John Galea's Blog

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Android tablets running Atom processors

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed but there are a whole group of new Android tablets out there running dual core Atom processors. So I wondered how do they compare against the Quad core ARM processors that are more common? I did a bit of digging and found this article. I’ll steal one of their charts:
Geek

So as you can see in the graph a dual core Atom comes pretty close to a quad core Tegra 3 processor. Now Tegra 3 is by no means the latest and greatest but at least this gives you a feel.

September 30, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Samsung SideSync

I recently heard a bit about the integration that Apple has done. The idea that people might have a phone, a PC and a tablet seems to have alluded manufactures. How many times have you been sitting next to your computer and you get a text message and while your sitting in front of a full size keyboard and instead of being able to use it you type on the phone? Well Samsung seem to have woken up to the idea and have released a product called Samsung Side Sync. The idea is you load SideSync on your phone as well as an app on your PC. Only some phones are supported but fortunately my S4 happens to be one of the few. You get a complete remote control window of your phone on your laptop.
side-sync-1
You can use your keyboard and mouse of your keyboard to control the phone. Type texts, browse, use Android Apps whatever. This app is pretty impressive once you get it working. The install takes some time. I could not for the life of me get it to work on WIFI. It definitely seems buggy. And for some reason the SideSync will not run on my Galaxy Note 8, no idea why.

It’s a great start. Now how people are suppose to find out about it is a mystery.

September 29, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

XBMC the center of my digital universe

If you’ve been living on another planet for the last little while perhaps you’ve never heard of XBMC (now called Kodi). XBMC stood for X Box Media Center. XBMC some time back replaced Windows Media center in my home and I’ve never looked back.

What is XBMC? It is a remote friendly, cross platform, content rich interface into movies, music, pictures and more. This combined digital content can come from local sources (local storage, NAS, file shares etc), streaming sources over the net (through add ons) as well as support for IP TV (which can come from free or paid services). IP TV in case you have not looked into it uses your internet connection to bring live streaming TV channels to your home potentially by passing the usual suspects (Bell/Rogers/Cogeco). As of now I have not been able to get IP TV working on Ubuntu but it does work on Windows and Android for sure. Although on version 14 they have renamed it from “Live TV” to just TV.

What makes XBMC a rich environment is that based on the name of the files it goes out to the web (automatcally) and grabs information about the movie or TV show. So instead of trying to remember what a movie is about you get a nice remote friendly interface. You can sort and search by name, actor, genre etc. Organize your local folders by type Movies, TV Shows/Episodes, Music, Pictures and then tell XBMC what the content is and it will go out and get this info through what it calls scrapers.

Where can it run? As of right now it is cross platform: Android, Windows, Linux, IOS, OSX and Raspberry PI. To get a smooth playback experience of HD videos you need either a fast processor (Core i3 or better) or hardware accelerated video playback. Until recently (version 13.1) XBMC on Android did not support hardware acceleration but it does now. But you need to be careful to check if your GPU on your Android device is supported or even the latest and greatest Arm processor does not stand a chance of doing smooth playback. I have no experience on Ios or OSX so won’t cover them off.

A remote control is key to having a rich experience IMHO. For windows I have used a Windows Media center remote for a long time. It looks and feels like a VCR remote. So you can ignore the fact your using a PC to do playback. On Windows I have not been able to get the right mouse equivalent functionality working with the media center remote. This leaves you unable to see things like episode information, movie details etc as well as unable to delete content once watched (once you enable that feature). The media center remote works even better under Ubuntu and includes the right mouse functionality. On Android, sadly the media center remote is ignored.
MCE_remote_control_Media_Center_remote_infrared

On Android, to date, the best remote I have used is the one that comes with the Kindle Fire TV. This remote is bluetooth so there is no need to keep line of sight to your device. You can pair this remote with other Android devices (The Fire TV is Android by the way in case you didn’t know). Remove the batteries on the remote, push and hold the home button, and the remote goes into pairing mode. These remotes (in Canada anyway) are not the easiest thing to find.
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There is an Android app that can run on your phone/tablet and act as a remote to your XBMC (once enabled). I use it on Windows to get around the missing right mouse button functionality, but find it a little clumsy. Pick up your phone, wake it up, unlock it, start the app (if it isn’t already running) connect to XBMC then push the button.

