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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 :)

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:
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.
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 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 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 raw data

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

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:

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:
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:
Ok I guess I click Ok:
and then:
So I figure ok wtf is this. So I click cancel and find myself now sitting next to this screen:
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.
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

Loading XBMC onto the Kindle Fire TV

There are lots of posts out there on how to load XBMC onto the Kindle Fire TV so I won’t repeat the whole thing here. XBMC Wiki has a good one that I basically followed. The steps are pretty simple (and explained in detail in the wiki).

Let’s start with the basics. The Fire TV is a heavily skinned (by Amazon) Android OS. How much you want to use the Kindle’s OS will determine exactly how you do things. You can completely hide the Kindle’s OS and only see XBMC if that’s what you want.

Steps are these:
1) You need to download the Android debugger called ADB. You don’t need to install it, you can run it from wherever you extract it to. ADB is used to load Android apps onto the Kindle. The Kindle does not have an Android App store such as Google Play or the like. So using ADB to load ADB is the way to get around this. You will run ADB on a PC on the same network as the Kindle
2) Download XBMC Android version (it will be an APK) to the PC you are going to run ADB on
3) Download Llama APK
4) Download the predefined llama config files from the Wiki link
5) Download AndFTP FTP to make transferring files to and from the Fire easier
6) Put the Fire into debug mode and note the IP address of the Fire as noted in the wiki
7) Use ADB to install XBMC/llama/AndFTP
8) Use ADB to push the llama config files onto the fire and load them into llama

Android apps installed can be found from the Fire main menu, settings, Applications. So not by any means convenient.

Llama is the key to making XBMC integration as much or as little as you want. One of the things you can do is to install what they call a sacrificial app. For Canada Hulu will do nicely since it doesn’t work here anyway. Then you can configure llama that anytime you start Hulu, start XBMC. Not perfect but it works.

Llama can also be configured that any time the Fire menu is running (called KFTV) start XBMC. This will totally hide the Fire stuff leaving XBMC. If you need to go back to the Fire for some reason then you simply go to programs, android apps, llama from within XBMC, use the options menu and kill llama. From there press home and you are back to the fire. You will need to go restart llama from Fire main menu, settings, Applications when your done with the fire menu.

All in all I have found XBMC runs quite well on the Fire TV. There are some issues with it crashing from time to time and with fast forward not working correctly.

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

Heart rate monitor and logger on Android

For a while now I have looked for a decent program to log my heart rate during indoor activities and count calories. I’ve been unsuccessful. Then the thought dawned on me, I wonder what would happen if I turned off GPS in Android and ran my favorite programs like Endomondo or RunGPS? So I tried it. The apps complain because there is no GPS available but magically start up anyway! Yay.

Let’s start with RunGPS. So I sat on the couch for 35 mins sitting as still as I could trying to see if the calorie count would come close to the base calorie count I would expect. I put the app in weight lifting mode and started it. It showed a heart rate average of 58.6 which would give me my resting heart rate. Max 69 min 54 so reasonably still and showed 41 (+/-1 since RunGPS does not calculate partial calories) calories burned. So let’s do some math 60/35*41*24 would give you a baseline calorie count of 1687 calories. Using this baseline calorie calculator it says my number should be around 1781 calories so this seems to be pretty darn close!
Here’s the raw data

Next up I tried Endomondo. I put it in other mode and sat still for 30 mins. It showed a max heart rate of 79 and an average of 62 and a calorie count of 56, so that would extrapolate out to 2688 calories for the day. Seems a little high.
Here’s the raw data.

Runtastic in 15 mins did not budge the calories even one. So it totally ignores the heart rate monitor which agrees with a previous finding.
Raw Data

Similarly Mapmyfitness did not count calories when the GPS was disconnected with a heart rate monitor. So it totally ignores the heart rate monitor which agrees with a previous finding.

So in the end it turned out I had the functionality all along. I wish the apps would add an indoor mode so I didn’t have to fuss with the Android setting but at least it works!

