second low light lens wasn't such a half-baked idea after all!

    Another light/shadow test. I think the 5T handled this very well, whereas the phone before it wouldn't have.

    If you want to compare these results with previous OnePlus phones check out my graffiti walks with the OnePlus 5, OnePlus 3 and OnePlus One.

    by Published on 11-30-2017 07:15 AM
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    There's honestly not much more to show you than this big expansive screen.

    I totally get the point of 2017's war on bezels now—you get a much more immersive experience in a body that's about the same size as the phone you were using before. On this device there can sometimes be a reachability issue with the taller 2:1 display, but OnePlus has included some thoughtful touches to help with that. You can program a shortcut for any of the navigation buttons (ie. a double tap or long press) to show the notification panel at the top of the screen; the same action can be assigned to a swipe down gesture across the fingerprint sensor on the back, just like a Pixel.

    For the record, I prefer a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor as it lets you unlock your phone as you're pulling it out of a pocket or bag. And where OnePlus put the sensor is perfect: dead centre, one third of the way down the phone and nowhere near the camera assembly.

    You'd expect the screen's extra pixels to have an adverse effect on battery life, especially when its the same 3,300mAh cell as the one in the OnePlus 5. But if there is a difference I've yet to notice it; it has consistently given me a day and a half or more with medium to heavy use.

    It's been an interesting ride for yours truly with OnePlus this year... After a great experience with the OnePlus 3 I was expecting the 5 to be no different, but quality control issues on the hardware I received ended up giving me my first experience with the company's "no-hassle" return policy. But I ended up with another OnePlus 5, given to me by my girlfriend's sister as we passed through Hong Kong in September. My big justification for buying the 5T was actually Freedom Mobile; because both the 5 and 5T support Band 66 the girlfriend and I can now give FM's 4G service an extended test, in the second SIM slots of our OnePlus phones.

    Once you go dual-SIM there's no going back.

    I was, by the way, able to root my 5T as soon as I got it. There isn't yet an official version of the TWRP custom recovery, but there's an unofficial version on XDA that did the trick. Android Nougat is actually a blessing on this phone, as Magisk and AdAway are fully supported out of the box.

    My one big concern with this phone is its cameras. Not content to keep the portrait lens from the 5, OnePlus has instead decided to pursue low light performance; the second lens now has a wider aperture but the same focal length. It sounds to me very much like unfinished business, a stopgap solution for something that couldn't be finished in time or delivered on budget. I'll post some camera samples tomorrow.

    In just about every other respect, though, this is a fantastic Android phone. And in this dawning age of ultra-premium flagships it's an undeniable bargain.

    by Published on 11-29-2017 07:00 AM
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    Looks like my initial impression of these things was a bit premature; my BOSE SoundSport Free Bluetooth earbuds are going back to Amazon as soon as I can find a box that will fit them. I'll detail the issues I had and you can decide for yourself if they have any merit.

    First, a reminder of the good stuff: I found the earbuds to be incredibly comfortable and liberating, as there's no pesky cable running between them. The sound—for Bluetooth—was fantastic, and after finally getting around to piping some music through them I can say that there's certainly no lack of bass. Battery life was as advertised, and the charging case convenient.

    The deal-breaker for me turned out to be an intermittent connection issue, exacerbated by the lack of a pesky cable connecting the buds. There always seems to be one or two hiccups that occur over the course of an hour-long walk, but when it happens it's maddening—sound will cut out for a moment on one side only, and when it comes back it will take another second or two to sync back up with the other side. You just wouldn't have this problem with earbuds connected by a cable, or "neckbuds" as I've heard them called. They're not as truly wireless as two separate units, but you'll never have to worry about out of phase audio, either.

    Another, more minor, issue is the approaching Canadian winter: the extra room required for their batteries and radios make the earbuds stick out and hard to wear with a hat. To be entirely fair, neckbuds will almost certainly present the same problem. The solution? A pair of svelte, olde-timey cabled earbuds. The only special equipment required is a headphone jack on your phone.

