Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc review

Like all good things Sony Ericsson, the Xperia Arc didn't wait for an official announcement to make itself known. First appearing on a set of teasing posters at CES in January, it confounded us with a ridiculously thin (8.7mm / 0.3in) profile and an unorthodox concave rear, whose sighting was followed up with the revelation of a potent mix of internal components as well. The same 1GHz Qualcomm MSM8255processor and Adreno 205 graphics that you'll find on brandmate Xperia Play are present within the Arc, and are backed by 320MB of RAM, 8GB of MicroSD storage, an 8 megapixel Exmor R image sensor, an HDMI output, and a 1500mAh battery. That tightly packed interior is then topped off with a 4.2-inch Reality Display capable of accommodating 854 x 480 pixels. Throw the latest mobile build of Android, Gingerbread, into the mix and you've got yourself a compelling list of reasons for riding aboard this Arc. Nonetheless, spec sheets tell only half the story and we're here for the full disclosure -- what's the Arc like to use on a daily basis, how are its talents harnessed by Sony Ericsson's tweaked UI, and, mostimportantly, do people think better of us for carrying such a stylish phone? Keep reading to find out.


The Xperia Arc's physical design is very clearly targeted at fashion-conscious buyers. It's not ergonomically broken by it, but form has clearly led the way ahead of function (as illustrated by the camera lens being attached at the very top of the handset, its thickest point), but you know what, we don't really mind that. It's about time we admitted to ourselves that we buy phones as much for what they look like as for what they do, and we laud Sony Ericsson for having the audacity to pursue its target demographic with a highly distinctive design. Few things curb our enthusiasm as much as overly generic phones that try to be all things to all people and the Arc is commendably distant from that group.

Another important decision taken by Sony Ericsson is to equip this new Xperia with a 4.2-inch display, marking it out as the company's biggest Android handset to date and solidifying its credentials as an entertainment device. We generally enjoyed our time handling and using the Arc, which manages to fit within nearly the same dimensions as HTC's 4-inch Incredible S, but there is one significant flaw to its design we must point out: the back's curvature is going the wrong way. The Arc moniker wouldn't really make sense without the audacious concave shape, but there's good reason why the Xperia X10, Play, Pro, and Neo all have convex rear ends and it's that they simply fit better in the (human) hand. That's arguably the only concession Sony Ericsson has made in its pursuit of an aesthetically unique handset, but it does hold the Xperia Arc back from being one of the easiest-handling smartphones in the 4-inch-plus division. As it stands, it's merely very good, with neat curves wrapping around the sides and the aforementioned thinness and light weight (117g / 4.1oz) making it a pleasure to tote around.

Contributing to the diversity of Android key configurations, Sony Ericsson has opted for a trifecta of physical buttons on the Xperia Arc (the Back and Menu keys have swapped positions from the X10 arrangement), which are thankfully wide, easily identifiable, and highly intuitive to use. Aside from the good clicky responsiveness of each button, that's in large part down to the omission of the Search key, which we can't say we missed at all. Its absence paves the way for SE to center the Home button (a good thing) and generally simplifies a user control scheme that hardly needed to be quite so complex to begin with. The only downside to the Arc's buttonry is one we spotted with the Xperia Play as well -- there's no illumination for the key labels in the dark. You get a pair of lights marking the division between each key, but their purpose is basically indecipherable when the phone's used in the dark. An easily forgivable little foible, we'd say, on what is a very satisfying keypad.

The rest of the Arc's exterior is mostly uneventful, consisting of flowing, pretty lines, broken up by a volume rocker and MicroUSB port on its top left shoulder, a 3.5mm headphone jack directly opposite on the right, and an HDMI output and a rather tiny power / lock key at the top. There is a physical shutter button here, but it's positioned at the extreme bottom right of the handset, almost at the corner, which leads to awkward operation at times. Overall build quality feels robust and durable, though we're again under the impression that Sony Ericsson wasn't spending too richly in obtaining the construction materials. Nothing wrong with that for the most part, we don't begrudge manufacturers making savings where they don't cost the end product, but we did manage to induce a little creaking from the frame, particularly around the volume rocker.