I have been using a dedicated PC next to my TV for XBMC for a while now. It’s just the best way to do it so it’s always there. I was using a Core i5 based system. Originally on Windows 7, and then Windows 8. I then discovered there is a distribution of Ubuntu that has XBMC bundled in. Unbuntu itself is invisible and in the background only to support XBMC. As soon as it boots up voila XBMC. You do not in anyway need to be a Linux Guru to install it. Updating it does take a bit of technical knowledge. I am quite impressed with Ubuntu/XBMC and it is now my main media center. Power management works almost perfectly. The PC and display go to sleep very nicely as setup within XBMC. The only issue I have is that it will not wake up from sleep with the remote. I’ve searched for settings in the BIOS to fix this to no avail. So to wake it up you need to go up and push the button or … I use wake on LAN. Wake on LAN in case you don’t know was designed into PCs to allow administrators to wake your PC for patching etc. I use a PC based app to wake up the media center (too lazy to get off my fat ass and press the button :) called mc-wol.exe and you tell it the mac address of the network card. I also found a great app on Android Wake on LAN that works perfectly to wake it up. I have found a limitation that IP TV does not seem to be supported under Unbuntu XBMC. Not sure if that will change. To periodically update the version of XBMC under Ubuntu you will need to SSH into it an issue the following two commands. Unfortunately they have not built that into the GUI (yet):
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get –only-upgrade install xbmc xbmc.bin

Recently I got my paws on an Asus Asrock ION. This little PC has a dual core Atom and an Nvidia ION graphics chip. The device is small, quiet and low power. I installed Ubuntu XBMC on it and sure enough it plays back like a charm. I am shocked how well such a small device works and has now become my main media center PC! It fits nicely in my wall unit and blends in with my audio receiver. You wouldn’t even know it’s a PC if you weren’t told!
images

I also recently bought an Amazon Kindle Fire TV. This device is not available in Canada so I bought it in the states. I reviewed it a while back so I won’t repeat it here. XBMC 13.1 was pretty solid on the fire with issues on resume/skip and showing where in the show it was. 13.2 added in some nasty instabilities. The current beta of 14 seems to have fixed a number of the instabilities as well as resolved the resume/skip issues. I’ve loaded xbmc-14.0-Helix_alpha3-armeabi-v7a.apk.

The majority of my content is stored on local file shares. I have two media centers for playback in the house. Originally each had their own index of the content, what had been watched etc which was a pain. I recently moved to a common database. I found an article on how to set this up and it works amazingly well. It means the index of anything new only has to be added to one device and it shows up on the other. And content that has been watched is tracked on both devices. Sweet! To make this even more seemless I created a virtual machine with XBMC on it to keep the index always up to date.

So now you have a media center you need content. There are lots of providers out there offering unlimited internet to the home. Get on one :) Ditch Rogers/Bell. I use a program called Sickbeard. It runs constantly and you point it at your TV collection. You can use it to go get new series you want to follow or get new episodes automatically when they become available. It automates the process. You can have it search for torrents or newsgroups. It works better with newsgroups but then you will need a newsgroup account. Sickbeard pulls down the torrent that in turn is then downloaded by a program like utorrent to get the file. From a newsgroup point of view SabNZB can be used to get content from the newsgroup as prodded by Sickbeard. In both cases Sickbeard drops it into a directory that utorrent/sabnzb then look at and go get the download. It’s a bit tricky to setup but once setup it works well. There are lots of guides out there for Sickbeard/SabNZB. I looked into Headphones which is suppose to do a similar function for music but it didn’t work well for me. Ignored lots of my music (likely not tagged well). So I gave up on that. I also looked at Couch Potato which is suppose to do the same for movies but I didn’t like that one either.

So that’s about it. XBMC really is a fabulous game changing product that has been around a while. If you have no explored it. Be sure and do so. Leave some time to set it up. And be sure and explore.

September 24, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Asus Transformer TF701 review

I’ve eyed Asus transformers for a while. They offer the best of both worlds with a detachable keyboard and tablet functionality. Unlike Windows tablets which fall down due to the lack of proper touch support in the apps and operating system itself Android was designed from the start for touch screens. Add in a keyboard, glide point and proper mouse support and this opens a world of possibilities.

Physically the TF701 is an elegant albeit simple design. Nice big screen, a micro SD slot (for memory expansion), 3.5mm audio plug, power switch conveniently located on the back and volume rocker also on the back. Last but not least there is a proprietary (non-standard) charge/data cable. On the tablet itself there are no USB or micro USB ports so sadly any options of using USB flash storage, USB keyboard/mouse, or a USB data card (without the keyboard/docking station) are out the window. The proprietary charge/data cable is readily available on ebay and inexpensive. There is no wired Ethernet port, something you might want if you were to use this heavily with xbmc.
91903_4

