Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Updated: February 26, 2021

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Utilian 421

Entry level vapes offer good performance and price

Want to try vaping, but don't want to pay through the nose for something you may end up not enjoying?

Well, friends, the folks at TVape  (short for Toronto Vaporizer, which causes my Albertan flesh to crawl, but which is actually a pretty darn robust site for those interested in imbibing cannabis without the smoke and other assorted bad things connected with burning it) have a couple of suggestions for trying vaping without breaking the bank.

They offered me two models for review and, since I'm an idiot when it comes to stuff like this, I once again trotted out (well, virtually exhumed) the panel of friends and acquaintances I've used in a series of other columns looking at vaping and the innumerable ways of doing it.

Alas, one of our chief panellists passed on during the past year. Vern was a victim of not having acquired Covid – dying of just about every other condition and affliction one can imagine, while everyone around him was running around and waving their arms in panic. Still, that leaves a few others who are always up for trying an interesting new vape and they rose to the occasion as usual.

The two vapes are the $97.79 CAD Utillian 421 and the LITL1, which their site lists for $39.99 USD. Both offer good vaping experiences, though one rose to the top of the comparison easily and for a few specific reasons.

Let's look at the larger of the two, first.

The Utillian 421 is pretty well everything the LITL1 claims to be, but it's bigger, holds more, and has better battery life. It's twice the price of the LITL1, but a hundred dollar vape is pretty cheap these days, especially one that works as well as the 421.

The Utillian looks like a little flask and fits into the hand beautifully as well. It's curved to fit comfortably in the palm and, like the LITL1, features one button operation. Just press it five times quickly and you're off to the races.

It also offers reasonable battery life, a digital display small enough to require these old eyes to put on their reading glasses (but which works well otherwise), and it has airflow control on the bottom (so you can allow more or less air through the device) and comes not only with a USB charger but with some little screens and a packing tool. more...

Lexus RX 350Lexus RX 350 Black Edition pairs lots of luxury with a not particularly exhilarating drive

When looking for a Lexus vehicle – SUV, car, whatever – do you look for luxury and quality construction foremost, before other aspects such as driving dynamics?

If so, you'll probably love the current RX 350 SUV/Crossover. It's been a top seller for years now, one of if not Canada's top selling Lexus model.

And it's a very nice vehicle, indeed, comfortable and cozy and full of creature comforts. But it ain't no Cayenne or X5, etc. Not that it claims to be.

So, if you care about having a bit of fun with your right foot, this may not be your vehicle. On the other hand, one can't argue its success, nor its excellence.

And for 2021, Lexus has added a supposedly limited-edition Black Edition, which ups the luxury ante via an $8,850 package. That's what Lexus Canada's sample had and, yes, it does give you some nice toys and tools.

Lexus' press release for the 2021 RX line says the Black Edition offers "unique styling and more spirited performance " but I have no idea what they mean by more spirited performance. Oh, the RX' basics are basic goodness: it's all-wheel drive, and powered by a lovely V6 that offers plenty of horsepower (295, and in 2018 its torque rating was 263 lb.‑ft.).

But the driving feel is a bit disappointing because in an earlier life I drove a customer shuttle for a local Lexus dealer. That was a mid-2000's RX 330 and, while it was still steeped in luxury, it was a lot more interesting to drive than this current one.

The power is fine, and the engine is very smooth but, thanks at least in part to an eight-speed automatic that replaced the old six speed they had a few years back, it runs up through the gears as quickly as it can to lower the revs and save gas. At least it has paddle shifters on this version, though they seem to shift more when the vehicle deigns to than when you deign it to. So, the paddles are welcome, but not particularly helpful.

The brakes (four-wheel discs, with the usual assistants), offer good performance and feel, and the steering is actually pretty good in a luxury kind of way. The suspension is independent all around, with struts up front and double wishbones holding its bum secure. more...

LG gram PC

LG's new gram series of laptop PC's packages performance in a small footprint

LG seems to be on a roll these days. Whether it's smart phones, appliances, televisions or whatever, the company offers innovation and quality that used to be reserved for tech companies from different parts of the world such as Japan, Europe and North America.

It's kind of the way the car market is going as well: South Korean companies used to be known for junk (remember the Hyundai Pony?) but have come a long way in a relatively short time. Heck, I remember when LG was "Lucky Goldstar" (well, I remember Goldstar products) and you'd buy their equipment not in high tech stores but places like Sears or Canadian Tire, where they'd share shelf space with brand names such as Candle or Lloyd's.