    Go figure.

    by Published on 11-09-2017 07:45 AM
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    Though I will fight for the smartphone audio jack with my last dying breath I am also, somewhat paradoxically, a fan of wireless earbuds. I try to get in about four to five hours of podcast listening per week, and usually do so on a morning or afternoon walk. Wired earbuds serve this purpose fairly well, except for the cord that either gets tangled as I pull out my phone to skip through an ad, or gets caught on some random object as I walk by it. So-called "neckbuds", a set earbuds connected by a cable that goes around the back of one's head, are only slightly better; the cable has an annoying habit of snagging on my shirt or jacket collar and reminding me that it's there.

    But these... these are by far the most comfortable earbuds I've ever worn. Right out of the box they fit my ears perfectly, and if they didn't I'd still have two other sets of in-ear gels to choose from.

    BOSE recommends that you install their Connect app on the phone that you're pairing their earbuds with, which isn't at all a necessity—maybe when there's a firmware update to install, but otherwise no. Pairing them to my Android phone was as easy as any other Bluetooth device, and the connection has been rock solid ever since.

    Sound quality is on par with any other BOSE earbud or headphone, which is to say excellent. Keep in mind, though, that I'm most often listening to mono podcasts rather than stereo music.

    With their charging case BOSE seems to have solved the problem of battery anxiety. No one wants to head out on a two-hour run only to have their wireless earbuds die halfway through. These earbuds are primed for 5 hours of battery life, and their charging case is good for an additional two charging cycles. I usually go out for about an hour at a time, and find myself putting the buds back in the case as soon as I get back. The button that opens the case can also indicate the charge; pressing it lights up a row of LED lights immediately below. And if you put one bud into your right ear you'll hear a voice telling you your battery level the moment you remove the left bud from the case. Clever!

    These particular wireless earbuds aren't cheap; in Canada and the United States they retail for $250 USD and $330 CAD respectively. But for comfort, sound quality and ease of use they've so far been worth it.

    Links: BOSE SoundSport Free - Canada / USA

    by Published on 10-04-2017 07:00 AM
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    The watches themselves are nice, but it's time to face facts: having a touchscreen on my wrist is just plain awful. I can't imagine that an Apple Watch is much better, but I've almost no firsthand experience with that platform. As for Android Wear specifically, here's how I've come to my conclusion...

    My Pebble is far from perfect. With its low resolution screen, massive bezels and lack of designer watch faces I frequently get smartwatch envy. Making matters worse is that my Pebble been mistaken for an Apple Watch more than once—for an Android fanboy this is entirely unacceptable. Plus, watches are supposed to be round, right? Android Wear is clearly the better choice. I frequently make plans to re-pair one of the three Android watches in my possession, only to back out at the last minute, deciding that it's not worth the hassle.

    This past Monday I didn't back out: I re-paired my Nixon Mission and installed the necessary apps to enjoy my morning walk. While I'm out I listen to podcasts, and have to skip through ads more often than I'd like. Here's the first place where Android Wear fails. Once you swipe to the appropriate screen there are software buttons to skip ahead or back, but on a touch screen they just don't work reliably. On a Pebble you can accomplish this without even looking at the watch—provided that you've assigned its built-in music player to a shortcut key. The steps are (1) long-press your shortcut key, (2) press the down button to skip ahead 30 seconds, (3) continue enjoying your podcast.

    Notifications on Android Wear are fine unless, like me, you depend on the native reminders built into Google Calendar and Inbox. Dismissing a notification on an Android watch will also remove it from your Android phone. The problem is, dismissing a Google reminder will also mark it as completed. This means that when a reminder pops up on my Android Wear watch I'm basically unable to use it until the reminder goes away on its own. That's some pretty terrible UX right there...

    Finally, I don't think it's too much to ask for a $500-plus smartwatch to be always on. The standby screen on my Nixon Mission doesn't really count, as it shows none of the complications selected for my chosen watch face. And even the standby screen sometimes goes dark as well, leaving me with nothing else to look at other than the smudge-fest you see above. This is also problem with Watch OS; as I see more and more Apple Watches on peoples' wrists I can't help but notice their dormant displays, and can't help thinking to myself: "What exactly are you people paying for?"