91903_l

The keyboard/dock adds in a second battery 7,820mAh in the table and 4170mAh in the dock, to up your running time, a great keyboard, a glide point and a single USB 3 port. The keyboard dock does add a bit of weight/thickness as you would expect with one having a battery in it. But it also means the extra weight makes it more balanced on your lap. The keyboard is well laid out and can be used easily for touch typing. Like writing a blog :) Keys for the most part are well placed with a few keys taking some getting use to. Like the positioning of the back button where esc usually is and the lack of a delete key. The biggest miss on the keyboard comes when you try and use it for RDP. The lack of function keys, no alt key, no delete key all make using this device with RDP clumsy at best. Now that said, this is not unique to this device. Any time you cross platforms I have found this an issue. Try using a Mac to do RDP. Or try using a PC with Hackintosh. Very common issue. This does create a fairly significant hurdle for me for using this device as a complete laptop replacement. The connector between the dock and the tablet is not the best. It has an almost rubbery feel to it. You have to press reasonably hard to mate the two and it’s best done on a flat surface. It really does not give you the best feel. There are quick keys to allow you to turn wfii on off, the glide point on off (yay) and others. Handy and efficient.

Charging options abound on this device. You can charge the dock on it’s own, the tablet on it’s own, have the dock battery charge the tablet battery or charge them both. If there is anything Asus missed is they should have upped the current from the adapter when charging both the tablet and dock to reduce charge time. The power is drawn out of the docking station first to insure the tablet always has the most power as possible.

USB compatibility is really quite good. I plugged in a USB hard drive (the kind of thing that most Android devices would simply ignore due to it’s power consumption) and it worked. I tried my Garmin foretrex 401 (which mounts as a flash drive) and it worked perfectly. Even my Kindle worked perfectly. Of course USB flash drive, keyboard and mouse, they all work. I have to say this is the first time I have seen this work this well.

Let’s cover off specs. Dimensions are 263 x 180.8 x 8.9 mm (10.35 x 7.12 x 0.35 inch with a weight of 585 g (1.29 lb). Overall I find size and weight excellent. This is absolutely not an ultra portable, 7″ and 8″ tablets own that space in my mind. You can stick them in your back pocket and your good to go (well at least until you sit on them :)) The screen is 2560 x 1600 pixels, 10.1 inches (~299 ppi pixel density) which is bright and vivid. Covered with Corning Gorilla glass 2 for protection. There are lots of inexpensive covers readily available on Amazon and ebay to protect the device. Storage is 32G with another up to 64G possible on the micro SD card, so lots of space for your stuff. Ram is 2G allowing lots of memory for running apps. WIFI is abgn, and bluetooth is 3.0. Pitty it’s not 4.0 then I could use my heart rate monitor and other bluetooth low energy devices, but hardly an issue for tablets. Processor is a quad core tegra 4 1.9G. Not the fastest on the planet but pretty close to the top of the heap! There are cameras on the tablet, not that I care. I’m never going to be one of those idiots you see blocking some scenic view while they crop and get the best picture they can with their iPad. Let’s face it, none of these devices have any kind of decent optics so who cares what the mega pixel is. And what exactly is the point of cropping on the device before you take the picture? It’s a digital zoom idiot. I digress.

There isn’t a lot of fluff added by Asus to Android which is nice. An updated Contacts and Calendar app. All in all a nice load of Android. I tried using a pen on the screen and it basically ignored a thin pen but detected a fat pen. The fat pen I have has too much drag to be useful. Pooh. Someday maybe I will be able to use a tablet for writing :(

Movie playback is pretty good. The built in player is a bit jittery on playback (I am being SUPER picky here) and XBMC 13.2 shows the usual assortment of issues (same as on other Android devices). This includes on some files not being able to fast forward, not showing where in the video file it is, and not resuming properly. All these I have also seen on the Kindle Fire TV so this is not specific to this device. I tried one of the early beta releases of 14 and it looking better, guess we will see. From a media compatibility point of Asus nailed it with support for large files (needed for movies) through BOTH NTFS and exFAT. A first for the devices I’ve played with. Well done Asus!

The home, back and options are all soft buttons so they work properly when the device is connected to HDMI. Yay! Add in a bluetooth keyboard and mouse and it works well. Speaking of mouse, the right mouse button is properly supported on RDP clients like 2X, but acts like a back button when not needed. A nice touch. HDMI outpt is the best, clearest I have seen to date outside of the Kindle Fire TV. You can actually use this device with a large monitor and external keyboard and mouse. Unlike all the Samsungs I’ve tried HDMI with the device does not overheat, can do HDMI without being plugged in, and didn’t require a custom (expensive cable). Again a first for Android. Asus got it right. Impressive.

Overall performance on this device is excellent. Browsing is a smooth experience. Instant on is as good as it gets. Battery life is great especially when the external dock is attached but it will take a while to charge it back up so be ready for that.

