John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

MacBook Air 2014 review

I had a chance to play with a MacBook Air Early 2014 version recently. I’ve not played with a Mac in a very long time so this was long overdue. My big question was could I live on a Mac 100% and replace my Windows Laptop.

Spec wise it’s Intel Core i5 1.4 with 8G DR3 and a 120GSSD. Display is 1440×900. The display for today’s time is clearly on the lower end of things. But then it is a 5 year old machine so what do you expect. But hot on the heals of the brilliant display on the SurfaceBook this is SUPER noticeable.

Power wise it comes with a 45W, 14.85V 3.05A charger that brings the macbook from dead in a little over an hour. A far cry faster than the Surfacebook that took 5 hours. The battery on the Macbook is 54Wh vs the 69WH of the Surfacebook. Weight wise it’s 2.96 pounds Vs the Surfacebook at 3.48.

Straight off I was handed a machine that had been used by other people so I started out by wiping the Mac from the Recovery Partition and then reinstalling the OS. The machine was on 10.13 High Sierra Vs current which is Mojave 10.14. I could have futzed about with downloading an ISO blah blah but instead I just reinstalled the OS from the recovery Partition and then upgraded it (which is basically a reinstall). So in all I guess I reinstalled the OS twice. All settings and apps I had from 10.13 carried perfectly into 10.14 and was no issue at all. Happily my hardware was supported on the latest version of the OS … yay. Upgrading the OS also upgraded the recovery partition as well.

Once up initial setup was easy and immediately started to see some of the wonderful things you get from being in Apple’s ecosystem. First and foremost is that iMessage now goes seamlessly from my iPhone/iPad and now Mac. How well this works is amazing. The list of cross functional items from your iPhone include:
– iMessage seamlessly
– Find Friends widget on the Mac
– Handoff which allows you to continue working on one device you started on another
– Macs can participate in Airdrops
– Reminders
The iPhone and Mac are just integrated instead of separate devices with lots of cross over! The fact Microsoft was NEVER able to do this is disappointing.

I was quickly able to install Chrome, Plex, OpenVPN and Kodi (from their download sites). Kodi was an unknown publisher so gave me a little grief in terms of having to tell the Mac to install it anyway but once done it’s good to go. OpenVPN was equally trivial and I just downloaded my ovpn file and away it went. Shockingly easy. Chrome syncs nicely so I have complete platform agnostic behavior.

Microsoft RDP and Onenote came out of the App store and work just fine. In fact I love the way the latest version of Microsoft RDP works, it creates a complete desktop space for the connection. You can then easily move between your RDP sessions and your Mac using the three finger swipe that is used for “Mission control” (silly name), however Mission control also allows you to have multiple desktop spaces and quickly move between them allowing better smoother multi tasking.

Using Windows shares is pretty well done on the Mac allowing you to add you favorite servers, favorite shares and have different logons that your signed into account. It seems to work fairly well.I usually sort my photos by copying them off the SD card into a Windows share. While copying them on the Mac was easy, the photo viewer was super clumsy when the files were not local. And locally they have to be imported. I’m sure this is more about learning, but I’ve not found a way to do this well on the Mac.

Power management on the Mac is outstanding. Run time, standby time are all better than comparable on a PC. Resume from suspend is also faster than on a PC. This always amuses me when in reality Macs these days are running for the most part on the same hardware as Windows PCs, and yet they do so much better.

The one place I notice the Mac being quite slow is accessing Windows SMB shares, for example within Kodi. Once the list of files from a large directory is up though, performance is good enough to ensure smooth playback. Being an older Mac, it of course does not support some of the faster WifI modes like MUMIO. Using iPerf I measured only 45Mb/s Vs 329MB/s for my Lenovo T450s. So this is definitely a place where this older Mac is lagging badly.

All in all I’ve enjoyed the Mac and could pretty much live on it Vs a PC. There was one place I struggled, which was in sorting images from cameras. One of the time, in just looking at the pics it reset the dates on all of the images to the date I looked at the images. This is hugely problematic for me. I’m sure this is surmountable.

June 13, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Asus T102HA transformer mini review

Hot on the heals of the EPIC failure that is the Surface Go I thought I’d wade into the Asus Transformer mini which is supposed to be a lower cost alternative to the Surface. First off I discovered there are three models of the Transformer Mini. T101 does NOT have a pen and that’s primarily what I want to do with this tablet. I can’t say for sure if it actually has the digitizer to support the pen or not? The Transformer 103HA for some reason is MUCH heavier at 772g so this one is out. So this narrows the field to the T102HA.

From my Surface Go article (repeated so you don’t have to go back to that one for reference) let’s start with physicals:
350g 136x211x7.95 Asus Vivotab Note 8 (560g with the case I use)
478g 240×169.5×7.5 iPad 9.7 6th gen (840g with the case I use)
522g 245x175x8.3 Surface Go 744g with the type cover and 880g with the case I use and no type cover
622g 267x187x8.7mm Surface 3
530g 262x175x8.2 Transformer Mini 798g with keyboard

So you can see size and weight or the T102 are similar to the Surface Go.

Display:
2048×1536 iPad
1800×1200 Surface Go
1920×1280 Surface 3
1280×800 Asus Transformer Mini (it shocks me that Asus STILL use displays this low res)
1280×800 Asus Vivotab Note 8

Processor
Quad core Atom™ Z3740 Quad-Core, 1.33 GHz Asus Vivotab Note 8
Dual Core Gold 4415y 1.6GHZ Surface Go
Quad-core Atom X7-Z8700 1.6GHZ Surface 3
Quad core Atom Z8350 1.4G Asus Transformer mini
The processor is so different on the iPad as to be not worth mentioning from a comparison point of view

The unit came with 4G DRAM and 128 eMMC.

Port wise:
1 x COMBO mic/speaker 3.5mm audio jack
1 x Full size Type A USB3.0 (USB3.1 GEN1)
1 x micro USB port for charging
1 x micro HDMI
1 x Fingerprint
1 x Volume up/down
1 x micro SD card
Sadly no USB-C here, it’s too old.

The charger it comes with supports the ubiquitous 5V 2A 10W, but it also supports 9V 2A so 18W. Obviously way below the Surface’s including 25W or supported 54W charger. This will obviously impact recharge times. The battery is reported to be 30WH.

The one place I have noticed in the past to be painfully slow on Atoms is installing apps and updates. This remains true. I did a reset the tablet to get a fresh start, who knows what the last person left laying around for me. 8 hours later it hadn’t even got to the 1809 update which took another 1.5 hours. Patience is definitely the order of the day when it comes to installing updates on Atom.

Like the Surface, the transformer includes an infinitely adjustable kickstand. It’s not quite as elegant as the Surface’s but it work.

Keyboard
Also like the Surface the transformer includes a type cover based keyboard. It’s more rigid than the one on the Surface but the key positioning and depressed design of the keys make it harder to touch type, and of course it’s small for large hands. The keyboard is not backlit. The magnet that holds the type cover is not strong enough to bring the keyboard around the back of the tablet when in use and keep a strong connection. When it is connected it does detect it’s around backwards and disabled the keyboard. You can reverse the keyboard so the keys face the back of the tablet and this feels better in the hand and works perfectly. The pen loop on the keyboard is too small even for the included pen? WTF. I wonder sometimes whether companies ever test their products when they miss something as glaring as this. The keyboard DOES wake the tablet from sleep when pressed, and does wake/sleep the tablet when opened and closed, and even ignores accidental power on presses when closed.

Pen
The pen they use is indeed an N-Trig based pen, the same digitizer used in newer Surfaces. The pen Asus uses has two buttons that can not be changed they do eraser and right mouse button. There is no bluetooth in the pen so it can not be paired and so it’s functions are predefined. All in all it feels fine in the hand, has a clip, but no eraser on top. Hopefully I remember that and don’t end up scratching the screen trying to use it as an eraser as the Surface’s do. The buttons can get in the way when writing and the pen get’s detected close to the screen making scrolling a little more clumsy than it ought to be. All in all it works well, albeit imperfectly. A common thread in using pens on tablets. It’s amazing years later than Wacom still did the best job ever and none have since measured up.

