Google Chromecast Now Available in Canada!

You no longer have to try and get a friend or relative to pick up a Google Chromecast for you when travelling in the US any longer. Google announced today that starting today (March 19, 2014) the Chromecast device will be available in Canada for 39.00. You will be able to purchase the Chromecast through the Google Play store and at (be careful of the listing though as I saw one today for 48.00 being sold by another company). No word if Best Buy will be selling it in Canada like they do in the US. If you are not familiar with the Chromecast it is a small HDMI dongle that plugs into your TV and allows for streaming from apps like Netflix, Google Play Movies and Google Play Music to your TV.

I have been using a few of these since September and they are great little devices for the price. Not as functional as an Apple TV but if you are not a part of the Apple Ecosystem and use Android devices this may be the answer for you.

I wrote a small review of the device a while ago especially detailing what it is and what it isn’t that can be read here. One thing that has changed since I first wrote this review is that Google released a Chromecast SDK to other developers. We are starting to see other applications that can cast video, music and pictures from your mobile device to your TV using the Chromecast. One in particular AllCast works very well and Plex has opened up Chromecast support on all of their apps and not just to PlexPass subscribers . To keep track of all of the latest apps available for Chromecast I highly suggest getting the free app Cast store for the Google play store.

The basic functionality of the Chromecast hasn’t changed a lot with the release of the SDK except that you can now send content from your mobile device to the device with Chromecast enabled apps. The device and your Chromecast still have to be on the same network and you can’t use services or VPNs to get around Geo IP restrictions. You also can’t mirror devices to the Chromecast like you can do with an iPad and an Apple TV although a developer thinks he can do it using the SDK.

If you are looking for a Netflix streaming device for your primary TV or a secondary TV in your home the Chromecast is an inexpensive way to add this flexibility. I recently installed one at my parents home so that we can view HD Net5flix content over there instead of using the Nintendo Wii (non HD). By simply being on the same wireless network and having the Chromecast app and a Chromecast enabled app on your device you can start streaming to it right away. You can’t really go wrong for 39.00

Playing with a Chromecast in Canada!

March 19th, 2014 Update – Chromecast is now available in Canada for 39.00 via Google Play Store or

A couple of weeks ago on trip to the US I was able to pick up a couple Google Chromecast devices. I have been playing around with these for a about a week now and can describe what they are and what they aren’t!

s5-productheroIn late July of this year Google held an announcement regarding the Google Nexus 7 tablet refresh, Android 4.3 Release and they snuck the Google Chromecast in during the same announcement. The Google Chromecast is basically a dongle that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port and allows you to cast (stream) video and music from your mobile device or PC to your TV. The device was announced to sell for 35.00 USD and included a free 3 months of Netflix service. The Netflix offer was quickly discontinued shortly after launch. The device was also only being made available in the US through the Google Play Store, Amazon and Best Buy. At launch the device was only able to stream movies from Google Play Movies, YouTube, Netflix and a Chrome Browser on a PC as well as music from Google Play Music. As of today these are still your only options but Google is saying that they are working with other partners.

The device sold out virtually immediately at all sources within 48 hours. Knowing I was going to be Las Vegas for Photoshop World 2013 in September, I kept an eye on Best Buy in store stock levels. On the first day I was in Vegas I saw that one of the stores in the city had just received stock so I drove the 30 minutes each way to pick a couple up!

I was too busy to play around with them that week but I did go ahead and download the Chromecast App for Android using my US Google Play Account to both my Nexus 7 and Nexus 4. I was also able to download the IOS app for my iPhone using my US iTunes account as it is not in the Canadian iTunes store.

I have played around a little with the devices and can report back to what the Chromecast is and what it isn’t.

First of all what it is. The Chromecast is a really small, light device. It is about twice the size of a USB thumb drive and plugs directly into the HDMI port of your TV. If your TV HDMI port won’t fit the dongle directly, Google provides an HDMI Extension Cable in the box. Once plugged into your TV’s HDMI port the device also needs additional power and if your TV has a USB port you can plug the Chromecast into it with the supplied USB cable or use the included AC adaptor to plug it into the wall or power bar. Once you have the device and plugged and running, you run the setup from the Google page, it will find your Chromecast, help you connect it to your Wi-Fi network and configure Chrome on your PC to use it. I had no problems doing this in Canada at all.

So what does it do? Once your Chromecast is set up, it allows you to basically use your device as a remote control to watch Netflix, YouTube or Google Play Movies from your android or IOS device directly on the TV. It does not stream the content from your device to the Chromecast, it sends a link to the Chromecast and the Chromecast connects to the content directly and then streams the video to your TV. As I stated above as of right now the only apps that this works with are Google Play Movies, YouTube and Netflix. I can confirm that this works very well with Canadian Netflix and my own Google Play Movies. It can also stream form Google Play Music but I haven’t tested it and I believe you need a Google Music account to do this which is not available in Canada yet although there are persistent rumours that it is coming soon.

There is  one case however when content can actually streamed from your PC to the Chromecast device and that is via a Google Chrome Tab that you can stream to the Chromecast itself. Your computer transcode the video and sends the stream directly to the TV. This is one of the primary reasons that I actually got the devices was to send some web content from my 14” laptop screen to my big screen TV. This does require a little horsepower on the machine though as it has to transcode video and stream it to the Chromecast.