Now, LG (and its South Korean competitor Samsung) need apologize to no one. In fact, they're now leading the way in some areas that were traditionally the playing field of older big, established companies. For example, LG is the leader in OLED TV technology today and that's the best type of flat panel TV you can buy. But it's a technology pioneered years ago by Sony – who, ironically, are now buying OLED panels from LG.

Anyway, LG is also working at changing the game when it comes to laptop PC's, and as evidence I present this new LG gram Ultra-Light series that offers a lot of power and performance in a very thin package that looks quite fragile but which does seem to be quite robust.

The gram line was actually introduced to Canadians a year ago, promoted as "the World's Lightest 17-inch laptop" and offering "the power, memory and features necessary to meet the demands of virtually any kind of business, from coding to digital content creation." more...

Toyota SiennaIs the new Sienna the world's first sports minivan?

Minivans and sports cars. Shall the twain ever meet?

I mean, when one talks of utility vehicles – as opposed to SUV/crossovers – one can be forgiven for thinking of minivans, pickup trucks, "real" vans and delivery vehicles, etc. But, while I've seen some rather lame – er, sorry, physically challenged – analogies to minivans and sportiness over the years, they're few and far between. And, in my never humble opinion, they're mostly BS.

Why? Minivans are the height (and width and length) of practicality for family hauling, whether hauling the family or the family's stuff (or both). And they're great for that.

One thing I've never known them for, however, was being compelling driver's vehicles. The last generation Chrysler Pacifica wasn't too bad, I suppose, and it's hard to argue against the feel of a Honda Odyssey when you unleash the 3.5 litre V6 that comes in it. But whether it's the focus on utility or the mere fact that the laws of physics say a big and long and tall box isn't going to give you the buzz that, say, a Porsche Cayman will, I've never been struck with the thought of taking a minivan out for a nice run through the twisty bits on the great driving roads around here.

Enter the 2021 Toyota Sienna.

Oh, sure, it's still a minivan in every way, and Toyota's new generation of its long-lasting family hauler is now available in these parts only as a four-cylinder hybrid. Despite that, this is a minivan that's actually quite a bit of fun to drive. more...

Jeep CherokeeJeep Cherokee a great vehicle to have when it snows a lot

When the snow flies and the drifts get deep, it's nice to have a vehicle with robust four-wheel drive to get you through it. And it's especially nice when it's a vehicle with good ride height that can navigate the deep December doo-doo as if it were born for it.

Such is the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Elite 4x4 – at least for the most part.

We had about a foot and a half of snow dumped on our little corner of the Rocky Mountain foothills just before Christmas, and it was enough to keep less capable vehicles either off of the road or stuck in the snow; heck, I helped push multiple vehicles into or out of their parking spots during that time, just on my little hilly cul-de-sac.

Thanks to having the Jeep that week, our personal vehicles didn't have to leave the garage, and it was just as well. Oh, my dear wife's RAV4 would probably have gotten through the stuff okay even though it's only part time all-wheel drive and could stand to be a bit higher in the ground clearance department – but my A4 quattro wagon, with its lowered sports suspension, would never have made it out of the garage until the alley behind our house was plowed (which means, Spring thaw or the next Chinook…) because it would've bottomed out.

But, while I'm not generally a fan of Jeeps, the company's Trailhawk version of the long-lived Cherokee model line was ideal for those conditions. Heck, it never caused us to slow us down a whit.

Mostly. More about that later.

Cherokees start at just under 30 grand (the Sport) and the line goes right up to include the Overland (just under $42 K CAD to start). Jeep's sample "Trailhawk" is in the middle of the lineup and starts at about $35.5K. Jeep's 2020 model year sample had quite a few options, too, and tipped the fiscal scale at $51,135 (including $1,895 in "destination charge" and $100 worth of "Velvet Red Pearl" paint). more...

Mazda CX-5Mazda celebrates 100 years with special edition CX-5

My favourite compact ute is back with some new tweaks for 2021, as well as a couple of new editions, one of which is a celebration of Mazda's centennial.

It's the CX-5, which started life a bit underpowered but was still lots of fun to drive, and Mazda has wisely upped the oomph ante over the years, a tad at least. But with the introduction of the company's lovely optional 2.5 litre turbo four a while back, acceleration angst is now a thing of the past. And that's wonderful!