Fortunately, you can also use a Surface pen, but there are a number of versions of the Surface pens. The original version of the Surface pen was a Wacom, which won’t work with this tablet. I found a good article showing version of the pens. Visually you can tell the versions of the pen by the number of buttons/appearance. I wuold guess a version 2,3,4 should work fine.

I was able to test a Surface version 3 and 4 pen, and paired them with Bluetooth and they worked fine. From the Pen & Windows Ink settings screen you can program what clicking on the end button does. For me, OneNote is what I wanted. There are no ways to adjust pressure and the like as you can on a Surface, that is done within the Surface app … The battery of the pen can be viewed on the Bluetooth settings when the pen is connected.

From (from the wikipedia article) a part number point of view the version Microsoft 2 part numbrt are 3UY-00001 (Silver), 3UY-00012 (Black), 3UY-00021 (Red), 3UY-00030 (Blue) version 3 3XY-00001 (Silver), 3XY-00011 (Black), 3XY-00021 (Dark Blue) and 3XY-00051 (Gold) and version 4 part numbers are EYU-00001 (Black), EYU-00009 (Platinum), EYU-00017 (Cobalt Blue) and EYU-00025 (Burgundy)
Across the board the surface pen works much better than the Asus one. The buttons and placement of them get in the way repeatedly. The pen is not as smooth …
Use of a pen can be broken down into a number of categories:
1) When you start writing how quickly and smoothly is this picked up. This was reasonably good on this tablet. It was improved by the Surface pen, but was improved by tapping the pen on the screen.
2) Ability to move from writing to scrolling. This was particularly slow on this tablet often requiring multiple taps to get it to realize I wanted to scroll. It was overall quite frustrating and experience.
3) ability to erase. This was reasonably good with the default pen and perfect with the surface pen.
Overall The experience with this tablet and the pen was good, but far from great even with the surface pen.
And to complicate matters I’ve been unable to find a decent cast with a hand strap to hold the tablet and take notes 😦

Windows 10 enables hibernate and sets it by default to 24 hours. Hibernate can be added to the start menu following this guide. You can also set connected standby to disconnect from the network when in standby mode. This can control power use while in standby. It’s sadly about the best you can hope for with this generation of Atom (and 4415Y as in the Surface Go.)

I did three power runs in standby with network connected and got 0.5, 0.6 and 0.5% per hour power draw which would imply at best around 50 hours of standby before dead

Performance
Performance on the Quad core atom is not bad, it’s by no means a Core i3 even, but it is quite noticeably faster the the 4415Y of the Surface Go. It’s good enough to be used on a trip making this a super companion on the Go! And the battery life is actually quite good.
The microSD slot seems to be slower than it ought to be, perhaps it’s connected by USB2. I got 28MB/s Vs 40 on the same card on other PCs.
The WIFI clocked in at 204Mb/s Vs 329Mb/s on my T450s.
The 128G eMMC clocks in at 24.5MB/s write and 85MB/s read. Comparable to devices of it’s time, obviously way behind newer true SSDs.
The USB 3 is full speed and I was able to get a full 101MB/s out of a USB flash drive, which was pretty much it’s speed.
Playback of WIFI content using Kodi and Plex was fine, nice and smooth, no issues. As usual the Windows store version of Plex sucks.

Charge speed is as expected not that quick. It drew a pretty steady 15-16W right up to 85% (18W would be the max out of the adapter) and I would estimate a full charge from dead to take just under 3 hours with the system in standby. It will take a LOT longer if the system is being used, and would take a lot longer with a phone 10W charger. I have no idea if a higher current charger could help this, I doubt it.

The microUSB port that is used as charge can also be used as a USB OTG port.

All in all I like this tablet. It doesn’t have the nicer design of the Surface, the pen experience on the Surface is better, but the weight and general performance are better than the Surface. So the choice becomes what are you looking for? A generic device that also does pen (for this the iPad is better), a single function pen device (for this the Surface does better) or other? So where does this device fit? I find myself wondering exactly that. An imperfect pen experience even with the surface pen, good general performance but no where near an ipad? Insert head scratching …

May 25, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Surface Go 4G 64G review

When I bought my iPad 9.7 with the pencil I somehow missed that this device even existed in my consideration for replacing Vivotab Note 8. As you may recall I take digital notes as part of my other hobby Wine tasting. During events I am walking around a crowded room, tasting wine, and making notes. So it’s quite a challenge to find a way to do this efficiently. The case, the pen, the weight, balancing the glass … Heh I like challenges 🙂 While the iPad works well there are a number of irritations I find like the pencils idiotic power management (or lack thereof). Errant marks that seem to come out of nowhere while writing. And weight. The pencil itself works well, but the dimensions being so long, slippery and thin are not great, and is missing easy ways to erase, and it clumsily does not start writing in OneNote without you manually selecting the pen. Now this being said, these are all nit picks. But I have to admit, one of my character flaws is little irritations like this get to me over time when I know there is better out there. And with that framing you have this review. In reading so many other posts about the Surface Go I found a number of my questions were just not answered. I’ve played with a number of other Surfaces in the past but the weight was just too high for my use.

For reference the other device I briefly consider was the Asus Transformer Mini. One of the plagues of this device is there are a LOT of models and I can’t tell which ones support the pen and which do not. Now maybe they all do?

Let’s start with physicals:
350g 136x211x7.95 Asus Vivotab Note 8 (560g with the case I use)
478g 240×169.5×7.5 iPad 9.7 6th gen (840g with the case I use)
522g 245x175x8.3 Surface Go 744g with the type cover and 880g with the case I use and no type cover
530g 262x175x8.2 Transformer Mini 798g with keyboard

Price wise in CDN$$ $529 for the 4G/64G, $169 for the optional type cover (more on this later), and $103 for the pen (although there are cheaper ones out there), so all in your looking at $801 with taxes $905.13. So this is no cheap venture. I managed to find a used one for $500 including type cover and pen, an amazing deal.

Now onto ports, now this is a mix of good and bad. Microsoft definitely were forward thinking when designing this tablet, but forward thinking can have risks and costs. The ports consist of a USB-C, standard surface dock port (also used for the included charger), a 3.5mm audio port and a micro SD hidden under the kickstand. The USB-C can be used for video, USB-3, charging etc. The USB-C is great, but I have zero USB-C so the first thing I had to do was buy some converters. I bought two on Amazon, one from Artek that includes USB-C to charge back the tablet, HDMI, and a USB 3, and another that is a simple USB-3 converter, both from Amazon. They were cheap enough, but still another $30 onto an already expensive venture.


The combination USB3, USBC and HDMI converter I bought worked ok, but when the USBC was plugged in the HDMI didn’t work reliably, at least not with the USB-C charger I have for my Lenovo T480s. I bought a second one from Javontek and this one worked perfectly including full speed USB 3 while using video. I have to admit, I love the convenience of everything being on one port, kinda like a mini docking station. And I LOVE that there’s no upside down on USB-C!

Finding a case for use while writing and holding the device with one hand is surprisingly difficult. I eventually found one I could live with that includes a strap for the hand. I found one from Amazon, quite reasonably priced, Spigen for $25.99. I watched carefully the weight on case only to discover they lied. Turns out it’s 364g not the 90g they had advertised.

Spec wise:
Display:
2048×1536 iPad
1800×1200 Surface Go
1280×800 Asus Transformer Mini (it shocks me that Asus STILL use displays this low res)
1280×800 Asus Vivotab Note 8

The better display of the Surface and the expected better pen experience were key factors in my decision to choose this over the transformer mini.

Processor
Intel® Atom™ Z3740 Quad-Core, 1.33 GHz Asus Vivotab Note 8
Dual Core Intel Gold 4415y 1.6G Surface Go
Z8350 quad core atom 1.4G Asus Transformer mini
The processor is so different on the iPad as to be not worth mentioning from a comparison point of view

Now the number one thing that gave me pause on this device was the dual core (vs quad) processor. I was super skeptical. I read this article comparing the processors and it lead me to believe it should be at worst comparable. There’s an old saying that benchmarks don’t lie … but only liars use benchmarks. Based on what I’ve seen/felt to date this is VERY true. There is not a chance the 4415Y is anywhere near as fast as the older atom Z8350. Don’t believe the hype. I lived on a Asus transformer which was based on a quad core Atom with 4G ram, and performance was way better than this surface. Basic tasks, photo sorting, and basic photo editing bring this tablet to it’s knees quickly. Exceeding it’s processing power is really quite easy, even Microsoft jigsaw is laggy. Performance goes from barely adequate to inadequate at best. This is VERY much a limited use device. Even travelling with it would be challenging. Even the much older Surface 3 performed way better. As an interesting side note, in searching I have not been able to find ANYONE other than Microsoft using this processor.

