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Syma X5WSW Quadra copter/drone

I’ve been looking at drones for a long time now, but haven’t belly’d up. I got the curiosity itch and after doing a bunch of reading decided to buy this one. As it turns out a number of my colleagues have also been on the sidelines, so are anxious for this review so on we go.

These drones have come a long way. They have gyros in them that keep them largely level (once you have trimmed them) and what you are doing is simply providing the tilt to move it in whatever direction you want. The moves relative to what is called the head of the copter. In this case the direction the camera is pointing. If you get on the opposite side of the chopper then directions are reversed and it’s super easy to get confused. To counter this the copter has what is called headless mode. This removes the orientation, well sort of. If your behind the chopper the prespective is still off, but rotating it no longer effects it.

This copter is quite rugged but not indestructible. In the first week Is broke two of the four prop protectors. Ooops. They were pretty bad crashes. One into tree and one from a good height onto a rock. But it kept on flying! Replacement protectors and blades can be bought on Amazon pretty cheapily. The copter comes with a second set of blades but not protectors. Odd given the protector takes most of the beating. The protectors do not protect 100% of the copter or 100% of the blades. No idea why they this. It would have been much better had it been all the way around as it is on some choppers.

They included a 2mp camera that snaps onto the bottom of the copter. Careful there seems to be ones out there that are only .3mp. It streams video to your phone over wifi. There is a delay so flying through the phone is problematic. But for taking pics and video it works fine.

The remote is well made to make it simple as possible to fly the copter. They also included a phone holder so you can easily clip your videos and pics from the Syma app for Android and iPhone. I like this arrangement much better than the ones that use your phone to fly the copter. The remote can be used in one of two modes mode 1 and mode 2 the difference is just what the remote control does. In mode one the left controls throttle and rotations while the right controls the 4 degrees of tipping. In mode 2 the rotate left and right switches over to the right controller and the left and right tipping. Personal preference as to which you prefer.

Flying time on the included 500 mAh battery is 5-8 mins depending on whether the camera is on or not. You can buy spare batteries on Amazon to increase flying time. Recharge time is about 2 hours.

Indoor flying to start out with teaching you to be very subtle with the control otherwise you will be smashing into the ceiling and just about everything else. Outside the copter is super light and easily affected by the wind. Thermals can also pull the copter up uncontrollably. Once out of range the copter drops until it’s back in range. Much higher than about 5 km/hr wind and the copter really does not do well outdoors.

There are gyros to keep the copter level, but as you bank forward and backwards you will need to adjust the throttle to compensate otherwise you will find it rising or falling unexpectedly.

To calibrate the copter to hover level put it on a level surface turn it on and bring the controls all the way to the top, then all the way to the bottom, and then lastly all the way to the right until the copter flashes to acknowledge.

Don’t get confused by the buttons on the bottom to the left or the right they do nothing and are decoration.
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This is very much a beginner chopper. It’s a ton of fun, inexpensive and a great place to start. Syma has done a very good job. I don’t have a lot of comparison points given this is my first chopper, but I can say you probably won’t go wrong starting with this one. Both my daughter and GF also gave it a whirl so it has allure to even non techno geeks.

September 13, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wahoo Blue SC bike speed and cadence sensor

I last tried the Wahoo speed sensor. A brilliant design requiring no magnets and is easy to install. Sadly Garmin did not include support for speed only sensor in older devices (like my Edge 305) so I returned it.

So onto this sensor. It is the traditional speed and cadence (rate of rotation of the pedals) sensor with two magnets one on the pedal arm and one on the spokes of the wheel. The sensor itself mounts on the chain stay and has to be adjusted to be able to get at each of the magnets. There are two LEDs that light up every time it sees one of the magnets so you can see you got it adjusted right.
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And thus comes the first challenge. The magnet to mount on the pedal arm is a continuous loop elastic. The only way to get this onto the arm is to remove the arm from the bottom bracket, or remove the pedal. Either requires special tools that most people won’t have. A stupid design. The easiest way around this would be to cut the loop and cable tie it, but Wahoo did not include holes for a cable ties in the loops so all in all this is really poorly though out for all but bike mechanics.

Ok so now to put this puppy to the test to see who does (and does not) support the sensor. So I went on a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride. On a ride that is tight and twisty like this you can see the difference in distance when compared to the GPS. The sensor will always be higher as the GPS will assume a straight line between sampling points. So to test it out I used Endomondo, Wahoo Fitness app, RunGPS (all on iOS) and then I used Garmin FR70, Edge 305 and Fenix 2.

To start off with Endomondo on iOS does not support a speed and cadence sensor so the only reason for this data point is a basis for GPS only data for trying to figure out if the app/device uses the wheel sensor to figure out speed and distance.

The Garmin FR70 does not have a GPS in it, so you are guaranteed that the speed/distance data it displays is from the sensor. So using these two data points we have our comparison points.

Let’s start out comparing cadence data over this ride. ANT+ can talk to multiple devices at a time, and iOS manages multiple apps wanting access to cadence data just like it does for GPS and heart rate. So here’s the average cadence data. In order FR70, Edge 305, Fenix 2, Wahoo fitness, Run GPS are 71, 71, 47, 68, and 69 RPM. So they all agree well except for the Fenix 2, no idea what’s going on with the Fenix 2. Now looking at Max cadence the data is VERY different 145, 163, 217, 136 and 196. So to say this is inconsistent is an understatement.

So now onto the speed side of the sensor: Comparing the GPS only Endomondo with the Speed sensor only FR70 for distance over the ride we have 24.48 Vs 28.21KM, or a difference of 13%.