Lots has been said about market fragmentation in the Android world, and tablets like this do not help this issue at all. A number of apps that I wanted to run on it (BBM, Lennox iComfort etc) were not on the playstore for this device. I suspect it’s a combination of the fact it’s a tablet and second it is very hi res. So don’t be surprised if you can’t get all apps to install on this (or other hi res tablets). I was able to manually install a couple of them (such as BBM) only to discover they do not support landscape mode so useless when the keyboard is attached.

Wifi connectivity was good including dual band N with connections of 150 mb/s from a fairly close access point.

Asus have lumped mirrorcast (they call it screen mirroring) as well as DLNA support into one menu they call play to. I’ve not seen this before but it seemed to work reasonably well. The mirror cast was a little underwhelming. but DLNA worked fine allowing me to stream content from the tablet to XBMC. When I connected to screen mirroring it needed to disable bluetooth as well as disconnect WIFI while it connected. Oddly it did not turn bluetooth back on when screen mirroring ended. An inconvenience because I was using a bluetooth mouse. And not having WIFI when connected to Mirror cast is severly limiting leaving this functionality useless.

In terms of size everyone has their thresholds and preference. I found this size to be great for in the home. Big for out and about and particularly big for use in a car to navigate.

All in all I have to say this is the best hands down Android device I’ve played with to date. The keyboard is awesome. Power management terrific. Bright vivid hi res display. Excellent HDMI. I have to say I love it!

September 23, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Smartwatches

Not long ago I reviewed my Sony Smart Watch 2 and now we have the announcement from Apple. It’s amusing to see presses “hating” of this product already. You know what the number one problem with the Smart Watch revolution, realistic expectation. Expect the sun and the moon out of a watch and your about to be MAJORLY disappointed. Point in case take this one genius’s opinion “it needs to replace — needs to completely replace our need for a cellphone”. ((His whole post). Talk about someone that missed the point. DUMMY this thing is a watch. It supplements your phone not replace it. In fact to keep battery life reasonable and size small the watch relies on the phone. Just how much the smart watch can do without the phone is one of those design choices/trade offs that had to be made. Over 2 months after I bought my Sony Smartwatch I have not stopped using it even one day. I occasionally take it off to protect it. I replaced the cheap rubber watch band with a nice inexpensive metal band from ebay. Kudos to Sony for using a STANDARD watch band. Not like Apple who, suprise suprise, went to proprietary band so you have to buy it from them. I’m sure if Apple could have figured out a watch to put a chip in the band to insure you don’t use a third party watch band they would have (think lightning cable). The big question is if my Sony Smart Watch broke tomorrow would I buy it again? Given the evolution going on the answer is probably not. I’d try something else.

THE biggest disappointment for the Sony Smart watch 2 is all of the things Sony and third party developers could do with this watch. There is a ton of potential for this device that will never be realized. The existence of third party apps like Watchit (that can take any notification and push it to the phone) and Remote widget (can take any widget and display it on the watch) are revolutionary in removing the need for apps to be specifically written to support the watch. Why these weren’t designed in by Sony is beyond me. Heh Sony, go buy these two apps from the owner and be done with it.

So what do I use it for? First and foremost it’s a programmable watch. I can change the watchface anytime I want. I can pull dynamic information such as the weather, song playing, next calender event etc into the watchface by a cleverly designed editor. Very flexible, and extensible. Numerous third parties have developed additional watch widgets you can use to pull dynamic data from the phone. Or simply just display a normal looking watch face. But the CHOICE is yours. Here are some examples of my favs (by the way the lines you see are not shown on the watch they are just part of the editor you use to design the watchface and this is the easiest way of getting the screen capture shy of taking a picture of the watch) :
Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-34-15Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-34-04Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-33-46Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-33-00Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-33-28Screenshot_2014-09-10-09-32-10

The second purpose the watch serves for me is secondary notifications. I find it a VERY effective way of not missing messages and phone calls. I don’t often read the message on the watch, and even if I did I have to take the phone out to reply so that is something that is not all that important to me.

Next purpose is built in chronometer functions. Count down, stop watch, alarms etc. I’ve used an simple analog watch for a very long time and it’s nice to have these back.

Lastly I have a few apps like Endomondo that support the watch and run as a remote display for the phone on the watch.

That’s about it. Battery life is 2-3 days. For some this is there show stopper. For me this is not a big deal. The fact that it can be changed with a standard micro USB charger (even my portable battery pack that I carry for my phone works) and charges the watch quickly is a mitigating factor to the paranoia of having the battery die. But that said, it is yet another thing I need to keep charged.