You should be familiar with Qualcomm's hardware inside the Xperia Arc by now. The current 8255 Snapdragon and its Adreno 205 graphics buddy have already appeared in the myTouch 4G, Desire HD (and its US cousin the Inspire 4G), Incredible S, Desire S, and the rest of Sony Ericsson's 2011 Xperia line. The second-gen chip combo's characterized by distinctly improved power efficiency relative to the original Snapdragon and somewhere in the region of 15 percent better overall performance. 720p video playback is no problem and our Xperia Play testing showed all Android games will work flawlessly too.Today they will, anyhow. The same proviso that applies to the Play is valid here. This summer will be an extremely active time in terms of manufacturers upgrading their smartphone lines with dual-core processors and juicier GPUs, meaning that come fall, there could well be things and games your humble 1GHz Snapdragon core is no longer perfectly capable of handling. The 1500mAh battery inside the Arc doesn't quite match the Play's endurance, but will still give you a solid day's worth of regular use (and not much more). The slight gap between Sony Ericsson's two phones can be easily explained by the fact the Arc's powering a screen that's five percent larger and a great bit brighter than the Play's.


The first thing you'll notice about the Arc's 4.2-inch display, necessarily before you've turned it on, is just how black it is. There's a dark border framing the LCD, but as you can see above, there's almost no telling the two apart. This compares extremely favorably with most other handsets on the market presently, whose screens tend to be a dark shade of grey rather than properly noir, and gives the inactive Arc a thoroughly gorgeous and futuristic appearance. Sadly, that doesn't carry over once you switch the handset on, as the Xperia Arc can't maintain such black levels in operation -- it isn't, after all, an AMOLED panel -- and also suffers from narrow viewing angles, meaning you'll be seeing colors wash out relatively quickly as you move off-center. When viewed head-on, the Arc's display is actually above average in terms of contrast and color saturation, but we found ourselves getting annoyed with its dull appearance while looking at it lying on our desk. Viewing comfort at oblique angles hasn't tended to be a pain point for smartphones so far, but as they grow increasingly larger and fancier, it's becoming more important.

Of course, Sony Ericsson has a panacea for all our display worries with the inclusion of its Mobile Bravia Engine inside the Arc, leading it to describe the phone's 854 x 480 screen as a Reality Display. The Bravia voodoo embedded within basically does a host of image optimization to give you a sharp and eye-pleasing result, and we must agree with SE, it really succeeds at its task. The visual improvements are relatively subtle, but very much tangible in practice. The only fly in the Reality ointment is that the MBE only kicks in when you're looking at pictures or video and will do nothing to improve your general UI or browser experience. Still, the things you'll truly care to see in most detail will indeed be multimedia items, so the Bravia Engine is an appreciated addition. A further commendation is earned by the outdoor performance of the Arc's screen -- it impressed with its visibility in direct sunlight, though we couldn't conclusively determine how much the Bravia magic was helping with that. It certainly wasn't making things any worse.


Let's get the big news out of the way first, the Xperia Arc takes some really beautiful and detailed shots. It's able to focus quickly even under challenging conditions (in our side-by-side testing, the Arc managed to focus in a low-light situation where the Play could not) and its biggest antagonist is color noise when there's not enough light around. Sharpness is retained very well by the Exmor R sensor and there's no reason to fear noise reduction software will blast away the tender detail in your images. If there's one thing to bear in mind with the Arc's output, it is that SE is doing a little bit of its own post-processing to boost colors on every shot, resulting in occasionally oversaturated pics. We understand the reasoning behind this, as it most often improves images by making them appear more vibrant and less drab, but we would have liked the option to toggle this function off.

Though actual performance gave us little cause for concern, Sony Ericsson's custom camera software is more of a hit and miss affair. The hits are a pair of neat slideout menus, which are accessed in much the same way as Android's window-shade. Looking at the phone in landscape mode, you have one on your right, containing a gallery of the photographs you've taken, and one on your left filled out with camera options and adjustments you can make. The latter displeased us a little with its scant array of available tweaks, which curiously enough doesn't even allow you to toggle the Arc's Macro mode on and off. You have to set the camera to automatic scene recognition and it throws the macro on when it decides it's needed. This isn't unheard of, as other handsets such as Motorola's Droid X do the same, and is arguably not a huge deal for a consumer-centric phone; we'd certainly prefer to have auto-macro than none at all. In a less excusable turn of events, the camera software did freeze up on us a couple of times while processing images, and you'll see an example of it freezing a video recording for a couple of seconds in the sample below.
There's plenty of softness in that video, in spite of the almost ideal lighting circumstances of a rare sunny London afternoon. Ironically, whereas stills are handled with little noise reduction by the Arc's software, there's clearly a very aggressive noise suppression algorithms at work when it comes to video. It's used in an effort to make the picture appear "smooth" -- something we saw with the Xperia Play as well -- but it leads to the unsatisfying outcome of killing fine detail and replacing it with a smeared appearance. This could again be excused by the fact the Arc's intended for a casual audience (and the videos do indeed look quite spectacular on the phone's own display), but there's an HDTV-loving HDMI output among this phone's ports and you won't be best pleased with the results once you decide to look at them on an actual big screen television. Wind noise also figured its way into the equation, but that's mostly owing to an unfortunate angling of the phone that allowed wind to channel its way to the mic; we've yet to encounter a phone that's not susceptible to that issue.