Here’s what the Chromecast is not, especially for those living in Canada. The Chromecast is not a way to stream your own content to your TV. There is one developer who released an app that allowed you to play your own content but that was quickly shut down be Google. He is developing another app that will be released soon that will give a little more functionality to Chromecast and I am anxiously awaiting that release. I have also recently seen reports that Google is working with Plex software to make local content available via Chromecast. If this comes to pass it will make the Chromecast a little more useful to some people.

If you are thinking that you can use the Chromecast to stream US Netflix again you are mistaken. While it is possible to stream and use US Netflix with the Chromecast, you have to be pretty tech savvy and have the proper equipment and services to accomplish this. Like I stated earlier, the Chromecast doesn’t stream the content from your device it get’s a link and goes out to get the content directly. If you have a VPN or a region blocker or changer on your device or laptop you likely won’t even be able to see the Chromecast when you are connected! To be perfectly honest it would just be easier to plug an HDMI cable into your device or laptop and go directly to your TV! it can be done though and there are a few instructions in this thread over at XDA Developers on how to accomplish this including the APK required to install on your android devices if you are outside the US. In short though  you need a way of intercepting DNS packets from the Chromecast (it is hard codes for Google’s DNS servers), an Unblock US account and a router that has DD-WRT firmware installed on it. I may try to  play around with this down the road but right now for our household, it is easier to just use an HDMI cable on an old Asus Transformer Tablet and a ProXPN VPN account to access US Netflix or like my daughter, use a chrome extension like Hola and connect your laptop via HDMI to the TV!

So why did I go through the bother of getting a couple of Chromecast units for myself if they are so restrictive? Well I can report that they do work just fine with the Canadian version of Netflix once the Chromecast app is installed on your device. In addition I wanted to be able to watch some of the Google Play movies I have purchased on my large screen TV and now I can do it with the Chromecast. In fact it I will probably purchase more from Google Play Movies now that I have the devices and can watch them on my big screen TV. I also wanted them to be able to stream video from Chrome to my TV. For example I have a subscription to Kelby Training and this allows me to play the training videos on my large screen TV instead of on my desktop or laptop monitor. There is a  caveat to this though, if you want full screen on the TV, the video also has to be running full screen on the browser but you can do other things while it plays in the background. Because of their small size and light weight they are good for travel to watch Netflix on larger screen TVs. I haven’t tried using them on a typical hotel Wi-Fi set up but am planning on doing that on my next trip!

So why might you want a Chromecast for your own home? The device can be used as an inexpensive way to add Netflix, YouTube or Google Play Movies streaming to a TV that has no other set top box connected to it. Using the Netflix app as a remote on y9ur device is also a little easier for searching and starting movies as you do have access to the virtual keyboard on your device as opposed to using a TV remote and the typical onscreen keyboard. There are also some VOD movies available on YouTube that you can stream to your TV as well.

For the most part I would think that for a majority of Canadians, a Chromecast really wouldn’t be worth the trouble of getting one unless you are dedicated into setting it up for use with the US Netflix service. As I stated before, there are far easier ways of doing this than using a Chromecast, at least right now. If the talked about Plex and Google partnership comes about then there would be  one more advantage to getting one of the devices in Canada in that you could stream your own content to a TV. Until this happens I would advise that you wait a little bit longer before trying to get one.

Questions or Comments? Go ahead and post them below. I would be happy to answer any that I can!

A Year Later

It has been a year since I last posted about Roam Mobility and the options for Canadians travelling to the US. In that year I have continued to use Roam Mobility for all of my US travel needs. I have unlocked several phones and have used the service in Vegas, Kauai, Miami and New York without any issues.

The only place that I have tried it and the service hasn’t worked great is Kauai and that is due to the coverage offered by T-Mobile. On most of the island you are restricted to the older Edge or 2G technology although there was some high speed service in certain parts of Lihue. Having said this I also found that Roger’s service (partnered with AT&T) is also quite poor there. Of the other Hawaiian islands we have visited in the last year (Maui and Oahu) we were able to get full HSPA+ coverage.

My daughter used the service while on a school trip to NYC and it worked well for her and when we were in the Miami area in February I had no issues.

I have actually stopped recommending that Canadians purchase T-Mobile SIM cards in the US as you get much better value with Roam including the ability to text and call Canada at no additional charge.

To this point no Canadian Carrier has come even close to offering the savings that Roam Mobility offers. All you need is an unlocked phone or in the worst case one of their own phones.

Roam has started a referral program, so if you have found these articles to be helpful, please use the link below to save a little on your Roam SIM Card purchase and help us continue to bring articles like this to you. Thanks

Using Roam Mobility and T-Mobile While Travelling, an Update.

I recently got back from an extended trip into the US where I used my smartphones, testing the various carriers that I wrote about in  this blog post.

I was in the Hawaiian islands (Maui and Kauai) for 3 and a half weeks. I used 2 phones while travelling. I purchased a voice only travel pack from Rogers for my iPhone, 14.50 for 15 minutes of talk time to Canada or locally, with 1.00 per minute for any overage. This was done primarily for incoming calls to my existing Canadian cell phone number. For my unlocked Samsung Galaxy Nexus, I purchased a couple of plans from Roam Mobility and used T-Mobile on some days .

