Reviews


Canada’s Best No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Cards – MoneySense

Currency exchange board showing cross rates between various countries.


Millions of Canadians travel abroad with their domestic credit cards—and not realizing they’re racking up foreign transaction (also called “forex”) fees with every purchase. The 2.5% charged for every purchase you make in a foreign currency might not seem much, but can add up very quickly. For perspective, that’s $25 in forex fees for every $1,000 you spend on your card, and you have to pay the exchange rate as well.

If you like to explore other countries on vacation or your work frequently takes you abroad, it’s worth considering a card that travels with you. 

The good news is there are a few credit cards that offer no foreign transaction fees (or their fees are returned to you as cash back), ultimately helping frequent travellers put the 2.5% back into their pockets. These picks are based on our analysis of each card’s benefits and annual fees; foreign transaction fees and how they’re handled (if rebated); and whether there are additional rewards incentives for using the card domestically and/or abroad. 

READ: The best no foreign transaction fee credit cards in Canada


Technology unlocking power of winter sport in Whistler

I’ve been an avid Apple Watch user for years. It’s a great device for surfacing notifications, weather, events, and health information, but I have to admit I’ve yet to fully unlock the power of the workout app and features. 

Being a beginner skier, on a recent trip to Whistler, B.C., I put the technology through its paces to see if it could really help me on the slopes. Pro skiers like Canada’s own gold medalists Brady Leman and Marielle Thompson train with Apple Watch, so I put it to the test!

Putting the technology through its paces.

App feature: snoww

The app I started with is aptly named, snoww. Its approach is whimsical in design, functional in features, and friendly in competition. It loads on iPhone and Apple Watch, and directly on your wrist, you can start, pause, and end ski and snowboard tracking at a tap of a button. 

Winston starting the ski tracking on Apple Watch. Case pictured: Canadian-designed HITCASE.

“We designed snoww thinking about quick interactions and glances while out on the mountain,” said Eddy Healey, developer of snoww. “[It’s] easy to record accurate, relevant metrics as well as create a fun and social experience for our users.”

While on the slopes, users can see relevant information like distance, time, total runs, maximum speed, vertical gain, as well as a great way to find your friends should you split up. Whistler is a vast ski resort with dozens of runs, so being able to track my friends’ whereabouts is a powerful tool socially, but critical from a safety perspective, too. 

Speaking of safety, Apple Watch really lives up to the “guardian on your wrist” mandate while on the hills. Emergency SOS is an option that surfaces when Apple Watch detects a hard fall. Users have a limited time to respond to a haptic notification before emergency services are contacted, and on the snoww itself, skiers can see in a one-view where friends are in realtime, meaning you can see which direction they’re headed and check their battery and signal levels.

GALLERY: snoww

From a social perspective, like Twitter or Facebook, you can follow your favourites to compete in leaderboards, earn trophies, compare statistics, and my favourite, use the walkie talkie app within Apple Watch to send short voice messages to one another without texting or making a lengthy phone call. Lastly, upload and share memories with friends on a photo stream within the snoww app. 

Wrapping up the day on the slopes.

Après ski recovery

After I hit the slopes, I took a chance to recover with some yoga. While it’s a good opportunity to put away the stresses of social media and frequent notifications of our smartphones, there is room for technology and fitness tracking. 

Getting ready to do yoga.

Apple Watch intuitively gives yogis credit where credit’s due through the precision of heart-rate tracking and accurate active caloric burn—allowing you to focus on being zen, and less about keeping track. It will give you only the information you need, and the rest—the distracting stuff—is put away.

Hitting the trails

Finally, to help you close those rings, running is an activity that runs circles around other fitness trackers. It takes things way further than steps earned, providing deeper analysis like rolling mile, active calories, cadence, pace alert, and high/low heart rate.

Ultra marathoner Ray Zahab empowers technology to help identify routes, surface weather and safety alerts, and even provide entertainment through his AirPods. 

On my run with friends, we used Apple Watch to take us through the paths near Lost Lake, trails into the woods, and navigate rolling terrain to discover the true beauty of British Columbia. 

Bottom line

Technology shouldn’t get in the way of what you do, especially when it comes to fitness. It should complement and intuitively provide the information you need to optimally enhance your experience. And that’s exactly what Apple Watch does well—being that guardian looking after your health, safety, and keeping you connected.