Is the smart watch earth shattering, revolutionary, something I can’t live without? Absolutely not. But it is useful enough, and reliable enough that I keep mine and like the device.

September 10, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Google Awesome isn’t

I returned back from my trip only to get a Google+ Storybook chronicalling where I was, where I stayed, the pictures I took (without my permission). In looking into it, turns out it’s part of “Auto Awesome” which bizarrely is on by default. Beware if your on Android. This is troubling on many fronts. The invasion of privacy, the use of my location, the upload of my photos without my knowledge. Sure, I bet all this was in the privacy policy small print but beware. Using my bandwidth and battery power for something I may or may not want is a bad choice by Google IMHO. Looking into this it seems it’s Backup photos within Google+ (which I don’t think I enabled) and AutoAwesome within the Google Photos Android app. To fix this permanently I (overreaction) uninstalled Google+.

August 27, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Garmin Foretrex 401 update

I bought a Garmin Foretrex 40 back in 2009 and it has been my trusted companion on my mountan bike and hikes ever since. I have a handlebar mount that keeps it always in view (this mount can be used on any watch sized device not just garmins).
CP298Z07

I was thinking surely there’s a new gadget to displace this device after all this time? Or surely Garmin has come out with a new device to help me part with some more hard earned cash on gadgets?

So what is it that I use this for? I use it primarily for navigating around places I’ve been before but don’t necessarily know well. I have waypoints for every place I mountain bike. And with 500 waypoints that can be stored, I’m always ensured of having what I need while out on the trail. The unit does not have topographic or trail maps, but this has rarely been a limitation. It connects to Ant+ heart rate and cadence sensors giving you all the data you need. It’s simple and easy to use, and the data can be offloaded easily to Garmin’s portal. While the heart rate and cadence data is not supported you can manually upload the file from the Foretrex to the portal (by pointing at the GPX file on the foretrex). Oddly Garmin do not consider the foretrex a fitness device so they choose to not give calorie counts for this device. Odd. The unit is small enough to be worn on the wrist for canoeing, hiking etc. The AAA batteries make it easy to carry a spare set.

So what’s missing?
There is no link to the phone to allow you to upload your tracks on the Go. You have to use the USB port connected to a computer to pull the data off. The unit has Ant+ so it would have been possible to wirelessly send the data the way the VivoFit does.

There’s no temperature sensor in the unit. A minor nit. No calorie count (as previously mentioned).

The unit supports the Cadence and Speed sensor but basically ignores the wheel speed sensor and gets the speed from the satellites. Garmin’s note on the subject.

Ok so now I started looking to what might be out there. I was shocked first and foremost to see this unit is still being sold. 4 years is an eternity. No new models to replace it. And the only firmware updates in this time has been time zone updates. And add to that every one of Garmin’s newer cycle computers like the Edge 305 have significantly less memory meaning I would have to preload my device with the waypoints I need for the day. Something that is problematic at best. Shy of being SUPER organized.

None of the running focussed GPS watches include navigation back to a waypoint or trail. So these all get dumped. This is a primary function of this device for me.

So what this leaves me with is believe it or not there is no device to replace this with. If it were to break tomorrow (heaven forbid) I would buy the same unit again. Despite it’s limitations is still does exactly what I need. The display screens are highly customizable. Battery life is excellent. GPS sensitivity is amazing. Since the start I’ve found the electronic compass on this device useless (except when not moving and level) and turned it off.

All in all a great device. And one I would still recommend for people to buy today! $189 at GPS city, where I bought mine.

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor

A heart rate monitor makes calorie counts from applications tracking fitness on your smartphone a whole lot more accurate. For years the best heart rate monitors have been chest straps. They work well but are uncomfortable. Especially when doing aerobic sports like mountain biking for example. Wrist based heart rate monitors have always been a grail, but they are inaccurate. I recently reviewed the Mio Link and ended up returning it due to inaccuracies.

Another blogger DC RainMaker brought this one to my attention. I previously played with Scosche’s earlier model but returned it due to poor application support. DC Rainmaker did a thorough post so I won’t repeat his excellent work, just add my own spin.

The previous generation of Rhythm had some issues. The clip to charge it was so tight it felt like you were going to break it. This one is much better. The previous one came in a ghastly yellow color. This one is an innocuous black/grey. The neoprene strap had no holes so it didn’t breath which meant you sweated under it. This strap is thinner, made of better material and has holes so it breathes. The previous model was Bluetooth only. This one is Bluetooth low energy and Ant+ giving it great compatibility going forward as well as compatibility with older Garmin devices. So it looks like Scosche learned from their previous model.

So this HRM (heart rate monitor) is optical in nature. It comes with a two sizes of straps, and a USB charger. I’ll steal DC Rainmakers pic :)
IMG_2102_thumb

A tip, I found the hrm took a bit of time to zero in on an accurate reading. Think 1-2 mins. I also found it best to turn it off and back on if you move where on your arm you are going to put it.

It is meant to be worn on forearm. But I thought I would try it in a few other places.

The smaller strap is small enough to wear it on the wrist. So I thought I would try it. Sure enough, like the Mio it’s not accurate on the wrist. I tried it on the outside of the wrist (like a watch) and no the inside both were inaccurate. (Scosche do not suggest this would work, I just tried it to see.)
Graph of the data on the outside of the wrist.
Graph of the data on the inside of the wrist.

I also tried it on the bicep on the outside. This also tracked poorly. (Again, Scosche do not suggest this would work, I just tried it to see.)
Graph of the data on the outside of the Bicep

On the inside of the bicep it worked quite well, and I find this more comfortable:
scosche-bicep-1
Like the Mio I did have some issues in busy places with the Bluetooth Low energy dropping out. Fortunately the app I was using BLE Heart rate monitor has added auto reconnect.
scosche-bicep-2

So with all this I then went out for a mountain bike ride and did three runs. The first one is with the Scosche on the inside of the bicep. As you can see it tracks pretty well. I’m not sure if that first little blip is because I didn’t wait long enough for it to settle or what but as you can see in the graph it tracked pretty well. This is where I find the Scosche the most comfortable.
mtn-bike-1

These last two are with the Scosche worn on my right forearm. Which by the way, is where Scosche recommends it be worn. I find it starts to irritate me in that location after a while. No idea why. Especially so on the left forearm. As you can see in these graphs when worn as recommended this hrm is VERY accurate when compared with a chest strap hrm. By the way I also did correlation runs between my Garmin and Zephyr chest hrm to see if they are accurate.
mtn-bike-2
mtn-bike-3

Battery life is impressive. After 8 hours it was still at 51%, but it drops off oddly after 51%. I got just under 9 hours of battery life. But don’t count on the battery% indicator. The curve shows how it drops off.
scosche-battery

So all in all the Scosche is an excellent HRM and is so much more comfortable than a chest strap hrm. The ANT+ compatibility means I can use it with my Garmin Foretrex 401 and an app on my phone at the same time. And with Bluetooth low energy I can use two apps (for example Endomondo and RunGPS) on the phone at the same time (one connected with Ant+ and one with Bluetooth low energy). I wish the Mio had been accurate it was super comfortable. Oh well …

August 20, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Mio Link wrist heart rate monitor

I saw this product recently and it caught my attention. Wrist based heart rate monitors have never been any good. There`s too much going on near the wrist to be accurate. Witness the joke of a heart rate monitor on the Samsung Gear that only works if you sit still and push it firmly against your wrist, useless. Add in activities like mountain biking into the mix and you take a difficult situation and you make it perilous to get reliable date out of. This company seems to be a pioneer in the space so I thought I’d give them a try. If your a skimmer, I would not recommend buying this product. Read on for details.

Physically the device looks like a fitness tracker. It’s an innocuous rubber band. There is only one switch and one LED on it and it blinks different colors based on the zones your heart rate is in. A nice feature. There is an Android app that allows you to tailor your zones. The rubber band includes a locking mechanism that insures it’s snug on your wrist and isn’t going anywhere. Also the loose band can’t get caught on anything. The band comes in two sizes. Based on length I bought the smaller one (I have a small wrist) which turns out to be a mistake. Directly from their manual “If you use Mio LINK for biking, wear it higher on your forearm, since bending of the wrist may affect the heart rate reading. For cyclists or users with concave wrists, try wearing Mio LINK on the underside of your forearm.” Of course I didn’t see that before I bought it. Wearing it on the forearm would take a much bigger strap. And frankly, if I was going to wear it on the forearm I wouldn’t buy the Mio, I’d buy the Rhythm+ from Scosche.
47X_2
The electronics can be removed from the rubber wrist band to allow you to clean it as well as replace it. One of the times I was using it I tightened it too much and that caused it to partially come out of the band and thus loose contact with the skin.

Battery life is excellent. I got over 7 1/4 hours on a charge.

The device supports both Ant+ and Bluetooth Low power so you need a newer phone but it can connect to multiple devices at a time. I did run into a problem where my Garmin Foretrex 401 had issues with two Ant+ heart rate monitors (the Mio and my Garmin chest strap) and it kept bouncing between them every second and beeping annoyingly. I suspect that was because I had paired the Foretrex with both. But I was surprised it didn`t lock on one and stay on it. I also had issues staying connected to the Mio in a crowded environment with numerous bluetooth smart devices present.