Before leaving, I purchased a 14 day plan with Roam Mobility via phone because I wanted it to start on a specific day and I had a small credit on my account. The plan regularly sells for 69.95 for unlimited Talk and Text, both to US numbers and to Canada and 1 GB of Data. When we arrived in Maui and I turned on my phone. I immediately got cell service for the phone but no data. After checking into our condo I was able to use Wi-Fi so everything was OK for that night. This is the only issue I ran into over my trip with Roam. The next morning I tried to contact Roam Mobility because despite several restarts of the phone I was still not getting a data connection. I tried calling 611 as per their support pages on their site and was getting a message that the number could not be dialled. I then tried the 1-800 number listed on their page and again I got the same cannot dial error message. I also got the same message when trying to dial the 1-800 number from the condo’s landline!

I got online with my laptop and used the chat feature on their website ( In my chat I explained the problem and the 611 and 1-800 number problem. I was directed to a support page that solved the problem. My phone was trying to connect to a T-Mobile APN not the Roam APN. I had to set up a new APN on my Nexus following the instructions. The procedure was actually very easy and the instructions are located here. Although the article says it is for the iPhone and iPad, it works with all phones. Setting up the APN on my phone, selecting it and restarting the phone worked perfectly. I was now getting full 4G data speeds.

To Roam Mobility’s credit they also called me several times (and had T-Mobile Tech support call me) to try and resolve the 611 and 1-800 number problems  I had in trying to contact them. Not sure if that ever was fixed as I didn’t need it again but I suspect it has something to do with Hawaii as I have seen other 1-800 numbers not work there.

For the week on Maui I had no issues with the Roam Plan and was able to use data at full speeds and even was able to tether my daughters iPod to my phone so she could do a quick Rdio music sync. After 6 days we flew over to Kauai. Now Kauai is a little technically behind and a lot of the island has poor cell phone reception. Further more there are no 3G or 4G carriers on Kauai so my phone reverted back to Edge or 2G speeds. While it was slower than service here, it was sufficient for things like email and looking things up on the web. I wouldn’t try to tether another machine or try downloading lots of things using 2G.

After my Roam Mobility plan expired I had planned on using my T-Mobile SIM for the last few days of our trip. Knowing there was no 3G on Kauai, I logged into my T-Mobile account online and changed my plan from the 3.00 per day plan to the 2.00 per day 2G only plan. I also learned a few things about T-Mobile and the way their pay by the day accounts work.

While in my T-Mobile online account page I noticed that my balance had gone down a little since the last time I checked it. I had also seen this happen before and knew I hadn’t used the phone so was confused as to what was happening.  I called T-Mobile customer support to find out  why this was happening. The rep put my on hold and looked up my account. This is one of the beefs I have about the T-Mobile online account site, you can’t see your own billing history at all! When the rep came back she informed me that my phone number had received a couple of text messages and that had activated the plan for the day, despite the fact that my SIM card was not even in my phone! If you decide to use T-Mobile pay by the day plans this is something that you should be aware of as even a SPAM text will cost you 2.00/3.00 depending on the plan you have set up!

While in Kauai my phone on T-Mobile worked fine but I did notice on some parts of the island that there was no T-Mobile service and I was roaming on AT&T. The problem with this is that while roaming there was no data service available! This was not something I noticed when I was using Roam so they may have additional roaming agreements from T-Mobile that allow roaming with AT&T. I could be wrong about this but I didn’t see it with the Roam card in my phone.

One thing I did have to call back to a client while away and on T-Mobile. Instead of using my Rogers phone (that still had about 8 minutes of time left), I used my T-Mobile phone. I then received a T-Mobile text saying my account balance was low. The 4 minute call back to Canada cost an additional 2.00 on my plan (.49 per minute).

Another thing that I used with both services was Text Plus. By signing up with Text Plus I was able to receive Text Messages from other TP users or to a Text Plus number (local Calgary phone number) so people could send me a text without incurring a charge for texting a US number if not included in their own plans.

When we decide to extend our stay for another week, I decided to purchase another weekly plan from Roam for 39.95 and again use T-Mobile for the day and a half that the Roam plan would not cover my stay. I simply logged into my Roam account, purchased the plan and away I went!

During our stay the rest of our family used our LG Tracfones that worked fine on both islands but these are not smart phones. They offer talk and text and very basic web browsing. As I stated in my previous post the phones cost 20.00 and we add 1 year service plans for 100.00 including 400 credits (which the phones also have double minutes on purchases for life) so 800 credits per year. Sending and reading text messages have .3 credits deducted from the bank and calls are 1 credit per minute deducted. Long distance is included at the same rate but you have to use a 1-800 number to dial internationally or they may cut off your phone for security reasons. This has happened to us once!

In summary here is what I spent on cell phone charges for being in the US for 3 and a half weeks and using my smart phones the same way that I would if I had been at home.

  • Rogers 14.50 CDN for 15 minutes of US to Canada Voice
  • Roam Mobility 100.00 + GST CDN for 1.5 GB of Data Service and unlimited talk and text to Canada and the US (I used about 650MB of Data)
  • T-Mobile 14.00 USD for US talk,text and data (includes 2.00 for my Long distance)

So a total of approximately 130.00 CDN for 3 and a half weeks of US travel. If I decided to do the same things with Rogers Travel Packs here is what I would have spent

  • 100 Minutes Roaming talk @ 50.00. Good for 30 days
  • 2 x 500MB 1 Month Data Passes @ 100.00. Good for 30 days
  • Unlimited sent text messages @ 50.00. Good for 30 days

The total would have been $300.00 for my trip. I may have been able to reduce this by 60.00 by purchasing the Rogers Text and Talk combo pack for 40.00 which includes only 100 roaming minutes and 100 sent text messages! But going over on the text messages could have been costly! However if you are a Rogers customer and have signed up for their free One Number Service and don’t need your Canadian phone, you could use that to check voice mails, read and reply to text messages and even make voice calls from an Internet connected laptop. I haven’t tried this from my Android tablets or phones yet so I am not sure if it would work but I am guessing that this feature may be blocked on those devices.