The Edge 305 on the same ride saw 25.57KM, so in spite of seeing the speed sensor it is not using it for distance. In the owners manual Garmin state: “The speed data is only recorded and used for disatnce calculation when the GPS signal is weak or the GPS is turned off.” So I guess they really mean it. I had seen videos with the wheel being spun and the Edge showing speed even though it wasn’t moving. Seems that is misleading. Of course this also means me returning the Wahoo speed was unnecessary. Oops.

I did a second ride because on the first I had the speed side of the sensor off on the Fenix 2. Oops. On this second ride the Fr70 saw 23.25km and the Fenix saw 22.93 or a difference of only 1% confirming that the Fenix 2 does indeed support and use the speed sensor. Yay!

Now onto Wahoo Fitness app. One would hope if anyone would get this right it would be Wahoo. Why sell a sensor and then ignore the data from it. Sadly this is exactly what they do. The distance off Wahoo fitness came in at 24.4KM spot on with the GPS data. I am very disappointed in this.

Next onto Run GPS. They have BRILLIANTLY included a setting in the app to allow you to decide whether to use the sensor or the GPS for speed and distance. Why more don’t do this is beyond me. The consumer is left guess which it’s using, or in my case running a big test.
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The data from RunGPS shows that they are perfectly using the data and it comes in at 28.4KM.

So in summary Endomondo doesn’t support the sensor, the FR70 works perfectly with it, the Edge 305 ignores (unless you turn the GPS off) and RunGPS nails it perfectly.

September 11, 2016 Posted by | GPS Stuff, iPhone Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 2

Garmin make some of my favorite devices but I have had to keep a number of devices around to do all I like to do. I admit to being a bit neurotic when it comes to having the perfect device. It’s probably worth setting the stage of the devices in my bag of goodies and when I use each to frame this review.

For mountain biking I love my Foretrex 401s big memory for waypoints (500), fantastic navigation, easy to read screen, and it’s use of AAA batteries making it possible to carry a spare set. The 401 however is getting long in the tooth and is having issues with it’s battery connector. It also requires a physical USB connection and a legacy upload to get data off it. And there are no heart rate alarms a feature I now consider a MUST have. Wheel sensors are sadly ignored from a data point of view … I also use it for hiking and kayaking, physically though it’s big on the wrist to wear for both.

My Garmin Fr70 is a great standalone watch, extremely readable in all light, year long battery life and a fabulous Ant+ data capture device for wheel and heart rate sensors and includes heart rate alarms (something I only recently discovered in training, alerts, heart rate, on and then set your custom hi and low levels). Garmin connect support is through an Ant+ USB adapter, but there is no GPS so no ability to use it to navigate. It also lacks chronometer functions. So this is largely a supplemental toy … It can’t replace any other device. Just another data screen while I am riding. Which, is not a bad thing.

My Edge 305 is a great cycling computer and includes heart rate alarms but is SERIOUSLY limited in it’s way point memory at 50. The larger screen makes it easily read when mountain biking but useless for almost anything else like hiking or canoeing. Syncing is done using a USB connection there is no support for Bluetooth or Ant+ sync. This has become my primary riding Garmin.

And thus we have the stage for the Garmin Fenix. Spec wise the device seems to be a little piece of heaven. It has a host of sensors that deny it’s size, ANT+ and Bluetooth support. I’ve looked at the Fenix a number of times but have been scared off by the price.

Ok let’s start by talking about what’s missing … There’s no daily activity or sleep tracking (that would be in the Fenix 3), there’s some notification support but it’s so bad as to be unusable (super small text, over laid notification support.

So that aside let’s look at the Fenix 2. Bargain wise it’s available on refurb for $199, compared to $499 (at GPS city) for the Fenix 3.

Let’s start out with the physics. This is a pretty large watch for everyday use. It’s quite thick and moderately heavy. Given everything in this package the size is understandable. It has a lot of sensors inside a digital compass, a barometric altimeter, temperature sensor, gps and accelerometers. There really is noting missing. If I had a wish on any previous device it’s in the Fenix.

The screen itself is a 70 x 70 pixels; transflective, monochrome LCD (negativemode-black). The displays is backlit in a florescent orange color. It is very readable in almost any light (with the backlight). The backlighting can be controlled as to always on, on after dusk, or programmable timeout, if they missed anything, on during an activity would have been handy. Other companies could learn from Garmin in something as simple as giving the user control of the backlighting. The displays low power contribute to it’s good battery life. The backlighting can suck juice so watch your setting. In always on in 10 hours it sucked up 23% of the battery so about 2.3% per hour. Ouch.

Battery life on this watch is dependent on what your doing with it. GPS mode draws the most. Watch mode the least. Measuring actual battery life is very difficult unless you dedicate time to doing just measuring the battery life ie not using the watch. So I don’t have actual numbers for you. Bluetooth can be used to sync the watch’s activities, but be patient it can take 5-10 minutes. Always connected is documented in a number of review sites as severely draining battery life. I didn’t find that but also noticed watch only battery life does not seem to be anywhere near what Garmin quotes: “Up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 5 weeks in watch mode”. On a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride using ant sensors and GPS in normal mode it consumed 10% of the battery so the 20 hour number they quote seems accurate. Battery status can be seen in menu anytime and gives an actual battery percentage I wish Mr F’nBit would learn this one.

As important as battery drain is battery recharge is too. This is by no means zippy. In just under 4 hours the watch charged 90% so roughly 0.4% per minute on a 500 mAH batter. The watch can be used while charging and there are ways to wear it and use an external charge pack for extreme battery life.

If your not going to use the watch for a while you can completely power it off by pressing and holding the light button. A welcome feature some watches forget. Yay!