There's little on the Xperia Arc that we haven't already discussed in our Xperia Play review. It features Android's finest mobile build to date, skinned with Sony Ericsson's mostly successful aesthetic tweaks and performing smoothly and responsively. For the most part. As highlighted in the camera section above, the Arc benefits from a customized camera app, which is certainly an improvement over the default in terms of functionality, but managed to crash on us a couple of times. Moreover, the Timescape widget can be a real spoiler with all its resource consumption, forcing the occasional stutter in UI navigation, however given that it's merely an optional extra you can remove within seconds of turning the phone on, we can't bemoan it too much. The onscreen keyboard, particularly in portrait mode, would've been better left in its stock Gingerbread form, though we really like Sony Ericsson's changes in the messaging, contacts, and applications subsections. All three work spectacularly, with nary a hint of lag, and look splendid. Additional, though entirely superficial, marks are earned for the neat ghosting animation you're treated to when tapping the unlock or mute sliders on the lock screen.

Browser performance is a little unconvincing, as neither scrolling nor zooming is on the same level as what the finest Android, Windows phone 7 or iOS devices can do. That said, the Arc can chew through web-based Flash video like a champ, which is likely to be a lot more important to users than the amount of butter their scrollwheel's been greased up with. Beyond those Sony Ericsson peculiarities, you're really looking at your standard Android user experience. You get access to a truly vast array of applications, games and content, backed by the knowledge that the insatiable growth of the platform will only attract further development efforts. Amazon has just delivered an Appstore and a music cloud storage service tailored specifically to Android, while RIM has made its PlayBook tablet compatible with Android apps -- it's an OS with a truly bright future ahead of it. Having version 2.3 preloaded on the Arc also means you're starting at the highest possible entry point and won't have to fret about upgrades for a good few months at least. Additionally, if you're a big Gmail and / or Gtalk user, there's no better phone OS than Google's own to make use of those services on the move.


Sony Ericsson could've called this the Xperia Art and no one would have been surprised. Its 4.2-incher is one of the most photogenic smartphones we've come across yet and its design exhibits an artistry and a flamboyance we rarely get to see. Construction materials might have been better, but then the Arc comes in at a very reasonable £425 ($680) price off contract -- placing it at the lower end of the Android smartphone pricing scale in the UK -- so some tradeoffs have to be expected. Where we can't hide our disappointment is in seeing poor video recording attached to a strong camera sensor. It just feels like a missed opportunity for Sony Ericsson to not match the hardware's capabilities with suitably strong software and thereby tie this up as a comprehensive multimedia standout. We also can't help but be vexed by the Arc's shallow viewing angles, though they were admittedly offset by strong performances in video playback using the Mobile Bravia Engine. The UI tweaks on top of Android, while pretty to look at, do look to be more resource-intensive than the stock stuff and Sony Ericsson's input does seem to have led to a tiny bit less stability and responsiveness all round.

All that said, we liked the Arc and we think it has a lot to offer to the right sort of buyer. If you're obsessive about display technologies and vanilla Google software like we are, we'd advise looking at the tried and tested Nexus S. But if you just fancy an uncomplicated, big-screened phone to enjoy movies on during your daily commute, the Xperia Arc might just be your perfect candidate. It doesn't really lack anything on the feature front, but it's Sony Ericsson's execution and occasionally odd design choices that hold it back from being a triumph.

