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July 27, 2014

Star Trek TNG - 6
Season six picks up where five left off: with the conclusion to the previous season's cliffhanger episode. more...

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Why bring Jack back? This is the studio that rebooted Star Trek so successfully. more...

How to train your dragon
Paramount is going to the well again with a rerelease of a Dreamworks flick that was so successful it spawned a sequel due this year. more...

G.W. McLintock is larger than life, but how could a John Wayne character not be? more...



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Ford Focus SE

Ford's Focus is sharp in SE trim

This "bread and butter car" competes in a very crowded market niche - everything but the kitchen sink, including the VW Jetta, the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and many more - and it goes head to head with some pretty fine vehicles. Obviously, Ford's work is cut out for it to get this car noticed in such as rapidly improving throng.

Fortunately, Ford seems to be up to the task because the 2014 Focus SE Ford of Canada supplied as a test vehicle was a nice car to drive, handsome, equipped well, and priced competitively. Sounds like a winner - and from the number of Foci I see on the streets wherever I go, people must be noticing. more...

LG introduces a 4K TV to lust after

Just when you thought your HDTV would keep you state-of-the-art for the foreseeable future, at least, along comes Ultra HD, a whole new ballgame that ups the pixel count to a whole new level.

Also referred to as 4K, Ultra HD TV takes today's 1080p picture - which uses a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels to give us breathtaking pictures the like of which we could only dream just a few years ago - and doubles it to 3840 x 2160. And you thought your 1080p TV showed fine detail! more...

Lexus RX 350 SPORTDESIGN ups its features and driving experience

Lexus' top-selling vehicle in Canada gets a new trim level name for 2015, one that should help make it an even more compelling vehicle than it is already. And it was a pretty compelling SUV/Crossover to begin with, comfortable and luxurious and with great resale value.

And yet the new SPORTDESIGN version is the base model! It's one of three RX's, the base and hybrid SPORTDESIGN (the latter of which is now called the RX 450h SPORTDESIGN) and the RX 350 F Sport, which is supposed to be the one that's the most fun to drive. I haven't driven that one yet, but if it's like the rest of the F Sport models it likely won't be that much more fun than the base model. And that's a shame because, while Lexi are great cars, they aren't the greatest to drive if you're an enthusiast, even when they're wearing their  sportiest clothes. more...

Acer aspires to ultimate flexibility with Aspire R7

Computers and tablets are a dime a dozen, so if a company wants to separate itself from the pack, it needs to offer something unique. Especially if it wants nearly $1000 for it!

That's undoubtedly the rationale behind Acer's Aspire R7, a large but quite nifty Windows notebook PC that can also double as a tablet. Heck, the thing has a footprint large enough that it could triple as a table - or a surfboard - but that's made necessary by its huge (for a tablet) 15.6 inch touch screen. more...

Toyota RAV4

Toyota RAV4 worth a first - and second - look

The more time you get behind the wheel of a particular vehicle the better you know it.

You have the luxury of being able to appreciate some of the finer details you might have missed in the initial run - and you may in the meantime have driven similar vehicles that give you an even better perspective of a particular vehicle and how it compares to its peers.

So it was when I reviewed the current generation of the Toyota RAV4, which I said at the time added boxiness and subtracted horses from the previous version. And it was true. That said, the current four cylinder engine is fine. The 2.5 liter unit cranks out 176 horsepower, and I doubt it will bother people who weren't born with lead feet when they're driving under real world conditions. more...

OPPO BDP-103D adds Darbee processing to an outstanding universal audio/video device

One of my favorite home theater hardware makers has a newer version of its "lower end" Blu-ray player, one that adds a fantastic video processing wrinkle to an already great player.

OPPO Digital's BDP-103D (the final "D" indicates the presence of the Darbee stuff) is a fantastic player - but don't just think of it as a Blu-ray or disc player. That's because, like its big brother the BDP-105 (and 105D) and its non-Darbee sibling the BDP-103, it not only handles your Blu-rays, DVD's and CD's, it'll play just about any audio and video format you throw at it.

I could use most of this column space just listing the player's features and capabilities, so I'll try to only hit the highlights - and there are plenty of them. Besides functioning as a 2D/3D Blu-ray player (it up converts 2D to 3D as well), it'll also hook into your network and let you access (depending on where you live and what you've subscribed to) Netflix, Vudu, CinemaNow, Roku, Pandora and Rhapsody services. It'll also play Kodak Picture CD's and AVCHD, MP4, AVI, MKV files. more...

Mazda MX-5Mazda MX-5 still a blast - but at what cost?