June 28, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

RedShoes HR Pro Android app review

I’ve been contemplating buying a Polar Heart rate monitor for a while now and it has always struck me as unnecessary. I already have a Bluetooth heart rate monitor surely there is an app for that? So I went on a quest. I went through about 250 apps in the play store that had something to do with heart rate monitor. What I was looking for was something that would allow me to record my heart rate over a period of time, give me some basic stats (max/average etc) and a calorie count.

First off you have to throw away the tons of apps that use the camera to get your heart rate. Useless. Then you have to look at what kind of heart rate monitor do you have. In the Android space there are three types of heart rate monitors. Original bluetooth (like my Zephyr HXM), Bluetooth smart (I don’t have any of these yet) and Ant+ (of course your phone has to support Ant+, which my S4 does). I have an Garmin Ant+ heart rate monitor so can use either. It seems that Google have not moved the heart rate monitor functions into the OS making each app have to deal with the different types or monitors. It also means only one app at a time can use the heart rate monitor. So you will need to find an app that supports your monitor. I interestingly stumbled on the fact two devices can talk to an Ant+ Heart rate monitor at the same time. I was able to get my S4 and my Garmin Foretrex 401 connected to my Garmin Ant+ heart rate monitor at the same time!

There are lots of exercise apps like Endomondo, RunGPS, Runtastic, MapmyRide, Samsung S.Health and many others but few of these offer a mode that allows you to workout indoors and focus on your heart rate. At the end of the day if your exercising this should be directly measurable by your heart rate IMHO.

Enter this app … RedShoes HR Pro. The app only works with the Zephyr HxM which is fine for me. At $3.31 this is on the higher side of the cost for apps. But if it means you don’t have to buy a Polar it’s well worth the cash.

First off I need to state the obvious. To simply exist your body consumes calories. This is called your baseline calories. Then any exercise then adds to this calorie count. A number of the exercise trackers like the Garmin VivoFit (that I recently reviewed), FitBit etc. all include this baseline calorie count IMHO to inflate the calorie count. So you need to find out what your baseline calorie count is. I found a good website to let you calculate your baseline calorie count. I can’t attest to it’s accuracy but it does seem to be in the right ball park.

To start off you have to tell the app a number of stats about you Max Heart Rate, Gender, Age, weight and two parameters I had no idea what to do with Lactate Threshold HR and VO2Max. The last two I had no idea what to do with so I ignored them. The calorie count was way off. I traded some emails with the author who was very responsive, and knowledgeable and helped me to understand I needed to set my VO2Max number. He had done some work comparing his app with other devices and they correlated well (in his testing) when the VO2Max was correctly set. He pointed to a web site that will allow you to estimate your VO2Max. Between this and the baseline web site above I was able to play around and get a calorie count that was far more reasonable/believable. I used the web site to scope my VCO2 max, first with a simple enter parameters and then with a walking test. I ended up being somewhere between 40-44.

The app can be configured to give you audible tones anytime you cross thresholds or zones. While handy these can also be annoying. But they can be turned off.

The app in addition to the heart rate attempts to get the battery of the monitor as well as a speed accelerometer in the heart rate monitor. On mine, an older one neither these worked well. The battery always said 100 right up until it went dead. But other apps have dome the same so I suspect this is an issue of hardware version of my very old Zephyr heart rate monitor.

So I took this app for a spin and put it against my fav app RunGPS. Now I’m not saying RunGPS’s calorie count or any of it’s data is flawless but it has been my trusted app for a very long time. I originally bought it on Windows mobile oh so many years ago. So here is what comes out of the app:
So you get some nice data such as Average heart rate, Current Heart rate, and calories. The graph shows how you went in and out of zones. If you choose to share your data such as on facebook this is what you will be sharing:
I think I would prefer a screen shot of the app showing all the stats as well as the graph. But that’s just me.

Ok so let’s compare the data: (original data is here) RunGPS Vs RedShoe
Calorie count: 1281 vs 1061.90
Avg HR 152 vs 143
Max HR 176 Vs 174

So the data jives reasonably well. The calorie count is off by the biggest amount at 17%. My VCO2 max may still not be right but frankly this is correlating reasonable well!

There is no pause/resume functionality but you can load your previous run by loading from /download/RedShoes where the raw data is stored if you’ve chosen to store data in the settings. Oddly the app does not tell you where the data is stored.