    Again, my Pebble is far from perfect. But as a smartwatch, even a timepiece it's so much better than Android Wear. In fact, I've yet to see anything out there that's as intuitive and downright enjoyable to use.

    by Published on 09-29-2017 07:00 AM
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    So my grey market LG G6 is already back on its way to Amazon, but before I packed it up I took it with me on an early morning walk through downtown Toronto's Graffiti Alley. As luck would have it I also had with me a OnePlus 5.

    The big difference between the two is that the LG's second camera has a fixed focus wide angle lens, while the OnePlus has a telephoto one. For anyone trying to decide which secondary focal length would be more useful, I'm hoping that this quick visual guide will help.

    Reference photo of the first subject, taken with the OnePlus 5. Neither LG nor OnePlus seem especially interested in publishing focal length equivalents on their respective spec pages, but other sources cite this primary shooter at the equivalent of 28mm.

    The OnePlus 5's telephoto lens, apparently a 36mm equivalent.

    And the LG G6's wide angle lens. No focal length is available; LG will only say that it has a 125-degree angle of view.

    Our second subject and a new addition to Graffiti Alley, taken with the G6. Focal length is similar to OnePlus, at an equivalent of 29mm.

    Back to the 5's telephoto lens, with a really aggressive depth of field software effect—notice how the hair on the right side is out of focus, despite the subject being shot straight on...

    And the G6's wide angle lens. No, that Amazon box doesn't belong to me.

    Our third and final subject, captured with the primary lens on the OnePlus 5.

    OnePlus 5 telephoto lens.

    And the wide angle lens on the G6, with bonus photographer cameo!

    Though this wasn't meant to be a test of image quality per se, feel free to compare these samples with other graffiti walks I've done with other phones. The photos confirm my personal preference for a second, wide angle lens over a telephoto one. I think the fisheye effect is much more striking than fake software bokeh. What do you think?

    by Published on 09-27-2017 07:00 AM
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    Forgive the sass, but when iVerge is critical of an Apple product there must be something seriously wrong with it. And that appears to be the case with the LTE edition of the Apple Watch Series 3.

    The issues stem entirely from that garish red dot on the LTE's version of the digital crown—or rather, the technology that comes with it. If you didn't know, the red dot is basically a status symbol telling the world that your watch has a cellular radio. What a time to be alive... Anyway, Lauren Goode ran extensive tests on two LTE-enabled units; both fell well short of Apple's claims.

    Here's what happened with the first watch:

    I went for a walk with the phone on airplane mode, and tried to send text messages and use Siri to initiate phone calls through the Watch. Those didn’t work. I tried asking Siri basic questions. That didn’t work. Siri also wasn’t “talking back” to me, something that’s supposed to be a new feature on the Series 3 Watch.
    So Apple sent her another one. Here's how that went:

    On more than one occasion, I detached myself from the phone, traveled blocks away from my home or office, and watched the Watch struggle to connect to LTE. It would appear to pick up a single bar of some random Wi-Fi signal, and hang on that, rather than switching to LTE.
    Apparently the watch has a preference for WiFi networks over LTE signals, probably because using LTE drains the battery much quicker than you'd expect. Apple's promises for untethered battery life are based on 30-minute workouts, so if you head out for a two-hour run you may be surprised to find that you have to charge your watch soon after you get back.

    Keep in mind also that these headaches come at an extra cost; $399 USD vs. $329 for a non-LTE watch plus $10 extra per month from your carrier for cellular connectivity on your wrist. And at launch, this particular Apple Watch doesn't even support music streaming through the network, which you'd kind of expect for a no-compromises fitness product.

    It definitely seems like the non-LTE Apple Watch is the better buy. As an added bonus, it doesn't come with the stupid red dot...

    Source: The Verge

    by Published on 08-23-2017 06:45 AM
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    Yesterday just before dinner I attended a TELUS-sponsored event showcasing Andy Rubin's Essential Phone. That Canadian carrier scored exclusive rights to sell the PH-1 in this country, and from their own listing seem to be offering it on payment plans only—$290 CAD down and $95/month or $490 down and $85/month for the duration of a two-year contract.