Nexus S dummy devices arrive at Rogers locations

By Ray Nicolini

This is a step in the right direction! Rogers stores are now starting to receive dummy devices for the Android 2.3 powered Nexus S. Still no official launch date from any of the carriers or even a word on pricing. We are hearing a launch on April 14th and others are reporting April 7th. Even on the Future Shop Forum they updated potential customers by stating that “We will have inventory of the Samsung Nexus S on April 15th. However, we are actively working on getting the inventory in stores before then”. It would be nice to have something official from  at least one of the 8 carriers who will have this for sale, agree?
Source: Android Central
(Thanks Dave!)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

BlackBerry Messenger for iPhone available April 26th?

By Ray Nicolini

few weeks ago rumours were that RIM will be expanding their BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) app past BlackBerry devices and have it available to Android and iOS devices. If and when BBM will be implemented on other platforms it won’t be the full experience that BlackBerry users love but a stripped down version.
The Android BBM app is expected to be released sometime this year but a release on the iPhone is still unknown. However, another fresh rumour is brewing over at MacRumours of an April 26th release of the BlackBerry Messenger for iPhone. Apparently RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie was in Toronto today speaking at an event where he off-handed announced the app will be available for download in the App Store on April 26th (Thursday), then an update to follow in the Summer with a new “notification system”.
“RIM had a Social Media conference today in Toronto, and my entire college business and marketing class was invited to the event. RIM’s co-ceo Jim Balsillie revealed that they plan to bring BBM and “other services” to iPhone on April 26 via the app store. Major news networks are expected to pick up on this very soon! Balsillie also revealed that they plan to release an update to the app this summer which will take advantage of a new “notification system”!!!”

Netflix offering bandwidth tools to Canadian users

By Ray Nicolini

If you’re a Canadian resident struggling with the newly imposed broadband data quotas, you’re definitely going to appreciate this. Netflix has announced a new set of tools available to Canadian users that can curb the amount of data used while streaming movies by up to 66%, “with minimal impact to video quality.”
“In the past, viewing 30 hours of Netflix could consume as much as 70 GBytes, if it was all in HD, and typically about 30 GBytes,” writes Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer at Netflix. “If any member wants to change back to higher data usage and video quality, they can do so on the Manage Video Quality page, found under Your Account.”
Using the new settings, that same 30 hours of video can be viewed with just 9GB of data flying over the wire. If you’re interested to know exactly how Netflix has managed to slice and dice its data usage, there is some technical information waiting for you after the break.
We’ve created three settings:
  1. “Good” – The default setting with good picture quality and lowest data use per hour (about 0.3 GBytes/hour)
  2. “Better” – Better picture quality and medium data use per hour (about 0.7 GBytes/hour)
  3. “Best” – Best picture quality and highest date use per hour (generally about 1.0 GBytes/hour – or up to 2.3 GBytes/hour when streaming HD content)
Any member can adjust the settings anytime by visiting the Manage Video Quality page, found under Your Account.
At all settings, Netflix adaptive streaming may choose a lower data rate stream if your connection is lower speed or, in the case of congestion, in order to minimize interruptions.
Also, at all settings, Netflix streams a little bit of additional data as a buffer each time you start a movie or TV show. Frequent starts and stops, or rewind/seek activity, will slightly increase the amount of data Netflix streams to you per hour. In most cases this will amount to less than a few minutes’ worth.
The “Good” setting limits video/audio to 625 kbps/64 kbps. With this setting, 30 hours of content would be up to 9 GBytes per month.
The “Better” setting limits video/audio to a maximum of 1300 kbps/192 kpbs. With this setting, 30 hours of content would be less than 20 GBytes per month.
The “Best” setting will use any of the video/audio rates available. Our highest quality files are 4800 kbps (for 1080p HD video) and 384 kbps audio (for 5.1 audio). 30 hours of this highest quality streaming would be less than 67 GBytes. However, only a selection of movies and TV shows are available at these rates, and in many cases, the effective video/audio upper limit for non-HD content is 2200 kbps/192 kbps. At that rate, 30 hours of streaming is less than 31 GBytes.

Gestures on BlackBerry PlayBook: Everything You Need To Know

By Ray Nicolini

Navigating blackberry playbook
The BlackBerry PlayBook is scheduled to launch in roughly 20 days, and we’re betting you will start to see lots of fun PlayBook related news over the next few weeks. This is only one of the great teases you will see leaking out about the PlayBook. The folks at CrackBerry have posted up a great starter guide for the BlackBerry PlayBook, which shows you all the gestures needed to control your PlayBook tablet. Below are some of my favorite and most useful gestures… You can read the entire guide here.

