John Galea's Blog

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Android Wear 5.02 update

The other night I am sound asleep, and at 5AM I get woken up by a bright light. Seems my Samsung Live Android wear smartwatch was getting it’s 5.02 update. Didn’t prompt me, didn’t inform me, just did it. Now if I hadn’t noticed it being updated I would have no idea. Now there are posts out there as to what’s new in 5.02 but I am here to tell you two things. First of all the battery life has not been improved. On my Samsung Live it remains at 20 hours. Enough to get through the day, but no way of going multiple days without turning always on off and/or disconnecting the watch from the phone (defeating the purpose of a smart watch IMHO). It still makes me scratch things as to why the watch, or phone do not cycle the connecting between the two to save power. But that said …

Secondly the pedometer function on my Samsung Gear Live is finally useful. In the past both Google Fit as well as Watchmaker/Facer all showed step counts that could be at best considered a fine act of fiction. There was no correlation at all with other pedometers like fitbits, Samsung S.Health etc. But now, low and behold this is fixed. The pedometer function on this watch almost a year later (after it was announced) finally works. At last a step back to what I had on my Samsung Gear 2 Neo. Something that works! Woohoo. Not sure who to thank/blame for this, Google or Samsung but thanks. For those of you that have also found your pedometers inaccurate (and there are many posts out there on the subject) check out and see if yours is now also fixed!

February 27, 2015 Posted by | Android, Android Wear (Smartwatch) | Leave a comment

Asus Vivotab Note 8

I last reviewed a Samsung Ativ XE 500. It was one of the early generations of Atom based Windows tablet. It worked well but eventually frustrated me enough to get rid of it. The reality is Windows sucks as a touch interface and I ended up using it more as a laptop than a tablet, rarely disconnecting the keyboard. So I went and bought a Asus Transformer TF 701 which is Android. I love it. It’s fast, reliable and gets great battery life. I’ve run into some minor snags with using Android as my main (and really only) device. Some web sites don’t display right. For some odd reason spell check does not work within sites (for example this one when I am writing my blog, leaving you, my readers to wonder if I am a lousy typist or a crappy speller. The reality is a bit of both). I’ve had some challenges printing. Android multitasking is clumsy at best. And cut and paste on Android is again clumsy at best. I’ve also had issues finding a decent RDP solution on my transformer, largely due to it’s high resolution. Everything ends up so small it’s hard to read (yes even with my glasses). And I have not found an Office (Word/Excel) program I like. The newly released Microsoft Word/Excel for tablets included. And a few other things.

I also bought and love aSamsung Note 8 with a Rogers cell radio in it. The device is great for taking digital notes using one Note. The built in cell radio is super convenient. The device is fast, small and pretty portable. I have run into limitations with Android’s version of One Note.

I was reading an article on the best pen enabled devices and saw mention of this one. I snagged one on ebay for $200 to try. And thus we have the framing for this review. Setting the scene helps to know where my mind is coming from and what I am working to find solutions to. This time around I won’t be trying to make this tablet my primary device, so the use case is a little different than the Samsung mentioned above.

Physically this device is a pretty run of the mill 8″ tablet. Not the lightest, not the thinnest, and has a reasonably large bezel. But what it does have is a Wacom digitizer enabled pen for taking digital notes. Something I am doing more and more.

Physicals:
Complete list of specs
132 x 221 x 10 mm 0.36 kg. For comparison my Samsung Note 8 is:
136 x 211 x 7.95 mm 0.35kg
The thickness difference is particularly noticeable.

From a button and port point of view it has a power, volume up/down, Windows key (more on this in a bit), standard micro USB port, microSD slot and standard 3.5mm headphone jack. Some of these tablets (like my Samsung) put the Windows key on the front of the screen. It’s more convenient there. For some bizarre reason Asus put it on the bottom of the unit, on the opposite side from the power key. So when your in landscape for example the button is hidden. A really odd choice and makes it practically useless. The microUSB port serves as a USB OTG for plugging in keyboard and mouse, flash drives, CDROMs (something that may be needed in the future to upgrade this puppy, more on that later) etc as well as a charge port. They do not include a USB OTG cable but a standard one does work and they are cheap on ebay. The hardware seems to be USB 3, however the microUSB connector they have used is USB 2, the manual says USB 2. Shame. Rules out fast access to USB hard drives and the like. Using a standard microUSB power adapter (vs some proprietary connector) is HUGELY convenient! The supplied adapter is a standard 2A 5V micro USB charger.

I tried my MHL adapters but neither work so there is no way to do HDMI output on this device (there is no micro HDMI port). It does support mirracast but to date I have not found this to be a reliable or smooth way to do even simple video.

Specs
8″ LED Backlight WXGA (1280×800) Screen
Intel® Atom™ Z3740 Quad-Core, 1.33 GHz
LPDDR3 2 GB RAM
32GB eMMC (roughly 8G free once booted) your hard drive
1.2 MP Front Camera ( 720p Video Recording ) 5 MP Rear Camera (no flash)
a whopping 15500 mAH battery (likely the reason for the added thickness, for comparison my Samsung Note 8 has a 4600 mAh))
and a GPS although you won’t find it in the specs from Broadcom GNSS 4752
You can see the GPS in device manager in the sensor list:
gps

These Windows tablets are minimalistic to say the least. 2G RAM is barely adequate. 32G
hard drive does not leave a lot of space. This means a micro SD card is pretty much a must. You can mount this microSD card into the drive space to allow you to use it for program storage too.
partition

But realize that the speed of an SD card is quite a bit below the internal drive.

Local drive speed:
local-drive

Class 10 card speed:
sd-card

WIFI supports dual band N. I was able to get 150Mb/s connection and got a speed of:
jgalea-30005-150mbs

As with my past experience of Atom installing Windows patches is a VERY slow process. And to make matters worse, Windows does an awful job of cleaning up after itself leaving lots of space chewed up after each and every patch. Particularly problematic when you have very little space to deal with. Next thing I knew I was down to 2G free. I found an article on Cleaning up Windows backups. Using this process I was able to recover more than 4G. Now it’s not without it’s consequences so read the article thoroughly before you do anything.

The resolution on the screen is not what would be called high by today’s standards but it is bright and crisp. Easily read. The screen also seems particularly accurate not only to the pen but also to the touch.

The quad core atom works well and delivers good performance. Couple that with a reasonably fast flash based local drive and performance is surprisingly lively.

Now onto what caught my attention to start out with, the pen. Like on the Note series of Samsung tablets this uses a Wacom digitizer resulting in an accurate handwriting experience. In fact, the pen and the screen flow so smoothly it actually feels like your writing on paper. OneNote ends up completely functional unlike the Android version meaning you can do hand writing recognition and optical character recognition right on the device. This device was made for OneNote. And it does it well. I bought a Samsung pen (Model number ET-S200EBEGSTA) that includes an eraser function on it and even that works perfectly. Erasing on Android never worked right erasing entire keystrokes making editing challenging at best.
71SjkCzDvSL._SL1500_
From a feel point of view I have to say this is the best of the three devices I’ve used to date to write with. (The Samsung Note 8 and the Samsung Note 3). Oddly Samsung do not offer a pen based Windows tablet like this.

Windows 10 is coming. I have serious reservations as to whether any of these current generation of devices are going to be upgradeable. But with a USB OTG cable and a CDROM at least there is a chance with this device.

