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Review of the Asus C434 Chrombook

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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I am lucky enough to have the chance to test a tone of devices every year. Chromebook testing is an interesting endeavour because the higher end units usually are fantastic to use, while the cheaper products are slow and clunky. Chromebooks that live in the middle ($500-600) typically inherit the bad characteristics from both categories.

The mid-priced ($600) Asus C434 doesn't fall into this typical model.

Build quality

Most (non-premium) Chromebooks feel cheap and flimsy. They creek and crack when you grab them from an edge.

The Asus C434 is an all-aluminum design that looks and feel premium. The design includes chamfered edges that give it a more premium feel. Even the hinges are chrome covered, which adds to the premium look and feel.

When used in laptop mode, the hinges slightly raise the screen end of the keyboard which makes typing slightly more pleasurable.

It feels like Asus has crammed a 14-inch device in the body of a 13-inch device without sacrificing usability.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, the design of the Asus C434 is wonderfully tough-out and makes using the device a joy.

The screen

My everyday personal use device is a Pixelbook. I love my Pixelbook, but it's enormous bezels make it feel dated. Although the Asus C434 isn't breaking any new bezel records, its design is noticeably modern (87% screen to body ratio). It has a very good 14-inch Full-HD screen (1920x1080) IPS panel that has good viewing angles, good colour reproduction and respectable (300 nits) brightness.

The Asus C434 screen isn't class leading like the Pixelbook or Samsung Pro but isn't a slouch either. Most users will find the screen amazing and a pleasure to use.

The keyboard

Keyboards can make or break a device. Look at the thousands of vocal Macbook fans on Reddit that have jumped ship to Windows because they can no longer deal with the horrible butterfly keyboards included in most new MacBooks.

So a lousy keyboard can kill even the best most thoughtfully designed laptop. Luckily the Asus C434 does reasonably well in the keyboard category. For users coming from an HP x360 or a Pixelbook, the keyboard doesn't feel as good, but for most users, this thing will be a joy.

Asus chose a non-glass trackpad which makes using it a bit more of a chore. The included trackpad is acceptable, but the device does suffer a bit from a less usable trackpad. Remember that I am comparing the Asus to the premium end of the market. If you compare this to a $500 windows laptop or other similarly priced Chromebooks, you will not be disappointed by the trackpad’s performance.

The ports

I regularly curse at my Pixelbook for not including at least one USBA port. Sure I love all things USBC, but I still have a tone of useful accessories that are USBA, and I seem to forget my dongles when I need them most.

This is where the Asus C434 beats my Pixelbook; it has a tone of ports. The Asus C434 has USBC ports on either side but also a USBA port, a headphone/microphone port and a microSD card slot.

The Asus C434 has the ports you need to get your job done without worrying about dongles or adapters.

The Internals

Most reviewers based their tests on the Core m3 (m3-8100Y) device with 4GB of RAM. While 4GB is good enough for the casual web user, it isn't enough to load a tone of Android apps and to comfortably run Linux apps.

The Asus C434 comes in the m3, i5 and i7 varieties and power users will probably opt for the mid-tier i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage.

As I write this review, most sites still don't offer the 8GB/128GB version of the unit (Amazon, B&H, etc.) but it is coming. Unless you need a device right away (then get the 4GB/64GB), I would wait a couple of weeks to pick up the more powerful model.

Best USB C Hub for your Pixelbook or PixelSlate

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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This is not a sponsored post. I was not provided with a sample product and the links are NOT affiliate links.

USB C is a thing of beauty. It means I can travel with one charging brick and charge all of my devices. It truly has been a liberating technology. The only additional accessory I truly need is a good USB C hub.

This is the on question I receive regularly “What is the best USBC hub?” I am not going to pretend this is the “best” for everyone but this is the best one (HooToo USB C Hub, 6-in-1 Premium USB C Adapter with Type C Charging Port, 4K HDMI, Card Reader, 3 x USB 3.0 Ports for MacBook/Pro/Air(2018), Chromebook, and More USB C Devices) I have found and this is the one I grab anytime I am leaving my house (even though I have over 20 available).

  • This Hub gives me 3 Type-A USB 3.0 ports. This is useful when connecting traditional USB devices like USB keys, external hard drives, etc.

  • It has an HDMI port (I’ve used it with an HDMI monitor at 30 fps).

  • It has a USBC cable you plug into your laptop and another one to receive power. It supports up to 100 watts so you can charge any device.

  • It has a full speed SD and micro-SD Card port.

It seems most other USBC hubs I have tried miss important ports, have slow ports or support low wattage charging. The only additional port I would like added would be a gigabit Ethernet port but I can live without that.

Review of Quip's toothbrush as a service

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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This blog article is not advertising and is not a sponsored post.