Mazda's little bundle of joy has been putting smiles on enthusiasts' faces for more than 20 years, and it's still about the best iteration of the classic British sports car you can get without being left on the side of the road.

The car was an instant hit and since then has gone on to sell more than 900,000 units, which Mazda claims makes it by far still the best-selling two-seat roadster in the world.

What was in earlier versions called the Miata (and I have to admit I still think of it as that) has grown over the years, like every other car. And while that growth and the addition of new technologies have also made the car heavier, Mazda also upped the oomph ante so that today's MX-5 packs very nearly the same poop aspirated normally that the old Mazdaspeed Miata did with a turbocharger. more...

Samsung Galaxy S5 and SIII Mini continue the company's line of great phones

Apple's iPhone may have been a game changer when it comes to smart cellular phones, but that doesn't mean the competition has been standing still.

Samsung, among others, has been releasing nifty new phones at what seems like a furious pace, not only helping to advance the state of the art but to offer a variety of niche phones for just about anyone who wants such a beast. So it is with the new Galaxy S5, and the less new Galaxy SIII Mini, both of which are great phones for different customers.

Telus sent me samples of both phones and, while the S5 is definitely the more up to date and more robust of the two, it was actually the Mini that appealed to me. more...

Kia SoulKia sells its Soul in the name of profitability

It might sound a bit silly if you've never seen "My Mother the Car," but South Korean carmaker Kia really does have a soul in its product line, a little people hauler that offers a lot of fun, practicality and bang for the buck.

And that's good for the owners' soul! And pocketbook.

The front-drive Soul is a boxy little thing, kind of like Scion's xB or the silly-looking Nissan Cube, but not quite as boxy and displaying more, er, personality (you thought I was going to say soul, didn't you?). As such, it's kind of utilitarian, in that it's a rather mainstream "two box" (engine and passenger compartment) hatchback that offers a lot more room inside than you might expect. It's no minivan, but it's pretty good. It's kind of like a smaller Rio, except it only offers two rows of seats, which is probably fine for most people. more...

Larger than life heroes show that decency and honesty are still best policies

Paul Hogan and John Wayne - let alone Crocodile Dundee and G. W. McLintock - are very different characters, but they're both heroes in their own way and despite their vast differences in backgrounds (let alone eras!) they draw on many of the same strengths to live their lives.

Both are straightforward men, competent, at home in their environments. They're honest and decent and, while McLintock is more a leader and Dundee more of a loner, you feel you could do business with either and not fear being cheated. And they're both men worth emulating. more...

Lexus ES hybrid a pleasant and luxurious sedan

If you're looking for a four door car that gives you the reliability of Toyota's Camry, but ups the luxury quotient substantially, you really should take a look at the Lexus ES.

Available as the enviro-raping ES 350 or as the enviro-saving ES 300h, the ES a very nice place to conduct the business of both driving and "passenging" and this current generation is the nicest in a line of ES sedans that stretches back to Lexus' genesis (no Hyundai joke intended). The other original model, by the way, is the big LS. more...

Bose SoundTouch series streams tunes from your network

Bose has a handy system for getting tunes from your computer and spread through your house, with typically Bose sound quality along the way.

It's the SoundTouch series of hardware and software, a terrific system that works well and will probably only work better as time passes as they add more supported services to their software. In the meantime, you can stream pretty well anything that's on your network - as long as their file formats are compatible - and I've also streamed a couple of my favorite radio stations' online streams. more...

Toyota's Tacoma TRD offers fine utility; but 'racing development'?

Toyota made its name in pickup trucks and four wheel drive decades ago and the company hasn't sat back on its laurels since then, with its Tacoma small pickup continuing the company's history of offering excellent trucks that are virtually indestructible.

I remember watching the guys on Top Gear trying their utmost to destroy one a few years ago. It was called a Hilux on that show, a name Toyota eschewed in North America years ago in favor of the Tacoma moniker. But at heart it's the same truck, a workhorse that'll haul you and your stuff pretty well anywhere you want to go, including the side of a mountain or the African veldt.

The Top Gear folk even put their torture test "Hilux" on top of a building that was then imploded, and the plucky Toyota still refused to die. It's like a zombie truck! more...

Amistad and Honeymooners offer fascinating time capsules of Americana

Steven Spielberg's Amistad and Jackie Gleason's The Honeymooners, both of which are newly released on the high definition Blu-ray disc format, may seem like strange bedfellows but they both offer intriguing looks at American culture and society. They're also interesting peeks into human nature.