One of the things missing in the Windows space has been a GPS navigation app. A colleague Cristian pointed out one I had not seen called MapsPro. This app is no CoPilot or any of the options on Android but it is there. You have to pay for the app ($4.99) and then it really wants you to pay for the maps ($9.99 per country for now). You can download some small maps for free but they take forever to download and seem to have limited search capabilities. Offline maps are key to using this as a GPS. The app also supports bluetooth GPS in case your laptop/tablet does not have one built in. The app works, and has turn by turn navigation but it is limited by comparison. And I didn’t find the search in it all that good. It doesn’t seem to keep the screen on so you find yourself fussing with the device while driving which is bad. And there is no way to search for locations while moving. The app keeps coming back to following you on the map. So it works, but just barely and hokey.

All on screen keyboards are bad and frustrating, but the Windows one takes this to a whole new level. It lacks spell checking, suggestions and predictions for what you might be typing etc. And to make it even better, Windows does not seem to have opened the interface for third parties to provide innovative new on screen keyboards that would improve the platform for use on tablet. Now one of the places the on screen keyboard is bad is when you have to unlock the device. You would think you have a whole screen that is doing nothing, why not make use of the real estate and put on special characters and the like to make unlocking less aggravating? Well you would be wrong again. None of that. It is the standard keyboard. Grr. Couple this with the fact companies are encouraging us (rightly so) to use complex passwords. There is a solution, from within Windows settings, Change PC settings, accounts , sign in options and you can add a 4 digit pin. Why this isn’t the default or promoted to setup on a tablet is beyond me. But then if there is anything you come to realize is Microsoft really are not taking the tablet market seriously or they would be innovating on this stuff.

In the past there were two power saving modes for laptops. Standby and hibernate. Standby basically put the laptop to sleep (and left it there). It took very little power but offered little in terms of ways to do background tasks like mail and notifications. Hibernate was similar but dumped memory etc to the hard drive and basically turned the device off. Neither of these is useful for tablets. So Microsoft invented a concept they call connected standby. This is suppose to resolve this limitation. And keeps WIFI somewhat on and is able to give notifications while in lower power mode. This is nothing like the way Android does it so don’t be surprised if notifications (things like instant messages or email) on Windows tablets is slower in comparison to iPads or Android. According to spec to meet Microsoft requirements “Connected Standby systems must drain less than 5% of system battery capacity over a 16-hour idle period”. On this one I noticed in 24 hours it drew about 12%. Not terrible and definitely better than my older Samsung Ativ.

Overall given the honking battery on this tablet battery life is quite good. A couple days is quite possible. And leaving it sitting not in use it could last days for sure! The battery went from 22% back up to 100% in under 2.5 hours with the factory charger. That’s an impressively quick recharge cycle.

Some companies put the recovery image on the flash drive itself, but this uses precious already tight space. Asus were smart and ship an SD card with the recovery image on it. Sweet. Of course don’t loose the card. :)

Now can it replace an Android tablet? Hmmm interesting question. I guess that will depend on what you use your Android tablet for. Let’s face it, iPhones/iPad are the kings of apps. There are so many choices as to be dizzying. Android is next up with a lot of support from apps. Windows phone is so far behind as to be laughable. And Windows Store (for tablets like this) is a way behind. Your unlikely to find apps to do everything you want to do, and everything you are already doing with your Android tablet let alone an iPad. On the positive side you end up with a full function browser, with complete support (including flash etc). Android constantly ends up on the mobile version of the web site with limited content. Microsoft office is of course also a full version rather than the poorly implemented Office clones or even Office for tablet. And let not forget that in desktop mode you can load any Windows app you want. Limited of course by memory and drive space. And be sure and have a mouse and keyboard ready anytime you are in desktop mode, cause if there is one place touch is poorly supported, desktop mode.

So all in all I like the tablet. Can’t replace my Android tablet but still. It’s one killer One note device!

February 22, 2015 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Cinch Android wear app review

I was looking through a list of Android wear apps on Android Center and stumbled on this one and gave it a try. I have to say I am thoroughly impressed. You can look at what third parties are doing with Android and Android Wear and they show gaps in the current offerings. Clear ones. I took a number of steps backwards when I went from a Samsung Gear 2 Neo (non Android wear) to a Samsung Gear Live (Android wear) smartwatch. You would think Android wear would start by looking at what is in the market place and improve on that. Sadly, as obvious a starting point as that is, they sure do not seem to have. Same can be said about the woefully inadequate Google Fit. On my Samsung Gear Live smartwatch there is a heart rate monitor. It can cleverly be used as by apps like Endomondo, and Google Fit can be used to call up your heart rate when you want it. But, what is missing is something that would sample and record your heart rate throughout the day. Interestingly the Moto 360 does this, but the Samsung Gear Live does not. Now this app, Cinch is not designed only for this purpose. It is also intended to help you loose weight. Something which happily is not my focus. But none the less let us have a look at what it can do. I will ignore the weight side of the app, just because it is not something I would use. I recently reviewed a Fitbit Charge HR which allowed you to monitor your heart rate continuously throughout the day. A neat idea, but I can live with periodic readings, for close to free on a device I already have, my Samsung Gear live. So first up you need to go into settings and setup your data age/sex/weight etc as well as how often you want your heart rate sampled:
Screenshot_2015-02-19-14-30-01
Once done the app will sit in the background and just sample, record and (if setup) send the heart rate data onto Google Fit backend! And you get a nice graph of your heart rate throughout the day, and even some stats, min/max/avg during the hour you select. The Charge HR didn’t even do that! Of course how good the data is depends on how often you are sampling your heart rate.
Screenshot_2015-02-20-11-29-43

Why this is not part of Google Fit is beyond me. A high school student could have written a better app than Google Fit in an afternoon.

Cinch also gives you some nice data converting the step counter from Fit into calories. Another sorely missing feature from Google Fit.
Screenshot_2015-02-19-14-31-02
They even separate basal calories from the calories burned from the steps you have taken! Something even Fitbit don’t do.

You can also start Cinch on your Android wear app to track an individual work out.

All in all an excellent bridge for the functions missing in Google Fit!

I contacted the author who informed me:
“I have big plans for Cinch. This is just the beginning.

Regarding the costs: Cinch is free to use for two weeks without any limitation. After two weeks, you’ll be prompted to purchase Cinch for a one-time cost of $1.99.”

Well done Ryan!

February 20, 2015 Posted by | Android, Android Wear (Smartwatch) | Leave a comment

Fitbit Charge HR review

I last reviewed the Fitbit One before I lost. Fitbit replaced the lost One but I figured I would simply loose it again so I went ahead and sold it and this one caught my eye. Getting a decent day to day heart rate monitor (the HR in Charge HR is for a heart rate monitor built in) has been a bit of quest for the holy grail I’ve been on for a while. The Samsung Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Live both did not work all that well as a heart rate monitor. They provided a heart rate when asked but no other time than that. The Motorola 360 takes heart rates through the day but given the abyssmal battery life of the Gear Live it’s a good thing it doesn’t try and do that. I’ve had my eye on a Garmin FR70 for a while but have not been able to snag one for a price I am willing to pay. That and the thing is just plain ugly. And then I saw this one. I like the functionality of the One. And like how it is back end integrated with Endomondo to allow you to put all your fitness data in one place.