It's also a pretty luxurious vehicle in the upper trim levels. A Signature trim was introduced for 2019, which also included that turbo four (which Mazda also makes available nearly right across its line). That version didn't come with paddle shifters, though Mazda has now corrected that oversight with the 2021 CX-5. And the paddles work well, though if you don't shift it into sport mode the transmission will go back to sleep again if you aren't prodding it enough to satisfy it. And that's fine.

For 2021, Mazda has introduced a Kuro edition of the CX-5 as well as the special 100th Anniversary model. Mazda's sample was the centennial edition, and it's simply a splendid example of the compact SUV persuasion.

It isn't a faster or more fun CX-5, but it's nicer and has more stuff.

The 100th Anniversary version lists "all-in" for $45,626 CAD. That gets you the ultra-fun turbo (actually, you can get that engine on trim levels from GT upward), and all the niceties of the $44,126 Signature edition (stuff like 19-inch alloy wheels, Nappa leather-trimmed upholstery, a 360 degree View Monitor, Front and rear parking sensors, wood trim, and a bunch of other comfort, luxury and safety stuff), while adding "Snowflake White Pearl exterior paint paired with Garnet Red Nappa leather upholstery, with matching red floor carpets". more...

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the Rings trilogy makes for a spectacular 4K set

Fans of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy are in for a treat with the new 4K treatment the films have received just in time for Christmas. It's a spectacular package, a nine-disc set that includes both the theatrical and the extended versions of Jackson's three classic fantasy films.

And if that isn't enough for Middle Earth for you, Warner Brothers has also released the Hobbit trilogy in 4K.

I'm a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and have auditioned all the video versions, from the original DVD's of the theatrical versions to these brand new 4K transfers. I'm also a fan of the original J.R.R. Tolkien books, but upon rereading the Fellowship of the Ring a couple of years ago I discovered I now find the books unnecessarily bloated and actually prefer Jackson's versions – the extended editions, at least.

Regardless of which version you think is best, Warners has very thoughtfully put both into the package, so there's a LOTR for everyone. Well, everyone except those who like substantial supplements, which the old Blu-rays had in spades. Here, there are no extras at all, other than a code for a digital download.  

That's a downside for me because I love all the behind the scenes, making of, stuff. Fortunately, I still own the Blu-rays, so that stuff is still available to me. If, however, want the extras, you may want to hold off because Warner Brothers says it's going to release all six films, in "short" and extended versions – with extras – in 4k next summer. There'll also be a new, remastered Blu-ray set for those who haven't moved to 4K. more...

Coming to America 4K

Classic Eddie Murphy flicks coming to America (and the world) in new Blu-ray and 4K versions

The quality of Eddie Murphy's movies varies over the decades he's been working, but when the stars align – stars, screenplay, director, etc. – you can be assured of at least a fun time in your home theatre.

And now, Paramount Pictures is releasing four of his better flicks, just (coincidentally, I'm sure) in time to promote the upcoming Coming 2 America sequel. Obviously, Coming to America is one of these new video releases, along with Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, and the Golden Child. The latter two, Paramount says, have been given the 4K treatment, but aren't yet available as 4K discs, only as conventional 1080p Blu-rays.

Which begs the question: why not 4K now? The studio claims all have been redone in 4K, so why expect fans to shell out twice? Just release 'em all in 4K and include a Blu-ray in the box as has been done with innumerable other 4K titles.

Oh, I forgot; this is a company that knows well how to squeeze extra dollars out of fans through countless editions and versions. Does Star Trek ring a bell?

Anyway, Paramount sent me three of these titles for review, the 4K Coming to America (which has been available on Blu-ray for years) and, alas, the Blu-rays of Trading Places and The Golden Child (alas, because they look great and I'd love to see the real 4K versions). All are, in their way, "fish out of water" stories, though Golden Child is also a kind of Big Trouble in Little China action/adventure comedy involving evil magic and ancient battles. more...

Toyota Venza

Toyota Venza: a tall wagon evolves into a taller and higher-tech SUV

Out goes the "car", in comes the "SUV" – and that's the tale of the Toyota Venza. Well, part of it.

Time was when the Venza occupied a kind of unique niche in the car marketplace, at least in North America: a tall station wagon. Station wagons are rare here, unfortunately, though other parts of Parent Earth still do brisk business with them. Here, we get a few wagons, mostly German (not that there's anything wrong with that!), but even sedans and coupes are threatening to become an endangered species in these parts in favour of SUV's.