I did end up carrying 2 phones around with me for the entire trip but that is no big deal anyway as I would have had to do that as well if I had used one of our Tracfones.

So what will I be doing going forward? I have a conference in Las Vegas in October and will be spending 6 days there. My plan so far will be to get a 7 day Roam Mobility plan and once again the 15.00 rogers voice pack for incoming calls to my regular phone. I will also  either be unlocking my wife’s Galaxy SII phone or setting up my older Nexus S phone for her to use on T-Mobile while we are there. She can text using text + with our daughter that way. It will be interesting to see what T-Mobile’s service in Las Vegas (Roam’s Carrier) as from past experience I can say that AT&T ’s service there is awful especially if there are large conventions there! Where  I have used T-Mobile and their high speed data service available it has always been good. I may also purchase an additional Roam SIM card for the Mrs.

I will likely keep both services for the foreseeable service but will more than likely use Roam Mobility far more than the T-Mobile service. Roam gives me the ability to call back to clients, family and friends in Canada. Although it costs a little more than T-Mobile but the fact that I can call or text back without worrying about long distance charges makes sense! I will continue to use T-Mobile when I am transiting in the US (for example one day) or if I am away for 8 or 9 days and one of the Roam plan’s just doesn’t fit my requirements. Again one of Roam’s advantages is that the SIM card is good for a year from each plan purchase. T-Mobile is only good for 90 days after each top up and a card that has gone inactive cannot be re-activated. You have to go to a T-Mobile store and purchase another SIM and top up.

I hope that this information helps a few of you in saving money if you are travelling to the US and want to use a Smart Phone while there. Please leave any questions in the comments!

If you found this review helpful, Roam Mobility now offers a referral program. Help us bring more stories like this to the web and use the link for a referral below. You save 2.95 on your SIM card purchase and help us a little too!

Roku in Canada! A Mini Review

There is another player that just joined the web video to TV game in Canada. Roku, a company that has been around in the US for quite some time, came through on their announcement from the fall and started selling their set top boxes in Canada April 30th, 2012. They join the Apple TV, Xbox360, PS3, LG, Boxee as well as several TV manufactures that offer Internet connected TVs and devices.

This is not going to be a detailed technical review, because their products have been available for some time and there are reviews easily findable all over the web. This review will give a brief description of what boxes are available in Canada and the differences in how they work over their US counterparts.


Roku has so far partnered with 3 resellers in Canada. The devices can be purchased from, London Drugs and Wal-Mart. Two models are available here. The Roku 2 XS for 109.99 and the Roku 2 XD for 89.99. Both stream 1080P video to your TV, connect via Wi-Fi to your home network and feature a Micro SD slot for additional storage. The XS however comes with a few added features. It has an Ethernet port to hard wire the device to your connection, a USB port so that you can play media from USB devices (flash or external hard drives) and a special RF Remote that can be used to play games (a full version of Angry Birds is included).

I pre-ordered the Roku 2 XS from Wal-Mart and it showed up in my mailbox on April 30th. I was surprised that the box itself was tiny (about half the size of one of the new Apple TVs and about the same size as a hockey puck) and setting it up was a breeze. I plugged in an HDMI cable, plugged in an Ethernet cable then plugged in the AC adaptor. The box turned itself  on and updated itself to the latest software. Next I was prompted to create a Roku Account on their website and link my box via the code on the screen to my account. When creating the Roku account you do have to add a payment method. You are not charged anything and this is to be used to purchase premium channels. The payment method can be a credit card or a PayPal account. Next I visited the channel store from the device and it added some base channels to the box, including Netflix, the Angry Birds game, the USB player and a few more.

On your TV screen you will see the installed channels from on your Roku device and you can scroll side to side to see all of the channels. To use one you just click the OK button. Pressing the back button takes you back to the previous screen and the home button returns you to the main menu. There are 4 arrow keys for most of the navigation. I fired up the Netflix Channel signed in with my account and away I went!

Like I said they do have a Channel Store on the device and many of the apps are free. Unfortunately there are not nearly as many channels available in Canada as there are in the US. I saw about 80 channels in Canada while the US store features approximately 300. In addition the US has services like Hulu and Hulu Plus, HBO Go and Amazon on Demand so the box could be used as a cord cutters only device. Hopefully Roku will continue to negotiate with Canadian TV and content providers and we will see more channels available.

Another disappointment is that there is no YouTube Channel! While we have a YouTube app on our Apple TV and Blu-Ray player (that doesn’t get used) it is still disappointing not to see it as an option (although there is a workaround, see below).

I have watched a few movies on Netflix and the streaming quality is about the same as it is with the Apple TV on our Pioneer 720P TV. The first day I also watched a movie on the Crackle Channel and video quality was very good and there was no pauses in the streaming.

Other content… One way of getting to see other content on a Roku device is to install the Plex channel and then install the Plex Media Server on a network connected PC in your home. This gives you the ability to add additional content (including YouTube) to the Roku using the PC as an intermediary as well as stream iTunes music and Podcasts to the Roku box. Going through the setup for this would make this post too long so I will create another post in the next couple of days describing the process.