The app also has a neat feature that it blinks your LED (if turned on) every time it receives a heart beat!

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

Scosche Rhythm Heart rate monitor

My buddy Lance was looking for a cheap heart rate monitor and so I looked around and found this one on clearance. It is unique in that it goes on the arm rather than around the chest so I was thinking it might be more comfortable. So we both bought one. Now given you may just be a skimmer let me say up front DON’T BUY ONE OF THESE. Interestingly enough even Scosche say “**This Rhythm is currently our previous generation Heart rate monitor. We strongly recommend looking at our new and improved version, Rhythm+.” Odd.

The physicals of the device are fine. It comes with two different lengths of stretchy bands that can be removed and washed. It has a charging cradle that plugs into any USB. The clip that holds the device into the cradle is SUPER tight making it quite difficult to get back out. I do have to say the yellow color is positively ghastly IMHO. The unit itself is meant to be worn on the forearm but I found it worked fine on the bicep and for me was more comfortable there. It has three buttons. Two for music volume control and one for power on/off. There is an led on the unit. There is absolutely no documentation to tell you what the LED means. I put the device on and turned it on. Lots of silly flashing which I think means it is trying to find your pulse. Then once that settled down I could finally find the item on my bluetooth list. Bluetooth pairing of this device was finichy. Once paired it shows up as an odd device. The icon looks the same as my Sony Smartwatch? The HXM you see in the image is my Zephyr heart rate monitor.
So then I head over to the Playstore to grab their app and get greeted by a discontinue notice:
I load the app anyway get past a bunch of crashes and disconnects and run a hour long test and compare it to Endomondo connected to my Ant+ Chest strap heart rate monitor. Initially the heart rate the Scosche shows seems radically different than the one Endomondo shows. The Scosche does settle in and become similar to Endomondo but the Scosche also does not seem to react quickly to rapidly changing heart rates compared to Endomondo. Now I don’t know if this is the Rhytm app, the heart rate monitor itself, or even the nature of measuring the heart rate on the arm. The Rhythm app seems to give reasonable numbers compared to Endomondo. Here’s a one hour recording. The avg/calorie counts are all within reason. Max seems a little odd.
Then I decided to look at my favorite exercise apps RunGPS, Endomondo, Runtastic, MyTracks, none of them support the Scosche? So that would leave me to use their now discontinued app or buy yet another app such as iCardio that does support the heart rate monitor.

I did an accuracy test between the Scosche and a Zephyr chest strap monitor. It compared reasonably well with some anomalies.

So all in all I am underwhelmed with this HRM. I like the comfort of it. But I am VERY unimpressed with how Scosche have basically abandoned a product that is still be sold in the market, albeit on clearance. I originally saw the next generation of this device reviewed on DC Rainmaker which is what even brought this company on my radar. The next generation device has both bluetooth low power mode as well as Ant+ at the same time. Meaning you could feed multiple devices and multiple apps with one heart rate monitor.

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

Amazon Fire TV mini review

I last reviewed a dual core MyGica android media player. It was good but not good enough. It was slow to scan new content within XBMC, had occasional hiccups on playback etc. Well this time around my friend Johannes who also loaned me the MyGica offered me a chance to play with his Amazon Fire TV. They are not available in Canada right now (hopefully they will eventually be) but you can slip over the border and pick them up for $99.


Physically speaking this is a simple elegant design. Small enough to be not even noticed. On the front there is but one LED. Nothing on either sides. On the back are the HDMI, USB, barrel power plug, wired network plug can optical output. That’s it.
The device is sealed and completely silent. No fans at all. And on playback it really does not get warm at all.

My focus for this device (and this review) is XBMC. I took a brief look at the rest of the Fire TV and it has apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon etc I didn’t spend time with them. I did notice a lack of a web browser but I’m sure you could side load one.

Since I had this device for only a short time and did not set it up you will need to look elsewhere to see how to load XBMC etc. That was all done when I got it.

The device is fast to power up with a simple display on the screen while it loads. I attached a Logitech wireless Keyboard and it worked perfectly. The keyboard came in handy for setting up my lan shares that all content was played off of. I used the wired network but there is wireless built in as well.