The watch is controlled by a series of 5 buttons around the dial of the watch. They really don’t have a great feel when you press them. The default is no sound for buttons but fortunately can be changed. The buttons can be pushed with light gloves on but likely not with winter gloves.

Each and every time Garmin release a new product line they design a new user interface. It’s maddening and bizarre. Common interfaces make users learning curve to new devices small, and encourage upgrading. And if you have numerous Garmin devices as I do it leads to constant mispresses and quests to find a menu item. All of which distract from whatever it is your trying to do. Take the FR70 which predates the Fenix 2, as an example. The up down buttons are on the right along with the lap reset button. On the Fenix they are on the left. The only button location they didn’t change from the Fenix is the light button. Sheesh.

Garmin have included a small selection of clock faces to choose from and additional data that can be added to the clock faces. All in all it is not a bad set of choices. It’s no infinitely customizable smart watch, that would be, you guessed it, the Fenix 3.

There are a dizzying array of options that can be set on the Fenix 2 and they all have to be done on the watch (not on the phone). And there is no way to backup those options😦

There’s a stopwatch, timer, and alarm all on the watch. They are all a little clumsy to use but work fine if you have the patience.

Outside of an activity the watch allows you to call up the compass, altimeter, barometer, and temperature.

Once you start an activity only those screens you have explicitly setup for that activity can be called up. Bizzare (so if you don’t have a compass data screen for example in your activity, no compass for you).

Waypoints can easily be transferred from other Garmin devices using Garmin basemap over USB. Waypoints can be added on the watch but it’s a little hard to find (press and hold the down button, or menu, tools mark point) and naming them is a little bit of a patience test. The font for the name of the waypoint is super small and hard to see in the best light let alone in the middle of a forest).

Navigating to a waypoint is equally clumsy. To start a navigate menu, user data, waypoints, or start, navigate, waypoints and then the waypoints are listed by proximity to you. You can do a search for a waypoint but there is no simple alphabetic listing of waypoints. Once you start a navigate only those screen explicitly defined for navigate (even when your in the middle of an activity) are visible. It’s a bizarre way to arrange things. And on screen you can see the direction to the waypoint and distance to the waypoint on another screen. The Foretrex gives you both on one screen so your not fussing while dodging trees.
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I did notice once I loaded 500 waypoints into memory the watch became noticeably more sluggish.

The Fenix is a super flexible bike computer in that it supports power meters, speed only sensors, cadence only sensors and speed and cadence sensors. But be careful to select the right one when you set it up. I had made a mistake and setup my wheel/cadence sensor as a cadence only sensor and then wondered why it was ignoring the speed part of the sensor. DOH🙂

GPS can be manually turned off for indoor cycling with a speed sensor.

The sensors seem to have one memory for each category, one heart rate, one speed/cadence etc so if you use multiple sensors off and on it’s a bit clumsy and you will have to repair them each time your switch it up.

The heart rate alarms are also a little clumsily done. When an alarm is triggered a teeny tiny font comes up to say heart rate below (or above) and the value. It beeps only once, and the message stays on the screen for a period of time blocking your precious data display pages until you manually tell it to go away.

Battery nags started at 20$ but the watch continued to function including GPS until the bitter end🙂

So in the end, I am impressed with the Fenix 2. Outside of clumsy benus and poor buttons it’s an amazing device. Take everything in it and put it into a cycling size and I’d buy it in a heart beat. The nagging question is, given the cost delta of $300 is the Fenix 3 better enough to justify? Hmmmm

In terms of what could it potentially replace? It’s a great backup to the Foretrex 401, a replacement for the FR70 and a supplement to the Edge 305.

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September 9, 2016 Posted by | GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Wahoo bike speed sensor and Wahoo fitness app review

I’ve owned a Garmin combination Cadence and wheel sensor for a very long time. Cadence if your not aware is the rate of rotation of your pedals on a bike. Now if I was a more serious cyclist I would be concerned with cadence, as it is I am more interested in distance accuracy which is what drew me to this sensor. This sensor broadcasts on both Ant+ and Bluetooth. Ant+ can be used to talk to a variety of Garmin devices as well as smart phone apps. But now comes the catch, Garmin did not include a speed only (or cadence only) profile on some of their older models. And some models read, record and then ignore the speed sensor in favor of the GPS. I emailed Wahoo to be sure that my Edge 305 was supported, they insured me it was, sadly it doesn’t work and is completely ignored. On my Fr70 it does work however. On my Foretrex 401 it says right in the manual it will always use the GPS for speed/distance so this is not useful (although I didn’t actually try it with the 401 I have tried others and confirmed exactly what they said, they don’t use it for speed/distance, so ignores it, so why did Garmin bother).

So why would you care? A GPS samples it’s location every so often. In between it assumes a straight line. In a sport like mountain biking it can make a difference in distance. Let’s have a look at a couple runs for comparison. I did two short rides using the Garmin Fr70 with the sensor, and the Garmin Edge 305 using GPS. Even on a road ride the distances were 2.13km Vs 1.83KM or -14% for the GPS vs the wheel sensor. Ride two got 2.18km Vs 1.84KM or -15.5% for the GPS.

Looking at the windy trails of a mountain bike trail I got 28.15km from the sensor and 23.54 from the Garmin Edge (using GPS) or a difference of 21%. The sensor will always be more.

Physically speaking the speed sensor is a magnetless design. It straps around the hub of the wheel and transmits rotation. You tell your device (or app) the size of your wheel and you get speed/distance. The design is brilliant. Well it would be if Wahoo had thought of spoofing it being a speed and cadence sensor which they did not. If your device supports this device it is an excellent choice. If not, as is my case, it get sadly returned. I am a little disappointed in Wahoo support who mislead me about my Edge 305 support.