On a brief walk I compared the Mio with a Zephyr hear rate monitor. I saw constant large differences. I was wearing it on the wrist on my left hand, right side up. The Mio got a (max/avg) 134/107 vs the Zephyr 112/110.5 for a whopping difference of 20/3%. Yikes. Zephyr raw data, Mio raw data.

This caught my attention enough I decided to focus on the reliability of the data. I went out for a mountain biking ride and recorded the data with the same app (RunGPS) with two different phones. I wore the monitor on my left hand, comfortably tight, at the wrist, facing up. I wanted to eliminate the variability of different apps. The data was partially spoiled because for some reason the Mio lost connection with my phone halfway through. This in turn through off the max/min/average and calorie count of the data.

This got me wondering about the accuracy of the Zephyr. So I did a comparison between my Zephyr and my Garmin Ant+ HRM. The Zehpyr data was (Min/Max/Avg/Calories) 55/93/68.8/92 Vs the Garmin at 55/99/69.5/95 for a difference of 0/6/1/3%. So the two chest based devices seem pretty darn close. So then I did a graph of a new data run between the two and found these two compared fairly well. See the graph.
garmin-zephyr
garmin-zephyr raw data

So I did the same basic comparison this time between the Garmin and the Mio. (Worn on the left wrist, upside down, just walking) The data showed a lot more variability from the Mio (in comparison to the Garmin/Zephyr). Stats wise it came up with (min/max/avg) 60/116/73.3 for the garmin Vs 50/121/74 for the Mio for a difference of 17/4/1%.
garmin-mio
garmin-mio raw data
At times the Mio just seemed to completely loose any semblance of accuracy.

I did another one where I was mostly inactive. The numbers came up as (Avg/Max/Calories) 67/124/157 for the Mio Vs 68.9/114/181 for a difference of 3/8%. Here`s the graph comparing data:
mio-garmin-2
mio-garmin-2 raw data

And yet another one, this time with the heart rate monitor on the left facing up.
mio-garmin-3

If this had happened once I would write it off. But it happened numerous times. During riding, walking and even inactive times (just sitting). Now maybe for some people this device works well, but for me it just is not reliable. Maybe it`s my small wrists, maybe my coloring, no idea.

I contacted Mio customer support. They were convinced I had a defective unit, so they sent me another one. It came with basically the same issues (inaccuracies). So I have returned my Mio Link (sadly). Not convinced? Here are a few graphs from the second unit:
mio-new-3
mio-new-4
mio-new5

So in the end the physicals etc are irrelevant (although I must say this is hands down the most comfortable heart rate monitor I`ve ever worn). If you can’t count on the data to be accurate then what in the world would be the point of buying one of these? I have to say I am thoroughly disappointed in this product.

August 15, 2014 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Synology DS212J NAS review running 4.1-2661

I have read a bunch about these home office NAS solutions and my server in the house was running out of drive bays so I thought I would give this puppy a try. NewEgg had a sale on for $129, regularly $199 and this device supports iSCSI so it seemed like a good option. As I`ve done in the last couple reviews, if your a skimmer, I will save you time. I do not recommend this device. Read on to find out why.

I found this review which I read prior to buying the unit. Performance sounded good.

Physicals are well done, the unit is small, drive bays easy to install, power cord is bigger (reminds me of a laptop brick). I won`t repeat the above review, I will simply give you my thoughts. That review is VERY well done.

First off you have to understand the unit arrives with no hard drives in it, no flash RAM etc, so the first thing you have to do is perform a setup that installs the operating system on the NAS. The doc in the box said to use a synology web site, but that failed. Onto the CD ROM they ship with it and you install Synology Assistant. The code needs to install the NAS first before you get started. You need to manually point at the CDROM and find the NAS install files, and manually select the right file for your unit. Wow, clumsy. The operating system for the NAS is put on both drives for redundancy so make sure you have installed both drives before you start the process. And I have no idea how it handles if you change a drive after the initial install. I didn`t play with that. The operating system Synology uses is a variant of Linux. So if you familiar with Linux you can play. Beware the drives will be wiped in the process so if your reusing drives you can`t keep content on the drive. It does warn you by the way. I was stupid and didn`t check how old the code on the CDROM (and the code itself did not check either) was but check this out:
synology-6
The code on the web is actually “DSM 5.0-4493; Build Date : 2014-06-04“ so massively newer. Really … another WTF. Of course I only figured this out after I had the unit all set up … grr. Hmm do you think maybe these things are flying off the shelf? Hopefully Synology you aren`t stupid enough to wonder why …

The code gives you a warning about being connected over wireless which I ignored. (I was actually wireless from my laptop into my server, wired from my server to the NAS and the program was running on the server). The install failed with an innocuous error message and informed me to open port 23 and contact Synology. No guidance for non-tekkies on how to open port 23, and no hint or link on how to contact Synology. All in all a bad start. First off I thought it might be that the drives were not blank so I manually wiped them and tried again. No joy. So I then thought I would try from the console of the server, low and behold it installed. Given I was only RDP connected wireless this is bizarre and inexplicable to me. But whatever. Hurdle one overcome.