Quip is a new entrant in the competitive and packed electric toothbrush space. Unlike many of the larger bulkier electric toothbrushes, Quip is a sleek, shiny and well designed modern looking toothbrush.

Like all modern electronic works of art, it comes in different colours, finishes and materials.

It also has the seal of approval from the American Dental Association Seal of Acceptance. The ADA website explains it as "To this day, dentists and consumers recognize it as the gold standard for evaluating safety and efficacy of dental products."

So what how is the Quip compare? Quip is a simpler toothbrush that delivers the basics: it has a vibrating alert timer (to measure brushing each quadrant) and has gently cleaning vibrations that won't harm your gums.

What does it come with? The basic kit comes with a pre-installed battery, brush head and a slim toothbrush holder (attaches to your mirror with micro suction cups but also doubles as a travel cover). I have had it attached to my bathroom mirror for 30 days, and it hasn't fallen off once. I have traveled with it once, rinsed it with warm water when I got back, and it stuck right back on the mirror.

How do you charge the battery? I have used OralB and Philips electric toothbrushes, and they each come with their charging bases (which are usually bulky and consume valuable counter space). The Quip uses a single AAA battery that can be changed within seconds. Since Quip is a Toothbrush As A Service, when you subscribe to their toothbrush head replacement plan, they also send you a replacement battery every three months. If you travel and run out of power, replace it with a cheap AAA, you can buy anywhere, and you don't have to carry a bulky charger.

How does it compare to a "normal" (non-powered) toothbrush? The Quip is definitely better than a normal plastic toothbrush because it offers gentle vibrations and helps with timing. Additionally, they send replacement heads automatically which means you never have to worry about timing replacements.

How does the Quip compare to other electric toothbrushes? It depends. The truth is that the newer electric toothbrushes that vibrate and rotate seem to deliver an easier and better clean. However, the Quip is less than half the cost, easier to travel with and effective when used as directed (in conjunction with flossing and regular dentist visits).

General recommendations included with the introductory guide are:

  • Use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste

  • Brush gently (don’t push too hard or you will injure your gums)

  • Make sure you brush every tooth from all directions

  • Brush for two minutes (30 seconds per quadrant)

  • Brush your tongue (the back of the brush head has a scraper)

  • Don’t rinse your mouth right after brushing

What are the cons?

  • The Quip is better than a plain non-powered toothbrush, but its performance is significantly worse than the modern sonic toothbrushes.

  • The Quip's bristles are better than a non-powered toothbrush, but they aren't as good as the ones on powered brushes that seem to have better reach into hard to reach crevices.

Conclusion: I like the Quip, but it isn't the most effective electric toothbrush. Not a bad offering but you need to determine what your actual needs are. I hope Quip releases another generation of their product with rotating bristles that uses real sonic pulses.

Ridge minimalist wallet review

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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This is not an ad or sponsored post. This is an honest review.

I have been a fan of minimalist wallets for many years, and my wallet of choice has been the HuMn Aluminium wallet.

Ridge Wallet Specs

  • Holds 1-12 cards without stretching out

  • Blocks RFID (wireless theft)

  • Replaceable elastic

  • Backed by our lifetime warranty

  • 6061-T6 aluminum | anodized black

  • Weight: 2 oz | 86 x 54 x 6 mm

Ridge Wallet Use

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You add a card by sliding it from the top groove

To access a card, you press the ridged opening and pull the required card out from the top

To Insert a Card: Gently slide the card into the top groove.

To access a card in the middle, you push out all the cards from the ridge, separate the metal plates and then find your card.

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This strategy is similar to the HuMn wallet and most other plate based wallets. This may seem a little off for someone coming from a traditional leather style wallet but you will get use to it quickly. You will start moving your most used cards to the top or bottom of the stack.

Design

The stated purpose of the Ridge was to design a sleek minimalist wallet that would be durable and easy to use. I believe they successfully achieved this stated goal. The height and width of the Ridge Wallet is designed to be very slightly larger than (North American) style credit cards.

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First thing first, the wallet is a thing of beauty. Much better looking than the HuMn Wallet.

The aluminium wallet will feel slightly heavier than a “normal” wallet. After 3 weeks of use, the wallet feels normal and not heavy at all. For those that are looking for a lighter option, the poly-carbonate or carbon fiver models are lighter. Unless you want Carbon Fiber for the look and prestige, the aluminium version is likely the best cost/benefit deal.

The wallet comes with either a money clip or elastic band. I chose the clip version which makes it slightly thicker and less useful. I recommend you acquire the elastic band version.

For those that carry their (normal) wallets in their back pocket, you will notice that your cards are slightly bend. The Ridge Wallet’s aluminium “walls” are strong enough to keep the cards straight even if you sit on them.

The company claims that their wallet provides RFID protection. I used an RFID scanner to test this feature and can confirm that it does offer RFID protection (most leather wallets do not offer such protections).

Some companies provide non-standard sized cards (loyalty and membership). Those non-standard cards do not work well with the Ridge. In my case, I do not have any of those.

Behavioral change

For those coming from a normal leather wallet, moving to any minimalist wallet will force you to reconsider what cards you carry with you on a daily basis. In my case, I scanned all my loyalty cards into Google Pay (and Apple Pay) and leave those at home. Additionally I stopped carrying cards I barely use.

Conclusion

Coming from the HuMn Wallet, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the Ridge Wallet. The truth is that I liked it much more than I expected and it has now become my main daily-use wallet.

They have made a great product that balances form, function and cost.

It is strong, light and dependable. For those looking for a great EDC wallet, this is currently the best choice available (I have tested over a dozen such wallets).

Link: Ridge wallet

Samsung Note 8 review from an iPhone user

GeneralEdward KiledjianComment
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You should take the time to read my article about why I am switching from an iPhone to an Android device. A summary of the situation is that I have had every iPhone since the very first one ten years ago and the spark isn't there anymore. I have been dual carrying Android phones for the last 5 years but my main personal daily driver has been an iPhone.

Looking at messages from readers, many of you are in the same boat and I will be reviewing a handful of phones for switchers with the requirements of an iPhone users looking to geek out.

The first phone I am reviewing is the Samsung Note 8 64GB North American edition. I mention this because my readers are global and you can find other derivatives (128/256GB storage, dual SIM, etc).

Last year I thought the Note 7 was the best Android phone I had ever used until it wasn't, because of the exploding battery issue. Until the recall, the Note 7 was in a league all on its own, even compared to the Galaxy S7. This year, not so much. The Gap between the Note 8 and the Galaxy S8 Plus has srunk dramatically. 

The Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus

The closest competitor to the Samsung Note 8 is the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. The younger sibling has almost all of the features of its big brother except :

  • Note 8 dual cameras
  • Note 8 Stylus - SPen
  • Note 8 has a 0.1" larger screen
  • Note 8 has 2 more GB of RAM

For all of these upgrades, you will have to fork over an extra $124 (USA retail based on the unlocked versions). 

The Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8 are both rated IP67 which means they are water and dust resistant (compared to the iPhone and Pixel 2 XL's IP 67).

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SPen

Ask any note fan and the first thing they will show you is the Note 8's ability to take notes using the SPen even when the screen is asleep. Then they will open a drawing app and show you how you can use the SPen to draw with pressure sensitive brushes.

Most iPhone users look at this and call this cute and they dismiss the pen as nothing more than a parlour trick. 

The truth is that writing on a device this size with a small pen just isn't comfortable to do for long periods of time. This isn't something you will likely do daily and this won't replace your notebook but...  the SPen is useful for specific in-field tasks.

For my day job, I sign letters (PDF) once in a while and being able to do this without having to print and scan is incredibly valuable. The SPen is also a much more precise mechanism to highlight text (compared to my chunky man-fingers). 

SPen works perfectly with Google Keep

SPen works perfectly with Google Keep

I found myself using the SPen to click on tiny touch-targets on web pages, to annotate screenshots or crop with more accuracy and to resize app windows when using 2 apps simultaneously. 

Regardless of all the negative comments made by SPen haters, the SPen is truly an indispensable feature of the Note 8. It is the defining feature of the Note 8. It is what makes the Note a Note and I now understand why. 

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Samsung Note 8 cameras

The Samsung Note 8 (like the iPhone 8 or the iPhone X) has a "standard" camera and a 2x telephoto lens (both 12 MP). The usefulness of the telephoto will depend on what type of pictures you take but most buyers should find this useful.

Yes, the telephoto camera is optically stabilized and the stabilization works well. In my testing, it worked as well as its main competitors. The only phone with better stabilization is the Pixel 2 with its Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) and Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS).

What about portrait mode you ask? It can create a fake depth of field effect that is adjustable post snap (aka you can change how much the background is blurred after the fact). Like the iPhoneX, this feature is driven by software and the performance is hit or miss. To be honest, this works as well as on an iPhone X but not as well as on a Pixel 2. The success of this feature will depend on appropriate lighting, the background and foreground, etc. 

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Samsung calls it primary camera a wide angle but it only has a 77-degree field of view which wouldn't really make it a wide angle. For comparison, the LG V30's primary camera has a 71-degree field of view, while it's wide angle has a 120-degree field of view. 

How does the Samsung Note 8 camera compare to the iPhoneX? 

Most iPhone users expect a point and shoot camera that gives "good enough" pictures most of the time in automatic mode. The Samsung Note 8 will meet and exceed your expectations. The Note 8 camera will allow you to take pictures from sunrise to sunset, whether it is sunny or raining (since it is water resistant).  

The Samsung Note 8 camera won’t let you down. It is a beautiful combination of speed, reliability and performance.

 

The camera is good but not as good as the Pixel 2. 

The battery?

Die-hard Note fans love the line-up because the Note always pushed the technology boundaries. It meant Note users always had the best, biggest and flashiest toys to play with. This has always included the battery.

We all remember the issues with the Note 7 battery and looks like Samsung has taken the safe route by using a 3300 mAh battery in the Samsung Note 8. 

I have spoken to a dozen Note fan readers and every single one of them complained that the Note 8 felt like Samsung was "playing it safe" and this isn't why they became Note fans. Remember that the cheaper Samsung Galaxy 8 comes with a 3500mAh battery.

Samsung's official position is that the smaller battery was required because of a lack of space (due to the dual camera system and the SPen slot). 

To help alleviate the pain of a smaller battery, Samsung has efficient hardware and purpose-built software to help conserve power (where possible). In my 2 weeks of testing, the phone got through average days just fine but died when I was travelling (spotty reception and more media consumption). Either the battery should have been slightly bigger or their battery conservation model should have been more aggressive. 

If you need to juice up, you can use the built-in QuickCharge 2 or wireless charging now found in most coffee shops. Again I felt like the fast charging was good but not great. The Huawei Mate 10 Pro, Pixel 2 XL and OnePlus 5 all out-charge the Note 8. Why didn't Samsung go with QuickCharge 3? On a positive note, if you own a USBC PD charger (like the one that comes with the Pixel 2 or the Pixelbook), you will be able to fast charge the Note 8. This was a wonderful surprise.

Samsung does offer fast wireless charging but it costs $125CAD which seems a bit too rich for me, considering you have to buy a couple to make it really work (bedroom, office, kitchen, etc).

What about the fingerprint scanner?

The fingerprint scanner is located in the back next to the camera. This is a horrible location because:

  • it is not in a location where my finger naturally goes
  • I keep smudging the camera lens when my finger misses the scanner

The alternative is to use the "as secure" Iris scanner. The Iris scanner is wonderful when it works, but frustrating when it doesn't (e.g. outdoors under bright sunlight). 

Nothing more to say here.

The display

The display on the Note 8 is a thing of beauty and easily the best display on any smartphone (iPhoneX included). Its 6.3-inch display is bright, clean, clear and easy on the eyes. The Samsung Infinity Display stretches from one edge of the phone to the other. 

With all the Pixel 2 XL screen issues, it is refreshing to see Samsung release AMOLED screens that are so beautiful. Videos look crisp. Pictures look amazing. Web pages are easy to read.

The screen is everything you expect from the leader in screen manufacturing. The screen is bright, punchy and the size means you are drawn to whatever content you are consuming.

Phone calls

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My house is notoriously bad for cell phone reception and compared to other Android devices, the Note performed extremely well. checking cell phone signal strengh, the Note 8 consistently had a stronger signal and calls worked everytime. 

Call sound quality was excellent. The little dinky speaker did the best it could do but I wouldn't use this for multi-person conference calls using it as speakerphone. The phone supports the latest bluetooth 5 wireless technology so you can always pickup a fancy pair of wireless headphones or use wired headphones with its built in 3.5mm headphone jack. But bluetooth 5 isn't turned on yet. We expect this switch to happen with Android 8 (Oreo).

Bixby

I hate Bixby.I hate Bixby. I hate Bixby. I hate Bixby with a passion. I never wanted to use it but did press on the dedicated Bixby button a couple of times by mistake. With the latest updates Samsung will allow you to turn off the button but I would like to remap it for Google Assistant and I can't. 

Conclusion

I went into this review not knowing what to expect. Would this be a suitable replacement for a user switching from an iPhone to Android? Is this device worth the $1,000 price?

The Note 8 doesn't feel like a device built for geeks pushing the technology envelope. It just doesn't. The rowdy teenager has now grown up into a mature adult and more people want to be it's friend now. By becoming more mainstream, the target audience for the Note has grown significantly. In the last 2 weeks, I met grandmothers and other "normal" people that love their Note devices. Normies now love the Note because it is less jarring.

If you don't need the extra 2GB of RAM, the telephoto camera and the pen, the S8 Plus is a fantastic buy. But don't be too quick to dismiss the Note 8. Yes it isn't as special as it once was but it is a wonderful device.

My one major issue is the software. Android 8 (Oreo) has been out for 6+ months now, other smaller Android makers have already released their phone updates to it, but Samsung hasn't given us a release date yet. How can their 2017 flagship phone still not have Oreo? Additionally their custom launcher has dramatically improved but I still want the option to have a "stock" Pixel like launcher (similar to what Motorola does). These two issues may be what makes me switch back to a Google device next time.