Using the special remote bundled with the Roku 2 XS you can play games like Angry Birds on your big screen TV. The remote works very much like a Wii remote and the game play was fairly smooth. There are some other games available on the Roku Channel that you can purchase but I have not tried any yet.

Final thoughts

So far in the testing I have done over the last few days, I like the Roku box. I am still not sure if it will replace the Apple TV that is connected to our primary HD TV. I can watch everything that I would like to in the Roku box including some of my iTunes stuff using the Plex Media Server and the Plex Channel. Should you get a Roku box? Well that would depend on your viewing preferences.

If you are invested in the iTunes world I would suggest instead going with an Apple TV. With the latest Apple TV you can rent and purchase movies from iTunes, Watch purchased TV shows listen to music and if you have an iPad, iPhone or even an Android device with DoubleTwist Air Sync, watch content from those devices on it. Apple TV also features Netflix, MLB and NHL Networks (as does Roku) for streaming. If you purchase movies with Digital copies included you can also watch these via the Apple TV.

If you have a game console (Xbox 360 or PS3) you can do virtually everything that you can do on the Roku on one of those machines. The Roku is much quieter though especially compared to early PS3s and the white Xbox 360s, but you can’t play the games on the Roku. The Roku however is significantly cheaper and you don’t need an Xbox Live account or PSN account to watch Netflix. Over the last couple of years I have been able to pick up the new black version of the Xbox 360 4GB console for 129.00 over boxing week. You also have to add the Xbox Gold account (60,00 per year or 99.00 for a Family account) in order to use Netflix.

If you are looking at adding a web streaming device to your main TV or to an additional TV and you don’t have any other devices  then you may really want to consider a Roku 2 box. If you have a game console or DVD Player with Netflix I would probably pass on it.

What really hurts the Roku in Canada is the lack of channels and content. Without HBO 2 Go, Hulu and Hulu Plus and Amazon Video on Demand out of the box the Roku can only do what some of the other devices can do. However if you are willing to play a little and set up Plex (an upcoming  post) the little box can do a lot! Hopefully Roku will continue working to get more Canadian services (not that there are a lot) signed and on the device and this little box can have potential.

I haven’t decide yet if we will be replacing the Apple TV with the Roku box yet. I am awaiting for more testing from my family that uses Netflix and other services a lot more than I do to voice their opinions. After they compare quality the quality between the two boxes one will stay and one will be moved to another TV (likely my office).


Some of the Channels I have installed

Smugmug, Flickr, CNet TV,, Revision 3, Plex, Tunein Radio, Rdio, MLS Live, Pub-D-Hub, Moonlight Movies, Crackle, Nasa TV, CNBC, Vimeo, Facebook (photo and Videos).

Use Your Blackberry GPS as a Golf Aid!

When GPS devices started showing up for golfers, I seriously considered getting one to help improve my game. Then I looked at the cost of most (300.00 +) and decided that I had been a member of my own course long enough and I could do a decent job of figuring out my own yardage.

Then last August I got my new Blackberry Bold that has a built in GPS receiver and started looking at software that I could maybe use on the golf course. I did find and try two excellent packages; IntelliGolf and GreenFinder. Both are programs that you can purchase with IntelliGolf coming in at 59.95 USD for the non GPS version and 69.95 USD for the GPS enabled (Eagle Edition) IntelliGolf also sells versions for other mobile devices. GreenFinder sells a yearly subscription for 35.00 USD and is available for Blackberries and the iPhone. Rogers Wireless in Canada also sells this as a service that you can add to your wireless plan for 3.00 CDN per month.

I downloaded GreenFinder to my Blackberry Bold and used the 5 course trial download last fall. It worked very well on my phone and I found that it was quite accurate for the yardage. You can see the distances to the front, middle and back of the green, see distances to hazards and even mark and get a distance for your shot. Currently there is a database of approximately 10000 courses online. I was quite impressed with the software when I used it and was seriously considering purchasing it.

I also tried IntelliGolf which can do a little more than just give you distances of the course. It can track your scores, keep track of side games, as well as keeping your stats. The price of the software is a onetime fee and you can download from their library of 25000 + golf courses. When I tried it my course wasn’t GPS enabled in the database and I never got around to doing it on the course itself using the software.

Recently I happened upon a free application called BB GPS Golf. I downloaded the software over the air to my Blackberry Bold and tried to find my home course (we actually have 27 holes). They did not exist in the database so I visited the web site to see how to map the courses myself and found that I could do it via their website using satellite images and Google maps. I mapped each of the nine hole course at my club simply by dragging pins on the maps from the tee to the green and using very simple instructions (although I have to say it was probably a little easier on my dual monitor system). In less than 2 hours I had all 3 nine’s mapped out and saved to the database. The next time I went to the club, I downloaded the 3 nines to my Bold selected the first 9 I was playing and off I went.

The first time i used the software I didn’t take advantage of any of the extra features found in the program (like keeping score, marking club distances etc), I didn’t even download my club distances from the site. I concentrated on checking the data for the courses I created using markers on the course. I did find that I was in most cases very accurate with the distances I think the largest discrepancy was 3 yards. I also found, just like with other GPS devices, that you had to stop and wait for the device to settle before taking a reading.