Now if your expecting a nice wizard based setup to get started with a nice graphical interface for Mom and Pop forget it. This is something that in my opinion was designed by tekkies for tekkies. The setup is really not good. And if you don`t click logon to the NAS from the setup your now trying to figure out how to get into the NAS. Oddly they chose to put the web server for the NAS setup on a non-standard port (5000). And if you didn`t change the default the NAS is on DHCP, I hope you remembered to not the IP address it was set to when you went through the setup otherwise you are going to have to go back to Synology Assistant again. Since I was going to use the device as iSCSI I chose a fixed IP. Be sure and bookmark the web page for the NAS or remember it`s on 5000.

FYI, the Synology assistant does not even like running on a wirelessly connect machine. I found it did not find the NAS.

Once up installed you can now decide how you want to set it up. But be careful. Decisions you make now are not easily changed. So first off you are greeted by this screen:
synology-1
Ok I guess I click Ok:
synology-2
and then:
synology-3
So I figure ok wtf is this. So I click cancel and find myself now sitting next to this screen:
synology-a
Ok now what? The non-obvious answer is that little box in the top left corner is the equivalent of a start menu and how you get to the various programs that are not on the desktop. Really? Man they sure did not design this for a non-technocrat. Now that said, I understand what is going no, I just think they did a horrible job of making this easy. The process consists of:
1) Create a disk group (using with however number of drives you want 1 or 2. Again they do a horrible job of guiding you. No warnings or explanations. They will let you create a drive that will basically concatenate two physical drives into one. Now while this is a nice option doing so will mean the loss of one drive will more than likely cost you all of the data. A bad idea. If you chose a single drive you can add a mirror easily enough in the future by clicking manage disk group. But beware, adding a second drive kicks off a sync setting up the new mirror that can not be interrupted and will take a while depending on the size of your drives (think 4 hours for a 2TB drive). Interestingly the code shows RAID options (albeit greyed out) that are impossible (they need more than 2 drives to do them). And another odd one is that once a mirror is created there is no supported way to break a mirror. Only delete the mirror. So careful planning is a MUST.
synology-4
synology-5
On first creation it tells you that if the drive has not been in the Synology before you ought to do a bad sector scan so it can manage the bad sectors. Sounded like a great idea. So I did it. On a 2TB drive it went through loop after loop of scanning the drive and a day later had not finished. I eventually gave up. If the drive didn`t have bad sectors it would soon. No idea what happened. All the while the NAS is useless, processor pinned and the hard drive getting the snot beat out of it.
2) create a new volume or create an iscsi LUN
3) optionally create a share

iSCSI LUNs can be increased, but never decreased. So again be sure and plan ahead.

You probably want to leave some free space around in case you want to play with added features on the NAS. If you allocated everything you won`t be able to do that. I created a volume just for that purpose.

I installed Cloud station wanting to play with syncing from my phone but found the Android app for the phone is terrible. I didn`t read one of the questions it asked when I was trying to remove the setup and without warning it deleted a directory on my phone that was important enough I was going to back it up. Unbelievable. How about a warning guys.

You can manually enable NTP (for time syncing, no idea why this isn`t the default), and manually enable SSH/Telnet.

From within Package manager you can add additional functionality including cloud services, iTunes and more.

The NAS supports Smart (hard drive error logging and prediction) but alerting in the event of it finding a dieing drive is turned off by default. There are a number of options including send an email, SMS, instant message (Skype, Windows Live) and an Android Ap.

The NAS has two USB 2 ports. A USB printer can be shared but I had nothing but issues trying to get at it from the network. In the end I had to install Synology Assistant on each and every machine I wanted to use the printer on. Adding a USB hard drive allowed it to be shared out from a network share. It never appears in the hard drive menu so it could not be used in any kind of RAID. USB will limit it to around 20MB/s anyway.

So all in all it works, but man it took a lot of time to get it that way. Power consumption is super low so it’s a good choice if your computer is running out of bays or you want some network storage. Just be aware it’s going to take you some time to get this thing setup :(

August 5, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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