On my next post I will be covering the Wahoo fitness app that can be used with this and many other sensors!

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September 2, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Wearables, my thoughts on the current state

I’ve definitely been an early adopter in the wearables area, and I have to say I have come to the point where I have become fed up. In fact I recently ordered a good old fashion mechanical watch (more of that to come in a future post).

I love the whole Fitbit eco system. A great portal (with the ability to export for further data analysis), a good app (although I really wish they would focus on giving more stats, like max steps walked, woohoo you exceeded your previous max etc), and a host of different form factors to choose from. But that said I’ve actually got rid of my One, Charge, Charge HR, and Blaze and gone back to a good old Flex. Why? Simple, you can buy a third party normal buckled strap and put the little peanut in it. Or buy a holder that magnetically clips onto clothes and keep your wrist free for other things. And the Blaze while a terrific tracker sucks as a watch.
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Android wear is great, well sort of. My last Android wear was a Moto 360 gen one. I loved it, comfortable looks great, bright screen, excellent functionality. BUT (and you knew there had to be a but), it is far less functional on iOS. Watch faces are severely limited (again on iOS), and battery life totally sucks. Barely a day. So bad I actually bought a second charger to keep at work. Sheesh. And if I was going away for a weekend, not a chance it was coming with … And the “Ambient screen mode” (Motos version of always on) was very poorly implemented.

Of the devices I own the Polar A300 is one of the better. Super battery life, always on screen, reasonably comfortable and works with any bluetooth chest strap. Notifications even on iOS are well done and smooth. It actually can act as an activity and sleep tracker making it an all round every day watch and fitness watch. If they had included a chronometer features it would have been a clean sweep. When I decided to clean out my wearables this one got to stay!

The number one area wearables are falling down is the simple act of wanting to know what time it is. It is a watch … Bizarre to have to harp on this, but between screens that are unreadable in bright light, to notifications getting in the way of seeing the time, to not detecting my wrist turn and thus not turning the screen on, it can be maddening. And ultimately it is when I am pressed for time, catching a train or the like and it makes me just wanna scream.

Who knows what will catch my eye next in this category but for now I sold them all …

August 29, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android Wear (Smartwatch) | Leave a comment

Livescribe smart pen 3

I have to say, I had never heard of this device. It popped onto my radar because I tripped over it. I had no idea it exists. Which is amusing because I have been searching for better and better ways to take digital notes. I’ve spent a ton of time and money on tablet to do just that. So when I saw this I was curious. I wonder over the years how much money and time I have spent doing nothing more than satisfying a curiosity🙂 I think it’s part of my personality. I love to learn.

So what is this thing? It is pen that when you write on special paper it saves what you write. This can then be uploaded through bluetooth to your phone and into their own app called Livescribe+. You can do the upload offline, or live. I have not been able to tell just how much memory it actually has (ie how much offline you can do), however their website says it has storage for thousands of pages. There are other versions of this pen that use USB or WIFI.

So let’s get started. The pen comes with a safety cover for the end of the pen. Sadly this will likely get easily lost, not sure if they intend this for shipping only. I’ll probably look around or a case to protect the pen in the pocket.

The first thing you need to do is charge it up. On the one end of the pen is the pen tip itself which houses a regular ball point pen that uses real ink. This ink cartridge can be easily removed and there are blue and red ink for it readily available on Amazon etc. I see no way of knowing the amount of ink left in the cartridge. And if you run out of ink your dead …

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On the other end of the pen is a capacitive pen tip you can use on almost any smartphone/tablet. Hiding under this is a microUSB charging port, it uses a rechargeable battery. This is a brilliant design rather than use some kind of proprietary plug.

In the middle of pen is a twist ring that brings the ink out for use and turns the pen on. There’s an LED on the pen that tells you the status. There’s even a beep to tell you it’s ready to go.

There’s the usual pen clip on the top for holding it in your pocket, but it is not that firm so I wouldn’t trust it. Also the pen is longer than most.

If there is a complaint, I wish they had made the bottom of the pen where you hold it less slippery. Say use the same knurling they did on the twist. And I wish they had included a cover for the end. Putting it in my pocket could end up with lint obscuring the lens.

All in all the pen is a touch on the chubby side, but weight is fine and not really noticeable. I do wonder how robust this pen will be to dropping. And given how expensive it is to replace, loosing it is going to make me cry😦 $250 in Amazon.

Ok so we are all charged up and ready to go. Load up the Livescribe app on your phone/tablet and your ready to roll. The pen can pair with up to 4 phones/tablets, but it might be a bit of a challenge to see which device gets the pen if all are on.

On first start the Livescribe app will ask if you want to pair with a pen. It goes out and searches for the pen and adds it. In my case it found a firware update and proceeded to install it. It took a number of tries to complete, not sure why.

Clicking on the pen from within the app gives you everything you might ever want to know. You can see firmware, check for updates, see the battery status, and even help you find the pen by having it buzz (assuming it’s in range). You can even manually unpair one of the 4 devices in memory. All in all well done and thorough.
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I had a bit of difficulty getting the pen to quickly move between devices (an Iphone 6 and an iPad mini 2). Sometimes the only way I could get it to move was to turn off bluetooth.

Each device you setup (for example a phone/tablet) is setup separately. All settings have to be redone for each device. This includes setting up your cloud services. Livescribe can send notes out to Evernote and Onenote. These can be setup to happen manually or automatically. There is a LiveScribe account but from what I see there’s no link between the Livescribe app and the Livescibe web site. There does not seem to be a Livescribe portal where the docs are stored. I did eventually see a notebook from one device appear on the other when the pen connected. I almost wonder if the pen storage is how that happened. The lack of a Livescribe portal does make the option to send it off to Evernote or OneNote as a way of keeping this cross platform and always available. Exporting to Evernote and Onenote can be done in one of two ways as an embedded PDF (this seems useless to me) or as a image per page. The image includes the background of the paper. Once in OneNote it can not be edited (except by graphic editors). Handwriting recognition would seem to be further complicated once in OneNote.

