| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |

December 1, 2016

Star Trek Beyond 4K
Whew, that was a relief! After the disappointment of Star Trek Into Darkness (a.k.a. "Star Trek II: the wrath of Khan II")... more...

Angels and Demons 4K
Angels and Demons is director Ron Howard's 2009 sequel to his earlier The Da Vinci Code. more...

Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV
The latest in the increasingly misnamed "Final Fantasy" franchise is also a ripping yarn, a blend of science fiction and fantasy more...

13 Hours
13 Hours plays more like Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down than Bay's regular fare. more...


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Toyota Corolla: 50 years of a great small car

It's been Toyota's bread and butter car since before there was a Camry, and after a 50 year evolution in the automotive marketplace it continues to be a great little car for the 2017 model year.

Toyota must be doing something right because the Corolla has wriggled its way into a lot of people's hearts over that half century, so much so that has become the top selling vehicle in the world, knocking the classic VW Beetle off that perch a while back. So while it may be a tad bland for some people, it's obviously the perfect choice for many others.

And here's something you might not expect: you can configure it with a six speed manual transmission! more...

Roku ups its offerings with new smart boxes

One of the leaders in the "smart set top boxes" market has expanded its line so it now ranges from extremely affordable to extremely capable - not that each category is mutually exclusive.

It's Roku, whose line now stretches from the $39.99 entry level Roku Express to the $139.99 Roku Ultra, the latter of which will output in 4K, giving you state-of-the-art video from a small and affordable package. Naturally, you won't appreciate the 4K aspects unless you have a 4K TV, but even if you don't yet have that type of video you can output it at whatever resolution you have now and it'll grow with your capabilities. more...

AWD makes Golf wagon an even better choice

One of my favourite cars has received a couple of great updates for 2017. It's the Volkswagen Golf, one of the world's great cars, and now they've introduced the Alltrack, a raised, all-wheel drive version of the Golf Sportwagon I enjoyed so much last year.

Now, I'm a sucker for Volkswagen products anyway, whether VW itself, Audi or Porsche (the only VW brands I've driven to date - no Bentleys or Bugattis for me, yet, alas). But even the "garden variety" VW's drive great, have wonderful interiors with interfaces that are easy to get up to speed with, and are just wonderful cars all around. It's a shame you can't buy a VW diesel right now, too, because they're great vehicles despite VW's run-in with the Obama regime - and that would be the version I'd want. more...

Best Buy amps up home theatres with a beer fridge and hot dog maker

Who'd have thought a tech writer could get a column out of a beer fridge and a hot dog maker? Yet here we are.

The column came from a representative of Best Buy reaching out and offering me trials of the Marshall fridge, which gets its name because it's, well, a beer fridge that looks for all intents and purposes like a Marshall electric guitar amp.

Silly, I thought, but what the heck: I have a nice home theatre whose current beer fridge is all the way in the next room, about four steps away, whereas the Marshall fits not only into the home theatre, it also acts as a heckuva conversation piece, especially since I took my old Stratocaster knockoff, dusted it off, and leaned it against the amp, er, fridge, where both of them looked very cool. A bonus was that it also made it appear that I can actually play guitar passably. more...

Time Sagas

Jaguar's first SUV snarls like a beast - and drives like a Jag

Jaguar's first entry into the popular SUV/Crossover market is a really nice vehicle, if my brief test drive recently is any indication.

The new for 2017 vehicle came into my possession for three days a couple of weeks ago; it would have been a full week but family emergencies cut short my time with it, much to my chagrin because I really liked the new Jag. The F-PACE goes head to with such competitors as the Porsche Macan, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC, Lexus RX, etc. etc. etc.

It's a crowded niche made up of very nice machines but I have a feeling Jaguar will do just fine. This is one of the sportiest-looking and feeling of the vehicles I've driven in the niche, and it emits the greatest sound from its twin exhausts. I kid not you; if an F-PACE pulls away from you, you'll know it's there - and gone! more...

Star Trek goes Beyond HD with 4K Blu-ray release

Whew, that was a relief!

