Jim Bray


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Most Recent Articles by Jim Bray:

Top Bose SoundTouch a worthy successor to the SoundDock 10

May 18, 2017 — Jim Bray

Big sound from a small box, with enough connectivity to please nearly everyone. That’s what Bose’s SoundTouch line of speakers offers, and the flagship of the series is a remarkable unit, indeed.

SoundTouch products have been out for a few of years now; I first experienced them at their introduction in New York back in 2013, and such is their quality and design that they’re still on the market today. That’s unlike the remarkable SoundDock 10 iPod dock speaker system that was my first “modern” experience with Bose - modern meaning within the last 10 years, since Bose itself has been around for more than a half century.

I remember Bose’ SoundDock 10 introductory demo well. The company had set one up behind a Wizard of Oz-like curtain in a private room in a Manhattan restaurant and kicked off the demo with some really great-sounding rumbling thunder. I said then that the demo came “complete with bone rattling realism that sounded as if it were coming from an ‘honest to goodness’ audio system with big speakers and big amplifier power.”

CX-9 brings Mazda’s fun driving experience to the three row crossover

May 18, 2017 — Jim Bray

It’s big and it only sports a four banger engine, but the Mazda CX-9 SUV/crossover is one of the best driving vehicles in the class.

In other words, it’s a typical Mazda.

Mazda is a relatively small car company, and for the last few years the Hiroshima-headquartered Japanese carmaker has had to forge its own path without another carmaker having its back (Ford used to be a partner). Yet it consistently comes up with vehicles - sedans, SUV/crossovers and, of course, sports coupes - that are just plain fun, yet are also featured fully and exude an air of quality that makes them seem more expensive than they are. 

The CX-9 is Mazda’s biggest vehicle, but slip this baby into sport mode via the little rocker switch on the centre console and the vehicle seems to shrink a tad, just enough to make it sit up and take notice that you’re looking to play. It still feels big, of course - even Mazda can’t change the laws of physics - but it goes from feeling like a nice, big SUV to a nice, big Mazda SUV, and all the “Zoom-Zoom” that brings.

Toyota Camry: the extraordinary ordinary family car

May 18, 2017 — Jim Bray

It’s been called vanilla, boring, bland, but what the Toyota Camry really is, is a fabulously designed and rendered sedan that gives a driver everything needed and most of what could be wanted - in an unassuming but handsome package that’s as state-of-the-art as most people could want.

It also sells oodles (it’s been one of the top selling cars for years now) and, judging by the Toyota logo and the number of old Camry still on the road, it’ll probably run forever.

That, to me, makes it an automotive masterpiece.

Sure, I’ve called the car vanilla, and I suppose it still is in some ways - in that it’s not yummy like butterscotch or a fantastic driving car like an Audi A6 or even, well, the Hyundai Elantra Sport reviewed here last week. I meant that crack originally as a minor put down of what I considered to be a boring car, but over the years that I’ve reviewed cars (including more than a few Camrys) the Camry has grown in looks, driving feel, and features - so much so that this current version (which will be replaced for 2018 with an even newer one) really is pretty much all one could want in a car. And it’s even decent to drive!

Sporty Hyundai sedan ups the fun factor of an already great car

May 5, 2017 — Jim Bray

It drives like a Volkswagen Jetta GLI, and it feels like a German car in its construction. But it’s not German - it’s from South Korea, proving once more that the "traditional" automakers had better be taking the Hyundai/Kia twins very seriously lest they end up on the government dole.

The car under discussion here is the Hyundai Elantra Sport,  the winner of the Best New Sport/Performance car from AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year awards - an annual fall TestFest that also resulted in the more "pedestrian" Elantra winning its
category
as well. Quite a feat for a company whose cars used to be the butts of many automotive jokes (though that was a long time ago now!).

LG OLED TV a true game changer for home theatres

May 5, 2017 — Jim Bray

The quest for the best TV picture possible has been a long one, stretching back to the early days of cathode ray tubes and muddy black and white pictures on small and, compared with even the worst of today’s TV’s, grainy screens.

Then we had colour and, decades later, high definition, both of which were game changers. The next game changer was the evolution from big, fat and heavy CRT’s to liquid crystal, or LCD – the flat screens that have freed up space in our viewing rooms while also offering us better quality and larger pictures. LCD evolved to LED, which are really LCD panels with different "back lighting."

Now there are two new technologies vying for your after tax dollars, one of which is a logical next step  in the high definition evolution – 4K – and one of which is an absolutely ground breaking leap in picture technology: OLED.

Latest Underworld is ‘gore-geous’ in 4K - while Teen Titans storm onto Blu-ray

Apr 24, 2017 — Jim Bray

Kate Beckinsale is back and kicking werewolf butts in Underworld Blood Wars, which debuts from Sony on 4K UHD disc next week. And if you’re tired of computer generated landscapes, blood and characters, Warner Brothers has a more classically animated superhero title that might catch your eye, though it isn’t available in 4K as of this writing.

Teen Titans was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me, thanks to its Saturday morning cartoon look and feel - the type of superhero animation I used to watch with my kids when they were, well, kids.

But it’s 4K that I’m interested in primarily these days, as the market moves from BD’s to UHD’s the same way it evolved from VHS to DVD and then to Blu-ray. UHD offers four times the resolution of 1080p, with twice the horizontal and vertical pixels (3840x2106 vs. 1920x1080) and, while the difference is noticeable more on bigger screens and even then is sometimes subtle anyway, a good 4K disc can be absolutely stunning.

Honda and Toyota offer wildly different visions of Crossover styles

Apr 22, 2017 — Jim Bray

One’s a truck that drives like an SUV; the other is an SUV that drives like a truck. Which one makes more sense?