So, Toyota has now brought back the Venza, "rebirthing" it as a, well, a big RAV4 – though it isn't even really much bigger than the RAV in size. Toyota is slotting the new, two row Venza SUV between the RAV and the larger, three row Highlander, filling a whole in their product line that I didn't think existed. Seems silly to me, but the carmakers never ask my opinions (It may be a defence mechanism on their parts…). Besides, fortunately, the new Venza is a really nice vehicle that will probably sell by the truckload.

If only they hadn't saddled it with a typically noisy and annoying continuously variable transmission.

Available only as a hybrid (which undoubtedly helps explain the CVT), the 2021 Venza is a handsome vehicle – much more agreeable to my eyes than the recently uglified RAV4 and, though it's not the same type of vehicle, the well-creased Camry. The front end has a big grille, but it's not overly in your face, and the clean sides lead to a rear end that seems reminiscent of the Jaguar F-Pace (a very handsome vehicle, indeed).

It also offers a couple of really cool features I'm dying to tell you about. more...

Jim BrayNational Teen Driver Safety Week focused on at least one wrong issue

It appears that, these days, there's a week, or a month, or a day, for just about any cause one can imagine. And last week, October 18 to 24 was apparently named National Teen Driver Safety Week, at least judging by the press releases I've received on the topic.

These releases offer a variety of tips for teenagers as they get behind the wheel of their vehicle, things such as remembering to mute your phone (in fact, in one release I got they say you should put it into Airplane Mode!), planning your route in advance, keeping both hands on the steering wheel, etc.

One organization, in their press release, even called upon the young drivers' passengers to rat 'em out: "Speak Up: As a passenger, help by speaking up if your driver decides to interact with a mobile device. Feel confident to ask them to stop immediately, and demand that they pull over and then use their phone safely."

Advocating back seat drivers? Really? Where do these people get off? I tell you, if it were me driving and my passenger pulled that, I'd pull something, too: I'd indeed pull my vehicle right over to the shoulder (when it's safe to do so, of course) and then that prattler in the passenger position would be on foot.  Don't like my driving? Find someone else to chauffeur you around!

To be fair, some of the advice given above is reasonable enough but, as usual, the powers that are pushing this agenda appear to be aiming a good portion of their fire at the usual canard: speeders. It's always about speeding, isn't it? more...

Harrison Bergeron

Welcome to Bergeron!

By Eric Peters
An important special commentary, reproduced with permission

America is becoming Bergeron – a new country based on the principles laid out in Kurt Vonnegut's depressingly prescient short story, Harrison Bergeron.

It is a country in which – as in the book – you may not act if anyone of lesser strength or ability or drive cannot act at the same level. You must accommodate yourself to their level.

Everything is leveled – ever downward.

Until all are depressingly . . . equal.

In misery. In poverty. In thrall to suffocating edicts limiting what they are permitted to do – and told they must not do – on the basis of what others can't do. Or resent you for being able to do, which they can't.

One of the most obvious expressions of this principle is on the road, where the law punishes competence as a kind of affront to the incompetent. If some people can't handle making a right turn on red without creeping out in front of right-of-way traffic and causing a wreck thereby, no one else is allowed to make a right-on-red. If someone ignores the law forbidding it and makes a right-on-red safely and competently, by judging the flow of traffic and applying the necessary degree of acceleration to merge with it smoothly, he is punished for being competent.

For having ability – and daring to use it.

Some will say that, no, the offender ignored the law. True – but only superficially.

Consider that the competent execution of the action isn't a mitigating factor. Just as health is no excuse for not Diapering.. more...

Audi A4 Sport Wagon

New behind the wheel? Here's some advice for new and inexperienced drivers

Back to School season may be the "most wonderful time of the year" if you're a parent whose kids have been driving you up the wall for the past several months, but it's also a time when many people are heading back to classes – or work, or whatever, as well.

This means, as I'm sure you'll have noticed, that our highways and byways are filling up again – not, perhaps, as much as they were back before our forcible, free trial of tyranny began, but more than were on the roads during the early heights of the health hype. This prompted the folks at OK Tire to offer some tips they think can help the more inexperienced drivers among us to have safer and/or more pleasant driving experiences than they might otherwise.

I'm not sure how many of today's young snowflakes will take heed – since OK's advice involves such things as paying attention to things other than themselves – but I present them here for your information, along with some comments of my own gleaned from a half century of driving vehicles of nearly every size on every type of road from dirt to race track.