After the disappointment of Star Trek Into Darkness (a.k.a. "Star Trek II: the wrath of Khan II"), I was really afraid that a new director and writer would make things even worse. I loved the "original" reboot from 2009, in which J.J. Abrams and his team breathed new life into the then-moribund franchise, but the first sequel squandered a really great first hour by rehashing one of the greatest Trek films ever, and doing it in a way that showed the writers and performers weren't fit to shine the shoes of the originators.

So it was with this in mind that I tackled Star Trek Beyond - hoping it would be a worthy entry into the Trek universe but fearing that, at best, it'd be a home theatre toy for the eyes and ears but basically cotton candy for the brain. more... 

Canadian Car of the Year TestFest puts the latest through their paces

Take the mid-fall colours of southern Ontario, add a world class racing facility with gobs of heritage, mix in about 35 of the newest vehicles available in Canada and you have the recipe for an exciting Canadian Car of the Year 2017 TestFest.

It's an annual affair mounted under the auspices of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), an intensive few days in which car writers from across Canada converge on Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (nee Mosport) to wring the latest wheels out in what amounts to glorified test drives that give us a decent first impression of what's coming for the next automotive year. It's also a real blast, especially if your advanced driving courses are up to date, in which case you get to take the wildest of the wheels onto the facility's Driver's Development Track.

Of course it wasn't just super sports cars that were on display at this 29th edition of TestFest. The list really ran the gamut from entry level to high end, on both the car and the utility vehicle side of the equation - and sprinkled into the mix was a selection of so-called green cars, of various colours. more...

Vapourizers can offer a clean and unobtrusive way to ingest your special herbs

A special TechnoFile feature

Marijuana has been in the news for decades, usually in the "Reefer Madness" category of coverage, but only in the past few years has the discussion really turned from the scary cautionary tales of old to the "herb's" potential medical uses.

And now it appears that marijuana is well on its way toward being legalized in Canada, if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes good on his campaign promises. Whether Trudeau II makes good on his pledge or not, however, the genie is out of the bottle: marijuana is now legal in parts of the United States and, like homosexual "marriage" it's probably inevitable that tokers will soon be a recognized "designated minority group," able to light up when they want without having to worry about law enforcement dragging them away. more...

Dodge Challenges for muscle car supremacy

Dodge's Challenger Scat Pack Shaker (and no, the scat pack doesn't mean it leaves stuff behind it on the road) is not only a great muscle car experience, it's also an interesting lesson in semantics.

That's because it teaches us that the word "standard transmission" no longer applies to a stick shift, at least in this instance. Nope, in this case, the 485 "horsepowerhouse" comes "standard" with an automatic transmission, whereas the great Tremec six speed stick manual transmission is a thousand dollar option.

And a good option, too - better than a lot of the nannies for which you can pay more!

And all for 57 grand! Well, to be fair, the base Challenger Scat Pack Shaker starts at a still substantial but somewhat less frightening $48,895 and, also to be fair, you get a LOT of car for that.

It starts with the retro design, of course, a design that very nearly made me want to seek out a couple of gigantic earth movers to test its ultimate stopping power. Fortunately, the urge reached its vanishing point quickly… more...

Acer's Switch Alpha 12 surfaces as an excellent laptop/tablet

Consumers having trouble deciding between a real laptop computer and a real tablet have an abundant number of choices, and with its Switch Alpha 12 convertible PC, Acer is ensuring that the decision waters are even muddier than before.

It's a Microsoft Surface-like full Windows 10 PC (64 bit) that not only comes with a magnetically attachable/detachable full size keyboard, it has a nifty little stand that folds out from the tablet section so you can perch it on a desk or your lap (or wherever) easily, at pretty well whatever angle you want. And that stand is rubberized along the bottom, which makes it more stable on a slippery surface. more...

New Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a mostly excellent and state-of-the-art drive

Mercedes-Benz' new E-Class is a bit of a revelation, not only about what a current mid-size luxury sedan can be, but also about where the market as a whole is going. And, like the E-Class, it should be an interesting ride.

I expected to like the E-Class, but after a week in Mercedes-Benz Canada's sample E 300 4MATIC (all-wheel drive) I came away wishing I didn't have to take it back.

As if that's never happened to me before…

The new E-Class shows that Mercedes-Benz continues to be on a roll, both as far as styling and driver engagement are concerned. As the for tech stuff, well, you may find it a "love it or  hate it" scenario. I certainly loved some of its toys and tools, and was amazed by some - but others would be real deal breakers, though fortunately, the ones I hated most (lane departure warning/assist) can be turned off. more...

Angels and Demons 4K rocks while Final Fantasy XV show the way ahead for animated actors

Two great new disc releases from Sony show how technology is moving entertainment forward, and in the case of one release, it could also offer hope to actors and actresses who Hollywood may judge past their prime or otherwise "not ready for prime time."

The first release, Ron Howard's take on Dan Brown's novel Angels and Demons, is one of the latest 4K discs to hit the market and it's a compelling yarn even on the 1080p Blu-ray disc that accompanies the set and holds its interesting set of supplements.

The second, Kingsglaive Final Fantasy XV, is a computer-generated extravaganza based on a game franchise and its not only a good home theatre romp, it's a fascinating look at how movies can be made with, or without, "real" actors. more...

Ford Fusion hybrid adds mileage but - like most hybrids - subtracts driving joy

It drives like a hybrid - with a whiny CVT transmission and more leisurely acceleration than some might like - but at heart Ford's 2017 Fusion hybrid is a very nice car. And if you don't want a hybrid, they make enough other models to satisfy nearly everyone.

Those "other models" include a plug in hybrid and a Fusion Sport that sounds really fun and interesting (more on that in a future column) - and there's also a Platinum trim level now that tosses about every creature comfort and technological gewgaw you could think of into the mix.

But this column is about my week in the Fusion hybrid, in its Titanium trim level. And if you take it out of eco mode and ignore the CVT's whine, you might find it a very nice choice in the mid-size sedan niche. more...

Classical music comes to smart TV's - at a price

If you're going through classical music withdrawal and would like to hang out with a famous symphony orchestra, there - to repeat a hackneyed phrase - is an app  for that.

It's called Digital Concert Hall and it comes courtesy of the Berlin Philharmonic. And if you love classical music performed live in concert you might find it a wonderful app to add to your smart TV's apps menu. Just beware that once you finish your seven day free trial it's going to set you back 15 Euros a month.

That seems like a lot of lucre to me, cheapskate that I am, but I'm sure enjoying my free week and not looking forward to it ending this weekend. But as much as I appreciate the service, I'll be going back to YouTube for my live classical fixes once my time is up. more...

Ford F-150 Limited a big but luxurious worker

There are many reasons why Ford's F-150 truck is the biggest selling vehicle in North America, and has been for decades. It's rugged, hauls a lot of stuff, and with every generation it gets more advanced and sophisticated.

The current generation, for those who've missed the many, many commercials for the F-150, even switched from a steel-intensive body structure to one made of "military grade" (whatever that means) aluminum. That decreases the vehicle's weight, which can increase its payload capacity and/or reduce fuel consumption, both of which can be handy features in a large utility vehicle such as this.

It's near the end of the model year, but Ford of Canada sent me a 2016 Limited trim level of the F-150 to drive anyway and, truck person that I am not, I wasn't really looking forward to it. But - alert the media - I really liked driving it, its size and utility notwithstanding. more...

LG creates a TV that doesn't take sides - and Shomi drops the curtain

Talk about being two faced! LG, the South Korean electronics giant, is proving there really are two sides to an issue, at least if the issue is how many TV's can you get into one package.

I pun, but last Friday my good friend, Les, invited me up to his company's headquarters to get a look at LG's new two sided commercial OLED monitor, and it blew me away. Oh, I doubt it'll be a popular consumer choice, though I can see applications for that, but LG isn't likely to care because this $14,000 (Canadian) unit is meant clearly to be used in commercial installations. And I can see it being a hit there. more...

Jaguar brings a different kind of Pride parade to its vehicular road show

Jaguars, as in the big cats, are apparently solitary animals for the most part, but when you bring them together in a group it's referred to as a "pride," just like with lions.