Memory/HD
There are two models (three if you add the LTE version) of the Surface Go Ram/HD 4G/64G and 8G/128G. The 64G is a slower eMMC Vs a true SSD on the 128G, I could not get any answers on just how much slower the eMMC is. I also wondered about the 4G. Well I shoulda wondered longer. Once booted up Windows even in S mode (more on that in a bit) chews up 2.4G of the 4G and windows keeps an amount on standby meaning that it’s into swapping pretty quickly. Using this device for generic use and having lots of Windows open is going to require an IMMENSE amount of patience. With nothing else running just starting edge and bringing up Google mail on the web takes over 10 seconds. And there’s lots of lags while things load. Once loaded generally performance is adequate, but just barely. After living on an Apple device where instantaneous is just the starting point this is definitely NOT THAT. It’s usable, but more than once I’ll find myself wondering did I actually click that button or not?

64G on the hard drive leaves lots of space to do whatever you need to do!

The Surface Go does NOT have a GPS from what I can tell. Not a problem really, this tablet is too large to be used in a car anyway IMHO.

The Surface Go includes a Windows hello compatible camera allowing you to use facial recognition to login! There is however, no finger print reader. The Asus Transformer mini is the opposite. The camera works reasonably well and is convenient to login with. If it can’t recognize you then it falls back to a PIN which was automatically setup!

Windows S
Now comes one of the major unknowns, Windows S. WTF is this? Well Windows S is a severely locked down Windows 10. It is at the heart still Windows 10. Windows 10 has NOT been scaled back at all, just neutered. The idea is that if you have better control on what is running you can give better battery life and more reliable experience. Think Apple 🙂 So what this means is you can only load Windows store apps (and only some). Cut and paste seems hit and miss as to where they have removed it from. There’s no command prompt to use for diagnostics. Edge or internet explorer are your only browser, no chrome. And only some live tiles seem to work. I’ve not completely sorted this out other than to say it’s limited/limiting. You do however get a completely functional file explorer including LAN access so at least there’s that. Drivers are also restricted so things even like printers may or may not be supported under Windows S. You can switch to Windows home from Windows S removing all the restrictions in a few clicks, it’s really quite trivial. The path back is a little more complicated requiring use USB recovery key, and of course don’t forget, this is USB-C. Using the recovery key will completely wipe your machine and return it to factory ship state so be aware of that. I’m intentionally trying to see if I can live on Windows S to give it a fair shake. So far I’ve played with the Microsoft Store apps for:
HDHomeRun (network based TV tuner) plays back fine
Plex played back fine over Wifi
OneNote (Some different things in the UI and some missing functions like clipping screen sections etc, but still way more functional than the iOS version)
Microsoft RDP
Kindle
Games: Cribbage, Solitaire collection, 7 little words
It shocks me that Microsoft do not include tiles for Battery or clock
The Weathernetwork (although for some bizarre reason the live tile doesn’t work)
The built apps for Mail/Calendar work fine
So far the biggest miss is that I can’t load my OpenVPN software 😦

Connected standby
When the Atoms came out one of the “innovations” was connected standby. It allowed the device to sit in a low power state and from time to time wake up check for mails and the like and then then go back to sleep. It was an attempt to mimic what people are use to on phones, Vs the usual standby or hibernate of computers. Well, the only thing this ever insured was that your batter was always dead. At a most (well it’s supposed to be the max but it never quite worked out that way) of 2% per hour in one day sitting doing nothing you’d lost at least half your battery. I could not find anywhere whether the 4415Y kept connected standby or went back to the traditional standby … Well I’m here to tell you connected standby is still here. In 6 hours (the default time until it entered hibernate) it dropped 7%, so out of the box it looks like around 1.1%/hr. At least they enabled hibernate by default. I wasn’t not sure if there is a way to disable connected standby and revert to normal standby or not, there wasn’t on Atom, and then I tripped over it, they’ve quietly added a setting you can turn this off! Neutering connected standby YAY. This actually works really well and you can see the network drop off right after entering standby!

So I did a few battery runs to see how it would perform in standby with the network disconnected. This was sadly a VERY mixed bag. The most predictable is when little to nothing is running in the background. Even in S mode. So I shutdown everything rebooted logged back in and let it sit there … in 16.5 hours it dropped 12% or 0.7%/hr down from 1.1%/hr (as noted above). So while this is no where near as good as true hardware based standby it’s better. I double checked and there are no settings in the BIOS where you might be able to enable hardware based standby so I can only presume this architecture like the Atoms does not support it 😦

Type cover
Like all Surfaces this one has an optional type cover keyboard. It’s thin and light weighing in at 222g. Keyboard travel is short and it’s kind of spongy feeling. It’s not the worst keyboard I’ve ever used but not the best either. Key placement is good except for the page up/down home and end etc. It’s backlit and you can lock the Fn key allowing the usual PF keys to work as they did before Win 10. The glide point in spite of not being my fav works well and supports gestures such as page down etc. Given how bad the Windows on screen keyboard is compared to any others, this keyboard option can come in handy and add some additional usability to the tablet. Of course the use of the keyboard get’s tempered by the limited use cases this device has due to the very poor performing processor.

Pen
The Surface pen has continued to evolve over time and it keeps getting better. It has a bluetooth connection to the tablet which allows it to have buttons that can be used to erase, start apps and the like. It’s quite well done. And the battery life on a AAAA battery is amazing. No constant screwing around with charging batteries as you have to with the Apple pencil. The pen is capable of picking up tilt as well as pressure sensitivity with 4096 different levels. It really feels good in the hand, writes well and is one of the best paper like experiences. Using the pen works well with the usual annoyances with Windows. Sometimes the task bar selects when your writing (bad palm rejection). The easiest solution is to change the task bar to auto hide so it goes away. Microsoft messed with Palm rejection which worked well in Windows 8, sadly Win 10 is worse. I also turned off “Ignore touch input when I’m using my pen” because this made scrolling down slower as I had to wait and move the pen away from the screen. On the positive side the Windows version of Onenote that I use to take my digital notes in is more functional in Windows than iOS or Android. Within the Surface app you can see the current battery level of the pen, and it remembers it even when disconnected. Very nicely done! The pen is magnetic and can grip the side of the Surface reasonably tightly. An unpaired pen works to draw with but the buttons don’t work. This is handy if you have more than one Surface around, of course if the pen could pair with more than one Surface that would be even better 🙂

Lots of laptops have great battery life and then take forever to recharge from dead. The Surface comes with a standard Surface 25W charger, but optionally it can take a USB-C charger, apparently up to 54W. The 25W charger takes 1hr 45mins from completely dead, so not horrible. I found I had a 65W USB-C charger that came with a Lenovo 480S (PN 01FR029) and this took charge time from dead down to 1hr 15mins, impressive! It’s nice to see this tablet adopt modern phone like quick charge speeds! The iPad for reference took 4 hours 😦

The tablet does not get all that hot even when being quick charged.

Phone integration
With the phone app in Windows you can send a web page from your phone to your tablet and vice versa, but only if your using Edge. You can send text messages and share photos if your on Android (not iOS). So this is basically zero for me being on an iPhone. Not a chance I’m moving to Edge on an iPhone.

So all in all, while the Surface Go looked like an enticing package, I found it’s usefulness to be exceptionally limited by the completely anemic processor.

May 14, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K

I have two Amazon Fire TVs, one First generation and the second the 4K. The two of these do all the heavy lifting of media playing in the home. Music, TV, movies etc. My primary media player is Kodi with the secondary being Plex. Amazon have eased how aggressively they discourage Kodi on Fire TVs which is awesome.