Let’s start with expectations. I do not expect the heart rate on this device to be all that accurate. My previous experience with three other wrist based heart rate monitors (Mio Link, Samsung Gear 2 Neo, and Smasung Gear Live) all leave me with low expectations on accuracy. But for an always on device accuracy for a specific point in time may not be all that important. Averages, trends etc are. Now if I was using this as a fitness tracking device then my needs would be different, and I would not choose this device for that purpose.

My Charge HR for this review is at Firmware version 64 according to the Fitbit portal. I couldn’t find it anywhere in the app. (I’d swear it use to be there).

8681515_sa (1)
Physicals
The Charge HR is a relatively small device with an exercise watch like rubber band with a hard part in the center of the band that is the electronics. The electronics are not removable from the band (or not easily) as they are in the Fitbit Flex. You have to choose your size based on your wrist. Me, I ended up either being at the larger edge of the small, or the smaller edge of the large so I went with large. It means I have only one or two holes left when tightened. I don’t know if the electronics are the same size on the small and large but I do notice that the watch is slightly wider than my wrist leaving it on the edge of my wrist bone. When the band was tight this was noticeable and somewhat uncomfortable. Less noticeable when loose. With the Mio link they said I had to keep it tight to avoid ambient light getting underneath. It’s worth noting, I have a small wrist.
20150210_152956wrist-2

I won’t go so far as to say it’s ugly, but it isn’t stylish either. The display on it is a little on the smaller side but easily read. The display comes on when you push the button on the side or double tap the screen. It makes no attempt to detect your wrist being rotated to turn the display on the way a smartwatch does. Once on it stays on for 3 seconds and then right back off. If there is a place to change the time the screen stays on I couldn’t find it. All in pursuit of maximizing battery life. The button scrolls through what is displayed on the screen and what is displayed can be setup in the app or web portal.

The bottom side of the device shows the heart rate sensor as well as the charge port. The charge port uses a proprietary cable. Plugging into the back of the device is not the easiest thing and it does not have the greatest feel as you are putting it in. Why they didn’t use a standard microUSB as Sony did on the smartwatch 3 is beyond me. Fitbit say you should get 5 days battery life so at least you don’t have to play with the charge cable every night. The bottom side has some edges and the like that leave lovely patterns in your skin. I won’t go so far as to say sharp, but not soft either. The edge of the Charge HR is raised enough and sharp enough as to catch shirt sleeves. A rounded egde would have been far better.

After 4.5 days of use with background sync turned off on the very first charge I got notice that the battery was getting low. It is absoloutely incredible that Fitbit have managed this. And I would go so far as to say there is NOTHING on the market that I can think of that can manage this feat. 4.5 days of 24 hours a day of heart rate monitoring! Wow impressive.

simple.b-cssdisabled-png.h076f5bf1ce049f9c270a80962456ece2

Included in the box is a USB BT 4.0 dongle for use with a computer, a charge cable, the Charge HR itself (duh) and a piece of paper that simply directs you to the fitbit web site. Getting into the box was less than an obvious task. The easiest way is from the bottom? There is no manual in the box, oddly there is one on the Fitbit web site. If your wanting to use this device with your phone, you will need to insure your phone has BT 4.0 support. Otherwise it ain’t happening :)

Loading up the Android app, and setting up the device takes a bit of time, especially since it looks for updates, which there were. It took about 10 minutes to complete initial setup (which it does warn you). There is only one thing to load so at least there is that. And most setups of the device go as defaults so not much to setup.

The Opening screen on the app shows you a lot of what you need to know, and drilling into any of the fields gives you historical graph data etc. Like any Fitbit this measure steps taken, your current heart rate, kms walked (calculated), calories burned (calculated, including basal calorie count see more below), floors climbed, hours of sleep etc. The app does allow you to track your weight, water drank, food consumption etc none of which I would use so I won’t comment on them. My heart rate took quite a while to initially display anything. I have no idea why. I tried rebooting the phone and nothing seemed to fix it. Then miraculously it started working. Oddly the data was on the portal so it was an issue with the Android app.
Screenshot_2015-02-10-14-50-38
As an amusing aside, the prominently displayed “Read the Charge HR 101 Guide” is a broken link. Oops.

The Fitbit portal is well done and allows you to set a bunch of stuff for the Charge (alarm times, options, etc) as well as see your data on something other than your phone screen. A nice added bonus.

From my One review here is my rant on calories. It’s the same on the Charge HR:
And now we come to one of my biggest complaints with the fitbit. The calorie count. If you were to sit totally still for a day the body consumes a certain amount of calories to exist. This is called the basal calorie. There are calculators that can give you an approximate number for your age/sex (yes please :) )/weight based on averages. The fitbit includes this number not only on your end of day numbers but throughout the day. And does not even tell you what it uses as your basal calorie count. So you are left trying to see a number from walking in the hundreds of calories buried within a number that is 10s of hundreds of calories. It makes it difficult to see or encourage you to do extra steps or stairs. Totally stupid IMHO. I’ve seen comments that you can turn this off but I have tried and see no way.

Let’s use my numbers to illustrate the issue. Using the calculator I mentioned above I would guess my basal number to be 1462 calories. And remember fitbit is doing some sort of math to spread the basal calories out throughout the day as well as when you sleep, meaning you can only do this calculation at the end of the day. So as an example, at the end of a day when I had walked over 10,000 steps it said I had consumed 2171 calories. Now if I manually (because Fitbit doesn’t do it for you) subtract the numbers I get that walking consumed 709 calories. Samsung S.Health says 308 calories. Now that’s not to say that S.Health’s number are unquestionable but the difference, over 50% seems suspicious. Now Fitbit does take stairs into account (which it says I did 30 flights of stairs), so maybe the calorie count has some foundation. But all in all this is a very poorly thought out feature. Here’s fitbit’s article on it’s calorie counting.There is an app called Fitwatchr for Fitbit which does take care of this.

Heart rate monitor
Ok so now a bit about the heart rate monitor. It has three modes auto (turn on unless charging, or off your body), off and on (no idea what you would want that for). Auto also detected when I took the device off to shower (it`s not recommended to wear it in the shower, unlike the Flex) and turned the heart rate monitor off. Leaving it off should extend your battery life. I would guess out to 7 days (from 5) based on what the Charge (non-HR) gets. Sadly you can not turn the heart rate monitor on or off on the device itself, only from the portal or app.

The heart rate monitor is always on and always recording (I read somewhere it samples once a second). This data is then graphed at the end of the day. You can start an individual work out and you get a nice graph of your heart rate during that workout. You do get an average HR for workouts, but that’s it for stats. No average for the day, no max, no min nada. So while the HR is there and always on, it’s only moderately useful. And to top it off there is no way to export the heart rate data. With a premium of only $30 to get the HR I am not sure why anyone wouldn’t get it. You can always turn it off. Here’s a graph of a work out I did, a short walk:
walk
Like most wrist based heart rate monitors the more still you are the more accurate it is. Of course if your trying to exercise then this is problematic.