The software interface is pretty simplistic. It gives you text data to the front, middle and back of the green as well as the calculated depth. If you have input your club data on the website and download them to your Blackberry, the software will also suggest a club. When I mapped our courses I took advantage of the 5 extra fields for every hole and marked the start and end of fairway hazards as well. If you want to see a detailed image of the hole, the program has the option to view the hole on Google maps.

This weekend I played a round and actually marked some of my shots and used the score keeping feature. I had to figure out how to mark each shot but after the first mistake I made I figured it out.

To mark a shot, you press a menu button, indicate to mark location at which point the software will ask for what club you are using, hit your ball and move towards it. Once you get to your ball, wait for the unit to settle a bit, press the menu button and press end mark. The software will ask you if you hit a good, ok or bad shot. Once you answer the software will upload the data to the website under your account (or new with version 1.17 released May 18, 2009) allow you to store the information to a memory card or device memory for later uploading. This could be a worthwhile feature if you are travelling and don’t want to pay roaming charges on your data.

I checked the results of my shot marking today from my last round this weekend on the website and I was quite impressed (not with my shot making but with the software)! I was able to see the data of my good, ok and bad shots, as well I had the ability to see the shots on a map. I did notice that a few of the shots were a little off but I believe I can attribute that too two things; marking the end point of the shot before the GPS had settled and/or inaccuracy of a consumer grade GPS unit (usually +or – 3 Meters). For the most part however the information was pretty good. Another factor that was difficult to account for was wind. Out here in the west we often get high winds and the day I played it was a 1 to 2 club wind (I know because I hit my Sand Wedge 130 yards, normally it is 105 yards). I think I solved this by marking almost all my shots as OK (except for the really bad ones). Shots marked as Good and OK show up in your club stats, shots marked as bad do not.

While out of the three BB Golf GPS software packages I have tried BB GPS Golf has the fewest courses in it’s online databases, one of it’s big strengths is that is very easy to create a course yourself at the website. Currently there are just over 4200 courses in the database online and just over 2400 of them are fully mapped. As users add courses though they immediately become available to all users. Usually before I travel (and if I am planning on golfing) , I often make my decisions on where I will be playing before I leave. I will search the database before leaving and if the courses I am planning on playing don’t exist I will quickly map them. I have noticed that three of the courses that I usually play when visiting Maui are not listed so I will probably try to map those this summer in case we head out there this winter again.

While there is no formal documentation for the program, the website has some tips and tricks and there is a fairly active community with 3100 + members and a forum. The author of the software has been very good about finding bugs and adding features that are being requested. He does give away the software for free, but does ask for a small donation. I agree that if you try the software and like it, you should donate a little bit of money to the author so that he continues to develop it.

In fact I was playing a few weeks ago with someone at our club. On the second hole he asked what software I was using and within a few minutes he had downloaded and installed the software as well as downloading the courses I created and was using it himself on his Blackberry Storm!

Overall I have really enjoyed using the software and will continue to use over the foreseeable future! I like all of the features in the software the way they are now and it has been very stable running on my Blackberry Bold. True there aren’t as many courses listed but that will change as people discover the software and start mapping their own courses. You really can’t go wrong if you want to use GPS with your Blackberry  on the golf course. Even if you don’t have a GPS enabled Blackberry there are small Bluetooth GPS receivers that you can use with your Blackberry and still enjoy using this software!

You can get more information, create a free account and download the software from

Early Preview – Asus EEE 1000H PC

I got my first Asus EEE PC 4G shortly after they were released back in November 07. While the 4G is a nice little machine there are a few things that I wished it could do better. There was a 4 GB flash memory drive, it ran a version of Linux, the screen resolution meant a lot of scrolling when surfing the web and the the battery life was not great (about 2.5 hours). As well I could not install a lot of different software on it as there was not a lot of space. I could have always tried Windows XP on it it but never got around to doing it.

While walking around my local Staples store yesterday, I saw the computer department staff putting out the latest entry in the Netbook PC line they just got the MSI Wind U100 Netbook. Being the first time that I had seen this little machine I was intrigued and the price looked good @ 529.00. The Wind has a 10″ widescreen LCD, an Intel Atom 1.6 processor, 1 GB of Ram and an 80 GB hard drive as well as wireless and bluetooth running Windows XP. The unit weighs 2 lbs. I didn’t have much time as the OS wasn’t set up yet so I went home to look up more specs and reviews of the unit.

In my online research I discovered that Asus had also brought out a similar unit in their EEE PC Line called the 1000H with virtually the exact same specs as the Wind. The biggest differences I found that the Asus came with a 6 Cell battery vs the Wind’s 3 Cell (although a 6 cell will be available soon). Other reviews indicated that the Asus build quality appeared to be better and featured better speakers and a better LCD although the EEE is heavier 1 KG vs 1.45 KG and also a little bigger.

I found one of the 1000H’s in Black at one of my favourite shops in town (Memory Express) and had it held for me. I went down today and looked at the unit. I was very impressed and picked one up for 550.00. I have been updating the unit as well as charging it since I got it home. Here are the specs.

Asus EEE10000H. Intel Atom 1.6 GHz Processor, 1 GB Ram (user upgradable to 2 GB), 80 GB 5400 RPM Hard Drive, 1024 x 600 LED Backlit 10″ Wide Screen LCD, 6 Cell Battery, 3 USB Ports, VGA Port, Stereo Microphone, Dolby Sound Room Stereo Speakers, Touchpad, Wireless B,G,N, Bluetooth, 4 in 1 card reader, Windows XP Home. With the 6 cell battery it weighs 1.45KG and comes with a sleeve and a recovery DVD. The AC adaptor is also small and light. Piano Black finish.