Show Home Screen:

Blackberry playbook navigation 4
Showing the home screen is simple. Just swipe from the bottom bezel upwards.

Show Main or Application Menu:

Blackberry playbook navigation 5

Swipe from the top bezel downwards to see the application menu

Switch Between Apps

Blackberry playbook navigation 6

You can switch between apps on your PlayBook, without opening the main screen. To do this simply swipe from right side bezel towards left.

Close an Application

Blackberry playbook navigation 8
To close an app on the PlayBook OS simply toss it from the mid-screen upwards.
These are just some of the most useful gestures I’ve seen so far. You can check out the entire post over at CrackBerry.

Holiday Inn Hotel Launcher Icon for BlackBerry v1.0

By Ray Nicolini

Holiday Inn BlackBerry Launcher
If you ever travel or vacation, Holiday Inn is a pretty popular place to stay so a launcher icon for your BlackBerry adds a simple and easy way to find a hotel or check on your reservation.

BlackBerry 6.1 Will We See a More Evolved UI? Maybe Some TAT Influence?

By Ray Nicolini
blackberryroadmap201115RIM promised in the recent quarterly  investors call that the next upgrade to the BlackBerry OS  will be 6.1 due in May. They also promised that it wouldn’t be an incremental upgrade but according to edngadget it will be a Major upgrade.  This could be interpreted in many different ways including that we may see a preview of what is to come with QNX. Some analyst have hinted at the the fact that RIM may create a hybrid OS from the current OS and QNX. I think that is not likely that we will see some QNX flavored OS this early, my guess would be if there are some UI changes those may come from the help from TAT.
RIM made it clear that it will be a huge upgrade, we have seen some leaked slides pertaining to new features for the OS home screen interface like the option to set favorites, and frequent apps. There are quite a few other features that will be added to this update but the main concern for most people is the user interface of the OS. People tend to react to the cosmetics part of the OS. Many who compare the visually part of IOS to BlackBerry only see the interface and that’s why they believe the OS is better than BlackBerry when in reality the BlackBerry OS leaves IOS and other in the dust when it comes to capabilities but it usually is compare to the appealing visual side and how easy it is to use.
Hopefully with 6.1 RIM has been able to find a happy medium with the UI and also the ease of use. I would love for RIM to prove me wrong and have 6.1 with QNX by this summer but I find that highly unlikely.
What are your thoughts?

Review: Schlage LiNK System with BlackBerry Integration

Schlage LiNK System
One of the things I love most about my BlackBerry is that it is always with me when I'm on the go. I love to be able to get things done from my device, be it sending emails, making phone calls or what have you. When things go above and beyond and I can integrate more of my life with my device, I'm all for it. Enter the Schlage LiNK system. Being a tech geek I'm always open to add more technology into my daily routine - be that good or bad - and the LiNK system is no slouch. We first checked out the system nearly 2 years ago, and since then many updates and features have been added. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a system including a keypad lever lock, wireless camera, light module and thermostat and I can honestly say my house will never be the same. Read on for my full review and thoughts on the Schlage LiNK system.

Schlage LiNK System Review

Getting Started

If you're not the handiest person the system can be a bit intimidating at first. There is a some installtion required (namely for the lock lever and thermostat) that might scare off some, but Schlage gives you very detailed instructions on how to get the job done. The light module and camera are the easiest to get up and running, but the lock and thermostat can take a bit of time (or a lot of time if you run into issues like I did, but we'll get into that later). From start to finish for all the components you can budget around 2-3 hours if you have smooth sailing, or a bit more if you need to tweak some things to get it all situated. You'll need to setup your online account where Schlage currently charges $8.99/month for service plus a 2-month trial period to get aquainted. You can access all the features through the web control panel or the free BlackBerry Schlage LiNK application.

The bridge is the "hub" of all your Schlage goodies. It acts as the go-between and let's everything play nice. It comes into play as we get things installed as this is what you use to pair items with your system. It will need to be connected to the next and power to operate but it's all pretty straight forward.
Schlage LiNK System
The bridge is really no frills - Just a box with a light

Light Module

By far the easiest part to get going with is the light module. This handy box plugs into an outlet in your home and can control a lamp remotely. Using the included bridge for the system, you pair up the light module with a few easy steps, plug it into an outlet, plug in your lamp and you're ready to roll. Schlage suggests using a standard incandescent bulb in the lamp to take advantage of the dimmer functions, but I actually have an eco twisty bulb (as I like to call them) that works sans dimming. After you're setup you have total control over the module from your control panel (via your device or the web) where you can turn the light on or off and use the dimming function. Use this to turn on the lights before you get home, when you're on vacation or to just mess with your spouse (my personal favorite). You can also tie the light module in with the lock (which we'll get to) as well as create a schedule (just like a regular lamp timer) if you plan to be away.
Schlage LiNK System
The light module is a simple plug-in box with one controlled and one open receptacle

Schlage LiNK System
Just plug into an outlet and you're done!