Apple Watch Series 4 review: ‘Guardian on your wrist’ packs a punch

At Apple’s annual Sep. event in Cupertino, Calif., the tech giant announced a new Apple Watch that brings hardware and software improvements that doubles down on its commitment to health. With Series 1 only launched three years ago, in just under a week with my review unit of Series 4, you can tell that this is what Series 1 should have been all along.

From a hardware standpoint, Apple Watch Series 4 packs a punch in still a small form factor. It retains its iconic design with some minor updates, featuring 40 and 44mm size options, enabling an over 30 per cent larger display through rounded corners.

watchOS 5 takes advantage of this through enhanced complications on the watch faces, apps have more real estate, and button inputs are easier. This is the first thing you’ll notice when you power it up. While I’m traditionally a silver kind of a guy, I’m a huge fan of the new gold finish, too, aligning with the new iPhone XS offering.

Your bands are still good!

You’ll be relieved to know the bands you’ve spent so much money on are still compatible with Series 4—phew! This was a worry from some tech analysts—that this is a way to force consumers to purchase new bands to be compatible with the new model.

As far as other improvements to the body of Apple Watch itself, a new Digital Crown now has built in haptic feedback. When you scroll through different menu options, subtle vibrations will help guide you through the user interface—a very nice detail.

If you listen to music or interact with Siri on Apple Watch, the speaker is 50 per cent louder—enough to fill a small room with ample feedback. The microphone has been moved to the opposite side of the device to facilitate clearer phone calls.

The ‘guardian on your wrist’

Health is where you see the most improvement, and Apple is very proud of that. Series 3 brought a high heart rhythm alert that became quite popular in notifying users of irregular patterns. Now, Series 4 will do the same with low heart rhythms. 

At launch in the United States, Apple Watch will come with a first-of-its-kind over-the-counter electrocardiogram—or ECG—application, through a new heart sensor built into the back and Digital Crown. This will allow a new way to record information for medical professionals to analyze. However, no word on when this will come to Canada.

Last on the health developments, something that can be great for our aging population (and even clumsy people like me): fall detection. It utilizes the internal gyroscope and accelerometer to detect irregular movements like falls.

In these instances, users will receive a notification to decide whether they want to notify emergency services, and if there’s no response within 60 seconds, Emergency SOS will be activated automatically.  Apple likened these new features as the ‘guardian on your wrist.’

Added cellular support in Canada

New this year is expanded cellular support for Apple Watch in Canada. Rogers has joined the other major wireless carriers to carry the device, meaning active runners can leave their iPhones at home and still be connected to music, podcasts, and loved ones wirelessly.

eSIM technology shares data from your phone plan, while connecting Apple Watch independently to the cellular network. This, combined with the faster dual-core S4 processor and W3 wireless chip brings the future onto your wrist.

How much will this cost, and do I need all this power on my wrist?

Apple Watch Series 4 will start at $519 CAD, with the cellular model starting at $649 CAD. Series 3 will also be available for those who are happy with last year’s model—it is still a great watch. Cellular is good for you if you like to run and be mobile without a phone, however for many (including myself), the standard model suffices. I’m happy to see all three major Canadian carriers—including Rogers—on board with support.

Apple Watch Series 4 is really designed for iPhone users. So if you’re an Android user, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  If you use iPhone and are in the market for a new smart watch, this is a great upgrade. This is the first Apple Watch where I felt it could keep up with my fast fingers.

Rogers Communications is the parent company of Citytv and this website.


Review: iPhone XS features under-the-hood refinements, but it won’t come cheap

Like clockwork, Apple unveiled the latest iteration of their flagship smartphone, iPhone, on Sep. 12 in front of a packed audience at Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino, Calif. Unlike previous years, however, the tech giant came out with not one, not two, but three smartphones—iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR. Tech enthusiasts applauded as CEO Tim Cook and team revealed the tech; but, is it worth the investment?

This review will focus on iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max—the devices Citytv had a chance to review ahead of the Sep. 21 launch in Canada, alongside Apple Watch Series 4. iPhone XR will go on sale later this year.

Hardware

On the exterior, iPhone X and iPhone XS are almost identical. The immersive screen remains at 5.8-inch, no home button, the same top notch you either love or hate, and IP68 water resistance up to two metres for 30 minutes—which Apple is quite proud of boasting through promotional videos. They also come in a new gold finish (in addition to space grey and silver), which I’m quite a fan of. Storage will be available in 64GB, 256GB, and 512GB configurations.

YOUTUBE/APPLE

In all three models, you’ll notice Apple has done away with the iconic home button, foreshadowing a slow death of the physical switch. As with iPhone X, there is a slight learning curve, but from personal experience, you get used to the shift in habit.

As for the larger iPhone, it seems the company has nixed the ‘Plus’ naming convention, opting for ‘Max.’ iPhone XS Max comes with a 6.5-inch screen—and it’s gigantic. Both XS and XS Max are great for media consumption, but XS Max is immersive but large for pockets—think watching YouTube videos with the new wide stereo speakers. Or my latest obsession—Ignite TV PVR downloads on the airplane.

Do you need the larger screen? No.  Is it nice to have? Yes.  Can it be a pain to carry in your pocket? Certainly, but having the option is great.

Bionic chip for bionic speeds

When migrating my data from my iPhone X, I could notice speed and power from the get-go. This iPhone houses an A12 Bionic and Neural Engine—what Apple calls ’the smartest and most powerful chip in a smartphone.’ The power is best noticed in resource-intensive applications like video editing, augmented reality, and gaming.

Coupled with iOS 12, it’ll unlock new consumer-friendly functionality, like Memoji and every selfie-taker’s new favourite feature: Smart HDR. Using the two 12-megapixel wide and telephoto lenses, Smart HDR means you can, using a slider, control F-stop or depth-of-field appearance in Portrait mode photos. This puts the power of pro photography in a consumer-grade smartphone—perfect for the ‘gram.

Battery life

In comparison to iPhone X, Apple claims iPhone XS will get you 30 minutes longer than iPhone X. iPhone XS Max will beat iPhone X by 90 minutes, according to Phil Schiller.

In real-life, I got a 12-hour day of consistent use out of iPhone XS Max.

Dual SIM support

New to any iPhone is support for two SIM cards through eSIM technology. It’s reliant on carrier adoption—however, it’s the same technology used for cellular connectivity in Apple Watch Series 4—now on all major carriers in Canada.  Traditional SIM cards will still work, but there is only one slot. The variant to be sold in China which will have two SIM trays.

This means that eventually consumers can still have two phone numbers (say, one for personal use and one for work) and receive calls and texts on one iPhone.

Pricing

In terms of pricing, iPhone XS won’t come cheap. At $1,379 CAD for iPhone XS and $1,519 CAD for the iPhone XS Max variant, these phones aren’t cheap. Carriers will subsidize—for example, Rogers is launching an Ultra tier, where for $10 a month, customers can get up to $250 off the upfront cost of ‘iconic’ devices on a term.

Additionally, later this year, Apple is launching iPhone XR, the third device announced at the Cupertino event. It features a ‘Liquid Retina’ LCD display, 12-megapixel camera, and a wide-array of colours, reminiscent of the iPhone 5C. iPhone XR rings in at just over $1,000.

Bottom line

So why would you want this device? You’re likely using an older iPhone—perhaps a 7—and it’s time for an upgrade. As a former iPhone 7 Plus user, iPhone XS Max is a nice option—albeit the hefty price tag.

If you’re an iPhone X user, there’s plenty to love about it still. iPhone XS brings a lot of new under the hood, but might not be worth $1,379.

Lastly, there’s a lot to be intrigued about iPhone XR, from the colour options to battery life. For the average consumer, it may be worth considering it when it comes out later this year. Let the games begin.

Rogers Communications is the parent company of Citytv and this website.


iPhone X kicks off a new generation at a hefty cost

Pros

  • All-new design is slick and seamless
  • Face ID doesn’t just work—it works well
  • TrueDepth camera makes way for interactive augmented reality

Cons

  • It’s expensive
  • No Home button means you have to learn a whole new set of gestures
  • You better put a case on it—or else

When Apple first announced the 10th-anniversary iPhone at their September event in Cupertino, Calif., analysts questioned the decision to stagger the launch of two premium smartphones—and whether a stray from their traditional annual launch strategy would do them more harm than good.

Many enthusiasts decided to wait and see how iPhone X stacked up to its recently-launched sibling. While lineups for iPhone 8 were shorter than previous releases, carriers are reporting record-breaking preorder demand for iPhone X. But is a smartphone really worth a whopping $1,300? We were among the first to put iPhone X through its paces.

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Redesigned from the inside out

The first thing you notice when picking up iPhone X is the gorgeous design. Everything has been reimagined. From the edge-to-edge 5.8-inch Super Retina OLED display, to the glass front and back that Apple touts as the ‘most durable ever in a smartphone,’ the stunning curvature of the edges makes this design an engineering feat and resembles a piece of artwork.

image2iPhone X remains water- and dust-resistant, featuring speakers 35 per cent louder, and is compatible with Qi-enabled wireless chargers. The device will turn heads and start conversations—though you’re best to throw a case on it, especially if you’re prone to dropping things. You know who you are.

No more Home button

First the headphone jack, now the home button. They finally did it. iPhone X is the first iPhone to do away with the one button that does virtually everything. Instead, users will need to learn a new series of gestures in iOS 11—like swipe up to go to your home screen; double press on the side button to activate Apple Pay; and hold the side and volume button to power off.

There was a learning curve for the first while. You’ll be reaching for the Home button annoyed it’s no longer there, and then cycle through the gestures. You get used to it—and is the price you pay for an all-screen display.

If you’re the type who likes using your smartphone with one hand, the new gestures may complicate things.  There are more swipes from the top, bottom, and sides. Unless you have long thumbs, you may need two hands to perform certain actions.

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Facial recognition is the new fingerprint scan

For those who have become accustomed to the fingerprint authentication (known as Touch ID), iPhone X introduces a new facial recognition technology. I was blown away by how quick it learns your face and how effortless it is to use.

Face ID uses a new, front-facing TrueDepth camera that maps over 30,000 invisible dots to your face. It is stored securely on your device and is accurate to 1 in 1,000,000 that a random person can unlock your device. It also adapts to changes in appearance like facial hair growth, and cosmetic makeup.

It is used to do everything from unlock your device, authenticate into apps, and pay for purchases through Apple Pay. And none of the information is uploaded to the cloud, similar to Touch ID.

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Cameras and AR

Camera enthusiasts will see a step-up in quality through not one, but two 12-megapixel rear cameras with dual optical image stabilization. This includes an updated Quad-LED True Tone flash that lights images more evenly and gives you more vibrant and accurate colours.

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The popular portrait mode that was once for the rear cameras on iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone 8 Plus is now coming to iPhone X’s front-facing camera—something that will delight selfie takers and up their social media game.

The same TrueDepth camera that maps your face for security also unlocks a whole new world through augmented reality technology. Apple continues to double down on AR as a future way of interacting with the real world, and apps including Snapchat and IKEA are making use of ARKit. New Animojis in iMessage enable users to have 10-second clips of emojis mimicking your expressions and facial movements captured. A lot of fun to use and without a doubt going to be popular with the tweens—that is, if they can afford one.

Is it worth it?

And for the age-old question… The phone is expensive. Over $1,000 expensive. iPhone X will run you $1,319 and $1,529 for the 64GB and 256GB variants, respectively. So is it worth throwing down a month’s mortgage payment on a smartphone that is made of all-glass? It depends on which features are important to you.

iPhone X is without a doubt one of the slickest devices I’ve seen in a long time. The build quality is unlike many other smartphones on the market today. The iPhone changed the smartphone industry and paved way for a lucrative app market. It is the combination of well-built hardware, easy-to-use software, and the potential of apps to personalize the mobile computing experience that put iPhone on the map a decade ago. And the tech giant is hoping to do that all over again.

As preorder sales have proven already, enthusiasts who want to be part of that experience will line up overnight or wait upwards of six weeks to get hold of a device. But for many others, iPhone 8—even iPhone 7—will suffice, especially if the Home button is still of great value. Though, iPhone 8 will still make a dent in your wallet at just under $1,000, off contract.

Apple hopes that choice and category redefinition will help boost sales, after the wait-and-see approach of iPhone 8 resulted in shorter lineups at retail stores.