This new player, a Fire TV Stick 4K caught my eye because of positive reviews and a new remote. The Fire TV sticks have been a lot less powerful than the Fire TVs in the past, but this FireTV Stick has changed that. So let’s have look at what we have here … Physically the device consists of an HDMI plug to plug into your TV directly (although they also give you a short pig tail in case it doesn’t fit) and a micro USB port for power and that’s it. There are no lights, no additional ports nothing. They give you a 5W (5V 1A) adapter and they encourage you to use it to power the stick. This wattage seems easily attainable by any USB port (on the TV or receiver) which would save you running an additional cable for power but I will do as they recommend (for now).

I had a few challenges at first setup because the FireTV Stick is 4K and while my receiver is 4K my TV is not. So I had to insure I plugged the Stick into a non 4K port. Once this was done the stick put out 1080p and all was well. Initial setup is a tad clumsy requiring you to enter things like your amazon account, wifi password and the like selecting them one character at a time on the remote. Since this has only one micro USB port you can not plug in a keyboard, or mouse etc. You can buy third party cables that fix this limitation on Amazon, why they didn’t just add this is beyond me.

Connectivity wise the Stick can only do WIFI, no wired network. You can add an optional wired Ethernet adapter for $19.95.

Once on the internet firmware for both the firetv and the remote can be updated if there is anything new, and there was for me.

Once setup is done your on your way. Plex can easily be found in the Amazon App store and linking it to your account is super easy.

Kodi can be loaded a couple of ways, the way I choose to do it is to side load it using ADB (Android Debugger). There are other ways that download a downloader from the Amazon app store. I first tried to do it using Firestarter but ran into issues with needing a mouse to select install as well as Firestarter being too aggressive in taking over the Fire, and gave up on that.

The remote is one of the things that is new, and one of the main reasons I chose to buy the Stick. There are a number of new buttons, power, and volume controls.

During the initial setup of the Fire it guides you through programming the remote to operate your TV. And with this you can use one remote when watching from the fire, but there is another trick up their sleeve. You can add equipment from within the FireTV settings menus which includes sound bars and receivers. The fact this is done inside the menus for the FireTV was less than obvious to me. Even google didn’t help. Once you find this setting, you simply select your company for your equipment and your good to go. This works quite well, but like any multi function remote it’s not without it’s anomalies. If you aren’t pointing in the right direction to talk to all of your devices some can miss commands, and if you also use your devices remotes it can get mixed up and turn the receiver off when you wanted it on for example. But these are expected anomalies of a universal remote. I have to say, the universal remote feature seems to work quite well. I did a double check on my FireTV 4K (the non stick one) and see if they had added this to the firmware, sadly they have not, so you just can’t upgrade the more on the older FireTVs.

Once Kodi is installed, for me, I had to also update the advancedsettings.xml to support the common back end database which I also did using ADB. If your not aware, you can have a common SQL database where all of your media libraries, watched status and the like are stored. This works really well if you have more than one Kodi in the home and want them all to be in sync.

Compared to the FireTV (non stick) I found navigating around the kodi menus to be noticeably slower. This could be relative to the processor, or it could also be because it’s on WIFI vs wired. So went ahead and bought the $19 ethernet adapter which still does not allow you to do USB OTG (for keyboards etc) and this made little to no difference. In all playback on Kodi has been flawless. The new remote works REALLY well and has dramatically simplified my AV setup. I like the FireTV Stick 4K and it is WELL worth the money, but I wouldn’t bother with the wired adapter unless your wireless router is too far away. All in all though … a great buy!

April 17, 2019 Posted by | Mutlimedia | Leave a comment

Shark IONFLEX DUOCLEAN cordless ultra-light vacuum review

Every now and then I go off my regularly scheduled program and go off topic. Ya this is one of those. I’ve been lugging around a big canister vacuum cleaner for a lot of years now. It’s inconvenient to such an extent it gets dragged out irregularly. So the thought dawned on me, I wonder if I had a cordless, handy vacuum cleaner that could be used for doing little mess clean up and keeping the kitchen free from food on the tile, would it get done more often. So I bought this one. I have to admit I was super skeptical so I chose to buy a refurb from Factory direct , I paid $150 they had a sale on, regularly $350On Amazon

Straight off … spolier alert … This is a well designed vacuum cleaner. I’m thoroughly impressed, and my regular readers know I don’t say that often.

The number of attachments that this comes with is quite comprehensive. As well as the powerhead it comes with a neat dusting wand that works very well, crevice tool, furniture tool and something I can’t come up with a reason for 🙂

Most of the tools can be used on the end of the long pole or on the unit itself, which makes using it for dusting, getting rid of cob webs and like easy. (Not my image I stole it from Amazon).

The unit can stand up leaned against a wall with no need to drill into the wall. It means you can keep the unit nice and close to the most common place for messes. I found a nice handy spot in the kitchen.

The power head has two modes which are controlled from the top handle for hard surfaces and for carpet (it changes the speed of the beater bars). It works very well and glides effortlessly. Given the weight it’s amazing how well this pivots and corners around. The power head can be used with or without the long pole so it can be used to clean things like your car. The suction this unit creates is quite impressive in even the extended runtime mode, and there’s a second mode that delivers even more suction. The power head has lights making it super easy to clean under beds and the like. The power head is well designed and stops quickly when it gets caught on anything, and then resets quickly once the obstruction is removed. The powerhead is about 10″ wide so not too bad, even for larger areas.

The bin where the dirt is collected is transparent so you can see as it’s filling. There’s a simple empty button and the bottom door falls open. Be careful I did it once by accident before I figured out how easy it was and dumped all the dirt right back on my floor 😦 DOH.

In addition to the dust bin there’s a simple to clean foam filter under top hood on the handle you can wash and reuse. It’s amazing how much this traps. This is by no means a HEPA filter, but it seems effective. There’s one final filter that can be removed and cleaned that’s just at the exhaust of the handle. All these filters can be replaced once worn out. A set of two is $31 on Amazon. I can only imagine, that if you properly care for these in washing them these should last a while.

The battery on this thing is huge measuring in at a whopping 61.74WH. This gives you about 1/2 hour cleaning time. There’s a convenient light on the battery you can see the whole time the unit is running which shows you how charged the battery is. And it will run all the way to the point of dead and then the whole thing just shuts down.

The battery once dead takes a whopping 3-4 hours to fully recharge before your good to go again. Some models of this unit shipped with two batteries. Given how slow this thing is to recharge I can totally see why. It can be charged in the vacuum cleaner or you can slide it out and charge it wherever convenient. The charger is quite large and has a barrel plug making it super easy. Spare batteries are not cheap, coming in at $85 US on the Shark parts web site.

All in all this is one impressive little vacuum cleaner, well worth the money especially if you get it on refurb.

April 1, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivosport review

I’ve been using a Vivosmart HR for a while now. While I had my Fenix 3 I would use the Vivosmart to broadcast my HR to the Fenix 3 since my Fenix 3 had no heart rate sensor. Now that I’ve upgraded to a Fenix 5 I don’t need this anymore. I also use the Vivosmart for playing hockey. The idea of having a large expensive Fenix 5 on my wrist while playing hockey is unappealing both from the perspective of damaging the watch, but also damaging me when my arm/wrist inevitably get munched … In upgrading to the Fenix 5 I got introduced to a number of new as well as improved health stats. This includes true all day heart rate, all day stress, better sleep tracking and the like, none of which the Vivosmart HR can do. So I saw that the GPS City had the Vivosport on refurb for $109 so that seemed like a small price to pay for a new gadget to play with and potentially get all these new metrics. The thing about these all day metrics is taking the device off or switching to device that doesn’t support them for sleep or playing hockey for example looses not one but two days worth of data. Now I know this is getting a bit obsessive, but for such a small price … The other reason to where one of these devices is to be able to wear a non smart watch every now and then and not loose the data. I know more OCD.

I briefly looked at Vivosmart 4 but for less money I also get a GPS with the Vivosport so why not … Size wise the Vivosport is 21×10.9mm Vs the Vivosmart HR I am replacing is 21×12.3mm, so slightly less thick. There are two sizes of Vivosport Small/Medium and large. The Small/Medium should really be called Small, because it is really small. I have small 160mm wrists and the band fits with 5 holes left but not a lot to spare. I find this unit catches on the shirt sleeves more than the Vivosmart HR.