The remote has a nice solid feel in the hand and is very responsive. And looks simple and elegant. The connection for the remote is bluetooth so you don’t need line of sight for the remote to work. Meaning you could completely and easily hide the FireTV. It has a good quality feel. Thus comes the first hiccup of this device. The small number of buttons on the remote. It has a voice search button that is useful only within the FireTV. I did play with it a bit and it worked quite well. Making the lack of a keyboard less painful. The circle gives you the four buttons and the center ok button you need to primarily navigate around XBMC. Back button also becomes quite needed moving around XBMC. The home button is just plain irritating within XBMC because it keeps taking you back to FireTV menus. And to get back takes a few clicks. So every time in the dark that you hit the wrong button (and the remote’s keys are not backlit) it takes a bit to get back where you last left off before you stupidly pressed the wrong key. The menu key allows easy access to delete content once watched (once enabled within XBMC) as well as finding out movie information, or episode information. And the last three forward, back play/pause. That’s it. What is sadly missing is volume controls. To me this is a HUGE over sight. It means you pretty much have to have two remotes. One for your TV/Audio receiver and the FireTVs. And since the remote is Bluetooth (and no IR) you won’t be remapping a Logitech Harmony to work with the FireTV. Amazon have locked down bluetooth to only there own remotes and game controllers so this isn`t an option either. USB remotes might work if you can find one that the fire support.

Navigating with this remote (qualms aside) is smooth and painless within XBMC. The quad core processor in this puppy really shine through. I was shocked how smooth it was.

Initial scan of my 1TB movie collection took about half an hour but I interrupted it and it restarted so in reality less than that. On my core i5 that takes about 12 mins, and took over 2 hours on the MyGica. So the quad core process really does make a BIG difference (the MyGica as you may recall is a dual core).

Initial Scan of my 252GB of tv shows took about 5 mins. That takes 2.5 mins on my Core i5 and about 5 mins on the MyGica.

Cleaning of the database was a little slow as well but all in all this is acceptable to me. You rarely do a full rescan.

The FireTV outputs to both HDMI and optical all the time making it easy to switch between possible audio outputs.

The power adapter is reasonably small and connects to the fire with a round power cord. The adapter says 16W on it and in the fine print it says it is 6.25V/2.5A. For reference the MyGica was 18W and my Core I5 sucks back about 65 watts. So this device is quite low power and you can see why it does not need a fan to keep it cool!

Movie playback was very good on XBMC 13. I could see nothing to complain about. No hiccups, audio was also perfect. This is a device I could live with for sure.

Once setup there was absolutely no need for a keyboard or mouse within XBMC.

I tried plugging in a Windows media center remote, my personal fav, and sadly it was completely ignored.

Power management of the FireTV itself worked fine, coming in and out of standby quickly, but for some reason my HDMI monitor did not go into low power mode. It just stayed on. Perhaps there might have been a setting to fix that. I ran out of time. The way XBMC had been loaded every time the FireTV came out of low power I manually had to restart XBMC which was clumsy. Oddly there is no power switch on the FireTV, no power button on the remote or any menu item to power off or put the FireTV into standby. Odd. But given the low amount of power it consumes not the end of the day.

Under the covers FireTV is Android. And this device, hands down is the best Android XBMC experience I have seen. With some work to better integrate XBMC and if you could remap that silly home button I could very happily live on this media player and retire my PC as a playback device. All in all for the price this is a VERY impressive device.

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Sony Smartwatch 2 (SW2) review

My colleague here at work tells me I have an addiction. I’m addicted to gadgets, and it’s true. Hi my name is John and I am Gadgeholic :) Perhaps I need to start a GA (Gadgeholics Anonymous) group to help deal with my addiction. The problem is rehab is for quitters, and I ain’t no quitter :) I know I shouldn’t make fun of addictions :( Moving on …

Back in 2012 I played with the Sony MN2 smart watch. It was an abysmal failure IMHO. It was so bad it could not tell time if it lost contact with the phone. It couldn’t last a day. And looked like a cheap piece of plastic. I hated it so much I returned it to the Sony store from whence it had come … Thank goodness for return policies (and the forethought I had to check the return policy before buying it).