Naturally, it depends on the task at hand. If you’re looking for a small pickup truck that rides like more a car, the Honda Ridgeline is the clear choice. But if you want a brawny adventurer that’ll be as comfortable off the asphalt as it is inside the city, the Toyota 4Runner is the winner.

And never will the twain meet, except perhaps in this column.

Big Brother really is watching you - and he ain’t a commie!

Apr 14, 2017 — Jim Bray

Did you know that when you’re watching your favourite TV program, your TV program could be watching you as well?

It’s true, if you believe what a company called FlySwipe is selling. That’s because, according to a press release coming from the upcoming National Association of Broadcasters convention, broadcasters and marketers now have the ability to know exactly who’s watching a program thanks to advancements in artificial intelligence technology.

FlySwipe says they can use facial recognition and “big data” to help the broadcasters and advertisers figure out exactly which commercial a particular viewer should be shown, based on the viewer’s age and gender. On the upside, perhaps, they say the technology can also limit adult-oriented ads while there are kids in the viewing room.

Ford SUV’s offer good driving and plentiful technology for 2017

Apr 14, 2017 — Jim Bray

Ford offers a long list of SUV’s for sale, from the entry size Escape to the humongous Expedition, all of which face stiff competition from a huge number of SUV/Crossover models available. So how do the three most popular models stack up for the 2017 model year?

Pretty well, I’d say, though I haven’t driven all of the competition recently. But after a week with each of the Escape, Edge and Explorer (with a week off between to fall under the spell of the exquisite new Lincoln Continental), I came away impressed with how well the vehicles drive, how easy they are to operate, and how nice they are overall.

I slid my prodigious posterior into the Edge first, Ford of Canada’s sample wearing the Sport trim level that immediately caused my ears to perk up. Sure, it’s a bigger SUV than I like (which makes the Explorer even more so…), but - at least in the Sport trim - it drives smaller than it looks, and that made a huge difference to my enjoyment.

New Hyundai hybrid an interesting and rewarding drive

Apr 9, 2017 — Jim Bray

Hyundai’s Ioniq green car is so new we don’t even have a published price for it in Canada yet, but it’s worth waiting for because the hybrid is so good to drive I kept forgetting it’s an earth saver.

Heck, I liked driving the Ioniq so much that, after all my hybrid humour and hammering over the years, I figure I’m risking a lightning bolt from above just for saying I like this car. And isn’t that ioniq, er I mean ironic?

New LG G6 worth getting hung up on

Apr 9, 2017 — Jim Bray

In the war of competing cell phones, LG has just fired off a new shot, and if my very short time with a preproduction sample is any indication, it’s a bullseye.

It also features a surprisingly large screen for a phone that still fits easily into my paw, a 5.7 inch QHD+ "FullVision" unit that’s colourful and very easy on the eyes.

I also love how you can wake or put the phone to sleep merely by tapping on the screen twice with your finger. That might be a very small thing - and in the grand scheme of things it probably is - but it’s a wonderful ease of use thing in a world or smart phones where there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to where a manufacturer puts the buttons. In this case,  as with the last LG I reviewed, the power button is on the back, nicely out of the way but not as easy to access quickly as the double tap method.

Visiting Potterville in 4K - now with Fantastic Beasts

Apr 1, 2017 — Jim Bray

Potterville is a marvelous place to visit. It’s full of wonderful lives and interesting, nice people, with enough evil around them to make for good drama. And now it’s an even better place to visit on home video,  thanks to brand new 4K releases from Warner Brothers.

Potterville in this case isn’t the renamed Bedford Falls of George Bailey’s wonderful life “gift” from angel Clarence. No, this Potterville is a British place that kind of floats - via flying car or dragon,  or broomstick - between Little Whinging and Hogwarts school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I speak of Harry Potter, of course, the boy who lived through enough books and cinematic stories to choke a centaur.

New Continental puts Lincoln firmly back on the map

Mar 31, 2017 — Jim Bray

It doesn’t wallow, nor does it feel like a car my grandfather would drive. In fact, it looks as if Lincoln has thrown down a gauntlet with the 2017 Continental, announcing to the world that the famed marque is not only back, but capable of taking on the competitors head to head.

When was the last time you read that about a Lincoln Continental?

It’s something I had never written before, let alone thought.  Oh, I liked the MKZ I drove last fall a lot, but as nice as it was it still felt like a “gussied up” Fusion (which it is, really), whereas after spending a week in the grand new Continental I came away excited for the future of the famed nameplate, which had kind of gone to sleep as a major luxury brand.

Arizer offers big vape from relatively small devices

Mar 25, 2017 — Jim Bray

Recreational marijuana may still be illegal in Canada and elsewhere, but that hasn’t stopped modern technology from marching in and helping "heads" enjoy their poison of choice safely and more subtly than by burning it.

That’s because vapourizers don’t actually combust the herb;  instead, they heat it up to a point where it releases its "goodness" without actually setting it on fire. The result can be less marijuana consumption (vaping uses less than, say, rolling the stuff up into papers), less of that obvious marijuana smell and - perhaps most important - less chance of harmful gases from combustion going into the vaper’s lungs.

If you can believe politicians, it may be only a matter of time before the casual use of pot becomes legal in Canada. Prime Minister Just-in Two-d’oh! made legalization one of the major planks during his successful campaign to replace Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and perhaps someday he’ll make good on that promise.

Then again, he’s a politician - and a Liberal one at that - so his promises may not be worth any more than the hot air with which he exhaled them. But recent history in other jurisdictions seems to point toward the evil weed not being considered so evil anymore, so time will tell what happens here in the Great Green North. Heck, I know a guy who jokes that the stuff should be mandatory, so some "tightly wrapped" folks can "lighten up".