Amistad, which was apparently Steven Spielberg's first movie for his DreamWorks SKG studio, is mostly a courtroom drama but it's also a gripping yarn that looks shows humanity at its best, and its worst, as it recounts the true story of a group of Africans found drifting at sea and brought to the US in chains to face trial as escaped slaves.

Paramount has also released what's known popularly as "the classic 39" episodes of Jackie "The Great One" (before Mark Levin came along, anyway) Gleason's The Honeymooners, an often hilarious look at ordinary Americans who work for a living but who try to better themselves and their families rather than expecting everyone else to be brought down to their level. more...

Toyota upgrades its Highlander gas and hybrid SUV

The world's largest carmaker has a brand new version of its popular Highlander for 2014, and it's a very nice vehicle that differentiates itself well from the smaller Venza.

Time was - last year - when I couldn't really fathom why Toyota kept the Highlander around (other than its sales, obviously!) because the Venza does most of the same things in a smaller and more interesting to drive package. Well, other than the third row seat the Highlander boasts that the Venza doesn't - which could be a pretty compelling difference if you need to haul that many bodies.

But other than the two/three row conundrum, I couldn't really figure out why someone would buy the bland and relatively uninteresting Highlander when they could choose the much less bland and uninteresting Venza. Times change, or maybe I'm just getting older, and I quite like the new Highlander and can see why people would want it. more...

Abco Tech brings tunes to the tub while the Snugg keeps your iPad Air cozy

Is your life so busy that you need a phone in your shower? Are you looking for a nice case for your iPad Air that'll keep it safe and scratch-free? If so, here are a couple of products that may be right up your alley. The first is the Snugg, and though the British company makes such cases for plenty of gadgets other than the iPad Air (including the Galaxy and the Surface) it's the iPad Air version that I've been using for the past few weeks and it's proven to be my favorite such case so far.

Abco Tech's Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Shower Speaker, on the other hand, is a product I just don't get. Maybe it's me - for one thing, I refuse to let my life get so busy I need to take calls in the shower. For another thing, I fancy myself a bit of an audiophile and I'd rather put a good not-waterproof speaker on the bathroom counter than use a waterproof speaker that sounds like a basic AM radio from a 1968 Mustang. more...

Honda Civic Coupe upgraded nicely; Prius v not so much

They may not have a lot in common with each other, other than being popular small cars, but the Honda Civic coupe and Toyota Prius v are interesting examples of their respective species. And each has been tweaked at least somewhat in ways their makers hope will make them even more interesting to the public.

Sales stats will undoubtedly tell that tale, but in the meantime, if you like Prii and/or little coupes, there's a lot for you to love here. Well, with the Civic, anyway. more...

Great tools for busy folk: Kenwood blender & Belkin HD monitor

Here are a couple of interesting products that, while they may not cure cancer or other deadly diseases, can help make your life a little easier and possibly more pleasant and secure.

One's a nifty hand blender, and the other is a great little Wi-Fi net cam you can use to monitor a variety of situations. The blender from Kenwood (not the audio company) looks like an intimidating ninja device, or maybe a light saber, while Belkin's Netcam HD works as a baby monitor or just as a security camera aimed at where you think your next home invader might be coming from. more...

Mighty Panamera 4S a nice way to get around

It may have a downsized engine this year, but the 2014 Porsche Panamera 4S is still one heckuva car, a GT cruiser par excellence.

And of course Porsche has included new tweaks into this year's version of its popular "sedan" (it's more a hatchback than a sedan), none of which change the classy character of this great vehicle. There's no substantial change to the rear end, either, so folks who've dubbed the big Porsche the "buttster" will still be able to laugh and feel superior when a Panamera pulls into view.

The rear end may be the car's weakest point, but I don't think it ruins it nearly as much as some others do, and it's hard to see how Porsche could have done it differently, anyway, considering that they wanted to give plenty of rear seat room - including headroom - as well as offering more storage space than they could get in any other Porsche other than the Cayenne SUV. And now, perhaps, the Macan… more...

Snake and Mongoo$e Blu-ray profiles fast friends

You could almost call "Snake and Mongoo$e" a poor man's "Rush," after the terrific Ron Howard biopic that focused on the 1970's rivalry between Formula 1 world champions James Hunt and Niki Lauda.

Except that "the serpent and the rodent" aims its sights at a much different world of motorsports: the mostly American phenomenon of professional drag racing, in this instance as personified by the sport's legendary Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and his friend and rival Tom "The Mongoo$e" McEwen. And it's a fascinating look at a pair of guys whose rivalry on and off track never really ended (before the movie ends, anyway), even though they had been friends and business partners for many years. more...

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