It’s worth noting that since the pen seems to keep everything in it’s storage, you may need to be concerned with security if what you are writing is confidential. There is a way to set a PIN for the pen but PINs are kinda limited as far as security goes.

Paper wise you can buy a variety of sizes from Livescribe, or print your own. I did try the print your own and it works fine. Another link to print your own.

I was surprised to see that the notebook from livescribe didn’t include a loop to put the pen in. Seemed like an obvious thing to do …

One of the things you won’t be able to use it for would be to jot notes down on an existing document.

The output is probably the smoothest digitization of handwriting I have seen to date. I don’t however see anyway to erase what has been written, but then that’s no different that writing in ink.

All in all the pen is quite impressive and works well. If you do hand written notes then this might be the gadget of your dreams! The need for special paper is limiting, but also probably one of the reason it works as well as it does!

August 11, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fitbit Alta mini review

I’m a fan of Fitbits. Great portal, easy to use, able to export data, they have it all. Sadly physically speaking they keep missing the mark. I like my Charge but hate the way it does up and can easily come off. I’ve come close to loosing it more than once. I love the Blaze, but it just sucks as a watch, poor watch face design. So I decided to look at the Alta. It’s the latest and greatest from Fitbit.

So let’s start with the physicals. The band features yet again a two whole punch you have to endure to put on. It’s as bad or worse than the Charge. The only positive in it all is that the band can be easily removed and there are ones available on Amazon and ebay. Why Fitbit continue to redesign something that isn’t broke is beyond me. The Charge HR used a simple watch like buckle. Perfect. Mr F’nBit please use a normal watch buckle. Moving on …

The Alta definitely has a more polished look to it. Maybe a bit too polished. The screen is very shiny, I can only imagine this is going to be a scratch magnet. All in all I would have to say the Alta looks, well feminine. The display is oriented like a lot of these wearables the wrong way on the wrist. The app can turn it so it displays in a readable way but the screen is so narrow that it can’t even properly display the steps walked. You get things like 5.3K steps. Fitbit have yet again screwed up like they did on the Charge. They have a setting called quick view that attempts to detect you rotating your wrist, but unfortunately, it doesn’t turn this feature off when your trying to sleep. Absoloutely idotic. So this means, as with the charge, the display is pretty much useless other than to check your steps from time to time.

Fitbit just can not seem to decide on a charging cable/connector. Each and every Fitbit does something different, and unique. I thought the Blaze was bizarre, but the Alta trumps that one. You get this odd spring loaded close pin like thing you need to carefully align with pins you can’t easily see. Getting this on right is really stupidly difficult.
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There is no heart rate monitor, not a big loss …

As usual it tracks steps, sleep etc. There’s one new trick up it’s sleeves, it attempts to detect and remind you when you have been inactive for too long. A feature others have had for years, and fitbit has promised to add to the Blaze and have not yet done.

So all in all I am SERIOUSLY underwhelmed. So much so, after two days I returned it. I really have no idea why anyone who already has a fitbit would buy this. There sure isn’t a reason to upgrade IMHO. Sure it looks nice, more like a piece of jewelry, and maybe for this reason alone it will sell well. In fact sales of the unit are strong.
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So at this point, I think I will go back to a Fitbit Flex and buy an aftermarket band that has a proper watch clasp. Cost me <$10 on Amazon.
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August 10, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Mocreo 2500 mAH external battery

I’ve bought a few external batteries in the past and overall been underwhelmed. I was looking for one that was small, and light to allow me to carry it all the time for emergencies. Funny enough, more often when I am carrying the external battery pack it’s been used by colleagues rather than by me🙂 Probably something to do with my paranoia of running out of battery. This one caught my eye on Amazon as inexpensive, light and thing. So I bought it. The model number is a LAVO-2500 from Mocreo.

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iPhones even as far as the 6 only draw a max of 1A out of the charger. Android phones more often require 2A. This battery pack can only put out 1A max. So it’s of little use on Android devices. Check the output current on your charger before you buy a battery pack like this. Most of the smaller ones cap out at 1A. For the iPhone 6 this device is perfect.

Physically the device includes an integrated microUSB cable that is a little on the flimsy side. It also came with a microUSB to lightning converter. The converter has a bay but it is difficult to get it out and if you put it in the wrong way around it’s an even bigger challenge to get it out. If there is a bad part to the design this is definitely it. In fact, I wish the charger was available with a lightning connector on it.

So I put it to the test. The battery on an iPhone 6 is 1860 mAH. I did two runs. First run went from 56 to 92% in 45 mins. Second run went from 1% to 64% in 78 mins. So in all the combined runs were able to provide a 99% charge in 123 mins. The battery pack was able to keep a pretty constant charge current into the iPhone throughout. The charge curve is very close to the stock chargers which is impressive.
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Looking at efficiency the 2500 mAH was able to push a virtually full charge into the iPhone 6’s 1860mAH battery which comes out as 74% which is very good.

From completely dead it took around 4 hours to charge. It can only draw 1A on charge so plugging it into a 2A charger doesn’t help this. So this battery pack does not have quick charge circuitry built in as a lot of new phones do, but given the price …

The unit supports passthru meaning you can plug the battery into the wall, and the phone into the battery and both will charge. The current it can take is limited so the phone is given all it wants first and then once full the battery charges.