The unit is fairly light and does not get hot even with the AC adaptor plugged in. It has been sitting on my thigh (and I am wearing shorts) all afternoon without getting hot. It took about 2.5 hours for the full original battery charge.

The machine comes with Skype, Star Office 8, Intervideo Win DVD, Windows Live Mail, Acrobat Reader 8.1, Microsoft Works, Microsoft Live Writer and Photo Gallery as well as a few Asus Utilities all pre installed. The PC was built with XP Home SP 3 at the factory. Running through the mini set up and connecting it to my wireless network took less than 5 minutes.

The machine appears to be quite snappy, The Works Word processor opens in a couple of seconds and boot up time from off to the main Windows screen is 35 seconds.

The finish of the machine is very nice although I suspect the black piano finish will show finger prints. The LCD screen is bright and beautiful and viewable from all sorts of angles. At 3/4 brightness it is perfect for every day use. The 1024 x 600 resolution allows for web page displays without having to scroll side to side however the pages are a little short. There is a utility to change resolution to 1024 x 768 however it stretches the screen to larger than the screen size so you have to scroll down to see your task bar, although it works quite well.

The keyboard is reported to be about 85% of a full sized laptop keyboard. The keys while a little small are easy enough for me to type on even with my large hands and fat fingers. Better yet I don’t seem to catch my thumb on the trackpad as I do with a couple of other laptops that I have causing my cursor to jump somewhere else in my document. I can type fast enough at a pace that I am comfortable with and not have a lot of errors.

Battery life is reported to be approximately 7 hours by the manufacturer. This was the main reason for choosing this model over the MSI Wind. While I have not had a chance to try the battery life out, I have seen reports of at least 4.5 hours on this device. Like any laptop of you are aggressive with your power management you can extend the battery life quite a bit. Apparently the included power management software is very good at adjusting the machines performance to maximize battery life.

I will take the time to play with this little laptop a little more and will include a more detailed review here. For now though this little machine looks like a winner. While it is not a machine to do heavy duty photo editing on for travel as a place to dump pictures from a digital camera, surf the web or check emails from this is an ideal machine especially at the current price. If the price of these drops any more they will become a great gift idea for kids for the upcoming holiday season.

Make an Exciting Slideshow with Your Photos!

I first heard about the services a few months ago on a podcast. I checked it out, created a video and was immediately impressed. I ended up seeing the potential for this with a specific project I had coming up (my Grandmother’s 100th Birthday party), so I signed up for an account.

Animoto was created by several TV and Film people to create unique slideshows. It is my understanding that one of the founders was with a major television network and was responsible for adding motion graphics to still images in documentaries. This is basically how Animoto works.

You upload your pictures (or you can transfer them from several popular photo sharing sites like Smugmug or Flickr). You can then select spotlight photos and rearrange the display of them. Next you can either upload your own music or use the music that the Animoto group has provided in a variety of genres. Once the photos are there and the music is picked you make the video and the website renders the video for you. The amazing thing is that the photos are displayed in several unique ways and move to the beat and length of the music. Pick a long slow song and the pictures will display more slowly than if you pick a faster shorter song. The videos are suitable for playing on your computer screen in a windowed player, posting on a blog or to a social networking site or for playing back on an iPod or Video player. There are options for higher quality videos that you can see below.

In addition you can simply click on the remix button after completing your video to have it re-rendered and get a completely different look.

There are three ways to make your videos. Free – A free account allows you to make as many free 30 second videos as you like. Per Video – You can also opt to make a single unlimited time video by paying 3.00 for each one you create. All Access Pass The all access pass allows you to make as many unlimited length videos as you want for a year so you need to make at least 10 in a year to make it worth it. In addition if you would like a higher resolution file for playing back full screen on your computer or to burn a DVD of your video it will cost you an additional 5.00 per video. I did this for my Grandmother’s birthday party and we played the Animoto video full screen on a projector from my laptop and it looked great. I also downloaded the iso file and burned a DVD of the slideshow.

Animoto also has a Facebook applications you can make animoto videos right from your Facebook galleries.

Here are three sample videos I have created, two contain the same pictures but have different music to them (one is fast the other slower) and the final video I created for my grandmother’s party.

Slower Video

Faster Video

Helena’s 100th Birthday Party Video

If you are as impressed as I was with the finished qualities of these videos, you can sign up for an account at amd save $5.00 USD off an all access pas by using my referal code gaohvrbq or by clicking on the button here

Smugmug vs. Flickr

If you have read some of my earlier posts you will know that I use 2 sites as my primaries for displaying my photos. I have had my Flickr Pro ( account for about 3/4 of a year, and I have had my Smugmug Poweruser Account ( or my site for about a month now. I also have a Picasaweb site and I use Gallery 2 software on my own site for pictures but I am moving away from those. This is just a quick comparison of the two services and what I have found out.