    I always find these carrier events just a little unsavoury, as the money that bankrolls their open bars and extravagant settings comes directly from subscribers' pockets. However, this one was at least a bit more informative than most, with employees from Essential on-hand to talk about various aspects of the phone. There were three manned stations—Camera, Design and Engineering; I visited each and listened to a short presentation, then tracked down an actual phone and took some photos. Which were of course out of focus.

    Anyway, here's what I learned about the Essential Phone...

    The Feel

    There's no questioning it, The PH-1 is a substantial device to hold in your hand, and definitely feels worthy of its $700 USD price tag. I also got to hold some of its individual components separately. The titanium frame is strong but impressively light, but when you add the ceramic back there's definitely some heft.

    As for the 360° camera accessory, the magnets that hold it to the phone are strong enough that you won't have to worry about it coming unstuck.

    The Cutout

    I didn't realize this, but the cutout at the top of the display for the selfie cam also holds the proximity and other sensors that you'd expect along the top of a typical smartphone. That's no small feat, and Essential did a better job with this than LG, Samsung or even what's coming from Apple.

    The Chin

    Of course I had to ask to design guy about this... Why does the Essential Phone's screen not extend all the way to the bottom edge of the phone? It turns out that, even without a headphone jack, some space was still needed for the LCD display driver and speaker assembly.

    The Bootloader

    On at least one of the phones I handled the bootloader was unlocked, and I was able to confirm with its owner that the bootloader on all Essential Phones is indeed unlockable. For Android modders that's great news.

    When it comes to carrier locks things are less clear. Phones ordered from Essential.com are SIM-unlocked but whether the TELUS version is any different is unknown. It's kind of academic, anyway, as it looks like the only way you'll be able to buy the phone in Canada is on TELUS through one of their payment plans and a two-year commitment.

    Expect to hear more about the Essential Phone if and when TELUS give us a loaner for review.

    Links: Essential, TELUS

    by Published on 07-25-2017 07:30 AM
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    It's not the first Xiaomi phone to support American and Canadian LTE bands (that honour would, I think, go to the Mi 5S Plus) but the Mi Note 2 is Xiaomi's first global phone to get an extensive review by the western tech press—XDA, to be exact. Unfortunately the phone is not officially sold here; the review unit was provided by GearBest, a grey market importer based in Hong Kong.

    I'll provide a few highlights here, but if you're interested in this device or in Xiaomi products in general you should definitely check out the source.


    5.7 inch FHD screen
    Snapdragon 821 processor
    6 GB of RAM / 128 GB of storage
    22.56 MP rear camera / 8 MP selfie cam
    4,070 mAh battery, Quick Charge 3.0
    Dual nano SIM support


    The Mi Note 2 runs MIUI 8, based on Android Marshmallow. This will likely be the most polarizing feature of the phone. Unfortunately Xiaomi doesn't have the best track record at releasing kernel sources, so if you wanted a device for custom ROMs you'd be better of with the Mi 5S Plus—which at least is supported by Lineage OS.

    Note that because this version of the phone originates from Hong Kong it will ship with both Google Play and Mi Services on board.

    Why You Should Care

    It's inevitable that Xiaomi will one day sell unlocked phones in North America; there's already a trickle of devices and accessories from third-party sellers on Amazon. The company's growing portfolio of products will hopefully spur other smartphone OEMs to up their game. The North American market doesn't need another $1,000 phone, but it could certainly use some competition at the $500 price point.

    Source: XDA

    by Published on 07-04-2017 07:15 AM
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    Mobile wallet fatigue. It's a thing. And perhaps my only excuse for glossing over the announcement of Paytm in Canada this past spring. Over the long weekend I finally got the chance to download the Android version of the app and have a look. In its current form it's nothing like what users in India would enjoy, but it does hold some value for Canadians.