At the end of the day here is the graph you get of your heart rate. Sadly it will only show you 24 hours at a time. Most folks sleep through midnight, it would be nicer to be able to see 48 hrs. Heart rate maybe a way to tell quality and depth of sleep.
charge-hr-1
Interestingly if you hover it does show some sort of running average HR data:
charge-hr-2
Here`s a view that would be helpful (but isn`t available, I patched it together)
charge-hr-3

I tried to get some correlation data using BLE Heart rate monitor (an Android bluetooth low energy heart rate app) and my Rhythm+ heart rate monitor and every time the Fitbit app sync’d with the Charge HR it interrupted the connection to my Rhythm. The same thing happened with Endomondo (the heart rate connection was interrupted by Fitbit app connecting to the charge HR). I have no idea why this is, but it sure sounds like Android not sharing the Bluetooth Low energy stack between two apps. This is worth noting if you are using a bluetooth low energy heart rate monitor as I do. Turn off background sync in the Fitbit app or you could loose your connection to other bluetooth low energy devices.

The Charge HR can not be used by anything other than the Fitbit app. With some firmware the Charge HR could have been used as a generic Bluetooth low energy heart rate monitor for other apps. Sadly this is not there. Other apps that have embraced wearables such as Endomondo also for now do not support the Charge HR device. So what you get from the Fitbit app is what you get.

Accuracy
This is a tough one. First off expecting a step counter to be accurate is unrealistic. But how inaccurate is it? This is going to vary. Some days you may walk with longer strides, some shorter. Since it counts only steps the distance is a calculation based on some formula. Something each vendor is going to do on their own. First up I went for two walks and used Endomono (which is using a GPS, and a Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor) to compare distance, heart rate and calories.
charge-accuracy
The AVG HR tracked VERY well, calories reasonably well, but distance, not so much. I was surprised.

I did another data run. I was reasonably inactive, walked around a bit, climbed a few stairs etc for about 2.5 hours and used BLE heart rate monitor connected again to my Scosche Rhytm+ and compared it to the Charge HR:
charge-hr-accuracy-4
As you can see the average heart rate compares quite favorably over a long period of time!

So let us compare the Fitibit Charge HR, with Samsung S.Health running on a Note 3 and Google Fit (Google Fit thrown in just for shits and giggles).
charge-accuracy-2
As you can see step count between S.Health and the Fitbit tracked pretty well. Better than I expected. Distance was reasonably inaccurate and calorie count is way off. And this is with basal calories removed. And as expected Google Fit running on a Samsung Gear Live is a wonderful act of fiction.

Since I can not export the heart rate data making an accurate comparison is virtually impossible, or at least impractical. The best I can do is put up two charts for you to visually compare. These are comparing Endomono running with a Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor verses the Charge HR. The graph is pulled from the repective portals and roughly scaled.

charge-hr-accuracy-1charge-hr-accuracy-2charge-hr-accuracy-3

The first point of note is that the data from the charge seems very blocky. This could simply be the way the portal is displaying the data but the data from the Scosche is a whole lot smoother. Maybe sampling more frequently? The data while not completely tracking is not quite as bad as what came out of the Gear Live heart rate monitor. But then again I was able to do a much more exacting comparison.

So is it good enough? Tough one. No where near for fitness use. Not enough stats or data display and no export ability leaves me wondering if it the heart rate monitor is of any use?

Stairs
What is a floor? This device tries to measure floors. Now what is more important I suppose is the relative number, noticing you climbed a number of floors today Vs yesterday. I did a little test and walked up 3 floors. It recorded as 2. And it seems to count floors completely randomly. The One did a much better job of accurately counting floors. I get home after a day and it says I’ve climbed 40 floors. Ya right.

Auto Sleep
The Fitbit One required you to manually put the device in sleep mode. This one attempts to figure it out itself. In fact there is no manual way to start a sleep on the device, although you can add one manually yourself on the portal or on the app. On day 1 it picked up the start and stop time I went to sleep perfectly. It even correctly noticed when I took the Charge off to shower and did not think I had gone back to bed. Worked well. On day two it misinterpreted my sitting on the couch watching TV as sleeping, then noted I woke up for a minute, and lastly did not properly interpret when I woke up and took the Fitbit off to shower, thinking I was still asleep. So this feature seems hit and miss for now.
Screenshot_2015-02-12-07-22-58

Here is a graph you get out of the sleep data. It is pretty basic. I did find the hard electronics in the Charge noticeable and even uncomfortable while I slept.
sleep-charge

Notifications
This device can do notifications. I originally had a dream that maybe this could replace a smartwatch. Then reality hit. The Charge alerts ONLY when your phone rings, silent alarms and when you reach your goal. The phone ringing vibrates only once, and shows you who is calling. Virtually useless. Fitbit could add alerts for other apps, but for now that is it. Couple with it, the fact that the Charge does not have an always on mode and there is not a chance your using this as a replacement for a watch. Pity. Almost makes me wonder the value equation of the Charge Vs the Flex.

Data export
From the portal you can export some data (Settings, data output). As of now there is no way to export the heart rate data. Not sure if that simply is a matter of the portal not being caught up with the existence of the Charge HR or what. Here is what you get out.
Activities: Date,Calories Burned, Steps, Distance, Floors, Minutes Sedentary, Minutes Lightly Active, Minutes Fairly Active, Minutes Very Active, and Activity Calories

Sleep: Date, Minutes Asleep, Minutes Awake, Number of Awakenings, and Time in Bed

Likely due to the increase in data from the heart rate monitor, I noticed it takes longer to sync the Charge HR than it did the One.

Also repeated from my Fitbit One review, all are equally valid for the Charge):
As with any of these wearables there are always a ton of things that could have been implemented. Here are some of my thoughts on what’s missing:
– better social networking
– an alarm function that would alert you when it became disconnected from your phone. This could alert you to not forget your phone, or if the Fitbit fell off
– I did see an app that would automatically lock your phone if the Fitbit became disconnected called BLE AutoLock for Fitbit Flex
– at this point there is no support whatsoever for Android wear. There are a number of apps in the playstore to bridge this gap including Fit Wear, FitIt Wear Pro and others
– Fitbit could be used for more notifications
– but for me the MAJOR miss of the Fitbit is something that the Jawbone already does. Alerts you if you’ve been inactive to remind you to get up and walk around. There is an app called BActive but it only works if your doing background sync.

There are a variety of portals and apps that link with the Fitbit site. Fitbit have centralized this list to make it easy for you to find! I linked in Endomono (an Android exercise app) and was thoroughly impressed how seemlessly the data crossed over from Fitbit to Endomono. Interestingly, the calorie count comes over without the above mentioned basal number, so just the calories burned walking! Yay! Here`s an example of how the data comes across from Fitbit into Endomondo:
charge-endo
As an interesting side note using this I can see that Fitbit counted 2933 calories for the day, sent over that activities burned 1067 calories leaving that Fitbit thinks my basal calories is 1866.

So do I like it? Well it is an interesting device. The heart rate monitor is cute and always with you. I wish the app did a lot more with the heart rate data. Time will tell if the device is comfortable enough to wear every day. I can not say this is a device I would highly recommend buying. More of a curiosity than anything else. I can only hope that the heart rate is used in some way to calculate calories burned. And I can only hope the portal and app are improved to better support the heart rate monitor. For now, it is what it is, limited.