The pack lacks a flash light that some of these have and would be convenient, and there is no way to tell the charge in the battery pack. There’s only one LED, off when plugged in means fully charged, purple when on pass thru means charging the phone and red means charging the battery.

All in all this an excellent battery pack for every day carrying, at a reasonable price for an iPhone!

August 4, 2016 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Amazon Fire TV 2nd Gen

I’ve had a Kindle Fire TV first gen in the house for a long time. I side loaded Kodi and used llama to hide the Fire interface. Kodi was the only purpose to the box. I still have this and it’s my secondary media player in the house. It works well, sleeps well, draws very little power, is reliable and completely silent. The remote works pretty well with Kodi the only nits being no volume control and no stop button. A while back I started using Firestarter, an app that made it easier to launch and update Kodi. Amazon caught on and blocked Firestarter. Clever folks renamed it to Firestopper and things continued. Then the maker of Firestarter decided to play nice with Amazon and came up with AppStarter and removed some of the things Amazon found offending (capturing the home button, and auto starting on boot). Sadly in becoming less offensive to Amazon the developer neutered anything that was useful about Firestarter in the first place IMHO.

Amazon released a second generation FireTV with some updates to processor, codecs it could support etc. This article does a great job of explaining the differences. The power adapter was bumped up from 18W to 21W and the barrel end of the charger was changed up. Amazon removed the optical output for 5.1 audio (something I still use on my secondary home theater system). The remote is pretty similar to the first gen.

Amazon have been a lot more aggressive with blocking any apps other than apps that come from the Amazon Appstore. They install but you have to find them in the settings to start them. And if you manage to press the home button on the remote, your back manually starting the app. To say this has become infinitely clumsy is an understatement. In fact, Amazon’s behaviour makes the FireTV a far less compelling Kodi box, something I am sure Amazon is fine about. Just to illustrate the point, to launch Kodi from first power on (assuming you can’t get it into the recent apps list, which seems to come and go) it takes 28 clicks (9 – to get to settings from home, 4 – to get to applications, 4 – manage installed apps, 6 to get to kodi (varies depending on how many installed apps)). Sheesh.

A colleague of mine, Johannes, had discovered a neat party trick. When the FireTV registers, it registers with Amazon.com. If on Amazon.com you have a US address (pick an address, any address) and add a credit card, low and behold magic happens and apps you manually launch (like Kodi) appear in the applications list, favorites and recent. This dramatically cuts down on the number of clicks to get Kodi up.

You can see what the latest firmware release from amazon.com. From a command prompt on ADB you can issue the command cat /system/build.prop|grep ro.build.version.name to see what your currently installed firmware version is.

Once Kodi is up and running playback is smooth, and manipulating through the menus is also smooth. IPTV using the Stalker plug in under Kodi also works well, but initial load is quite slow think 2-3 minutes. So if your using it for IPTV your going to want to exit Kodi only when absolutely necessary.

Power management on the FireTV 2 is not perfect. In Kodi your going to want to change the power management option to minimize (or off) to avoid the slow IPTV startup. The screen saver of the Fire’s can be used to black out the screen when not in use and the Fire itself goes into some form of sleep mode. Neither my HDMI receiver nor my TV went into sleep when the FireTV when into sleep, rather the screen was just a dull black.

There is an app called FireTV Utility that you can use to make side loading onto any of the FireTVs easier.

So all in all the FireTV 2 adds new codec support, some challenges to getting a Kodi icon for easy launching, but overall is an excellent playback device. The remote works well for Kodi but is missing volume control and the stop button.

August 2, 2016 Posted by | Mutlimedia, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pokemon Go Quick start

Unless your living under a rock or in the middle of BFN you have seen people playing or talking about Pokemon Go. It’s a new Android/iOS game that is quickly spreading. I’d heard enough people talking about it I decided to have quick boo and see what it’s all about. I’ll try and tell you a bit of what it’s about as well as some basic quick start ideas. First and foremost realize I am new and still figuring it out. So if I got something wrong, please bear with me.

Pokemon Go is what is called an augmented reality game. The board you are playing on is a map of the area you are in.

The first thing you need to do is sign in. Now you can use your Google account, but I am not sure I see a reason to do that. There is no social side to the game so why grant access to Pokemon Go to all your Google contacts etc. So you can create what is called a trainer account. Just be patient the servers are stupid busy and it may take a while. Just keep trying.

On the map are what are called Pokestops. Think of these like Geocaches. The idea is to go out and explore and find these. Your board allows you to see Pokestops (and other stuff near you).
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What isn’t on the maps anywhere is other players. It’s like your the only one playing it. Why they didn’t add in a social side to this game is befuddling to me.

When you get close enough to a Pokestop (the blue almost @ like symbol) you can click on it and swipe the item to collect things from the Pokestop. These can be potions (to restore your Pokemon after battle, more on battles in a bit), revive (to wake your Pokemon if he has been knocked out in battle), and other useful stuff.
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For the first part of the game you simply wander around and keep going into the Pokestops collecting stuff. These Pokestops have unlimited stuff in them. You can go back to them over and over again (with a 5 minute delay in between). What you get from a Pokestop changes somewhat each time you go back to it. You are not competing with anyone for what’s in the Pokestop. Just walk around collecting stuff. All the while you are getting small amounts of experience points. You rise in levels in the game.
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Eventually you will get to the point where your bag is full. Your backpack can only hold so many items. Click items and you will see what’s in your backpack and how many you can carry. Clicking delete beside something you have too much of will allow you to delete as many of them out of your backpack as you need making space for other stuff.
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Even when your bag is full you continue to gain XP by going into a Pokestop. You can increase the size of your bag if you want to spend real $$s in the Shopping area of the game, in game upgrades.
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Now while wandering around you will feel a vibrate. This will tell you are near something, a Pokestop or a Pokemon. Pokemons are just like the old trading cards. You capture them by throwing a ball at them. These balls are collected at, you guessed it, Pokestops. You can collect many of the same Pokemons. This first view (called the Pokedex) shows you which Pokemons you have. You can sort this in a variety of ways by clicking the bottom right hand corner. Sorting by name will show you your duplicates.
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The second view (called Pokemon) shows you the individual Pokemons you have.
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Each time you capture a Pokemon you get experience points (XP), Stardust and Candies for that Pokemon. The higher the CP of the Pokemon, the harder it is to catch, and keep. They often get caught and wiggle there way back out. You can increase you chance of catching and keeping the Pokemon by using a Razzberry and/or a Great ball.

This chart shows the XP per level.

You can not trade Pokemons with friends, but you can transfer them (give them back). You get candies back you can use to evolve your Pokemon. There’s not much point in having more than one of each Pokemon, and having a bunch simply provides clutter. Candies are needed to evolve a Pokemon but you only get candies for a particular Pokemon by capturing or transferring a Pokemon of the same kind. A pokemon that is in the same evolutionary chain uses the same candies. Before you decide to transfer the Pokémon back, be sure it isn’t a higher CP/HP than the one you already have. Every now and then you may find one that has already been upgraded and has a high HP/CP (hit point combat point, more about these later). There are limits to how many Pokemon you can carry, 250 by default unless you pay to upgrade it. Your Pokemon list screen shows how many you have and how many you can carry. Don’t take too long to capture that Pokémon or someone in the area may get it before you do.

The Pokemons can be evolved or powered up. You are asked if you want to do that the minute you capture a pokemon. Don’t bother. Save it to upgrade a couple Pokemons to help you get them as powerful as possible as quickly as possible. Powering up costs Stardust. Stardust is general so save it again for powering up a few Pokemons. On the screen for the Pokemon you can see how many Stardust or Candies it takes to upgrade your Pokemon and how many you currently have.
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This link shows the max CPs a particular Pokemon can eventually get to.

There are also eggs, which hatch into a Pokémon. To hatch one go into your pokemon list, slide over to eggs and you can set an egg to hatch. It is placed into an incubator that you have. To hatch an egg you have to walk about. Once it hatches low and behold you have a new pokemon. You won’t know which one until it hatches. Don’t try and trick the game by driving, it knows the difference. Biking was successful at tricking it some of the time. Likely based on speed. I can think of no reason why you wouldn’t want to always keep eggs in however many incubators you have. You gain experience points by hatching eggs as well as Pokemons.

Speaking of driving, one of the things about this game is it encourages people to get out and explore around. But unlike other apps like Waze that makes sure you are the passenger before it lets you interact with it while driving, pokemon makes no attempt. So if you are stupid enough to be playing pokemon while driving, well it will let you.
Update: They now added this:
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In your items list is something called a Lure, which you can drop at a Pokestop. It attracts Pokemons to the Pokestop. This benefits everyone in the area. You can tell a Lure is in use at a Pokestop by the colorful pink confetti dancing around the top. Once you click on the Pokestop you can see above the picture a pink Lure module.
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After wandering around for a while you finally will get to the point where you have reached level 5. Your now able to go onto the next phase of the game. Battles and gyms. The CPs (combat points, think experience in fighting) as well as the HPs (hit points) you see on your Pokemon tell you how much damage it does in a battle. This is why you want to upgrade your Pokemons. How far you can upgrade your Pokemon will be limited by your level. Evolution of the Pokemon is limited by the pokemon. This chart shows the Evolution path of the pokemon.

The white bar indicates how far you can Power Up your pokemon at your current player level. Notice I am almost at the top of this Pokemon at my level. Researching shows this Pokemon can go all the way up to 2184 if your player was at a high enough level. As you get towards the top it seems to cost more and benefit less (in CP/HP). The second image shows a completely maxed out Pokemon. As an example at player level 22 the hypno could be upgraded to 1368 CP, and at Level 23 1426 CP an increase of 58 CPs or a mere 4%.
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I read an interesting trick. Save up all your evolves. Then use a Lucky egg (in your items). For the next 30 minutes you get double XP points. So do a bunch of evolves at once, go to a gym, hatch eggs do whatever to get XPs for 30 minutes and you can move your player up in levels quicker! I did this and earned over 13000 XP in under 1/2 an hour. I also used a lure to bring Pokemons to me.
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In case your curious the maximum level for a player is 40. And it is reported that between levels 39 and 40, you need a whopping 5m XP. A cheater reached it and took screen caps.

Pokemon can be played on more than one device, in fact I see nothing that would prohibit you from working together as a team to move up in the ranks quicker.

Pokemon loves battery, don’t plan on heading out and being away from a plug for long and playing Pokemon Go. In an hour on an iPhone 6 it dropped 33%!

For an app in this day and time, I am shocked at how replete the code is of social media. No sharing on facebook, nada. Did I mention there is little to no social side to Pokemon? And given how obsessed we are with stats, there are shocking few in the game. Don’t look for your battle win percentage, or how many balls it generally takes to catch a pokemon, nada.

And finally after a couple of days … your allowed to explore the gym. This sets a whole new level and drives how you play the game. Gyms are scattered around the map. Don’t go looking for a search utility or a way to list gyms, nope, wander around and find them (although there are apps that try and do that). Gyms are defended at a particular moment by a particular pokemon, and a particular team (well unless it is an unoccupied gym). Gyms can have as many defenders as they have levels. So a level 2 Gym for example can have 2 defenders. If there is an open spot in the gym and it is held by your team, you can leave your pokemon to help defend the gym. You earn Pixiedust and Pokecoins for defendeding a gym. And you can drop your Pokemons at more than one gym (but you can only leave one Pokemon per gym).

I finally figured out how the pay out works and it is a little odd. Go and get your poke into a gym, just one gym. That starts a counter for 21 hours. You can come back in 21 hours to collect your reward for defending a gym. The number of gyms you are holding at the moment you collect is how you are paid out, 10 poke coins and 500 stardust for every gym. That in turn resets the timer and you can rinse and repeat. How many gyms you held, or how long you held them in between the first gym you take and when you choose to collect means nothing (other than experience points). If you show up after the 21 hours the clock is simply frozen waiting for you, it does not accumulate.

You find the rewards in the Shop, and then look at the shield in the top right corner. It shows you a count down to your next payout and how many payouts you are entitled to..
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If there isn’t an open spot you can still spar with your own team members. Beating your team members increases the prestige of the gym but costs you potions to heal. Loosing buys the gym nothing and again costs you potions to heal.
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The icon in the bottom left corner says there is a spot in the gym and you can take it. Hurry someone can take it before you.
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Gyms held by another team/color you are attacking and supply a Battlegroup of 6 pokemons to battle the defenders. As above the gyms level defines how many defenders there will be. Before you start a battle compare the Pokemon defending it from a CP point of view. Slide across and you can see all the pokemons defending a gym.
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When you start a battle with the defender you just simply tap the screen like a lunatic. Each tap is an attack. You do damage based on your CP/HP. You will see the health level of you and of your opponent on the top. If you manage to loose, that’s ok your next Pokemon steps up and takes over, rinse and repeat until you are out of Pokemons from your group of 6 or you defeat the defender. Each Pokemon has a secondary attack that has to build up. There’s a white bar beneath your health that shows how ready the secondary attack is. The larger this bar the more powerful the secondary attack. To use the secondary attack press and hold the screen until a black bar comes down from the top then tap the screen and the secondary attack is released. You can move sideways to dodge attacks and make it harder for him to hit you.
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Defeating the defender knocks down the gyms level. Defeat enough of the defenders and you can take make the gym vacant which is you rush you can drop your pokemon into the gym and take it over. You get experience points for winning battles. Sadly nothing for loosing🙂 Once the battle is over you will have a variety of Pokemons that will need your help. You need to revive them (the were knocked out), and then heal them with potions. And then your ready to do battle again. Potions and revives are found at Pokestops. Here’s a great article on all of the items in Pokemon Go, free and bought with real $$s.
Beating one defender gets you 100 XP and takes away 500 prestige from the gym. Beat 3 and you get 350 XP and takes away 3000 XP. That’s a huge hit to the gym. Beat all defenders and the gym becomes vacant. Go back in and you can leave your Pokemon at the Gym. This then becomes your teams to defend. Your pokemon shows at the gym (and is no longer available for you to battle until the gym is defeated. In your Pokemon list you will see a little gym symbol showing it’s at a gym. Here you can see two of mine, the Vaporean and the Kingler. Once at a gym you can not evolve or upgrade them. And I do not see a way to recall them either.
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When gearing up for battle it’s important to have upgraded the right Pokemon with the best potential, stamina, hit power and defense. This link helps you compare them. For attacking you have a team of your Pokemons that will do the attack so you will need to upgrade/evolve a few. They can be of the same Pokemon or different Pokemons. The benefit is each has there strength and weaknesses, so making a team of upgrade/evolved different Pokemons has it’s advantages.

There are things you can buy with real $$s in the game. They end up being charged through iTunes (on an iPhone). In Canada 1200 Pokecoins cost $15.81 (including tax) which works out to 1.3 cents per pokecoin. Buy 2500 1.1, 5200 and it costs 1 cent. Those pokecoins are then use to buy a variety of things within the game. Here are the in game upgrade costs (at time of writing) for a number of the items.
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So for example if you bought 100 Pokeballs they would end up costing you 460 Pokecoins which at 1.3 cents per Pokeball equates to 6 cents a Pokeball. Etc.

There is so much unrealized potential in this game, it’s already gone viral, but the question is does it have staying power? With some improvements I can see it for sure. Already people are using the game to host flash mob based parties where they all use lures and it’s like chumming the waters. It’s a Pokemon frenzy.

Pidgeys are quite prolific in the game, relatively easy to catch and evolve with only 12 candies. This makes them a great way to increase XP by evolving them.

The game and the app right now are buggy. I get flat out crashes on an iPhone 6, times where the game registers me walking but ignores any input and LONG periods of complete outages. Not minutes, hours. Here you can check the status of the Pokemon Go servers.
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I started the game July 18th. In 15 days it has consumed 242.5MB of data. So depending on your plan you need to watch that. Oh, and A LOT of battery🙂

In those 15 days I am at level 21 (of a possible 40 levels), my highest Pokemon has a CP of 1669, I’ve caught 69 out of a possible 147 different Pokemons or 47%.

And you know your having a bad day when🙂
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Update: 9/15 Pokemon Buddies
They just added a new feature called Pokemon buddy. You choose one pokemon as your buddy and anytime the game is up and your walking you get free candies for the buddy. The number of kms walked to earn a candy varies by Pokemon. This can help give you enough candies to finish a rare pokemons evolve or candies to power up. It’s a nice incremental update to the game. To enable it go into your profile and select buddy and you can choose which poke as your buddy. I did notice one little gotcha, your poke can’t be in two places at once, so if it’s out with you walking around you can’t leave him at a gym.
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July 24, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment