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Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writer

Lyra Solochek

Lyra Solochek oversees the editorial content for the Tampa Bay Times' BayLink, JobLink, HomeLink and AutoLink sections. With Peter Couture, she writes the weekly auto review the Daily Drivers. She also contributes to the Gadgets and Gizmos blog. A native of Japan, she joined the Times in 1997 as a copy editor and page designer.

Phone: (727) 893-8338

Email: lsolochek@tampabay.com

Blog: Gadgets and Gizmos

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  1. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

    Autos

    Alfa Romeo returned to the United States a few years ago with parent Fiat Chrysler's hyperbolic goal of challenging the German brands. First, the Italian brand rolled out the 4C sports car and now comes the Giulia sedan as well as its performance Quadrifoglio variant, which we drove. We can't say whether it will make an impact on the premium performance market, but the Quadrifoglio left one on us....

    2017 Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio [LYRA SOLOCHEK   |   Times]
  2. The Daily Drivers: Our favorites from 2016

    Autos

    Honda Civic (sedan and coupe): The popular compact shed its dated and bland design in 2016 as Honda slowly rolled out the entire feature-laden Civic family — a sedan, coupe and hatchback. We especially liked the introduction of a 4-cylinder turbo. Waiting in the wings are performance Si and higher-performance Type R models. We can't wait to test those. tampabay.com/news/business/autos/the-daily-drivers-2016-honda-civic-touring/2264115 ...

    2017 Audi R8 Coupe Photo by Lyra Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
  3. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Honda Ridgeline AWD RTL-E

    Autos

    We've always loved the practicality of Honda's Ridgeline pickup — Lyra owned one — even if we didn't love the geometry of its design. For 2017, Honda reintroduces the truck after a two-year absence and this second-generation Ridgeline corrects all of its predecessor's aesthetic flaws while making a compelling case for itself as the SUV alternative.

    Appearance: The unit-body Ridgeline now looks more like a traditional crew-cab pickup, which isn't a bad thing. Still, we'll concede the point to those who say Honda has overcompensated for its predecessor's body creases and odd angles by producing a pedestrian pickup. This new Ridgeline — especially in the front — resembles Honda's Pilot SUV. The grille is dominated by a chrome top bar that sweeps back over the headlights, and the hood carries the same ridges as the Pilot. Our Ridgeline, the top-of-line RTL-E, came with five-spoke, 18-inch alloy wheels and a power moonroof....

    [LYRA SOLOCHEK   |   Times]
  4. The Daily Drivers Update: 2016 Audi TTS

    Autos

    The Audi TTS occupies an awkward spot among our favorite sports cars — somewhere between the Porsche Cayman S, Jaguar F-Type and even the less-powerful Audi TT.

    It's a matter of preferences and choice: manual transmission and mid engine handling of a Porsche, manual and sleek look of a Jag, or less power but high fun factor of a base TT.

    The redesigned TTS for 2016 — there should not be significant chances in the '17 — has more chiseled front with angular headlights and grille. But when comparing to competitions, the TT/TTS has somewhat generic lines....

    Instead of a separate infotainment screen, a configurable 12.3-inch display fills the instrument cluster area.
  5. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Jaguar F-Pace S

    Autos

    Acceleration: 0-60 in 5.1 seconds

    Best of both worlds: Engaging and sporty ride, with the benefit of passenger and cargo room.

    Black Design Package: Against the white paint, the gloss black looks sharp and menacing.



    Peter Couture



    Lyra Solochek



    Do we really need another luxury SUV? We do if it's a Jaguar, which is the latest premium automaker to jump into this highly competitive — and lucrative — segment. Having already wowed us with their F-Type sports car and XE compact sedan, we were eager to drive the F-Pace. It didn't disappoint. ...

    The tail lights are borrowed from the F Type coupe. [LYRA SOLOCHEK   |   Times]
  6. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Infiniti QX30 Sport

    Autos

    When is a crossover not a hatchback? When is an Infiniti not a Mercedes? Welcome to the conundrum that is the brand-new Infiniti QX30. Parent company, Nissan, calls it a "premium active crossover" for a "new breed of driver." Obviously, that driver is one who wouldn't deign to be seen behind the wheel of a hatchback. And what of Mercedes? The QX30 has the same DNA as the GLA — the result of a joint venture between Mercedes and Nissan. Our QX30 was the Sport. Other models include base, Luxury and Premium....

     The key fob looks very much like one from a Mercedes-Benz.
  7. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT

    Autos

    We've driven the Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT a few times since its current generation rolled out in 2011 and have always enjoyed Chrysler's "ultimate performance" luxury SUV for its sheer HEMI audacity.

    Appearance: As you might expect from the SRT division, it's aggressive, with a wide stance that signals this is not your ordinary SUV. The Jeep's signature seven-slot grille gets a black screen insert, which is now flanked by more slender bi-xenon headlamps that also feature black backgrounds. Standard five-spoke wheels are sharp 20-inchers; ours were Black Chrome. The raised hood has two functional exhausters sculpted into it to help feed air to the big HEMI lurking underneath....

    The shifter is now more traditional, and drive modes can be changed by a rotary dial.
  8. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature

    Autos

    With Lyra on vacation, I recently had the all-new CX-9, Mazda's three-row crossover, all to myself for a rainy week that went by all too fast. Mazda may not have invented the crossover, but it has done something close to reinventing it with the CX-9.

    Appearance: Mazda completely redesigned the CX-9 for its second generation, giving the seven-seater a sleek look that is more like a car than SUV, which is appropriate since it shares its platform with the Mazda6 midsize sedan. The low stance, wide wheelbase and long hood give it a sport wagon appearance while incorporating Mazda's KODO, or "soul of motion," aesthetic. (That's design-speak, I think, for making cars appear to be moving even while standing still. Or simpler yet: not boring.) Especially in the crossover's upper trims, like the signature model I drove, Mazda makes judicious use of chrome trim to highlight the tasteful curves of the CX-9, whose boldest design feature is the large grille that — especially in profile — protrudes from the long hood. It's a look some may find ungainly, but I found distinctive. My CX-9 came in Mazda's new signature hue — Machine Gray, which is a $300 upgrade — and was set off by 20-inch alloy wheels....

    The chrome trim is repeated on the dash, console controls and, here, on the door panels.
  9. The Daily Drivers: 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Ultimate

    Autos

    Appearance: The Santa Fe Sport is a handsome SUV that doesn't take any design detours — call it buttoned-down style. The refresh gives it a new three-louvered grille with a large Hyundai badge and wraparound headlights. We especially like the bold character lines that flare at the top of the quarter panels and extend over the wraparound taillights. Our Sport came in Hyundai's new Nightfall Blue and was set off by 19-inch wheels whose smoky finish would probably look better with a lighter paint color. So here's our quandary: As much as we like the looks of the Santa Fe Sport, it leaves us with the impression that Hyundai's recent redesigns are tending toward the generic (hello, Sonata, Elantra). You could be forgiven, for example, if in a crowded parking lot, you mistook the Santa Fe Sport for another brand....

    The seats are comfortable with adequate bolstering.
  10. The Daily Drivers: 2016 Lexus GS F

    Autos

    Let's try to imagine the thinking that led to the development of the new Lexus GS F sedan. You can almost hear some rebellious executive: "Hey, a lot of consumers still think we're a stodgy luxury brand — let's show them. We'll produce a V-8-powered thrill ride and we won't even use a turbocharger."

    Appearance: The GS F is based on the existing GS 350 sedan and is four-door sibling to the RC F coupe. It doesn't wear the huge spindle grille as well as the sleek coupe, which may put off some buyers, but then this car is not for everyone. Why else would it come in a color called Molten Pearl, a shimmering orange bound to attract attention. The other clues that this is no ordinary sedan can be seen in bodywork that includes large front-fender vents, carbon-fiber trunk-lid spoiler and 19-inch forged aluminum (with matching orange brake calipers) and quad exhaust tips....

    The infotainment system is controlled by Lexus’ mouselike Remote Touch Control.  

2016 Lexus GS F
Photo by Lyra Solochek, Tampa Bay Times
  11. Perfect gift for a weather fanatic

    Blog

    Has Tropical Storm Andrea and recent meteorological events in Oklahoma got you all jazzed up about the climate? You, too, can keep track of the weather with Acu-Link by AcuRite, a platform for remotely monitoring environmental conditions.

    It lets users observe indoor and outdoor conditions, including temperature, humidity, wind, rainfall, water temperature, atmospheric pressure and forecasts, using one or more sensors placed in locations of your choise. You can share the data you collected online via an Internet bridge, which connects to your router. The information is sent to the Acu-Link servers in the Cloud.

    Access the data using your free iPhone or Android app, or go online at acu-link.com.

    The Professional Weather Center with Acu-Link Remote Monitoring is $199.95, and includes the bridge, a sensor and a tabletop display. You can add sensors, which cost anywhere from $7.50 to $65, depending on type. The kit and accessories are available at AcuRite.com...

    Acu-Link weather monitoring system. $199.95 for the main kit which includes the Internet bridge, sensor and desktop display.
  12. Zip your way to fitness with Fitbit, Smartscale

    Blog

    Fitbit Zip

    Every step counts when you're trying to get fit. Even if you're not actively exercising. With the Fitbit Zip Wireless Activity Tracker, you can log them all. This tiny device helps track your efforts to get back in shape. It counts your steps, measures the distance you traveled and how many calories you burned as you exercise or go about your regular day.

    The case comes in a choice of five colors: lime, blue, white, magenta and charcoal. I recommend getting a bright-colored one, so it's easy to find if you misplace it (or if you drop it on your car with dark interior). But if you're going to wear it externally, a black one might draw less attention.

    The Zip has a tiny LCD screen which you can tap to cycle through readings for steps, distance traveled, calories burned, and time. Oh, and a cute smiley icon is your cheering partner, and sticks its tongue out at you if you've been too stationary. (This reminded me of that Tamagotchi game from the '80s.) But, frankly, I didn't use that screen very often. Instead, I relied more on readings on the smartphone app (more later).

    Wireless setup is easy. Go to fitbit.com/start to download the software to your computer (Mac or PC). You'll then be asked to tap the Zip to wake it up. Sync it to the computer with a numeric code that's shown. Create a log-in for the online tool, and start keeping track of your activities. Type in your measurements and weight, and the site will give you your stats. The Fitbit syncs automatically with the computer with a USB wireless dongle that's provided. (You just need to be within 20 feet.)

    The online tool is powerful. From  the main dashboard, you can see your activity and weight-loss charts. My favorite is the meal plan journal where you can set your goal and difficulty level. Based on current weight and goal, the tool comes up with calorie allowances. Just log in what you eat and drink, and the tool will keep track of how much you have left. The website has a searchable index of foods by brand or restaurants, which you can add to your Favorites list. You can also add your own food to the list. (Getting started with this list may be cumbersome, but as you get more foods on your list, keeping a meal journal gets easier.)

    The Fitbit Zip can also be fully synced to your iPhone or iPad with a free iOS app from the Apple iTunes Store, which makes it so much easier when you're on the go. The interface is easy to use, where you can not only keep track of your activities, but also set goals for that day. Keep a log of your what you did, and see it in graph form (best in landscape mode).

    The Android has limitations. Full sync is possible only with Samsung Galaxy S and Galaxy Note 2 at this point. (The phone must have accessible Bluetooth 4.0.) Check the website for compatible devices.

    Note: This app will be running in the background so your phone's battery may go down quicker than before.

    Now, all you have to do it to remember to wear it during the day. Just clip it on your clothes or undergarment with the silicone case that has a fairly strong clip. But a warning: Although the Fitbit is moisture resistant, it's not waterproof. So don't drop it in water, or accidentally wash it with the laundry. And if you wear it on a belt or hook it to the outside of a pocket, it might get hooked on a strap of a bag and get pulled off. So be careful.

    $60. Free mobile app, online software and account. But there's also a premium membership for $50 a year that includes support from a nutritionist, a more in-depth analysis of your data, a personal fitness trainer, and ranking among your peers.

    The Zip uses a 3-volt lithium battery – provided (along with a battery lid opener) – which Fitbit says lasts for four to six months....

    You can also see your charts on the Withings mobile app.
  13. Sony SmartWatch is portal to your phone functions

    Blog

    First, let's make clear what Sony's SmartWatch is NOT.

    It's not a standalone watch-style smartphone. This little gizmo is more like a digital watch and a second screen that sits on your wrist for your Android phone (not compatible with iPhones.) Wirelessly paired via Bluetooth 3.0, the SmartWatch keeps some basic functions at your fingertips without having to dig out your phone from your pocket or purse. It can act as a remote for your phone's music player, and also show messages, emails, and calendar reminders, among other functions. If paired with Sony Xperia phones, it can also take calls with this device, but not with other brands. Make sure you check your phone's compatibility before you splurge on this device.

    Note this limitation: You'll have to keep the phone within about 10 yards of you to maintain connection. So if you go out jogging, the SmartWatch is great to glance at incoming notifications, but you'll still have to carry your smartphone with you. But if you have, say, an armband holding your phone, a glance down at the watch is much easier than working your big phone during your exercises. Vibrations alert you to new messages, which you can scroll to read. If you're in a loud area, or you have to turn off your phone ringer, you can still be aware of incoming messages or calls on the SmartWatch....

    Sony's SmartWatch is compatible with some Android phones, and is priced at $150.
  14. Sports headphones stay put during workouts

    Blog

    Wearing headphones can be a challenge when you're exercising. So many don't stay on your ears because of all the jostling, especially when you start perspiring.

    With fitness buffs in mind, Motorola came out with the SF200 headphones. Designed with over-the-ear loop that hooks around the back of the ears, the headset is designed to stay in place. The loop is skinny enough to be able to wear even with glasses or sunglasses on. In fact, I think it stays on better that way, and didn't hurt like some other headsets with bulky loops.

    I had my husband test it out when he went to the gym. He says the ear pieces stayed on during all the exercising, and never fell out or slipped. He was able to hear his music on the iPod even though the treadmills were located under the gym's speakers blaring out some "workout" music. But the SF200 doesn't completely block out outside noise, which is ideal if you're jogging along the road.

    For me, the arc of the loop was too high, and didn't fit my ears well. The earpieces fit better with sunglasses on, however.

    The headset comes with four sizes of silicone ear cushions for you to find a good fit. It's water resistant with mesh and silicone seals. The speakers are encased to keep moisture out. (Interestingly, the instruction manual, under the Use and Care section, says to keep the headset away from "Liquid of any kind: Don't expose your product to water, rain, extreme humidity, sweat or other moisture." Hmm.)

    With the small built-in control and microphone, you can answer calls, control the volume or skip through music on your player.

    Lastly, I appreciated that the cords were bright red, and not black like so many other accessories. Black tends to disappear in a sea of other black gadgets or car upholstery.

    Motorola SF200
    , $49.99...

    The Motorola SF200 sports headphones are designed to stay put during exercising.
  15. Tough on your phone? Put an Armor on it

    Blog

    Otterbox phone cases have been known for its toughness. Many users swear by the brand for protecting their smartphones from, well, life.

    But if you're truly rough on your phone, Otterbox came out with a new line called Armor, which the manufacturer calls "the toughest case ever built."

    As the name suggests, these cases can stand a lot of abuse. It can protect the phone from a drop of 10 feet onto concrete or 2 tons of crushing force. The case is sealed tight so no dirt or dust gets into the case (assuming you clean the phone really well before encasing it). You can also submerge it up to 6.6 feet for 30 minutes without damaging the phone. Sounds like a perfect case when you take your phone to the beach.

    The exterior of the case is made of high strength-reinforced plastic with plastic pieces with rubber seals to protect plug-in areas.The interior has soft silicone lining to cushion the phone. Two zinc alloy clasps clamp the case firmly closed. These buckles, which won't rust or corrode, were a bit difficult to open. I had to dig in my nail to release the contraption. If you want to save your nails, you might need a small screwdriver to pop them loose, as they're pretty firm. The plastic screen protection is attached to the case so openings for the earpiece and cameras are enclosed. The speaker areas are covered with impermeable mesh that lets through sound, but nothing else.

    The home button, volume, ringer on/off toggle and power buttons are all molded into the case. As expected, all of the buttons require a harder press to translate to the phone. But overall, that was not an inconvenience. The ringer on/off toggle switch, however, required a lot of "encouragement" to get it to respond. The screen protector didn't affect the phone's responses to touch: smooth and flawless.

    All these features sound great, but they come with a price. To keep the sleek, well-designed iPhone in pristine condition, you'll have to add bulk. Lots of it. The case weighs 4.23 ounces, and is 5.14 inches in height by 2.94 inches in width and 0.82 inches in depth. That's a lot of case. It's more than two times thicker than an iPhone, which is .37 inches deep. The also aren't any choices of colors either: Dark gray with lime green interior and exterior pieces....

    The speakers openings are covered with a mesh screen that lets through sound, but not water or dirt.