Flickr offers both free and paid accounts. Free accounts are limited to 100MB per month upload but unlimited storage. Free accounts are also ad supported. For 25.00 you can get a Pro account and removes the upload limit, allows for short video uploads and is ad free.
Smugmug. There are no free accounts on Smugmug but they do have a 14 day free trial. Lowest tiered paid accounts are 39.95 USD per year and with that there are no ads, unlimited storage and uploads. Smugmug also offers Power User and Pro accounts (59.95 USD and 149.95 USD). They also have a referral program so that you can save 5.00 off your first year using a coupon or email address from a Smugmug user and they also have a special “Fleeing Flickr” promotion where you can save 50% off of their first year. Other features that come with the higher level accounts include the ability to use your own domain, right click download protection

Both services offer stats regarding your sites and what photos are being most viewed.

Photo Organization

This is how you sort and organize your photos on the various sites. With Flickr you can add your photos to sets and or collections. Collections can contain sets in them. Pro users can have more collections than standard users.

Smugmug uses Galleries to display your photos. Galleries are created under Categories and Sub categories. You can choose from their own default categories and sub categories or create your own. While I found this a little confusing at first, I have figured out the system and can now know what I am doing.

With both systems you can add your own tags to photos to make them searchable and easier to find. Also photos tagged with GPS coordinates can be viewed on maps with both services.

Both services offer uploader software to get your pictures on your site, both their own and third party applications. I have been using several free Lightroom plug-ins that allow me to export directly out of Lightroom into my various galleries and collections. Both sites have the ability to upload photos via email but Flickr does have a mobile site to upload to directly from your phone and it’s web browser.

Privacy and Viewing Permissions

Both services allow you to protect your photos if you don’t want them seen. This is important as you may want not want to display your images to the entire world. For example if I am publishing the shots I took of a minor soccer game for the parents to see and print, I want to protect those images from other prying eyes.

On Flickr, privacy settings for photos are a global default setting and are applied to the images themselves. You can set them as public, or private (sharing with Family, Friends or no one). You can easily add Copyright or Creative Commons usage rights with just a click to your photos.

Smugmug offers a lot more control at the Gallery level for your Privacy. You can create “SmugIslands”  Permissions are set based on two categories and are granular from there. There is a Hello World Setting meaning anyone can see the Gallery (including search engines like Google) and you can set it to all, only your homepage or no. The other setting is Hello Smuggers which allows for your photos to be searchable from within Smugmug search boxes. You can also do other things at the gallery level including creating unlisted galleries (that unless you have the exact URL you can’t find, you can password protect a gallery or you can do both. As the owner you can see all of your galleries all the time. Power users can also Right Click protect their images and Pro users can add mark ups to print prices and sell digital downloads of the images.

Viewing Experience

This is one of the things that I really look at. What is the experience for the people viewing your pictures. Your Flickr Homepage has limited options for customization. There are a few options for layouts but for the most part all of your images but you really can’t do a lot of customization to your site.

Smugmug really shines here. Not only can you (or allow your viewers) to change the layout of your gallery, but you can customize the themes and the page itself. Power and Pro users can replace the headers and footers of the page. When a viewer gets to your gallery page they can see the thumbnails of the photos in the gallery and when they click on it a larger image of the image is shown. This display is stetchy so if your visitor is viewing from a large widescreen monitor their picture will be the largest it can be. The display actually scales nicely on all of the different screens I have tried form 12.1″ to 24″.

Both services offer a slideshow display that is basically the same.


One of the things I like to do is to browse other photos that users have uploaded. I like to see good photographs just to enjoy or to get some tips on taking some pictures. I have also used these type of sites to download pictures for use in kids school projects (and yes I only use images that are allow this type of use). One of things that I have found is that since there are no free accounts on Smugmug and because there are a lot of Professional Photographers there, the quality of the images seem to be better. There are some outstanding photos on Flickr there also tends to be a lot more in the way of family snapshots etc so it makes them a little harder to find. One way of finding great shots though is via the groups on Flickr.

While Smugmug has a similar thing to Flickr’s groups (called communities) the social and community aspect of Flickr is much better. To be fair I haven’t played around with the Smugmug Communities all that much yet, but I still find myself going to the Flickr groups on a regular basis.

One of the nicest features of the groups on Flickr are the discussion boards where you can read and ask questions of other members with the same likes and dislikes. I have found some very good tips and tricks in the groups forums. There are groups for just about everything including; camera types, lenses, locations, subjects etc.

My Conclusions

While I really like both sites a lot, I think the edge has to go to Smugmug. While they lack the community aspect of Flickr, the visual presentation of your photos, the customization and the extra features really make it worth while. Will I give up my Flickr account? No I will renew it, I will still use it to share photos, participate in groups and post my photos to the various groups. When I have images that I would like to protect they will all be uploaded to my Smugmug site. If I decide I want to sell some of my photos, I will probably upgrade to a Smugmug Pro account. Smugmug just added a new feature to their site called SmugVault. If you are interested in finding out what this is please read my previous post.


Great Browser add on. PicLens

I have found a great browser plug in that works with both Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox 2 and Firefox 3 Release Candidates. The plug in is designed to work with Photo sites and video sites like Youtube, Flickr, Picasa. Facebook etc.

When you get to a page that has images or videos you can either click on the Piclens icon on the photo or video, or on the Piclens icon on your browser bar. The images open up in a smaller format on a 3D wall that you can quickly scroll through, click on individual pictures and see the larger image. It virtually turns the site into a  3D slideshow of images.

I browse a lot of Photosites like Flickr and Smugmug and I love using Piclens to go through the photos.

I highly recommend this plug in for anyone that does visit a lot of Photo or Video sites on the web.

You can download Piclens here. Oh yeah and I forgot to mention the best part, it is free to use.