Update:
After having it a week I decided to return it. While it is data rich, it is information poor. I found the device itself uncomfortable on my wrist. I got somewhat use to it sleeping but when it was loose enough to be comfortable the green light from the heart rate monitor was noticeable. Especially in the dark. The issue with it catching on the sleeves meant I never used the display on the device either. Now we are in winter so I have a winter coat and fleece on, but none the less. So in the end it’s a comparison with other devices and for me the value equation just isn’t there. At $179 it’s not a bad deal for a heart rate monitor, but given the limited use of this feature, for me, there is not enough value to justify the price compared to the Fitbit Flex. So I returned it. I am pleased to let you know the return policies and process at Indigo, are amazing. Fast and smooth. I never would have thought of buying a device like this from a book store, but a colleague pointed out they had stock (and Futureshop did not) so I bought it there and was thoroughly impressed with the experience. Enough so I would not hesitate to buy from them again.

February 15, 2015 Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews | 1 Comment

Gear Power 11000 portable battery pack

You can never have enough power, especially when travelling. My colleague Manuel bought himself one of these for a trip he is planning and knowing how addicted I am to tech he let me play :) When choosing a portable battery pack you need to be careful. A lot of them, especially the smaller ones can only output 1A of current meaning for a newer phone it either barely charges or charges slowly. If your on the go and you connect to a portable power supply like this you want to get the max juice in the min time. That said, a phone will control the max power it can be supplied. To date, I have not seen a phone that can suck in more and 2A. The power packs I have played with to date are about 50% efficient. Meaning the phone battery you are charging takes 2 mAh from the portable battery pack for every 1 mAh the phone battery gets. I’ve also noticed phones can be picky as to where they take their power from and may get a full amount of current from one source and no where near full from another. I have no idea why this is but have noticed it on numerous phones.

Physicals
This thing is a bruiser. Weighing in at 295g, my Samsung Note 3 is 168g so almost double. 7.6 x 12.1 x 1.9 cm in size so about the size of an old transistor radio. If this thing was in your pocket you wouldn’t miss it.

Shape wise it’s a brick. White in color with three jacks on the top. USB 1A, USB 2A and then a microUSB to charge it. On the front of the unit is a single button that reveals the level of charge in a series of 4 green LEDs. When charging the LEDS blink to show you the level of charge and then stop blinking when fully charged. There is no color to the LEDs. On the bottom the unit has rubber feet to keep it in place, a nice touch. The edges are silvery in color but I don’t think it’s metal (not that I know). I can’t believe this thing is going to tolerate being dropped so your going to want to be careful.
51kXqGCP-uL._SL1500_

Price wise it wasn’t cheap ~$47 at Amazon.ca regularly ~$90.

The unit comes with an AC charger that only puts out 1A so it will take a while to charge this puppy from dead. It also comes with a faux velvet carrying case and a microUSB cable. They do not include any cables for other devices (like tablets or iphones etc) they assume you will use the one that came with your device.

The battery inside the unit is LiION.

Some of the units like this one come with an LED to act like a flashlight. A simple idea. This one does not. Some of them will allow you to plug in a charger and then plug the phone in and with one charger will charge both. This one does not. When it’s charging it can not be used to charge the phone. It’s an either or.

I plugged my note 8 into both the 1A and 2A USB port and both delivered 1798 mA according to Galaxy Charging HUD which by the way is the same current the factory charger is able to deliver. That is impressive. The unit was solid and kept charging the tablet as long as it needed with no breaks. Interestingly the unit did not get hot. I have experienced others getting quite warm when being pushed to the max current. 2.1 is the max it is suppose to be able to deliver.

On my Note 3 it gave 1.2 mAH Vs the stock charger giving about 1.8 mAH. I’ve seen this kind of pickyness when it comes to chargers before so this is nothing new.

I ran two tests, first I started at 18% on the Note 8 and charged it up to 61% in 3 hrs 58 mins for an average of 10.8% per hour. With a battery in the note being 4600 mAH this means that the tablet got 1978 mAH from the pack and was flashing 3 bars of charge left. Next up (without recharging the pack) I ran it from 33% on the Note 8 to 100% in 3 hours 44 mins for an average of 19.4% per hour. No idea why the difference in charging rates. This then accounts for another 3082 mAh the Note 8 took from the pack. For a total of 5060 mAh from an 11,000 mAh external battery pack for an efficiency of 46%. This is in keeping with previous packs I’ve evaluated.

According to Manuel it took 10-11 hours with the stock charger from dead.

All in all it’s a nice unit. Your not going to carry it around with you every day, but when your travelling it would be a welcome companion to our ever hungry devices needs for power!

February 5, 2015 Posted by | Android, Other reviews, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fitbit One review

A while back I discovered the pedometer functionality within the Samsung S.Health app and found it useful in that it encouraged me to walk more through a day to meet a goal of 10,000 steps. Some artificial number but at the end of the day a little more exercise (assuming you don’t get killed in the process :) ) is good for you. The older version of the app even tried to differentiate when you were doing stairs (although this feature was later removed). Then along came my Samsung Gear 2 Neo smartwatch and the pedometer got better and more accurate because I always wore the watch. Sadly when I moved to a Samsung Gear Live Android wear watch this functionality moved into the woefully inadequate Google fit leaving me without a convenient pedometer. Add to that I moved to a larger phone (a Note 3) meaning I leave the phone sitting more often leading to an inaccurate number of steps taken. I saw this product and was curious so I snagged one on the cheap. $50. Technical curiosity always seem to hit my bank account :(

So what can this puppy do? Well … it’s an uber small, super convenient device you can toss in your pocket, clip to your clothes or wear in a small pouch on your wrist while you sleep. It get’s 10-14 days of battery life so it is a set it an forget it device. What you get out of it is the following stats: Steps taken, approx kms, calories (more on this later), stairs taken, and some basic sleep data (again more on this in a bit).

In the box comes the sensor itself, a clip for your clothes/belt, the wrist band, a USB charging cable and a bluetooth low energy dongle if you want to connect it to a computer without bluetooth. Of course you can also connect it to your smartphone.
simple.b-cssdisabled-png.h87ffbe1ef69551f5fb496194e54e7381fitbit_one_armband

Physically this device is well made/designed. The display is easily readable, albeit small and allows you to walk through (pun intended) the stats. You can also use the one button to put it into sleep mode or use it to record an individual workout although this is displayed only on the fitbit itself and lost when you stop it. The Android app does not show this individual workout. It is oddly available on the web portal in activities. The device is so small as to easily be forgotten, all the while collecting your exercise stats for you. Just don’t forget to remove it from your pocket/clothes before you put it in the wash :)

Sleep mode
Taking it out of the clothes holder and putting it into the wrist band while you sleep returns some basic sleep data. How long were you in bed (a simple timing of when you manually pushed start sleep and stop sleep, it does not figure this out automatically) as well as some data for how many times you woke up and how restless you were. And if you forget to manually stop your sleep there is no way on the Android app to fix what is now bad data (you can edit it on the portal). All used to determine your quality of sleep. You need to do some mental comparisons to make use of that data. And then you would need to figure out what might be causing better or worse sleep. There’s little guidance for what to do with the data. There isn’t even a sleep debt calculator. Stats of the quality of sleep are also light. Very basic …

To put the unit into sleep you simply press and hold the button until it flashes and then push and hold it until it stops flashing to exit sleep. It’s the same process to start a separate workout, the fitbit figures out which you meant.

There is a third party app called sleep debt that goes into the Fitbit portal to pull your sleep data and tells you if you are getting enough sleep. A very basic calculation based on when you went to sleep and what your defined target is. An example of something simple Fitbit could add.