Fast forward to now (actually it was announced Jun 2013) and we have the latest generation of it. Sony has made a number of updates to the firmware to address some early concerns about the SW2. Before jumping in I read a number of reviews about this one and it level set my expectations.

From a competition point of view I like the looks of the new Samsung Galaxy Neo, a huge step forward from the first gen but Samsung totally redesigned the Gear 2 such that any app written for the Gear 1 needs to be rewritten for the Gear 2. So the number of apps is low. It’s also more expensive. And the heart rate monitor built into it is useless (you need to be standing still for it to work). It’s also less customizable. Charging requires a docking cable. So all in all I decided against this one.

I like the Pebble but it looks like crap unless you buy the Pebble steel which is a ton of cash. It’s also more focussed on notifications, which for me a is a secondary purpose (for my use).

I found this one website with a list of a number of smart watches and it allows you to compare them for features!

And so I bought the Sony. I have to say, I had a hard time not dismissing this one after the horrible taste the MN2 left in my mouth. Brand recognition and loyalty is difficult to earn and so easily to loose. I remember when Sony was considered something I personally sought after. After a number of bad Sony products the brand for me is in the toilet. But in the end I decided to try it.

Physically the device is a bit on the large side. I have a small wrist and while it fits it is large enough to cause issues with dress shirt sleeves. It looks pretty good IMHO. It comes with a rubber wrist band that is not all that bad looking either. And Sony made a great decision to use a standard 24mm watch band so you can switch it up with anything you want. There is only one button on the side of the watch and that is used to brighten the screen, and power it on and off. On the front of the watch are three soft buttons, home, back and options kinda like Android. These are not backlit for some bizarre reason so hard to find in the dark. Dumb. And there’s no vibrate when pushed either. The options key is inconsistently used even within Sony apps, so is largely irrelevant although from time to time it does something. On the last side of the watch is a micro USB port for charging the watch. A positively brilliant choice and I applaud Sony for this choice. They include a pigtail USB cable that you can plug into your computer or buy a USB charger. So all in all fantastic. No need to carry around some custom cable or docking station to charge it!

From the first Sony watch I was familiar with the setup process and how the apps make their way to the watch. You load two apps on your phone Smart Connect and SmartWatch 2 from the PlayStore onto any android device that meets the specs (check to be sure yours is new enough). They use bluetooth to connect (not Bluetooth 4 or Smart) so it’s pretty compatible with most devices. You can use NFC to link them up or simply pair it like you would any other Bluetooth device. Once that’s done your Watch is initially setup. I am shocked how good connect/disconnect works. I have come to expect hokey results out of bluetooth connections. Not this one, they got it almost perfect. I had a few times where the watch would not connect to the phone. I had to power off the watch. I had once where I had to totally unpair and repair the watch.

First and foremost I want this thing to be a watch. Sony got the clock right. From the device even without the Bluetooth connected (once setup) you can set an alarm, change the date and time, use it as a count down or count up timer, change the watch face all with out the phone.

Also on the device out of the box is a calculator as well as an understanding of Endomondo and Runtastic fitness apps. These apps like all apps run primarily on the phone and use the phone’s sensors and relay data back to the app on the watch. When the app on the watch first starts or when it is brought back up or after the clock has timed out the watch app connects to the phone app and displays whatever data onto the watch (from the phone). If an app on the watch is dependent on the phone and the phone is disconnected, the app icon on the watch is greyed out, showing it’s unavailable.

Starting up Endomondo or Runtastic on the watch starts it on the phone and can easily be started and stopped on the watch as well as display some of the stats. Endomondo only worked if I manually started it on the phone then the watch. A shame because I prefer it over Runtastic. Runtastic displays duration/distance/calories, Pac/avg pace/duration and Current speed/distance/avg speed on screens you swipe through. The screen dims and goes back to the watch after a timeout. I could not find a way to keep the screen on to allow you to use it for constant tracking. I did find a great app called GPS Watch that will display Speed, distance, and direction. It can even stay on, but beware this can really drain the battery on the watch quickly. You could use it like a bike computer etc. But if you interrupt it you will loose the distance travelled.

Endomondo displayed distance/time, speed, and heart rate again on screens you swipe through. Again I saw no way to keep the app on the screen. Runtastic seemed to be more solid and smoother than Endomondo. I can only hope this improves.

Once initial setup is done you can then choose what else you want to install from the Smart Connect app. Each app, each notification type are separate installs all of which go to the phone, download it from the PlayStore and then load it onto the watch. A little clumsy and time consuming, and clutter up your phone but I like the flexibility of being able to decide what I do and don’t want. And changing phones has become a little more time consuming. Something I do often.

Clock faces out of the box are very basic and there is no weather app by default. There are lots of additional clock faces that can be purchased from the Android PlayStore from the phone. These work a little oddly. Sony have allowed you to create your own custom watch faces to supplement what you get from them. These can be self designed from clocks/widgets available. When you install apps that have custom clock faces they show up as new clocks/widgets that you can use to design your own. I love the flexibility and customization this allows but I have to say it took me a bit of time to figure out what it was doing. And settings for a particular watch face or widget are done in the app on the phone so you have to figure out which app is adding which watch face/widget. A little confusing.

You can have a total of 12 different watch faces defined. All of which can be selectable from the watch or the phone. Out of the box they seem to all be black and white. There are some third party ones that add color but I find it odd that they do not allow more flexibility in designing your own watch faces with color. Every now and then I would find a custom watch face I designed resulted in a blank screen on the watch. I had a couple of times where the only way to resolve it was a reboot of the watch. Odd. Fortunately reboots are pretty quick. Other times I would have a custom watchface completely drop an element in it and I had to go back in and edit it and add the widget or watch face back in.

The screen has a number of power modes. First off when the watch detects absolutely no movement such as sleep it turns the screen completely off. To save power the refresh rate on the screen in dimmed mode is low and the screen is black and white, the watch does not display a second hand. If the watch detects movement of the watch it raises the backlighting on the screen to halfway. And finally if you turn the screen on by pressing the button it’s then on max brightness and max color. Once the screen wakes up there were a few watch faces that included a second hand.

Bluetooth can be turned on and off on the watch itself allowing you to save power, oddly there is no way to set sleep times that would allow you to save power by turning the bluetooth on the watch off while you sleep. I also had difficulty finding a setting on the phone that kept the watch silent while I slept. In the end I opted to turn bluetooth on the phone off using llama at night to insure I never get woken up by the watch. After that happened a couple of times I was not thrilled.

Watch battery status is displayed on the top of some screens, but not the most easily readable or clear just how much of a charge it left. A bizarre oversight. There is a way to add a battery status icon to a custom watch face if you want to. There isn’t even a way from the phone to tell the status of watch. In electric cars they have a phrase called range anxiety. It’s about the paranoia of running out of juice while your driving. With this watch, without knowing the status of the battery you will be tempted to charge this up constantly which would become a nuisance.

The screen in direct sunlight is readable but you can see some of the wires under the touch screen in certain circumstances. With back lighting on you can easily see and read the screen, but this is by no means as bright or vivid as the Samsung Gear 2. A trade off for battery life.

The watch defaults back to the time as it should, a nice design touch.

Additional apps can be loaded from the phone for calendar reminder and numerous notifications, as well as Weather, music control, Walkmate, etc

The Music playback app allowed starting of the music as well as a visual display of the song/album and artist being played. You can also visually swipe to the next song as well as control the volume. It all worked perfectly with my stock Samsung music player. The music app stays on the screen so you can always see what’s playing, also a nice touch.

All of this was loaded from the Smart connect app individually allowing you to pick and choose what you want but taking a bit to get setup.

Walkmate is a pedometer app that runs on the phone and displays on the watch. A nice app that seems reasonably accurate. This app is a typical example where the functionality is being provided by the phone, the sensor is on the phone and the watch simply displays the data.

Speaking of a Pedometer, this is one of the main functions of these fitness tracking bands like FitBit etc. I found three ways on the watch to do a pedometer (all three the watch is nothing but a second display, the functionality is coming from the phone).
1) Walkmate (mentioned above) from Sony mentioned above. There is an app on the phone that shows your progress, allows you to stop and start. It’s ok. It even allows a heart rate monitor but does not display the heart rate anywhere. It only support Ant+ heart rate monitors. It ignored my Bluetooth one.
2) Samsung S.Health which using Remote Widget you can display your current stats
3) Acupedo which has a nice widget that again Remote Widget you can display your current stats
With both Acupedo and Samsung S.Health you can keep the display on making it easy to see how far you’ve gone.

Another popular watch function is heart rate monitor. I found 3 different ways I could display my heart rate on the watch. Again all functionality being provided by the phone:
1/2) Start and Endomondo activity with Bluetooth Smart, Bluetooth Classic or Ant+ heart rate monitor and then either start the Endomondo app on the watch, or use Remote Widget to display your current heart rate. If you use remote widget you can keep it always on the watch
3) Lastly use Google my tracks on the phone and Watch my tracks on your watch connected to an Ant+ heart rate monitor. For some reason bluetooth heart rate monitors do not show properly on the Smartwatch.

Sony has a call handler app as well as a missed call notification app (as well as a contact app) but the reality is given the phone does not have a mic or speaker your pulling your phone out (unless your using a handsfree setup) to take or make a call anyway but none the less these are handy as secondary notifications to help you not miss calls.

I was surprised I couldn’t find a compass app. Apparently at one time it was on the device and seems to have been removed? I would love to have a heart rate monitor app. And maybe even an alarm so if I walked away from my phone it would remind me. And I would love to see the ability to have screen of data you could scroll through rather than limit it to one watchface. One can hope.

There’s even a find my phone app that rings the phone assuming it’s in bluetooth range of the watch. A third party app can be used from the phone to find the watch too.

One of the things that doesn’t seem to work right is you are suppose to be able to double tap to wake the screen. There is a detection of your wrist rotating that it wakes the screen to some in between state, backlight half on if I was to guess. But this seemed a little hard to get reliably to work.

The screen is readable in most situations. Add in the back light and I never found a case where it couldn’t be read. There were lots of complaints about the grainyness of the display. I didn’t find that. It’s certainly not the brightest or crispest but it is a watch after all. I would say for me the screen is good enough. It’s also waterproof so you don’t need to worry about getting caught in the rain. There’s lots of blogs out there that dunked their watch in water, I won’t be rushing to do that as it’s money out of my pocket.

There is no owner info you can add to the watch in the case you should you loose the device.

Overall the watch itself is fairly comfortable. I did notice it got a bit sweaty under the watch and rubber band but nothing too aweful.

On day 1 of heavy use the battery was sitting at 63% meaning just less than 3 days. So I recharged it and did what would be more normal use. It was at to 75% on the start of day two, 54% on day 3 and 26% on day 4 so 3-4 days would seem possible but 4 would really be pushing it. And it first starts to warn of low battery at 15%, then again at 10% and at 5% it powers off. Sony claim 3-4 days so it seems about right. Turn off bluetooth and the battery life according to Sony goes up to 7 days using it as a stand alone watch. It charged from 21% to 100% in just under an hour with both a high current charger and even a lower current BlackBerry charger which I think is terrific.

All in all I have to say I am impressed. Now my expectation level was set quite low to start. I was listening to one reviewer from TWIT and one of the things he said was notifications on a watch are virtually useless. Your unlikely to read an email/text on the watch and even if you did you need the phone to reply so in the end having notifications on the watch do nothing more than add to the amount of time it takes to handle a message and I agree. The one thing I can say though is notifications on the watch are a good secondary notification. But that said, the gmail notification app does not include support for the priority inbox so you are being notified for lots of stuff you likely don’t care about.

Sony have made some terrific progress from the first gen. Couple that with my realistic expectations and I find myself happy with the watch. It does what I wanted it to. Albeit a little expensively, but still. I look forward to seeing more and more apps and watch faces being released for the watch! And I enjoy having customizable watch faces.

In summary here are the list of apps I use on the watch:
Built in apps: stop watch, count down timer, alarm, flashlight, calculator (very occasionally)
Apps I added:
calender Month display, as well as calender smart extension to see your next events
Music control app
Call handling app to see and vibrate on incoming calls
Missed call notification
SMS (text message) notification
Gmail notification
Weather app
Find your phone from your watch, and Find your watch from your phone
Google Maps turn by turn directions on your watch

I found this VERY cool app called Remote widget that can take any widget you can normally display on the phone and display it on the watch. And it supports both always on as well as low power modes. It also supports multiple pages of widgets. Tap the widget on the watch and it starts on the phone. Slide the widget and move to the next widget. Wow. Impressive. Shows what can be done!

I also found Watchit which can take any notification from any app and display it on the watch! It also acts as a message aggregator. With this app you can get around the fact the Sony Google mail app does not support the priority inbox! Be patient it takes a bit of settings on the phone to get this working.

I found this website that reviews apps for wearables. XDA developers also has a forum for the Sony Smartwatch that I found useful.

By the way when you do your search for apps that support the Sony Smartwatch in the Google Play Store, be sure and search for SW2 as well as Sony Smart Watch, otherwise you will miss some. And remember some apps are written only for the original Sony Smart Watch MN2.


June 13, 2014 Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Samsung S.Health Android app review

My S4 came with an app called S.Health. It is an interesting app. The idea of it is that you can enter your weight, food intake, exercise and be able track your health towards whatever your goals are. I haven’t used the food side of it so won’t comment on that, but have played with the fitness tracking side of it and that’s what I will cover off here. Up front I will tell you there is not one of these apps that is all encompassing. One does this better, another does that better etc. It’s kind of frustrating to be honest. I can kind of understand how some people get fed up with it and just go with a Fitbit or the like. I recently reviewed the Garmin VivoFit and was underwhelmed.

From a fitness tracker point of view S.Health has two modes. Walking mate and Excercise mate. If you use a different app there is a way to manually enter workouts from Samsung’s canned workout types, or you can add your own workout types. You simply tell it the number of calories burned per 30 mins and then name your custom workout type. Once you’ve created your own custom workout type you can use it any time to enter workouts done not tracked by S.Health by entering the date/time and length of the workout. It would have been more flexible if it had let you enter directly the length of time of the workout and calories rather than have to futz about but that’s nit picking. Any data entered into this app while backed up to the Samsung cloud are not exportable and there is no portal to view the data off the device. A pretty big gap if you are going to commit the time to using this app. From a social media point of view you can share your progress in many ways but it is only shared as an image. There is no heart rate only mode (GPS off).

Walking mate is a neat app that on it’s own is well done. It is basically a pedometer. And a reasonably accurate one. Even the calorie count seems believable and unlike the Vivofit does not include baseline calories (calories your body consumes just to exist, which in my mind is a way to inflate numbers to make people feel better). It even tries to differentiate between walking, running and doing stairs (not sure what algorithm is used for this given the GPS is off in this mode). Which by the way, since the GPS is off you can run this app all the time in the background. You can set goals for how many steps and when you reach the goal you are informed by a notification and given a badge. There are no settings for reminding you to get up and move during a day or other things that might encourage you to exercise more.
There’s even stats for how you have done in the past. There’s one flaw, they do not allow you to use the heart rate monitor in Walking made mode but do in exercise mode. An odd choice. One thing you will want to do is insure you turn this off (pause it) for other sports like cycling, skiing, snowboarding etc otherwise it will record some random vibrations as steps.

Exercise mate uses the GPS to more accurately track your distance etc. You can choose your sport. It allows you to connect an ANT heart rate monitor. The heart rate is not displayed anywhere so I am not sure what it is doing with it. And the minute you start an exercise mate session the walking mate session is paused. Not a bad choice. The app provides no map of the excercise (like most do).

Here’s a comparison of a similar walk with and without the heart rate monitor. As you can see having the heart rate monitor increased the calorie count which would seem to imply it is using it to calculate calories.
Screenshot_2014-06-04-16-00-01Screenshot_2014-06-06-13-26-37 (1)

So as a comprehensive all in one app it missed the mark IMHO, but as a pedometer app it’s pretty good! And free on a number of Samsung devices.

I did discover something very interesting doing this post. It seems Android has implemented the ability for more than one app to use the GPS at the same time! That’s excellent I had no idea. This means you can run more than one of these activity tracking apps for the same event! Cool! In a geeky kinda way :)

June 5, 2014 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment


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