OK Tire's list is all common-sense stuff, and it applies to drivers of all experience levels, not just the so-called newbies:

"Know your vehicle – Familiarising yourself with all of the buttons, including your AC, heating and wipers means you will know where they are when you need them quickly and will prevent you from taking your eyes off the road. Learning the basics of how your vehicle works inside and out will help to avoid panic if something goes wrong."

This makes perfect sense, of course, and all it really requires is for you to poke around your vehicle before you head out. Learn the touch screen and its various features (you may not have a touch screen but the advice is sound for any type of screen no matter how it's controlled) so you can spend the least amount of time looking for stuff when you should be looking down the road. more...

Roman Holiday

Roman Holiday hits Blu-ray – but not in 4K

A classic William Wyler film has just escaped onto home video wearing a brand-new set of clothes, but it isn't the set of clothes I really wanted to see it in.

It's Roman Holiday, Wyler's 1953 romantic comedy starring Gregory Peck and a young up and comer named Audrey Hepburn, in a performance that ended up winning her an Oscar, one of three the classic "fish out of water" tale took home.

William Wyler created his share of masterpieces over his long Hollywood career, from Wuthering Heights to The Best Years of Our Lives to the 1959 Ben-Hur and, despite its slow start, Roman Holiday is another.

Hepburn plays Ann, a European princess from an always-unnamed country. She's on an official tour of Europe and, once in Rome, the frustrations of the young girl – who really only wants to be an ordinary person – get the best of her and she sneaks away from her cocoon of handlers and protectors. She doesn't mean to stay away long, we think, but she falls asleep on a bench (thanks to a dose of sleepy drugs she was given before she sneaked out) and is rescued by reporter Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck) who happens upon her sleeping beauty and, unable to wake her up properly, ends up taking her back to his home rather than leave her at the mercy of an outside world she has never really experienced and is undoubtedly unable to cope with.

At work the next day, while Ann still sleeps in his little apartment, Joe discovers who she really is and cooks up a scheme by which he can use his newfound influence as her saviour to get an exclusive story that'll make him a bundle of much-needed cash. To help, he enlists his photographer friend Irving Radovich (played, very well as usual, by Eddie Albert) and together they convince Ann (who, thinking her identity is still a secret, has called herself Anya) to spend a day sightseeing the Eternal City while Irving surreptitiously snaps shots of her "secret" Roman Holiday.

Not surprisingly for a romantic comedy, while Joe's exploiting Ann he manages to fall in love with her, and this changes everything. No longer does he want to plaster her face all over the pages, under his byline, for a quick infusion of cash and credibility. Nope, he now realizes that it wouldn't be fair to the girl because, despite being a public figure, she's also a real person and a darn likeable one, a fact he hadn't expected. more...

Datacolor SpyderX

WALTR2 lets iOS users bypass annoying iTunes app

iPhone users and those with other iOS devices who want to get their media files onto their gadgets without getting frustrated enough to throw them against the wall have a way to avoid that darn iTunes program all together. And, at least to me, that's a really good thing.

There is a number of ways you can do this,getting files onto the device directly, and I found a good one that's easy to use and, mostly, works very well.

It's called WALTR2 which, perhaps not too surprisingly, is the sequel to WALTR, which I've never tried. And I used it to get nearly 128 gig of my music onto my iPhone! And more.

I came across WALTR2, which is from Softorino, doing a web search for just such a product. It was made necessary by my dear wife buying me a refurbished unlocked iPhone 7 for my birthday, after she watched me spend the last year cussing at the cheap unlocked Android phone I'd bought because it was cheap and unlocked and because, with Android, you can add memory instead of (as with Apple) having to buy the capacity you want up front.

I've always hated that about Apple, though I like iPhones and iPads better than any Android I've tried, and for years stuck with Google's Android system because I didn't want to knuckle under to Apple's proprietary BS.

Well, because of that and iTunes, which has to have one of the most annoying interfaces for a smart device I've ever seen. I use iTunes with my iPad to get videos onto it for when I travel, but other than that I avoid it like the plague.

Alas, with that Android phone I bought last year (after my previous iPhone decided to commit suicide by flying out of my hand and landing face down on some rocks – hmm, maybe it didn't want to deal with iTunes any more, either!), Ben Franklin's adage of "The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten" reared its ugly head. The phone was slow and its performance and connectivity was spotty.

Then my wife found the refurbished, 128 gig iPhone 7 on sale for a reasonable price and took pity on me.

Except that it once again saddled me with using iTunes, and I HATE iTUNES! more...

TechnoFile publisher Jim Bray's print columns are available through the
TechnoFile Syndicate.
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