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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, starting with the TP-Link AC3200
Wireless Tri-band Gigabit Router. It's aunit that looks 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.
through a bunch of routers over the years, but this one appealed to me because
its maker said it was built to handle more devices simultaneously, a handy
thing in today's increasingly wirelessly connected world. The router's Tri-Band technology lets you run
three separate channels, with a combined speed of up to 3200 Mbps. It ain't
cheap (it lists for $279.99 CDN on Best Buy's Canadian website, for example),
but it's probably the best router I've used as far as dependability and
performance are concerned.
It's also easy
to set up - for the first time ever I screwed up my own courage and, rather
than whine until my tech-consultant son came over and did it for me, I did it
myself and it was as easy as pie.
The router is
designed for applications (homes, specifically though not necessarily) that
have multiple people or devices fighting for bandwidth. In my home it's usually
my wife and I with competing iPads, as well as smart TV's and devices; you can
almost hear the electronic fisticuffs if you listen really hard.
like the one the TP-Link replaced in my home generally offer one 2.4 GHz and
one 5 GHz Wi-Fi band, but tri-band routers like this one giveyou a 2.4 GHz and two 5 GHz bands. The extra
5GHz one helps ease bandwidth issues that can cause your device to lose
connection or get very slow causing, if you're accessing such stuff as big
media files, endless buffering.
I installed it
next to my computer in my home office - in the northwest corner of my suburban
four level split, plugging it into the network cable stretching from the cable
modem in the workshop (well, junk room) downstairs. Then I plugged my external
four terabyte media drive into it directly, via another Ethernet cable.
And then the
configuration process began, at which time I discovered that the web interface
for performing the function turned out to besimple enough even for a simpleton such as me.
Once you've gone
through that process that you can configure your devices to interact with any
or all of the "networks" it routes through your home - for example,
you can tell the device that has your Netflix account to use one 5 Gig network,
your iPad for another, or whatever. You can also configure it to set up
"guest" networks for visitors, though I can't imagine visitors to my
home being any greater risk to my system's security than I am myself. But it's
there if you want it.
routers meant I had to get all my devices to reconnect afterward, but this was
easy. Since I kept the same network keys and passwords as with the old router,
all I had to do was have each device search for the available networks, choose the
one I wanted to use and re-enter the network key code. I had to do this for all
of the network choices, but it only took a few seconds.
I like the "Smart
Connect" feature, too. It helps devices run more quickly by assigning them
to the best available channel, as a way to balance network demand. This is basically
how I've set it up and it works just fine, with fewer "crapouts" than
with my previous routers. And if one "network" is crapping out, my
devices connect automatically with the next alternative.
There's a lot
more to the router, too - stuff like port forwarding, VPN Pass-through and USB
sharing - but as someone who's generally afraid of playing with such things
lest I screw up something, I've stayed away from them. Besides, in my
application I haven't needed them.
What I like most
about this router is that it gives me fast, almost completely
"rebuffering-free" performance for all my devices wherever they are
in the home. And that includes streaming of 4K files, which are increasingly
popular but bandwidth intensive. That's what I was looking for, and the TP-Link
AC3200 provides it in spades.
sent me their HS100
Wi-Fi Smart Plug, a $49.99 CDN gadget that controls power to whatever you have
plugged into it via your home network and smart devices. You control it via an
app that lets you turn stuff on or off from anywhere in the world as long as you're
connected to the Internet.
also has an "away mode" that lets you turn lights (or whatever) on
and off at different times, so anyone casing your casa will think you're home when
you aren't. You can also create schedules and set timers to conserve energy and
save as much money on your next bill as the utilities will allow between fee hikes.
And an energy monitoring
feature can help you analyze a device's power consumption.
You can use the
plug, not surprisingly, with anything that plugs in, but it made most sense for
us - especially since my review period happened around the holidays - to use it
to control our Christmas lights. And it did this just fine, firing up the colourful
strings at the time I (well, my wife) wanted and shutting them down on schedule
as well, with no issues whatsoever.
My only issue
is that the thing is pretty big and that could affect what wall socket you can
plug it into. It's also a three pronged plug, so you may have problems using it
in an older home unless you have a "cheater plug" that converts three
prongs into two.
A Quick Start
Guide gets you up and running, and it's very easy to fathom. The app walks you
through the connection process as well; all you have to do is follow the on
screen instructions and Bob should very well be your uncle. It was in my case,
even though Bob is really my cousin.
The Arc Touch
Mouse is an elegant and small Bluetooth mouse that, in the case of Microsoft's
$80 CAD sample, works beautifully. I could use it with my desktop PC with no
issues, but (maybe this is why it's called a Surface Edition) I like using it
better with my laptop because its small footprint is ideal for travelling.
I'd been a tad
nonplussed that the thing never seemed to shut off, but that was before I
figured out (no user manuals for me unless absolutely necessary!) that the
on/off switch is inside and that, to activate it, you merely fold the mouse
flat. Curve it back into its "in use" configuration and it becomes a
nice mouse that fits the hand nicely.
features Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (making it perfect for my sedentary lifestyle!),
which is supposed to be less of a battery hog than "old" Bluetooth. Microsoft
says the mouse works from up to 30 feet away, too, so you'd better have a big
I like that
the mouse is shaped to match the natural curve of my hand and since if folds
flat it's also nicer to pack with you when you're out and/or about. And instead
of a wheel between the left and right buttons, there's what's more or less a
plastic strip that lets you scroll easily, and it responds to how quickly you drag
your finger on it.
says the mouse's BlueTrack Technology "combines the power of optical with
the precision of laser for remarkable tracking on virtually any surface,"
which means you can use it on carpet or your pant leg. I had no issues using it
on any surface, including glass.
not entirely true. I did have issues using it on the fabric cover for a chair
arm in my living room. This was because the cover is full of tears and holes
(thanks to having three cats in the house) and the mouse would get hung up on
Once I tossed
the cover to the floor and used the actual fabric of the arm (which is the same
as that of the cover, but solid), it worked great.