Display wise it goes from an always on, backlit black and white LCD display that was easy read to a color always on backlit display that looks a lot more like the one on the fenix. The display is small and grainy and not the easiest thing to read. There are absolutely NO buttons on this device, so your navigating it using the touch screen. A series of tap, double tap, and press and hold. It works ok but is a bit finicky to get use to and get good at. The menus seem similar to the Vivosmart HR so for me it didn’t take a lot of getting use to. As with the Vivosmart HR the battery level is hidden between a LOT of swipes, and it’s the only place you can find it (Tap and hold, 8 swipes to settings, 4 swipes to wrench, 4 swipes to about battery status is there phew). The menus often guide you when you need to double tap to unlock or start/stop etc. The display can not be turned off something Garmin seem to forget. It would allow you to make it even more innocuous when you want to use it with a normal watch.

Speaking of battery it’s rated at: Smartwatch mode: Up to 7 days, GPS mode: Up to 8 hours Vs Up to 5 days for the Vivosmart HR. So you can see they’ve made good progress at improving battery life all the while adding better more detailed metrics with more data points. What you can also see … using the GPS has a profound affect on battery life. And this is super noticeable. After 1 day and a half of non GPS and 1 hr and 10 mins of GPS the battery was already down to 54%. So while it has a GPS, beware … Recharging the device takes a mere hour from dead according to Garmin and uses the same cable as the Fenix 5. To put the GPS power draw in perspective 1 hr on GPS would draw down 12.5% of the battery, or put another way 1 hr of GPS is the equivalent of 21 hours of normal use.

And now you bump into a rub … it turns out Garmin decided no one would ever need to power off their Vivosport so if your using the Vivosport as a secondary device as I intend to, you risk it being dead the next time you need it unless you leave it plugged in anytime it’s not on. STUPID …

Speaking of GPS, the first time I tried to use it I had to try three times to get it to GPS lock, it kept wanting to put it to sleep. First time GPS locks are usually longer, but it seems Garmin didn’t think of that. This is worth noting so your not waiting around trying to get first lock before doing an activity.

Garmin have been super smart in that when you go to track an activity like walking/running you can choose an indoor or outdoor (ie with or without GPS). (Cycling can only be outdoor). This is perfect for me, because that way I can use it for hockey and not smoke the battery.

The Vivosport can not talk to any kind of sensors, not chest strap, not wheel sensors, nada, zip … Likely why cycling only has an outdoor more. The Vivosport can broadcast your heart rate to other Ant+ devices.

Sport wise it can be used to track walk/run/Cycle outdoors/Cardio (Inside or Outdoor)/Strength (indoor only)/Other (whatever that means) (Indoor and outdoor). The device can not be used for tracking skiing/snow boarding. Screens for each activity can be customized on Garmin Connect on the phone (More, Garmin devices, Garmin Vivosport, Activity options). You can set heart rate alarms in the same place for each activity.

The device mentioned that calorie count requires calibration, on first use I noticed the calorie count for an indoor walk (how I record hockey) seemed quite low compared to the Vivosmart HR. So on my second time out I wore both my older VivoSmart HR and the VivoSport. The results are dismal, the vivosport totally missed the boat even on average heart rate and the resulting calorie count is ridiculously low.

Now to be totally sure it’s the Vivosport missing the boat, I wore a chest strap and used my trusty old FR70 to capture it. Again you can see clearly (focus only on heart rate) the Vivoport in hockey missed the boat by 31 bpm even on average, and by 27 on Max heart rate. BAD.

It doesn’t seem to be relative to temperature, because it did fine on a cold day’s hike, seems something specific about hockey. While the Vivosport missed the boat on hockey, it does fine from a day to day resting heart rate.

Here’s a comparison of a hike I did with the Vivosport/Garmin Fenix 5. As you can see they agree in some areas, and not at all in others. Fortunately the average heart rate and calorie counts are pretty close. Interestingly the Vivosport totally missed ANY elevation change, now while there was not a lot, there was some. Certainly not 9M the Fenix saw, but then again the barometric altimeter on the Fenix has NEVER been good.

I did a hike and compared it to RunGPS on my iPhone 8 which uses GPS only.

As you can see it did not bad.

Biking is one place wrist mounted heart rate monitors can do badly. So I headed out on a fairly smooth gentle ride and compared it with a chest strap (paired with my Fenix) and was shocked how well it did. And thrilled to see the Fenix 5 and Vivosport count calories similarly!

So in all cases except hockey where it consistently misses the heart rate and thus calories, it does fine.

You can have the device auto lock the screen, but this REALLY becomes problematic. So I decided to use the alarm on the watch along with the auto lock. So the alarm goes off … I need to double tap to unlock the screen then select cancel not snooze (and it turns out green is snooze and red is cancel?, somehow this seems backwards), all the while my brain is barely functioning, I don’t have my glasses on and I’m trying to not wake the other person in the bed 😦 FAIL. I would suggest you only use auto lock within activities.

You can set a max heart rate alarm for everyday use, something that is not even in the manual …

They do include a relax timer, something that takes you through a guided breathing exercise and then measures your HRV/Stress. HRV or heart rate variability is on the device but hidden behind Garmin algorithms and called all day stress. So the ability to use HRV to avoid over training is not possible.

Garmin have added MoveIQ which attempts to detect activities automatically, but MoveIQ events can not be converted to activities and don’t show in your news feed. In fact you have to go looking for them. I’m really not sure I get the point of MoveIQ.

The Vivosport does complete notifications, much better than Fitbit, however there is no ability to respond in anyway. The vibrate is good and strong/noticeable even on medium.

Sleeping wise, if the device is your default activity tracker, it can do full Garmin sleep metrics, which even includes an attempt to detect REM sleep. Unfortunately if your using this device and say the Fenix 5 you keep having to swap which one is your default tracker manually. Which take a lot of clicks on the Garmin Connect app on the phone (more, Garmin devices, vivosport, Device settings, preferred activity tracker). While sleeping you have to manage a compromise. Too tight and the band isn’t comfortable while sleeping. Too loose, and given how narrow this device is, the more light comes out from the heart rate monitor disturbing your sleep …

There are a couple of watch faces you can choose from, they are a little clumsy to change and can only be done on Garmin Connect on the phone (More, garmin devices, vivosport, device settings, orientation and watch face).

They have added a count down and count up timer, something that was missing on the Vivosmart HR. I use this feature of my devices ALL the time!

Overall given the price this unit is not bad. I’m disappointed and at a loss for why it does so badly on hockey, and really disappointed about them removing power off.

March 27, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Surface book mini review

I got a chance to briefly play with a Surface book (version 1). It really is a very different beast then other devices in the market. The unit consists of a “clipboard” and a base. I had originally thought of the clipboard like a Surface, but that’s not accurate. The clipboard has absolutely no ports on it. It does not have a kickstand to hold it. The power cable cable be used in the center of the unit without the base but honestly it just feels like your doing something odd … Personally I’ve tried unsuccessfully to use Windows 8 and 10 as standalone tablets (without a keyboard) and in the end been so underwhelmed by the experience as to be disenfranchised from the concept of a Windows tablet. The biggest let down being the keyboard.

There’s a battery in the base unit as well as one in the clipboard:
Surface Book total 69.0 Wh, 9,187 mAh, 7.5 V 12 hours
— clipboard 18.0 Wh 2,387 mAh, 7.5 V 3 hours (referred to in Windows as Battery 1)
— base 51.0 Wh 6,800 mAh, 7.5 V 9 hours (referred to in Windows as Battery 2)

With the stock charger which is 40W, the unit from dead takes over 5 hours to charge. Sheesh. There apparently is a 102W charger that MAY speed up the charge time for an additional $129, even the Microsoft store could not confirm if this would (or would not) speed up the charging.

As you can see the bulk of the battery is in the base. In terms of ports there are 2xUSB 3.0, mini DisplayPort, SD card reader, mini headphone/mic combo jack and ALL of these are on the base. As mentioned above the clipboard has none, zero, zip nada.