Wireless Camera

This is the one component that intrigued me most I think. Not in the aspect that I'm shady and want to keep an eye on people in my house, but just that I could easily have the option to view the camera from my BlackBerry while I'm away. Again, the setup of the camera was cake. Just enter the ID of the unit in the online control panel, click a few options, setup your wireless network to play nice with the camera and you're done. Once the camera restarts and is ready to go, you can pretty much put it anwhere within range of your wireless network (and an electical outlet to plug it in) and you're free to view. I currently have mine looking over my driveway for lack of anything better. You can view the camera from your browser via the web or fire up the app and check things out on your phone. I was surprised at the clarity of the image as it actually shows very well on my device and better yet from the web. The cool thing is that you can add multiple cameras as well. So if you want to get really crazy, you can deck out your house with cameras and never miss a beat.
Schlage LiNK System
The camera isn't too ugly and easily to mount/install nearly anywhere you can plug it in

Lock Lever

For the door lock you have a few options from Schlage. You can choose from either the deadbolt or keypad in Satin Nickel, Bright Brass or Aged Bronze. For most people installing the deadbolt or lever will choose to be the most difficult of the entire process. If you're at all handy and have a few tools you should have no problem from start to finish. If you aren't a big fan of screwdrivers or taking things apart, you might want to enlist the help of someone else but the instructions do make things clear and easy enough for most.
To start you'll have to remove the existing door knob/lever which doesn't involve more than a few screws. Once the assembly is out you'll hopefully be left with an opening that will match the Schlage setup you're going with. If not, you'll have to dive in a bit and tweak thinks up to get the right fit. From there, simply follow the instructions and insert the lever piece by piece, tighten the provided screws and you're in. Install the batteries, attach the cover and levers and that's that. I did have a few issues with the size of my strikeplate so I had to make a few minor modifications, but the overall process only took about 30 minutes or so.
Schlage LiNK System
The "guts" of the keypad lever - batteries are included!
Once you've got the hardware installed you will pair the lock with the bridge (provided in the starter kit). Again, there are easy instructions for all of this, but it basically consists of removing the bridge from power, putting in a 9-volt battery and pressing a few buttons. You get confirmation on both devices when you did things correctly and you're lock is ready. You can then add it into your account via the control panel on the web. From there you can view battery status, create lock codes and more. The lock comes programmed with an entry code, but you can create any number of others for family members, the housekeeper, babysitter etc. You can customize each to only work for a set period of time (ie. 2-4pm) and also send you SMS alerts when used. From both the web control panel and your device you can also "buzz" the lock which will unlock and relock the unit so you can let someone in right from your device. This is useful if a guest shows up at your door while you're not there or you're just too lazy to get off the couch and unlock the door. Again, you can tie the lock unit in with other devices, so when entering a code you can unlock the door as well as activate the light module so you don't have to enter a dark house - very cool. If you have the lever locked, you can still open the door from the inside without doing a thing, and it will stay locked once you close the door again.
Schlage LiNK System
The back of the lever - Unlock and lock button make things easy

Schlage LiNK System
The lock lever is pretty sweet - the buttons light up and feel bery solid
Typically the thermostat installation shouldn't be a very difficult task. In most newer homes you can simply pop off the old unit, swap a few wires, attach the new unit and be done with it. In my case (and what I'm sure is the extreme opposite end) things may not be so simple. The thermostat was actually what I was going to install first, but it turned out to be the last and most lengthy of all the pieces.
Schlage LiNK System
Ye olde ugly thermostat

Schlage LiNK System
Two-wires means more work (but it paid off)
Most homes will be outfitted with a 4 or 5 wire thermostat cable from the furnace (boiler, heat pump or whatever). Each serves a purpose, and the Trane thermostat provided needs them all to work properly. The unit is self powered, so it needs to receive current from the furnace itself to operate. Unfortunately my old system was original to the house (built in 1959) and I was presented with only a 2-wire unit (I don't have central AC). This meant a decent project was in store. I thought running a new cable would be easy enough, so I snagged 100ft on Amazon for a decent price, and when it arrived I was eager to go. I popped off my old unit hoping to just run the new wire along the same path as the old on the way to my furnace. Sadly the old wire looked to be installed while the house was being built, so it ran all over through my walls - wedged behind studs and snaked behind electical boxes. Once I realized this was a no go I tried to run the new cable on it's own which didn't work out so well either. After an hour or so of trying to snake the line through the walls I decided to move to plan C. I found a new suitable location for the new thermostat, drilled a few holes through a different wall and floor and the cable found the way to the furnace. I hooked up the needed wires (again, explained very clearly in the instructions) and hooked up everything as it needed to be. When I flipped the power to the furnace back on, the thermostat came to life and I was in business ... thankfully.
Schlage LiNK System
Shiny new Trane Thermostat

Schlage LiNK System
More wires means more fun!
From there I needed to pair the device to the bridge with the same process as before. A few button presses and flashing lights and all was well. The unit was then added to my account and viewable in the control panel. The options for controlling the thermostat are plenty. You can choose from the existing Energy Saver option or create your own heating/cooling schedule. You can view the status of your system, place the unit on hold and change temperature remotely. Perfect for monitoring when you're away or just turning up the heat from bed on a cold night.

The Control Panel
From the web you have a huge control panel that houses all the options you need to get things done. You can control all the pieces of the puzzle from one interface, as well as rename units, program codes, set a heating/cooling schedule, add phones and much, much more. It's the "command center" for your house once you get everything up and running.
From here you can also set Events and Schedules. Event's are things like getting the lights on when the door opens, and schedules would be triggering the lights on at 5am to wake you up in the morning. You can figure out what needs you have and they will do the job for you.
Schlage LiNK BlackBerry
Schlage LiNK BlackBerry
Schlage LiNK BlackBerry
Schlage LiNK BlackBerry

The BlackBerry App

Here is the coolest part of it all. You can control all your newly installed pieces right from your BlackBerry, no matter where you are. You'll have to create a PIN when you start the app the first time which is good as it prevents unwanted users from getting at your stuff. You'll have to setup your device via the web, and then you can choose which units the phone can access, change alerts and more. Total control on the go.
The main screen shows you a list of all your components that you can scroll through.
Check the status of your lock (locked or unlocked) on the security screen.
Schlage LiNK BlackBerry
On the Climate screen you current heating/cooling status where you can choose to run schedules, change the temperature and more.
Schlage LiNK BlackBerry
The Cameras screen shows your available cameras - just click to view.
Schlage LiNK BlackBerry
Lighting and Automation shows all the installed light modules. Choose one and easily dim or turn on/off.
Schlage LiNK BlackBerry

Final thoughts
Once you get all the installation done you can just sit back and do your thing. You can install the free app to your device OTA from which you can access all the features of the control panel (for the most part). You can control your light module (or multiple ones if you add to your system), view any cameras, unlock your door and, change your thermostat settings.
I'm definitely a big fan of the entire system, although some friends and family find it a bit too "geeky" to comment on. I do like the fact that I can monitor my heating system when I'm away and even check on things from the comfort of my office. Having the keypad on my door means no reason to carry extra house keys around as long as I remember my code. I have one set for daytime that simply unlocks the door and another for nights when I want to turn the light on as well. I think down the road I'll toss a few more light modules on and maybe another camera, just to take the "go big or go home" approach. At $8.99/month, it's not a bad price to pay for all the features you get. Schlage is a big name so everything is very well built and should last for years to come. They are constantly adding more features that make things even better, and hopefully more toys will be added to the lineup at some point as well.
So is the LiNK system a good buy? I believe it is. It all depends on how much tech you want to surround yourself in. The price to get started is a bit steep (around $150 for a lock, camera and thermostat and $50 for a light module). I personally like the fact that my house is a nerdy as I am, but others may not feel the same. The price may be hard to justify for some, but you don't have to go all out with every component either. All the items can work on their own, so if there is something you like more than another you can work with just that. The available starter kits come with either a keypad lever or deadbolt, light module and bridge. You can find the full selection at the Schlage LiNK site or many home improvement stores.
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