Here are some charts you get from the Android app:
wpid-screenshot_2015-01-29-06-48-48.pngwpid-img_20150129_075406.jpg

And from the portal:
wpid-img_20150129_075510.jpg

Pedometer
First and foremost this is a pedometer, ie count your number of steps. So I put it up against my Samsung S.health app running on my phone and made a concerted effort to keep my phone in my pocket. I have done some correlation of S.Health with GPS and they track reasonably well. Comparing the fitbit against the S.health over the period of 3 days I saw as much as an 11% difference in steps counted and a difference of as much 7% in Kms. We all have our thresholds for accuracy, mine personally is 10%. Just an arbitrary number. This seems to be acceptable to me. And this includes times when I left my phone sitting while the fitbit was always on me. This is one of the benefits of the fitbit. Set it and forget it.

And now we come to one of my biggest complaints with the fitbit. The calorie count. If you were to sit totally still for a day the body consumes a certain amount of calories to exist. This is called the basal calorie. There are calculators that can give you an approximate number for your age/sex (yes please :) )/weight based on averages. The fitbit includes this number not only on your end of day numbers but throughout the day. And does not even tell you what it uses as your basal calorie count. So you are left trying to see a number from walking in the hundreds of calories buried within a number that is 10s of hundreds of calories. It makes it difficult to see or encourage you to do extra steps or stairs. Totally stupid IMHO. I’ve seen comments that you can turn this off but I have tried and see no way.

Let’s use my numbers to illustrate the issue. Using the calculator I mentioned above I would guess my basal number to be 1462 calories. And remember fitbit is doing some sort of math to spread the basal calories out throughout the day as well as when you sleep, meaning you can only do this calculation at the end of the day. So as an example, at the end of a day when I had walked over 10,000 steps it said I had consumed 2171 calories. Now if I manually (because Fitbit doesn’t do it for you) subtract the numbers I get that walking consumed 709 calories. Samsung S.Health says 308 calories. Now that’s not to say that S.Health’s number are unquestionable but the difference, over 50% seems suspicious. Now Fitbit does take stairs into account (which it says I did 30 flights of stairs), so maybe the calorie count has some foundation. But all in all this is a very poorly thought out feature. Here’s fitbit’s article on it’s calorie counting.There is an app called Fitwatchr for Fitbit which does take care of this.

I kept a close eye on my step count while in a car (someone else was driving) and the fitbit correctly did not count steps. One thing that is missing is an ability to turn off, or pause the step counter when your doing an activity the Fitbit does not count. Like say snowboarding or cycling. And it does count something as steps while doing these.

Stair Counter
The Fitbit counts stairs climbed (in the up direction). I’m not too sure what or how it does this. I did a little test and walked up 14 flights of stairs. Fitbit saw it as 18. Fitbit said I had consumed 48 calories. I used Endomondo with my heart rate monitor on my Samsung Gear Live and it said I consumed 118 calories. Now adding the heart rate monitor does allow it to be more accurate anyway so not sure what to say about the calorie count on stairs. I watched my step count as I went up an escalator and it correctly did not register the escalator as stairs! Nice.

Alarm
You can use the Fitbit as a vibrating alarm (there’s no speaker). You can set the alarm on your phone/pc or the web portal. Better hope someone doesn’t crack your web portal or they can wake you up anytime they want :) The alarm works fine if your wearing the wrist strap, otherwise you might miss it. Fitbit does warn you that the alarm can effect battery life.

Oh and the fitbit also tells you the time of day (but not the date).

Fitbit Android app
Here’s a screen shot from the Android app:
Screenshot_2015-01-22-11-41-01
Pairing the Fitbit with my Android phone was simple. The app itself is pretty trouble free and easy to use. The Fitbit can background wirelessly (over Bluetooth low energy) sync data with your phone which then uploads to the portal. You can turn that off in the settings which would save battery on your phone and Fitbit. You will need to insure your phone is supported by the Fitbit if this is something you want to use. Bluetooth low energy is a newer feature and is different than good old bluetooth that has been around for a very long time.

The app can also be used to enter your food consumption, manual exercises that Fibit does not cover (cycling, swimming etc) and fluids consumed. I used none of these, (nor would I) so I will not comment on it.

Portal
All of the data is backed up to the Fitbit cloud and there is a web portal front end to get at the data. So if having all this data in the cloud concerns you, be aware. I do like having the ability to view the data on the portal instead of only on the phone.

Social
Fitbit states that Fitbit users with at least one friend are 27% more active than those without :) To that end Fitbit will (if you ask it to) search your contact list for Fitbit users and makes it easy to add friends. Other than that I see no way of sharing your status/progress on things like Facebook. Once you have friends on Fitbit you can see how many steps that person averages per day, and you can see their friends (friends of friends). You can add and friends of friends as your friends too. You can send messages from within Fitbit to your friends. You can also throw down the gauntlet and challenge your friends!

Battery
The battery on the device lasts quite a while which is great, but it also means it’s easy to forget to charge it and loose a days (or more) worth of data. The display that shows the battery status on the Android app does not give any kind of a precise value, or estimate of when the battery might be dead. There also does not appear to be a warning on the Android app as the battery is getting close to dead. There is an Android app (called Low Battery Alert for Fitbit) that queries the web portal and alerts when the battery is getting close to dead. On my phone it kept crashing. The Fitbit Portal itself does send you an email (assuming your connected to the net) to remind you to charge the Fitbit but nothing from the device itself, or on the device itself. The email said:
Your One battery level is low. Charge your battery as soon as possible.

To charge:
1. Connect the charging cord to your computer
2. Slide the the One tracker into the open end of the charging cord, matching up the gold contacts on the tracker and the charging cord
3. It will take one to two hours to charge to full, depending on the current power level
Your battery should last 5-7 days under normal use.
Happy stepping!

By the way, to top it off you can not see the battery status on the Fitbit itself. I got 10 days or battery life with background sync turned on, which is excellent.

Flower
There is a flower icon that shows you how active you have been. The more the flower grows and add leaves the more active you’ve been. An odd way of showing it but heh …

Once a week you get a nice summary of your exercise:
fitbit

Loosing your fitbit
The clothes holder is pretty firm, but it’s still possible to loose your Fitbit. In fact I lost mine after a mere 2 weeks. This pointed out a number of things that could have been done better. First there could have been a small lanyard cable to fasten around your belt to act as a safety. Next they could have had an alarm to indicate that the connection with the Fitbit was lost. Next they could have provided a find me feature. Instead they point you to a generic bluetooth scanner that you have to figure out. They know the MAC address of the Fitbit so a feature could be developed to implement this. Next they could have provided some kind of Owner Information display, like maybe your phone number. (Alternatively you may want to attach a label to yours with your phone number). Next they could have implemented a buzz/flash feature so that in the event you were in the vicinity of the fitbit it could more easily be found. Lastly Fitbit could have implemented a report it lost feature so that if someone found it an tried to use it they could provide an avenue to get it back to you. Sadly none of this has been done leaving you with a lost Fitbit. Sadly none of this have been done, so you are simple shit out of luck :( Now I always say, one of the factors in determining how useful something is/was is in the event you lost or broke it, would you replace it? For me that’s a pretty simple one … nope. I would have kept using it but will not replace it. The wrist based Fitbits are a better design from a loss point of view, but even that could be misplaced.

As much as I think the technical solutions could and should have been implemented, I contacted Fitbit to report it lost. And they were amazing. Compassionate, understanding, and offered to replace the fitbit under warranty. Wow. In under three days a Fitbit was delivered to my door. Unbelievable. What amazing customer service and even more to the point … customer retention. I am in awe.

As with any of these wearables there are always a ton of things that could have been implemented. Here are some of my thoughts on what’s missing:
– social networking as already mentioned
– an alarm function that would alert you when it became disconnected from your phone. This could alert you to not forget your phone, or if the Fitbit fell off your clothes
– I did see an app that would automatically lock your phone if the Fitbit became disconnected called BLE AutoLock for Fitbit Flex
– at this point there is no support whatsoever for Android wear. There are a number of apps in the playstore to bridge this gap including Fit Wear, FitIt Wear Pro and others
– Fitbit could be used for notifications such as when your phone is wringing
– but for me the MAJOR miss of the Fitbit is something that the Jawbone already does. Alerts you if you’ve been inactive to remind you to get up and walk around. There is an app called BActive.

There are a variety of portals and apps that link with the Fitbit site. Fitbit have centralized this list to make it easy for you to find! I linked in Endomono (an Android exercise app) and was thoroughly impressed how seemlessly the data crossed over from Fitbit to Endomono. Interestingly, the calorie count comes over without the above mentioned basal number, so just the calories burned walking! Yay!

So all in all I like the Fitbit. It’s simple and easy and just works. If Google Fit had been as good as Samsung S.Health on the Gear 2 Neo I never would have considered buying one of these. But since it’s not this is a neat add.

January 28, 2015 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Samsung Note 3 review

I’ve been using my S4 since May, over 6 months! That’s quite a while for me. There really hasn’t been anything to motivate me to upgrade. The S5 is incremental at best to the S4. I really do like the S4. I’ve come to use the Ant+ Radio as well as the bluetooth low energy so would love to keep them. I rarely if ever use the HDMI functionality. The battery life on the S4 is abysmal. And to top it off I have found the S4 finicky when it comes to external battery packs. I was really reticent to buy a second battery simply because I upgrade my phone so often. That said, I’ve kept this one the longest yet …

I enjoy my Samsung Note 8 and use it often to take notes at my wine tasting events. It’s a huge step forward from writing on paper and then trying to find the paper later. So I scratched things :) and wondered, hmm if I had a Samsung Note maybe I would use it daily to take digital notes? I always have a stack of paper that I jot down notes on at work and home. So with this in mind I started looking around. Now a Note 4 is current just for reference … I ruled out a Note 2 because it does not have Ant+ (which I use for my Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor), has had issues with it’s charge circuit (a colleague actually encountered this issue which is well documented on the net) and has also been quite susceptible to screens breaking. The Note 4 is still quite expensive. So I zeroed in on the Note 3. I was looking around for them for a bit when I found one that expired on New Years eve. Low and behold I sniped one on ebay using BidNip. Sniping consists of placing your offer at the very last minute to avoid getting into a bidding war. It can get you great deals on ebay. Bidnip is a web site you log on to and tell it what your price for the item is and BidNip places your bid for you based on your criteria. It does everything for you …

Given my in depth reviews of both the Samsung S4 and the Samsung Note 8 I will try and not repeat things already in the other two reviews.

The exact model I have is a SM-N900W8 running Android 4.4.2.

The S4 was announced April 2013 and the Note 3 Oct 2013.

Note3/S4 specs:
Let’s start with Physicals, as compared to the S4:
79.2 x 151.2 x 8.3 mm vs 69.8 x 136.6 x 7.9 mm
168 g vs 130 g

Tech Specs:
4x Qualcomm Krait 400 at 2.265GHZ Vs 4x Qualcomm Krait 300 at 1.890GHZ
3G Ram Vs 2G
5.7″ vs 5″ screen both are 1080×1920 (and thus the first rub. A much larger screen but same resolution leading to a much lower pixel per inch. The Note 4 for reference is 1440 x 2560 and the Note 2 was 720×1280)
Battery 3200 mAh vs 2600 mAh

Physically the device is the usual assortment of Samsung chosen buttons. Soft buttons for options and back on the front as well as a physical button for home. As usual no on screen button for back/home making HDMI remote a challenge. Also as usual Samsung do not allow rotating home screen. Problematic again for HDMI output. If you use an app like Ultimate Screen rotation and get the home screen to rotate the screen is cut off, making it clear Samsung don’t intend this to be used. Making HDMI as usual a poorly implemented solution. Notice the missing (and critical) app menu button.
Screenshot_2015-01-09-13-10-45
Samsung wisely moved the power button down a bit from the top to make it easier to turn on and off. Volume control buttons are on the side.

Samsung have gone to a faux leather back to the phone that is much easier to hold onto verses the uber slippery plastic back of so many of the previous phones. Behind the back is the battery (which is removable) a micro SIM and micro SD card. Spare batteries are very available on ebay or Amazon and cheap.

On the bottom Samsung have gone to a micro USB 3 connector. This has been cleverly designed to take a standard micro USB connector as well so your old accessories (cables and chargers) still work. Oddly the charger is still maxed out at 2A so I can see no advantage to USB 3. Internal and SD card speeds are still well below USB 2 anyway.
USB3-Micro-3FT

Samsung offer a smartview cover for the Note 3. I had one for my s4 and love it. It turns the screen on when you open the cover (and off when you close it), and shows some information on the smaller screen when a message or call comes in. You can answer the call right through the smart screen without having to open the cover. A quite like these covers. The cover also provides some protection for the screen.
$_57

The Note 3 is the usual collection of Samsung Touchwiz. Honestly there is little new from the S4. The S.Health app is the newer one so it supports the Gear 2/Neo but still no support for the Android wear Samsung Gear Live, and may never. There’s also the usual smart screen (keep the screen on if your looking at it) and the like that I hate and turn off due to how laggy it makes the phone. There’s a newer version of the S.Note app used with the pen (compared with the Note 8). As before there is no way to do much with the data files from this app so it’s pretty useless. The Note 3 supports what Samsung call multi window (oddly the note 8 does not). This allows you to divide the screen into two with one app on the top and another on the bottom. You can resize it to be any split between the two apps. Page buddy (an app launcher customizable to a particular task, like using the pen, listening to music etc) is gone on the Note 3 (it was there on the Note 8). The menuing system is a little off. As usual they do not sort it alphabetically (but you can change it to do that) and there are folders for Samsung and Google Apps within the menuing system. This is the first time I’ve seen that. While it shortens the menu list I found myself looking about for an app that had been moved under a folder. I wasn’t wild about this. All in all the app mix is fine. Little to complain about.

The usual newer MHL connector (used on the S3 and above) works and HDMI does work with the usual Samsung phone imperfections such as the home screen mentioned above. You could use it for movie playback and the like otherwise not a useful function. At least the screen does stay on with HDMI connected so at least they got that right.

A standard USB OTG cable works fine with mouse/keyboard and flash drives. As in the past NTFS is not supported so you need to be careful how you format your flash drive if you intend to use it on the Note 3.

There are lots of comments about problems with the GPS in the Note 3. I’ve experienced it myself. The GPS will all of a sudden not be able to get a lock on your position. When it happened I tried everything from powering off the phone, removing the battery, trying different apps etc. None worked. If your using a GPS program like Google Maps etc it will use the network location which of course is very inaccurate and have you bouncing around the map.

The only solution I found was to use an app called GPS Status that allowed me to reset the GPS. After that it took a long time to get a lock because that was a cold start to the GPS. But at least it solved the problem. Of course it will happen again. It’s a shame that Samsung have not found a fix to this issue.

The pen functionality works although for whatever reason I find the pen does not flow quite as smoothly over the screen as on the Note 8. None the less it is very usable and works miles better than the pen on a capacitive touch screen. In case your not aware, all of the Samsung Notes use a Wacom digitizer making the pen a lot more accurate. The tip of the pen is changeable and spares are shipped with the phone. The pen works even if there is a pen in the dock so you can carry a spare pen with you and use it. On the Note 8 the pen was ignored if it was in the dock. Samsung have added a new app called Air command that pops up when the pen is removed to allow you to quickly start action memo, scrap booker, screen write, s.finder or pen window. In the settings you can change it to launch nothing, Action memo or air command. Sadly you can not have it launch any other apps. There is a neat feature you can turn on that alerts you if your walking and your pen is not in the dock so that you don’t loose the pen! Nice.

The pen on the notes is not the nicest to hold. It is too small. So I started looking around for alternatives. It took a LOT of digging but I found a few. I even found a Chinese knock off on ebay.
$(KGrHqR,!oQFIrd0MLjKBSPR5Oz0HQ~~60_57
First off Samsung have one. Model number ET-S200EBEGSTA.
71SjkCzDvSL._SL1500_

I also found one from Wacom. But be careful, some of them are for generic touch screens. It’s called the Wacom Bamboo stylus feel for samsung galaxy note. It looks real nice. Like a real pen. And includes a cap to protect the tip. At $39 it is not cheap.
ccq3raqxzt

I’ve bought a couple of them so we will see how they feel.

As in the past Samsung Find My Mobile is included. This service allows you to find, ring, lock, and wipe your device from a web page. There is also a SIM change alert which sends you a message if the SIM is changed. IE stolen phone.

So at the end of the day the Note 3 is a mild step forward to the S4 and adds the pen. It’s got a slightly faster processor, bigger screen and bigger battery. It’s a nice device and while big will still fit in a pocket.

January 19, 2015 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Pen based Android apps a OneNote mini review

There are a number of Android devices out there that include a digitizer and a pen. Without a digitizer taking notes with a pen is virtually useless. I have a note 8 and have been very successful at using it to take digital notes. So now you have the hardware what software to use?

Samsung include a terrific app called S.Note but it is only supported on certain Android devices, there’s no PC based viewer, and export just sends each page out as a JPG.

I checked out Evernote, Papyrus and One Note. For me, the hands down winner is One Note. There are versions of One Note that run on a variety of platforms. And even a web portal and cloud backup. The Android version of is missing a number of features. There’s no OCR (Optical Character recognition) to take a page and convert it into text. There’s no handwriting recognition. And there’s no template support. I’m sure there are more features missing but these were what I’ve found to date. To get around this, assuming you have a PC, you can do OCR. Right click on the image and make it searchable, then right click to get the text out of the image inside the document and put it where you want.
one-note-1
one-note-2
They also left out the convert ink to text function. Again on the PC version select the hand writing and then right click and say convert Ink into text.
one-note-3
To get around the lack of templates on the Android version I create a bunch of black pages with the template I want in the PC version. Sync it and then use those pages the next time you want to take a note. I am shocked that there isn’t even a lined paper like view for the Android version.

One of the things worth noting is there are a number of versions of OneNote. Some were included in Office. If you download the version from the OneNote portal you have the most current.

On the PC there are easy ways to print almost anything and have it output to OneNote. The files can then be annotated using a pen.

In spite of the limitations of the Android App, this is the best solution I’ve found to date. I now use it for all my digital note taking. From recipes, to wine tasting notes etc.

January 6, 2015 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Samsung Gear Live Heart rate monitor

I was wondering just how accurate the Samsung Gear live Heart rate monitor is. Now right off the bat, I will tell you, that Samsung NEVER expected this device to be used while exercising. In fact, the app even says stay still when it’s measuring. And they never intended for it to give an ongoing heart rate. I also last reviewed a Mio Link wrist based heart rate monitor and found it VERY inaccurate. The wrist is a convenient but terrible place to get a heart rate. There’s so much going on and I have small wrists. Now expectations are important, so up front I have to say I have very little expectations the data will be all that accurate.

So with all that aside, I wanted to see how accurate it is anyway. So I did two data runs. First is where I am wearing the watch while walking (active) and the second while I am sitting relatively inactive (on a train). Now I made no attempt to not move around. I’ve done a couple of these correlation runs before so I have a methodology. So I am going to use Sportstracklive to capture the data off the Gear live. It has the ability to support the data off the Gear, as well as export the data to a CSV. I will use my Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor along with BLE Heart rate monitor to capture and export the data.

Let’s start out by comparing the coarse data:
rhythm-gear-compare

The data on the inactive (which was where Samsung intended this to be used) is pretty good if you throw out the max. Looking at the data I found two points where the number just makes no sense. Maybe the watch lost contact with the wrist. With these two data points thrown out the max off the watch is 96, so compares favorably.

The graph on inactive is also not all that bad, and not as bad as I expected:
rhym-gear-inactive

Now looking at the active data the max and the min obviously show some pretty good variance to the Rhythm data. But for a real giggle you have to look at the scatter chart of the data. To say the data off the gear is an act of fiction is not far off. Now I can only imagine how bad this would be if I was doing something real active like say mountain biking. And I also wonder what the temperature range for the watch’s heart rate monitor is? The Rhythm was only good to +5C.
rhythm-gear-active

One can not overlook battery consumption. When using the heart rate monitor it consumes a whopping 15% per hour or 6 hours 22 mins from a full charge until dead. No idea why the battery life is so bad, it never was this bad on the gear 2 Neo. But do remember this mode was never intended to be used by Samsung. Answers why they never included an app to do this feature.

So in the end, is it accurate? Well no, but then I did not expect it to be. And it is not that bad when used as intended. What is an interesting point, is that it had little effect on the calorie count. A variance of 10% is within my (low) expectations anyway!

January 2, 2015 Posted by | Android, Android Wear (Smartwatch) | Leave a comment

Facer (For Android Wear) Android app review

One of the things I love about having a smart watch is the ability to whimsically change the watch face. There are lots of watch faces out their you can purchase on the play store but they often aren’t free and sometimes they are missing something. If only you could just add it? Well … on the Sony Smartwatch 2 they had a clever way to design your own watchfaces from what it called widgets and clocks. Facer is similar in that you can design your own watch face. Assuming you have the time. But better than that, you can download a ton of Facer compatible watch faces from FacerRepo. And all for free. And if you see one you like you can also edit it yourself and add that one thing that is missing. You need to be careful to download watch faces for your watch (different sizes and shapes of watches means they don’t universally work). From within the watch face on FaceRepo from your paired smartphone click on download and then select open it with Facer … magically the new watch face is added to Facer. Very cool. Facer is a little confusing to use. To use a Facer watch face first select Facer on your watch. Then go into Facer on your phone and select the watchface you want. Click on the Orange watch button and it sends the watch face over to your watch. Le Voila. That’s it! I can’t tell you how much time it took me to figure this out.

By the way, there is another similar app called WatchMaker that is now also covered off by FacerRepo. It works VERY similarly.

December 20, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.