The placement of keys on the base is quite good and most things are where they ought to be with the exception of the home/end, page up/dn and insert which are oddly places on the PF keys. Being an old keyboard hound I use the PF keys so stick the Fn on which allows me to work more naturally but ends up clumsily on those out of place keys. Feel of the keyboard is not bad but there is very little travel to the keys. The glide point works well, probably one of the better ones.

I’m a hater when it comes to glidepoints, but I have to say, this is one of the best most sensitive glide points I’ve encountered. Even the right mouse button works properly on this glidepoint. VERY usable. I could live with this one!

The mechanism that joins the clipboard/base is a magnetic one that you lock and unlock by a button on the keyboard. The connection between the two feels super firm and the hing mechanism is one of the best I’ve encountered. The display is held nicely in place at the angle you choose. Really quite impressive. It still bounces around as you peck at the screen but still …

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The big rub on a device like this is that a lot of money has been spent on allowing you to detach the clipboard. But by having no kickstand, and no ports your really not going to do this a lot so what’s the point? You might as well have a laptop.

The overall specs for this device are:
• Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-6300U (dual-core, 3MB cache, up to 3GHz with Turbo Boost)
• Graphics: Intel HD graphics 520; Nvidia GeForce graphics (1GB GDDR5 high-speed memory)
• RAM: 8GB
• Screen: 13.5-inch, 3,000 x 2,000 (267 ppi) PixelSense Display
• Storage: 256GB PCIe3.0 SSD
• Ports: All on base2 x USB 3.0 , mini DisplayPort, SD card reader, mini headphone/mic combo jack
• Connectivity: 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 LE
• Weight: 3.48 pounds (1.58kg)
• Size: 12.3 x 9.14 x 0.51-0.90 (W x D x H) (312 x 232 x 13-22.8 mm)

The display resolution is outstanding and probably one of the best in the business. It’s bright, and crisp. It’s of course a touchscreen with a digitizer for the usual surface pen. The display aspect ration of 3:2 works well for all but movies in which case your looking at some letter box black around the movie. When you turn the device to use with the pen I can see why they call it a clipboard cause that’s what it feels like. It’s not the easiest thing to hold and it’s reasonably heavy so your unlikely to be walking around with it all day …

The pen as always with Surface works well. The end of the pen acts as an eraser, a thought that never crossed Apple’s mind on the Apple pencil. Why Apple didn’t learn from other people’s experiences is beyond me, but that’s typical Apple, reinvent the wheel … I do digress.

The fact that WIFI is done using MIO I can only imagine will present some speed limitations but I didn’t have a chance to test that out. The adapter is a marvell adapter which seems like an odd choice for such an expensive device. I would have expected Intel, I can only imagine it’s to do with the fact it’s MIO.

There is no wired NIC … You could have a docking station with one …

At 3.48 pounds this is a bruiser. The weight and solidness of this unit is super noticeable. The magnesium used in the build of the unit provides a sturdy, durable, quality feel, but the cost is a BIG weight. If you choose to use the clipboard it likely won’t be for long. I take notes digitally and there is not a chance I would carry this thing around in anything but an office environment for short periods of time.

There is no Kensington lock recepitcal on either so I guess they figure you won’t leave it alone for long. Surely you can’t live without it at your side at all times? This is particularly odd given the price and potential use in a corporate environment.

Plugging and unplugging the external display worked well once I told it my preferences.

The camera like most tablets lacks a flash of any kind. Not a biggie but worth noting.

The video conferencing camera has been designed with Windows hello in mind so you can use facial recognition to unlock the tablet. And this works surprisingly well, fast and convenient.

The SSD is a Samsung mzflv256hchp-000mv and it delivers speeds of 277MB/s write and 464MB/s reads. For reference the Asus T300 Chi I last tested got 177MB/s write and 175MB/s read according to H2TestW. This is quite impressively quick. There’s an old line from Max max … Speeds just a question of cost … how fast would you like to go 🙂

Memory wise it comes with 8G of DDR3 RAM, memory is not upgradeable (I believe).

All in all this is a pretty amazing machine with an astronomical price. Now would I put my cash down on it? Nope not a chance, but I will miss it …

SurfaceBook5

March 14, 2019 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 5 upgrade/data transfer

One of the things Apple does really well is to make the process of upgrading from a previous Apple device trivial … Garmin not so much 😦 I’m coming from a Fenix 3 so I would like to able to make the setup of a new device as quick as possible. Ok forget that thought cause it ain’t happening.

On first power up Garmin ask you a series of stupid questions, age, height weight … all of this data is already in Garmin connect so why am I being asked it yet again? Moving on.

When you get your new device the first thing you need to do is to get it up to date. This can be done using the Garmin Connect app on the phone or it can be done with Garmin Express. The Fenix 5 does not have WIFI so this can’t be done that way (the Fenix 3 I had did have WIFI). This may take a couple iterations, and a couple watch reboots to complete.

Once up to date you are ready to get your new device setup. There are a number of parts to the Fenix that need to be setup. First and foremost for me is the waypoints. I have A LOT. TO do this start up Garmin Basecamp with your old and new devices plugged in. Go to your old one on Basecamp and do whatever cleanup you need to do. The temptation is to do a copy and paste … don’t. It crashed my Fenix 5 and I found myself needing to do a hard reset of the Fenix to get it back. The right answer is to right click on your old Garmin and clip send to your new Fenix. And just like that the waypoints are copied. Be patient depending on how many you have this can take a bit. Believe it or not this is the least painful part of the process.

Next up comes ConnectIQ Watch faces, widgets and data field. There is absolutely no easy way to do this. You are going to need to one by one go through the connectIQ on the old device, then find it on the web and install it to your new device. Garmin could really improve this A LOT. Wait, your not done. First up comes the complexity that the ConnectIQ apps you loved on your old device MAY not be compatible with your new device. And if it is, you will need to go through the settings for each of the Connectiq apps. Sheesh.

Next up comes the individual activities you use. Sadly these can only be setup on the watch. So your going to need to review the settings for each activity on the old watch, note them, and manually setup them up again on the new watch. Tedious …

And with that you finally have your new toy ready to use.

March 6, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 5 review

My Fenix 3 has been my trusty companion for quite a while now, but it is getting long in the tooth, is too big for my wrist for daily use and lacks a heart rate monitor. Add to this that Garmin has stopped adding functions to it and you have device who’s days are numbered. BUT, the cost of a Fenix 5 is a big barrier. Add to that the Fenix 3 isn’t worth much in the resale market and you have a financial challenge. Luckily I don’t have a financial approval committee (read wife :)) so it’s just about rationalizing it in my own mind. For a giggle rationalize is defined as an “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.” Hehe.

One of the major impetus (or is it rationalization) for the Fenix is to get all my data in once place, Garmin, instead of all being on the Apple health, and only on the phone (ie no portal)..

Having a look at size:
Fenix 5: 47.0×47.0x15.5mm 87g
Fenix 3: 51.0×51.0x16.0mm 85g

Apple 42.5 x 36.4 x 10.5mm 30g
Vivoact 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm 43g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0mm 85g

For reference:
Fenix 5X:  51.0×51.0x17.5mm 98g
Fenix 5S:  42.0×42.0x14.5mm 67g
Apple Watch 42.5×36.4×10.5mm 30g
So the Fenix 5 is a little bit smaller (10% or so) and a little heavier when compared to the Fenix 3. It’s worth noting that although the case size is smaller the display size between the Fenix 3/5 are identical at 1.2″.

Watchband wise Garmin went their own way. The good thing is the way Garmin has designed it is robust and durable. The bad thing is it’s unique. In past devices Garmin has used rather large pins that you use a pair of torx drivers to secure the band to the watch. Garmin designed what they call QuickFit bands that snap over this same pin and allow you to quickly change the bands. I use a handlebar mount so I have to be able to switch to a band with a buckle when biking but I like other bands otherwise. Hardly anyone is offering quickfit bands, and there are three different sizes the one for the Fenix 5 being a Quickfit 22mm. You can use standard 22mm bands but be aware the pins are larger in radius than normal and your back to tolerating a pair of torx drivers which is clumsy to say the least. I really like the clever way that Apple designed their own lugs to make band switching a 10 second affair. And so many choices out there on the cheap for the Apple watch.
This one from Amazon called LDAFS is a pretty good one for an ok price. The leather is well made albeit a bit stiff. Lots of adjustments but a little fidgety to do up.

This one also from Amazon from Tencloud is nice and light, but like most metal bands is a bit fidgety to get adjusted. It lacks the half adjustment at the buckle but for the price is not a bad choice.

Lastly this one again from Amazon is a little heavier but is well made and looks nice. Again QUITE fidgety to get adjusted to the right length.

The screen on the Fenix is different than most. It is designed to be direct sunlight visible, but is no where near as bright and vivid as others. It is however always on. Key to the screen being ALWAYS readable is the back lighting. There is a gesture control that your going to want to make sure is on for everyday use so that when you twist your wrist the backlighting comes on so it can be read in the dark without manually pushing a button. By the way, the backlighting comes on anytime a button is set which is perfect, except it does so even when the buttons are locked.

The Fenix is controlled 100% by buttons, this is NOT a touchscreen. In some ways, such as in activities, this is way better in that it can be used with gloves. In everyday use however, the touchscreens are easier to use and more what we have become accustomed to, however on a trail I’d much rather have the buttons!

There are a number of facets to the Fenix. It’s an everyday tracker, and and exercise tracker. Let’s visit those … As an everyday tracker the Fenix has a robust and comprehensive set of metrics. Garmin have been continuing to add new data onto the list since it’s release. The usual suspects, steps, sleep (with some tricks, see below) are there but Garmin have added some new features. These include all day stress which is heart rate variability hidden behind a Garmin algorithm. You also get data on your heart rate including resting heart rate. The heart rate is sampled once per second so you get a comprehensive picture of your heart rate. Past Garmin devices used an algorithm to determine when to sample your heart rate (to save power). This left you with gaps in time of your heart rate and less accurate resting heart rate. The Fenix 3 HR, as well as my older Vivosmart HR are like that. Garmin have recently added abnormal heart detection however it is disabled by default. Heart rate can also be rebroadcasted over Ant+ to other devices (like a cycling computer). I do not see any fall alerts (also on the current Apple watch). You can do heart rate alarms inside an activity, an activity I use extensively mountain biking.

In the sleep category the Fenix has a new trick up it’s sleeve. It’s called advanced sleep monitoring which allows Garmin to guestimate your REM sleep. But for this to work be sure and set the Fenix as your Default tracker or it does not work. Garmin seem to make no attempt to detect sleep outside your usual sleep times. So if you decide to go back to bed or have a power snooze Garmin will miss it 😦 Fitbits do this amazingly well.

Sleep tracking works well, but there are a few less than obvious series of steps to make sure it never wakes you. You need to use do not disturb, and set a time for DND. BTW there is only one setting for DND, you can’t have one for weekends and one for week days. This will keep the back lighting from coming on in the night.

The list of stuff you get about your day is quite impressive. As with most cases though, there lots of data, not a lot of information. Your left to do comparisons yourself and draw your own conclusions. Some guidance would be useful. But by comparison the amount of metrics are way above the Apple Watch.

The Fenix 5 does complete notifications, much better than Fitbit, however there is no ability to respond in anyway (which you can do on the Apple watch) There is no NFC chip in the 5, you’d have to go up to the 5 Plus for that so no ability to make payments with the watch (which you can on the Apple watch). Of note, even if you got the 5 Plus which has Garmin pay it ain’t in Canada anyway. On the Apple pay side I noticed two things of note. First your probably dragging your phone/wallet out for loyalty cards anyway … and every so many tap transactions they want to see the card so you can’t leave the card home anyway. I don’t know if this is unique to my credit card or a generic experience.

Garmin have not coded a widget for the iPhone that would display the battery status of the phone. A shame really. Finding out the battery status of your watch is harder than it ought to be. On the positive side the outstanding battery life of the watch means this is WAY less of an issue, but still …

Garmin unlike others embrace third party developers (unlike Apple who lock down their watch faces and constrict apps), this allows developers to offer their own watch faces, widgets (things you can scroll through from the watch face) and data fields (that can be used in activity screens). It’s called ConnectIQ This really enhances the platform. ConnectIQ has been frozen on the Fenix 3 (connect IQ 2.0 and going forward the Fenix 3/HR are not supported) so going forward some ConnectIQ apps may not work on the Fenix 3. Each developer has to decide which devices they want to support. Sadly a few of my favorites for the Fenix 3 are not allowed/compatible with the Fenix 5. Here are a few of the ones I love for the Fenix 5:
Battery Meter Widget

Watch faces:
DigitStorm NoFrills Time Flies Big LCD

One of the more common things people like on a watch face is weather. Sadly Garmin does not provide one of their own and do not provide the location and weather data as an API (or so it seems) making it challenging for other people. The net result is their are few watch faces with weather and they are complicated to setup and get working. For example take WeatherFace which does exactly what one would like, have weather on your watch face. To get this working (and this is no fault of the author) you have to get your own API key, then you have to get the watch to find the current location and voila it’s working. But if you change your location you need to manually again manually get your watch to know your location (save location of track an outdoor activity).

Garmin have added MoveIQ which attempts to detect activities automatically, but MoveIQ events can not be converted to activities and don’t show in your news feed. In fact you have to go looking for them. I’m really not sure I get the point of MoveIQ. Frankly the Apple watch does a better job of auto starting an activity.

From an everyday point of view, as I am writing this I am noticing how many times I’ve said you can do that on an Apple watch … A testimonial to how well Apple did with the Apple watch.

Exercise/activity tracking is the HUGE plus with this device. It is one of the few that you can create/save/import way points as well as courses. This gets you where you wanna go. Now the navigation to waypoints is done as the crow flies, and without topographic maps (you’d have to bump up the 5X or the 5 Plus to get maps) you could have things like ravines in your path. The screens for the activities are some of the most comprehensive and flexible out there. You can decide how many screens you want, what you want on each screen, really flexible. If there is any gripe I wish I could configure this on the phone instead of the watch.

One of the advancements on the Fenix 5 is that it supports both Bluetooth and Ant+ sensors. If you already had bluetooth ones then great. Personally I prefer Ant+ because they can transmit to more than one device at a time, and who can live with only one Garmin on your handlebars? I ask you? A chest strap is still my preferred heart rate monitor for mountain biking when I use zone alarms to help me train in a zone.

As with all current Garmins activities, it includes the amount of calories burned and can be displayed live. This is a great feature in that I can insure as I am trying to build up cardio that I am increasing the calorie count each time out!

Navigation can be done to saved waypoints during and activity or outside one as well. You get the usual metrics, distance and direction to the waypoint, a guess at ETA etc. On any data screen a little red arrow points the way, cleverly done (this was on the Fenix 3 as well).

The user interface has changed between the Fenix 3 and 5. I can’t say it’s hands down better but I’ve yet to find a feature that has been removed. So good on Garmin to learn from past devices and carry that learning forward. Lots of subtle improvements.

I did three walks in downtown Toronto where high rises can image GPS accuracy. The following three maps show a comparison of a Vivoactive 3, a Fenix 3, and a Fenix 5. I was walking on the street and not intoxicated, so anytime the path deviates from the road, it missed out. The Fenix came the closest. I did see the Fenix 5 occasionally loose signal, but it seems to have done better at keeping the location in line. This might imply the Fenix 5 has a more sensitive GPS receiver.

I took a look at “similar” rides to see what calorie count was like compared to the Fenix 3 I am replacing. Now the actual number of calories is not that important, it’s more comparing Vs your previous workout to insure you are increasing or maintaining … The count is similar but not identical. As you can see in spite of a higher average heart rate and slightly longer ride the calorie count is lower. But not by a huge amount, so good enough.

The new music controls widget from Garmin even includes what’s playing! Nice!

I was a little concerned that Garmin might have changed the font on the workout data … happily the Fenix 5’s fonts are as easy, or easier to read the Fenix 3. Nice and crisp, and dark.