And I'd be lion if I told you I didn't have a really great time at Jaguar Land Rover Canada's Art of Performance tour, which stopped in Calgary over the September 17 weekend. In fact, my buttocks had to be "pride" from the seat of an F-Type before I'd leave.

The Art of Performance tour is billed by the company on its website thusly: "Thrill your senses. Introducing the all new XE, XF and F-Pace, our new generation of vehicles at the Art of Performance Tour." And that's what it turned out to be, a two and a half hour first impression of the marque's newest vehicles, with a bit of "fake off road" Range Rover performance thrown in for good measure. more...

LampChamp powers your stuff while Budweiser lights up your hockey games

Budweiser is bringing new meaning to the term "light beer," while LampChamp is bringing new flexibility to your travelling power needs. Somewhat.

Which to tackle first, a convenient item for those toiling on the road, or a fun fan thing for hockey nuts? My wife and my mother would undoubtedly admonish me to get the work done first, so I'll start with a couple of quick impressions of the LampChamp. Then we can relax over a tall cool one! more...

Kia Sportage a compelling small crossover

Chalk up another win for Kia. The South Korean carmaker's 2017 Sportage is a handsome and enjoyable vehicle that's full of modern technology and safety features. It's decent to drive, too.

And fortunately, it comes with a warranty - not that that's unique. But read on!

Available in three trim levels - LX, EX and SX Turbo, both in either front or all-wheel drive configurations (the SX is AWD only, though) - the SUV/Crossover starts at a reasonable $24,895 CAD for the FWD LX and climbs to $39,595 for the top line SX Turbo. The SX is the one Kia Canada sent for test purposes and other than a flutter in the two litre engine that would undoubtedly be fixed easily under warranty, I found it a really nice vehicle. more...

Audio-Technica makes turntables wireless while Ford ups its audio ante with a Bang

Remember turntables, those hardworking platter spinners with which many of us grew up? It appears that reports of their demises are, if not completely wrong, at least overstated - and Audio-Technica is taking steps meant to ensure the old fashioned disc player is still relevant in a digital and wireless world.

I finally sold my turntable a few years ago, though I still have a few record albums around that my wife really wants me to get rid of. But I rarely throw anything away; heck, I still have a bunch of laserdiscs, a once high end video format that committed suicide almost the day that DVD's hit the market.

But unlike laserdiscs, which are showing no signs of being reanimated, vinyl records are staging a comeback. Oh, I doubt they'll ever become truly mainstream again, but they seem to be finding an audience, as evidenced by the turntables still (or newly) on the market and the bins of vinyl records being sold in many music stores. more...

Mazda's new CX-9 downsizes the engine but keeps the 'Zoom-Zoom' intact

The bad news is that you can no longer get a V6 engine in Mazda's biggest SUV. The good news is that you may not care.

I must admit that I was worried when I heard that Mazda was dumping the V6. I liked the old CX-9 a lot - I have yet to drive a Mazda I didn't like - and I was concerned that trimming it down to a turbocharged four cylinder engine would lead to a vehicle that wouldn't be as much fun to drive. But I needed have worried! After spending a week in the new CX-9, I commend Mazda for their choice because the new CX-9 loses nothing important in the way of performance, yet it shed weight and undoubtedly upped its fuel mileage in the process.

Therefore, we have a new turbo four, the first turbocharged SKYACTIV engine from Mazda, and while its horsepower rating of 227 may not set the world on fire considering the size of the CX-9, its 310 lb.-ft. of torque, available at a nice and low 2,000 rpm, makes up for it very nicely. more...

LG Super UHD smart TV sports pretty pictures and good sound

LG's newest line of 4K TV's ups the company's ante when it comes to state-of-the-art smart TV's, offering excellent video, better than average audio and a host of other features designed to make life with the TV more pleasant.

The company sent me a sample of the 55 inch 55UH8500, a fine TV marred only by an annoying, mouse-like remote control that's meant to make accessing the set's myriad features easier, but which in my never humble opinion actually works against that ease of use.

Fortunately, the conventional remote from my older LG plasma worked fine. more...

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