    The homeland version, viewable at Paytm.com, looks like an Indian equivalent to WeChat—that is, an entire m-commerce ecosystem where you can pay bills, buy goods online, pay for physical goods at a store and send money to friends or family. I can best describe the Canadian version by comparing it to another Canadian Fintech innovation, Plastiq.

    Plastiq is a service that enables the payment of utility bills, taxes and almost any professional service by credit card. It does this by issuing and mailing a cheque on the user's behalf and charging their supported card for the same amount, plus a transaction fee. If you've ever wondered how yours truly can afford to travel so much, a big part of it is my almost fanatical obsession with earning points on my credit cards—and thanks to Plastiq I'm now earning those points on my property taxes and even condo fees.

    The only problem is that Plastiq's commission is pretty high, up to 2.5% on each cheque they cut depending on which credit card you charge it to. And this is where Paytm swoops in to save the day: as part of their launch promotion you can currently use it to pay most of the same bills without incurring any extra fees. Plastiq does give you the ability to manually add a payee yourself, but Paytm has an impressive payee list of its own. So far I've been using it to pay my mom's utility bills while my brothers and I figure out what to do with her house.

    Some additional factors that might sway you towards one service or the other: Plastiq is currently available in app form for iOS only (Android users can use a mobile or desktop web browser), but Paytm offers no browser login whatsoever—it's app-only for Android and iOS. And while both Paytm and Plastiq are available in Canada, Plastiq is the only available option for our friends in the USA.

    Links: Paytm Canada, Paytm.com, Plastiq

    by Published on 04-28-2017 07:00 AM
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    Lots of Asian cities have what I call "tech malls"; in this part of the world technology just doesn't have the same geeky stigma that it does in the west. But Japan? Well, Japan is on a whole other level. For anyone who's ever endured a visit to their local Best Buy, what follows might blow your mind just a little bit.

    To set the stage, I'm in Kyoto, and it's just before lunch. The girlfriend and I have just transferred our bags to a new hotel, but we can't check in until mid-afternoon, so we walk towards the train station in search of something to occupy us for the next couple of hours. We soon come across the Kyoto branch of Yodobashi Camera. To call it a camera store doesn't do it justice; they sell cameras there, to be sure, but there's so much more to it than that.

    We head up to the 6th floor where the restaurants are. I'm not talking about a food court here—there are no less than nineteen places to eat, each with their own kitchen and dedicated seating area. There's also a coffee shop. And a bookstore. And a travel agency if you need it. We decide on a ramen joint but could have also picked sushi, tempura, yakitori, curry and rice, shabu-shabu, even Italian. The eating establishments here are apparently legit; by the time we finish eating the entire floor is packed with locals on their lunch breaks.

    It's now time for yours truly to hunker down and do some serious shopping; my camera bag is annoying me and I'm looking for a new one. "No problem," says the girlfriend, "I'll be at Uniqlo." She won't be leaving the building, as the 5th and 4th floor of Yodobashi are devoted entirely to clothes and footwear. Later I will meet her on the 3rd floor in the capsule toy section; I didn't count but it seemed to me that there were about a hundred different machines there, so it will take a few minutes to find her. But keeping in touch isn't an issue, even with only one of us being in range of our rented mobile hotspot. This is because Yodobashi also offers its customers free WiFi on all floors.

    On my way to see camera bags I take the escalator past the 2nd floor (home theatre and audio, also musical instruments and bicycles) to the ground level. I get a little overwhelmed by the three full aisles of camera bags, so I head over to the watch section to check out the just-released Casio WSD-F20. Then I take a deep breath and descend into the basement level dedicated to mobile phones (and also PCs); here every carrier has display units, flyers, full catalogues and dedicated staff at your service.

    At this point both the girlfriend and I both need to sit down, so we walk just outside the front doors to the street-level entrance to Délifrance, a chain of cafés that I know from Hong Kong. We grab some coffee and a couple of pastries and take a seat on the patio to watch the world go by. And we're not done yet—before we leave the complex we pick up some supplies at the supermarket in the second-level basement.

    Bic Camera is a separate electronics chain that offers a similar experience; chances are you'll find at least one of each in every major Japanese city. For a female perspective on shopping at Bic and Yodobashi check out this 2014 report on The Huffington Post.

    by Published on 04-05-2017 07:45 AM
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    2. Reviews and Hands-on

    Missing from the image above is an animated blue dot that's surprisingly hard to screenshot...

    Had you asked me a week ago I'd have told you that I couldn't care less about Android Wear 2.0; so long as I had a good-looking timepiece that showed me notifications and allowed me to reply to IMs and texts by voice I'd be happy. But now that the wearable devices in my possession all run the updated smartwatch OS I can appreciate what the fuss is about.

    Everyone will have their own favourite features of Android Wear 2.0—feel free to add yours below. Here are three reasons why I'm a fan:

    1. This pull-down menu.

    If you can believe it, these four functions—airplane mode, theatre mode, do not disturb and settings—used to be on separate screens. So to get to settings, for example, you would have to swipe down and then swipe over three or four times. This new layout makes so much more sense.

    2. Only the watch faces I actually want.

    The old Android Wear gave you the option of choosing from the first-party watch faces that shipped with your watch, Google's own watch faces plus any random watch face from the apps on your phone. Google's faces aren't entirely horrible but the third party ones—from 500px and The Weather Network, for example—are of dubious value at best.

    With Android Wear 2.0 the user has control of which watch faces appear as options on their device. Huzzah!

    3. This keyboard.

    I knew there was a software keyboard on Android Wear 2.0 but I didn't expect it to be actually usable. But it is! It's a welcome alternative to voice replies, and very handy when, say, you're trying to co-ordinate grocery shopping with your girlfriend at opposite ends of a busy supermarket. In a scenario like this yelling into your wrist isn't exactly considerate—you may feel like **** Tracy but to everyone around you you're just an inconsiderate *******.

    So those are my favourite features of Android Wear 2.0 so far. Again, feel free to add your favourites (or least favourites) below. And if you're still checking your watch for updates, hang in there—it'll be worth the wait!
    by Published on 01-06-2017 07:00 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Reviews and Hands-on
    Article Preview

    Yesterday I posted a video by Mr. Mobile about the BlackBerry Mercury; today I'm doing the same for the other phones announced at CES 2017, courtesy of an extensive list published by CNET.

    The only problem with that list is that they've made it into an annoying slideshow to sell more ad space. So, as a public service to you, I went out and found a video for each phone from my favourite YouTubers—for lip service's sake, the first video is by CNET themselves. Enjoy! ...
    by Published on 01-04-2017 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Reviews and Hands-on
    Article Preview

    One of these things is not like the other...

    Over the weekend I tried out an ASUS ZenWatch 3. You'll notice from the photo that the plastic screen protector is still on it; that's because it's going back to Best Buy—a decision I made almost immediately after putting it on my wrist.

    Keep in mind that these harsh words coming from someone who, over the latter part of 2016, has somehow become a smartwatch snob, if such a thing even exists. I have a growing appreciation and respect for traditional watches but I also want notifications on my wrist.

    Through that very specific lens I'm going to bash this ASUS, and bash it hard. ...
    by Published on 12-14-2016 07:30 AM
    1. Categories:
    2. Devices,
    3. Reviews and Hands-on
    Article Preview

    Here's a quick tour of the Android Wear-powered Casio WSD-F10, with some random observations along the way.

    I'll say this right off the bat: my first impressions of this smartwatch were not great. That screen is an LCD panel, and in this photo it's actually in standby ("always on") mode. That can't be great for battery, and it isn't—the watch won't even last two days on a single charge. You'll also notice the flat tire at the bottom of the screen; it is not an ambient light sensor, and is instead there to make room for the microphone assembly (I think), which includes the black plastic slot up against the strap.

    There's one more thing that, once I show it to you, you won't ever be able to unsee. Look at the notches between 10 and 11 and notice the air bubble there. I thought it was a manufacturing defect, but it's actually present in every photo I've ever seen of this watch. Do a Google image search if you don't believe me.

    And now some surprising news: I actually do like the WSD-F10, mostly because it's the closest thing you can get to a G-Shock in a smartwatch. ...
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