Battery life:
Fenix 3 Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS mode: Up to 20 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 50 hours
Fenix 5 Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks, GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours, UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate Vs

So in the end I love the new Fenix 5. The slightly smaller size, added metrics and heart rate monitor mean I can wear it everyday without thinking I’m loosing data. It does everything the Fenix 3 did and more so this is a hands down win. I managed to find my Fenix 5 on ebay as a refurb which saved me a few bucks, so I could invest in some watch bands!

For even more in depth info on the Fenix 5 checkout DC Rainmaker.

So compared to the Fenix 3 here’s a recap on what’s new:
– Advanced sleep metrics, approximated REM sleep
– Automatic VO2Max approximated
– All day stress
– All day, once a second heart rate
– Future continues for ConnectIQ on the Fenix 5 (dead on the Fenix 3)
– More sensitive GPS receiver?
– Quickfit bands standard (can be used on Fenix 3 as well)
– slightly smaller watch making it easier (for me) to enjoy it everyday.
– better battery life
– recently added support for Galileo satelites in Europe
– abnormal heart rate detection
– heart rate rebroadcast
– Garmin elevate heart rate sensor which is more accurate
– display resolution bumped from 218×218 to 240×240
– memory has been bossted from 32M to 64MB allowing you to have more ConnectIQ watch faces, widgets, data fields
– includes Garmin TrueUp which allows you to record activities on another Garmin device
– Support for Strava Segments live (with Paid Strava)
– added an additional cycling mode specifically for mountain biking

Update:
I noticed the Fenix 5 added an activity for Kayaking … well it turns out in the Garmin world that means white water kayaking/rafting. In this activity you get no metrics from your paddling. The fix is to use row instead of kayak. Here are two and you can compare the difference in stats Rowing Vs Kayaking.

March 4, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Those of you that are my regular readers know I embraced wearables pretty early on. Some of them were not great. To date, hands down the Apple watch is my favorite everyday smart watch. On the plus side the screen wakes up VERY well (although I still prefer always on), notifications are very readable, watch bands can be brilliantly swapped, there are some apps for the watch, and siri on the wrist is killer. Apple pay works well but given your reaching for your wallet or phone for loyalty cards is not the killer feature it could be. On the miss side all of the fitness data (heart rate, steps etc) go only into Apple health with is clumsy to get off the phone and has not portal. Battery life is not bad at almost 2 days, but still not good enough to use to track sleep. My series one is not water proof so no kayaking for it. The built in fitness app again sends workouts NOWHERE. Heh if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen! I actually have largely given up on the built in fitness app and use Workoutdoors which does export to Strava and includes maps. The only thing it doesn’t include is navigation which for me would be killer. So what this leads me to is that I use my Apple watch everyday, and then weekend hits, and for my weekend warrior sports which include kayaking, hockey, hiking, mountain biking and snowboarding (for now) I pull out my Garmins …

For hockey I still use my Garmin Vivosmart HR mostly because it’s cheap and I won’t cry if it gets broken 🙂 Other than that I use my Garmin Fenix 3. It’s waterproof, includes navigation (courses and waypoints and breadcrumbs of your adventure), gets amazing battery life (days to weeks depending on how much GPS you use) and is waterpoof. Watch bands can be swapped but it’s now where near as elegant as the Apple watch’s solution requiring you to pull out a pair of torx drivers. The biggest misses on the Fenix for me include no heart rate monitor (which is a non issue for mountain biking where I use a chest strap for better accuracy and zone alerts/training), it’s large and heavy (I have small wrists), and the notifications are really badly done (so small as to be unusable). What I really would like would be Fenix 5+ but I can’t justify the cost and this wouldn’t change the weight/size issue for everyday.

And so we have the Vivoactive 3. As always DC Rainmaker has a fabulous review of this device. The Vivoactive can be thought of as poor mans Fenix. And with the release of the Gunmetal version of it, it looks a lot like a Fenix, so after some research I decided to try it. There was a sale on over Christmas knocking $90 off the price bringing it down to $250!! At that price if it doesn’t do what I like then I can sell it on kijiji. I suspect Garmin had a lot of uptake at the lower price because the gunmetal has been back ordered for a long time, 5 weeks from GPS City.

For comparison here are the sizes:
Apple 42.5 x 36.4 x 10.5mm 30g
Vivoact 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm 43g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0mm 85g

For a complete list of specs checkout the Garmin site.

Size wise this unit is super small, thin and light. It fits well on the wrist.

The Vivoactive uses the same always on, backlit screen as the Fenix. It suffers from the same problem as the Fenix which is that the backlit comes on when I toss and turn at night leading to restless sleep. It’s trying to detect wrist movements. Fortunately this can be turned off, unfortunately, other than sleeping I would prefer it was on. Too bad Garmin didn’t pay attention to their own Do not disturb settings for the backlit gesture. Oh well … The screen is covered in Gorilla glass so it ought to be pretty durable. That’s the same stuff on a lot of phones.

The heart rate monitor has been dramatically improved over the Fenix 3 HR, as well as my Vivosmart HR in that it reads the heart rate every second, all the time. Not just in activities. This gives you much more accurate resting heart rate and you can really see how well you are sleeping based on how low your heart rate went. This improvement alone is quite impressive.

One of the first things I wanted to do was to transfer my waypoints from my Fenix onto the Vivoactive. I immediately ran into a MAJOR limitation of the device. I had read the manual for it prior to purchasing it and it described saved locations. Well it turns out in Garmin terms saved locations and waypoints are different. Saved locations on the Vivoactive 3 can not be loaded externally using something like Garmin basecamp, can not be backed up, can not be imported, can not be even named, nada. They just live in their own little world, isolated … They are persistent across power on/off so at least there is that. For me this is a dead in the water this thing is getting returned moment … Without this feature I can not use this for mountain biking where I use the saved waypoints ALL THE TIME. You can use the Vivoactive 3 to navigate back to start of an activity, and back to a saved location. I don’t see a trackback ability which is on other Garmins.

From within an activity you can not navigate to a saved location, in fact navigate is itself an activity. Navigate on Garmin connect.

This watch supports ConnectIQ which is an extensible architecture that allows third parties to add widgets, watch faces and the like that they design. The major miss in this is that the third parties decide which devices they want to support. Every time Garmin release a new device they have to go back and add it to the list of devices they support. The result of this is that I found a number of my favorite watch faces from the Fenix were not supported (ie not available) for the Vivoactive 3. This was quite disappointing, albeit somewhat obvious in hind sight.

Move alerts are well done. The usual assortment of activity tracking, steps, stairs, sleep and the like are all here and well done. The device also includes all day HRV (heart rate variability) which Garmin have chosen to mask behind an algorithm and call it all day stress … It also creates an estimated VO2 Max.

Notifications work well and the vibrate is strong enough but I do have it cranked up to max.

GPS accuracy in a dense area like downtown Toronto is bad. I mean real bad. That or I’m drunk. I was walking on a street the whole time.

The menu system is quite different than the Fenix in that it is a touch screen with only one button. This isn’t as good for a sports watch that you need to operate wearing gloves.

The activity screens are customizable for how many screens, and what you want on each screen, but there is only one setting for how many items on each screen. Each field can contain varying amounts of choices for content. Some fields are quite limited.

The watch gets 7 days of battery life without the GPS, more GPS = less time. To recharge it you plug in a cable on the back of the watch. Existing battery status is clearly displayed.

The Vivoactive can talk to Ant+ or Bluetooth heart rate sensors for times when the wrist heart rate monitor isn’t accurate enough.

While I can see how to see the heading during a workout by adding it onto a data field, I do not see how to display the compass outside of a workout (or altimeter).

There is a weather app and it actually works. My weather app on my Fenix 3 NEVER worked.

Watch bands (20 mm) can be swapped out using the quick disconnect pins that are common on many watches, meaning there are lots of bands out there for this watch at reasonable prices.

The Vivoactive 3 does NOT have WIFI. Not that I think this is a big deal …

I bought the gunmetal grey one, I think it looks less “flashy” than the silver rimmed one and kinda Fenix like.

Outside of the major gotcha of waypoints the Vivoactive 3 is quite well done! It’s so light and small and packs in a ton of stuff with decent battery life … impressive. Not a chance it could replace my Fenix 3, but it could give the Apple watch some competition with much better more comprehensive health stats and data into the Garmin ecosystem.

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment