| Car and tech rants from Jim Bray | Publishing online exclusively since 1995 |
January 12, 2017

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Toyota Camry hybrid

Toyota Camry hybrid a surprisingly nice drive

It's been called an appliance, a vanilla vehicle, boring, whatever. But the fact remains that Toyota's Camry is a model of greatness in its own right - a car that'll deliver comfortable and efficient driving for many years without fuss or hassle.

It's also one of the top-selling vehicles in North America and, though it may never quicken the pulse of driving enthusiasts, it delivers a better driving experience than those same enthusiasts might expect.

Even in its hybrid form, the topic of this piece. Oh, as a hybrid it's saddled with a noisy and whiny CVT and CVT's also generally sap a lot of the enjoyment out of the driving process, but even that couldn't kill my enjoyment during a recent week with the Camry hybrid SE. more...

Of routers and smart plugs and mice (oh, my!)

It's a new year and if you have any money left over from the Christmas giving season - or if you have some gift dollars burning a hole in your pocket - there are innumerable tech solutions on which you can blow the cash, from a new router to a new mouse, and lots in between.

Let's look at a couple of items I've been playing with for a while now, including the TP-Link AC3200 Wireless Tri-band Gigabit Router, whichlooks like a cross between an unidentified flying object and my home town's football stadium with its tall towers supporting a giant Bose speaker over the mid field stripe. more...

Honda's new Ridgeline improves an already interesting pickup

Honda's  odd-looking pickup truck of old is gone, replaced by a new generation - its second -  that brings a much more conventional demeanour to the marketplace.

And other than some "Honda-isms" that mar an otherwise great interior, it could be the perfect choice for people who need a pickup truck sometimes, but whose hauling needs aren't heavy duty and who refer the driving feel of an SUV or crossover to that of a "regular" truck.

Part of the reason for that different feel from other pickups is because the Ridgeline isn't a "regular" pickup truck at all. It features a unibody, er, body, which is more like today's cars and SUV's than the "body on frame" construction of the garden variety pickup. This makes the Ridgeline feel more like a Honda Pilot than, say, a Toyota Tacoma, and there's nothing wrong with that. In fact, as a "not a truck guy" kind of guy, I'd look to the Ridgeline before any other pickup truck on the market if I ever needed to buy a truck.

Well, except for the Honda-isms the company still hasn't figured out. more...

Audio-Technica cuts the cords on turntables

It doesn't offer a USB interface to let you rip your vinyl but, despite that, Audio-Technica's AT-LP60-BT turntable may be the most flexible platter spinner I've ever seen.

That's because it can be used wirelessly, thanks to its built in Bluetooth interface, and it also has its own built in phono preamp that lets you use it with receivers and/or preamps that may not have one built in.

Heck, if it had the USB interface it would probably be perfect! more...

Time Sagas

Smallest Lexus SUV continues to be a winner

Take Lexus' top selling vehicle, the RX 350, shrink it to the next market niche down, and resist the urge to add a bunch of over styled cues and the result is the NX 200t, a wonderful little crossover/SUV that Lexus has made even more wonderful for 2017.

Well, mostly. It still has that awful "spindle" grille that's infecting all Lexi currently, and you have to use a trackpad to navigate its central stack's LCD - but other than that the NX continues to be my favourite current Lexus, the nicest of a very nice line of luxury vehicles.

Think of it as kind of a Rav4 on steroids, though that isn't really fair to either vehicle. But they both operate in that basic size niche, though of course at different areas of the marketplace. And they're both very good vehicles, the NX also having the honour of being the first Lexus to sport, a term used not to describe its driving experience, a turbocharged engine. more...

Dynamite documentary and a raucous remake showcase moviemaking's downhill slide

A reasonably good remake of a western classic, and an Oscar-winning Canadian documentary are on tap  for review this week, two movies that are wildly different from each other, but both of which have distinct Japanese connections.

The original "The Magnificent Seven" was a remake of an honoured Japanese film, Akira Kurosawa's "the Seven Samurai," and this new remake does a reasonable job of updating the story for today's Hollywood - for better and for worse.

Meanwhile, 1975's "Best Documentary" Oscar-winning "The Man Who Skied Down Everest" is a remarkably compelling film that, to my surprise (despite its title) is more about the journey of the man himself than the actual ski down Everest, as remarkable as it was in its own right. more...

Lincoln MKZ offers a capable and luxurious drive

Remember Lincoln? Ford's high end division used to be out front - whether as luxury limo-type vehicles such as the Continental, "hot rods" of song, and even the original 1960's TV Batmobile, which was really a Lincoln under the skin.

Whatever happened? Lincoln is still around, but today their vehicles are basically gussied up Fords - not that there's anything inherently wrong with that. But it seems to me that the high end vehicles should be the state-of-the-art ones, with their stuff trickling down to their lesser brands. This is how companies like Lexus have done it traditionally - stuff that began life on the top line vehicles, even such currently "pedestrian" features such as traction control, ABS and airbags, have made their way down the market and can now be found on the "lowly" Toyotas.

Ford may be looking at changing this reverse trickle down thing, starting with the upcoming Continental that looks very interesting indeed, but in the meantime we have vehicles such as the MKZ that's under discussion here. At heart, it's a Fusion - again, not that there's anything wrong with that - that has been, well, enhanced. And it's enhanced very nicely for the most part. more...

New fantasy and religion Blu-rays both miss their marks

Movie and/or TV versions of two popular literary works show up on Blu-ray just in time for Christmas, one of which is an interesting attempt while the other is a misguided return to previously and better exploited waters.

The first, the Shannara Chronicles, takes a series of fantasy novels, adds some unnecessary (and typical) political correctness that also leads to a suspension of one's suspension of disbelief, resulting in a mixed bag that's interesting but ultimately empty.

The second, the new Ben-Hur remake, is apparently an attempt to make Lew Wallace' classic "Tale of the Christ" accessible to today's short attention span folk who may not have ability or desire to sit through the nearly four hours required to watch the epic 1959 classic.  more...

Hyundai scores a twofer in the 2017 Canadian Car of the Year competition

Hyundai's Elantra copped a couple of category crowns in the 2017 Canadian Car of the Year Awards, announced on Tuesday, December 6 in Toronto.

The South Korean automaker's compact sedan was named Best New Small Car and its new Sport version won Best New Sports/Performance Car. The news comes in the wake of the Canadian Car of the Year TestFest held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park during the last week of October.

Eight category winners were announced in all, the winners now competing head to head with each other for the overall bragging rights as Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year, which will be announced next February. AJAC, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, under whose auspices the competition is held, will also name the Canadian Green Car of the Year awards next March. more...

Bluetooth speakers from LG and DreamWave bring good sound and portability to your tunes

Bluetooth speakers are everywhere these days, and with good reason. They offer wonderful portability and convenience, connecting you to your tunes regardless of where you are and, in many case, offering you wonderful sound quality under the circumstances.

Into this fray come three new choices, one from the worldwide powerhouse LG of South Korea, and the other two from the U.S.-based DreamWave. LG's is a very small unit that focuses on portability and convenience, while the DreamWave's two samples appear to focus more on durability and flexibility. more...

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...

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...

We welcome your comments!

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