John Galea's Blog

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Apple AirPrint for iPads/iPhones

As with everything Apple they have their own way of doing things. Bringing a new disparate architecture device presents challenges. Everything else in my house is Windows so when I bought a iPhone and iPad I had to look into how to make printing working. One would hope that cloud printing would be possible, if it is I don’t see it, at least not without paying for apps. The google apps (Gmail for example) have some cloud printing within them. HP have an ePrint app but it literally creates it’s own app to get at your photos, to browse the web from, read email from etc. It does allow printing from anywhere but isn’t really what I was hoping for.
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The network standard for an iPad/iPhone is called Airplay. My HP 1102W while not officially on the Apple site does support Airplay and my iPhone found it when I was on the home network allowing me to print easily. But what if you have another printer that isn’t actually supported? Well, while not simple by any means, you can add AirPlay support to any printer on a Windows PC using this guide. I did it and got both my printers working on the network. While this does not solve the issue of cloud printing it does however give you a way to do it. That’s about it.

May 19, 2016 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Whatsapp mini review

Many of us have multiple devices we use on a daily bases. Why companies continue to not understand and exploit this is beyond me. A desktop, a laptop, a tablet, a phone etc and it would be great to be able to have one cross platform app from which to chat with friends over. Google Hangouts is probably one of the best at this. It lets you use however many devices you want. And whatever was the last device to get used is where a notification is sent. BBM is one of the worst in that it can only be installed at one device at a time and you literally have to uninstall and reinstall to move it to a different device. And BBM has been absolutely plagued lately by a constant stream of spam from people asking to connect and businesses too.

So along come Whatapp. It is an interesting concept. You install an app on your phone (iPhone, Blackberry or Windows phone). This device becomes the gateway that all other devices can then send messages through. It’s worth noting that you have to keep your phone, on, and online or Whatsapp breaks.

In addition to your phone you can also use Whatsapp and sign into the web, a PC or Mac (No official iPad support and you can’t use the web app from an iPad either). You log onto the web interface (or start the PC or iPad app) and it brings up a QR code which you then from your phone you authorize. You can authorize as many devices at a time but can only log in to your phone plus one device at a time. Not perfect, but not horrible. You can logout from all computers from the phone but not just one device.

When you install it for the first time it goes through your contacts based on phone numbers and finds the list of people already on whatsapp and adds them to your favorites. Now that sounds like a good idea but it created a plague of people in my favorites. Fortunately there is a delete all favorites button and then add back the folks you really want. I see no way to see which of your friends is actually active on Whatsapp Vs tried it and are no longer using it. Once you start a chat you can see when they were last seen so at least at that point you will know if they are active on Whatsapp.

There is no approval process for adding friends, or allowing someone to send you a message. This would imply spam is quite possible. You can block people from within the phone app.

The default privacy policy is terrible (or should I say no privacy), but fortunately can be easily changed. Your status, profile photo, and Last seen are visible to everyone by default. Yuk. Be sure and change that. (Settings, account, privacy).
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Messages are confirmed when sent (single check mark), confirmed when read (two check marks), and you can see them typing (replying). Whatsapp supports text chats, and voice calls. But there is no voice out calling (as there is in Skype), and no voice in (other than from Whatsapp clients).

You can manually send your location (from the phone app only) to a contact, but I see no way to do live tracking of friends, and no way to request a persons location. A crying shame.

Messages are encrypted if you care.

May 12, 2016 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Apple Pay now adds Canadian banks

I’ve had phones that would support NFC tap and go credit card payments for years now. But up until now it has been virtually useless/inaccessible to most Canadians. You could only do it with an American Express. Well all that changed As of Tuesday two of the major banks in Canada, and more to come soon now allow Apple Pay. I have a CIBC card that is supported, and I bank with BMO (that isn’t yet, although supposed to be coming). The process to add the card is dead easy. You take a picture of your credit card accept the end user agreement (I actually read it and it doesn’t seem too bad). And your done. Once setup from a powered off lock screen you can double tap the home button and Apple Pay comes up. You then enter your passcode (or use your fingerprint) and it’s ready to tap. You do not have to be using finger print for it to work. It is super convenient and works easily. I did quickly run into a vendor that did not have tap at all so you can’t abandon a physical card just yet. Once the transaction is complete you get a buzz on the device and record in Apple Pay to show the transaction. No email trace though. There is some discussion on the price the banks had to pay to make this happen.

My iPhone 6 is supported, it was one of the reasons I went with a 6 instead of a 5S!

All in all it’s been a long time coming and nice to see it finally here.

May 11, 2016 Posted by | iPhone Stuff | Leave a comment

Zagg Folio iPad mini case

I hate on screen keyboards. Inevitably they drive me nutz. So when I saw this I was super curious to see how useful it might be. I snagged one used on ebay for a price I could swallow. Physically speaking the case is well designed. The top portion of the case completely envelopes and protects the iPad mini. The top has a hinge to the bottom that has just the right amount of resistance. It can be sat at almost any angle. From this point alone it is quite useful. At certain angles it is a bit tippy as you might expect. Adding weight to the keyboard would have solved this but it also would have made it heavier, so a trade off. The outside has a nice faux leather pattern on the plastic making it super easy to hold onto. Thickness and weight are about as good as it could get. It’s about the same as the iPad itself. They keyboard connects to the iPad through bluetooth. There is a battery in the base of the keyboard. There’s a switch on the front corner of the keyboard as well as a light. The battery is recharged by a microUSB port. Any charger for a non iPad will do. I do find it odd that they used a microUSB port instead of a lightning port that would have let you use your iPad charger. Reconnect times are a bit on the slow time and take a few key presses before it is reconnected. The keyboard goes sleep on it’s own after a period of inactivity so you can leave it on all the time. The keys are nicely recessed so they do not make contact with the screen. Overall the keys are well placed. Any OS be it Windows, Android and even iOS have specific keys unique to them. There’s something to be said about having a keyboard designed uniquely for iOS. Like the home button that actually works. The CMD key etc. There are a few blemishes on what could have been a perfect layout. The keyboard is small, and unless you have small hands don’t buy it. Oddities are expected on a keyboard of this size. Here are the ones I noticed, the number 1 key is smaller than any other key. And the q seems to be where the tab ought to be. The keyboard is even backlit and you can change the brightness (including off) and color of the backlighting. All in all it’s an excellent design, but as expected not something your going to use to bang out long emails or texts but perfect for short use on the go or on holidays.

I did run into an occasional issue where the keyboard would not connect. I’d go into bluetooth settings and it would show the keyboard was connected but no joy. The solution was to turn bluetooth off and back on. Seemed more reliable of the keyboard is turned off Vs gone to sleep.

I have noticed that swiping from the bottom of the screen up is virtually impossible with the keyboard on. I have to rotate the iPad to do this ..

$_57

May 6, 2016 Posted by | iPhone/iPad, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MX PLUS II TV Box Media player

This is the second of the media players Lance bought. This one again looks a whole lot like a Amazon Fire TV. The back has a wired Ethernet, optical port, USB port and a barrel charger. There are two more USB ports on the side as well as a full size SD (not micro) slot. The LED on the front of this one is far less obtrusive than the last one. The unit once again is silent (no fan).
Link on Everbuying.

In the box was the remote, a 5V 300ma charger and an HDMI cable.

The remote on this one is a lot more complete which is my prime use for this device. The play/pause on the remote are ignored by Kodi and there is no stop button sadly. The remote is infra red so line of sight to the player is required. The home button of course takes you back to the home of the device rather than the home of Android. So you will need to move yourself back to Kodi. You can suspend and resume the unit from the remote, always handy and something that is tricky to get working on some devices.

You can add a USB wireless keyboard and mouse and use this to drive a TV. It is running Android 4.4.4.

As with past devices there is a miracast app but I couldn’t get it to work with my Windows 10 Asus T300 CHI, and my Android tablet didn’t do any better.

As is always the case with Android my Windows media center remote is completely ignored.

Kodi runs ok but navigation within the app is a little laggy. Playbay is also a slight bit jerky. Both of these is being VERY picky but as with past devices if it is not better than my existing devices then why would I choose it?

Power management is an issue. It goes to sleep on command and wakes up from the remote but never goes to sleep on it’s own. And by extension neither does the HDMI receiver or TV. The dream settings this time around do not include a time so it never goes to sleep.

So this is the second of the devices I’ve player with. I wouldn’t buy either.

April 30, 2016 Posted by | Mutlimedia | Leave a comment

Avov TV Online+ media player and IPTV box mini review

This is another media player although it is very focussed on being the best IPTV box possible. It runs a heavily skinned, locked down version of Android 4.4. It also has Kodi loaded in so it has the possibility of being all in one. One of the positive sides is that the remote is VERY TV/playback focussed. The remote is IR so line of sight to the player is required when planning it’s location. Android can be updated from within the device easily.
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Port wise the device has two USB2 ports, a microSD, a full size HDMI port, wired Ethernet (as well as wireless). There is no optical audio output. It does not appear to have Bluetooth. USB keyboards and mice are supported.
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Processor wise it’s a 1.5G quad core ARM. So nothing too blazingly fast. On par with my now what 4 year old (or more) Fire TV gen 1?

As with past Android devices I could not get Miracast to work with my Windows 10 laptop. I was equally unable to get Airplay on the Avov to play nice with my iPad mini. So this section of the device is a bust.

Again as with past Android devices my windows Media center remote is ignored (no Android drivers for it).

There is no Google play store so generic Android apps are more challenging than on some devices. There is a market place of their own for getting apps but it is VERY limited, like 20 apps in all.

Tunein is loaded to allow you to play internet radio.

The default Android web browser is there, sadly no Chrome and it does not appear to be in their market place.

There is a file manager but it only supports local USB content.

I do not see a power management section for the player so it looks like it’s an always on device which will keep the TV/receiver on as well. A major issue for me. But maybe I’m the only one on the planet that is lazy and expects my device to power themselves off. There isn’t even a dimming mode for the screen so burn on displays like plasma on this media player could be a real issue.

Debugging seems to be turned off and the setting is hidden so using adb to side load apps is not possiblešŸ˜¦ Web browsing to download an APK is also disabled. The built in file manager ignores apks so across the board loading apks is locked down.

There is an app and section that is dedicated to TV playback. It supports Stalker and you can setup multiple servers. And this section actually works pretty well. The Guide works and comes up very quickly. Playback of live TV (in this case from Star TV) is fairly smooth although there is a slight hint of jerkiness/lag but I am being SUPER picky. Times of high motion were particularly noticeable. You can not pause or record live TV from the app. There is a video on demand app as well.

Kodi is available in the market place.

So in the end would I buy this? I really don’t think so. The FireTV box even gen 1 is a better box for more money. Poor power management, locked down android apps and so so live tv experience. If I was looking for something to hand to a technopleeb than maybe. Otherwise not a chance.

April 27, 2016 Posted by | Mutlimedia | Leave a comment

IPTV

I’ve played with IPTV a couple of times in the past, all free systems and been underwhelmed. Inevitably I just get it working the free system gets overloaded or shutdown. In case you don’t know what IPTV is, it uses the internet to deliver streaming live TV to your home bypassing the traditional Bell/Rogers/Cogeco. Here’s a starter guide to IPTV.

So this time around I figured I’d look and see if there are services I can buy. I was able to find a few like Vmedia but they insist you get your internet from them as well. That would be a pain in that I already have internet and not from them. Vmedia mention on their website that this bundling of internet and IPTV is a CRTC requirement. I have not been able to independently verify that.

On Kijiji there are a number of folks offering IPTV services so I decided to give them a try. Now if the comment above about the CRTC requiring bundling is true these IPTV services is somewhere between flat out illegal or skirting the edge of legal. So given that I am wary about giving these folks an annual fee. And equally nervous about buying some kind of custom box from them.

So what are my requirements? I want North American channels, (US/Canada), want to be able to use it with one of my existing media players (an Android based Kindle Fire, or my Asus AsRock Ubuntu Kodi), be able to create favorite lists, preferrably be able to record, and lastly be as simple to use as a TV. Imagine that:)

List of types of IPTV I tried

IPTV Express (using APK)
Voodoo (Using Stalker PVR under Kodi)
IPTVsubs (Using a custom Kodi Video add on)
IPGuys (Using Stalker PVR under Kodi)

IPTV Express
So first up I bought a month $15 of IPTV Express. The provider sent me over an Android APK and informed me the best way was to buy a custom media player from him for another $130. The service worked fine (when it worked), quality was really quite good, and selection of channels was broad. The Android app is very basic in that it does not include favorites, and no record capability either. But the real killer (and not in a good way) for this service was that the Android app would not always connect to a channel you asked for. And when it didn’t the best you would get would be a blank screen, however the worst was the app completely hung. Which then left you fumbling for a task manager to kill the app to restart it and try again only to have the same thing happen. To say this was clumsy was an understatement. the app allows you to try the service but is unusable on a daily basis as far as I am concerned. I would not unleash this frustration on my family. So this one is good quality, good channels, unreliable (well the APK is), and for me unusable.

Voodoo and Stalker PVR under Kodi
So next up I found a guy that was offering what he called Voodoo. It connects with Stalker which is an IPTV protocol. It is nicely supported under Kodi. At first I tried to get the Kodi Stalker Video add on working but no joy. I got no where. Then I found there was an IPTV PVR add-on within Kodi on Windows that worked and connected. Even giving an electronic program guide so you know what’s playing when. The service is locked to a MAC address but this is not a physical MAC address but a software based one. And the nice thing is the Stalker IPTV PVR add on allows you to specify the MAC address meaning you can use the service across multiple devices (although be careful to not use it at the same time or you could cause issues. Two computers with the same MAC address is a VERY bad thing).

The occasional channel did not come up but when it did not come up it just came back and you could choose another one, no muss no fuss.

I was able to get the Stalker IPTV PVR working on Windows, iOS (iPad) and Android easily. To get this working you enable TV, then it complains there are no PVRs enabled, so you enable and configure the Stalker one:
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Within Ubuntu Kodi it was a little more challenging. It turns out the Stalker client is not loaded. In fact no PVR services are loaded so you can not even enable TV. It just hangs. From the command prompt I had to run:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install kodi-pvr-stalker

I also had to upgrade to Kodi 16 to get TV running under Ubuntu.

Under iOS on my iPad I was able to get it running but only the first time. Subsequent attempts to get it running crash Kodi and there was no way back other than uninstalling Kodi and reinstalling. A real pain on iOS.

But low and behold it’s up and running. And probably one of the best IPTV experiences I have seen to date! It even works correctly with the channel up and down of my Windows media center remote running under Ubuntu/Kodi allowing a real feel channel surf! You can even pause live TV.

Cost wise it’s: $15 for 1 month, $40 for 3 months , $75 for 6 months, $140 for 12 months. The guy I bought it prefers eTransfers. This is the guy I bought from. The content (for now anyway) is coming from iptv.tecfront.ca.

IPTVsubs (using custom Kodi Video add on)
Next up a colleague pointed out IPTV Subs. This company also has a free trial day and the cost going forward is $13 US. In this case there is actually a real company your dealing with. This one was a little confusing but in the end you have to add a source to Kodi. This source has the zip file that is a custom video add on. Then you install the repository. Lastly you install/enable/config the video add on.
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There is no PVR for this option which means you can not record. On the positive side you do get video on demand using this method.
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The channel offerings from this provider are broad and include a good number of Canadian and American channels. Quality is very good. I found it sensitive to what was going on with my internet connection, more so than the others I tried. Selecting channels works and has a nice GUI. It does not work with the channel up and down button on my remote so not a true channel surf. And to make matters worse when you select a channel there is about a 10 second delay before anything happens , then another 15 seconds before the channel shows up. That first 10 seconds leaves you wondering if it’s hung. And the next 25 just seems like forever.

I was able to get the video add on running on Windows, Ubuntu/Kodi, Android and iOS. It was solid.

IPGuys (Using Stalker IPTV PVR Under Kodi)
Next up I played with IPGuys. This service setup exactly like Tecfront, a Stalker IPTV PVR under Kodi. I encountered some issues at first in that Kodi was not reloading the channels and groups from scratch. It turned out I had disabled that so I could remove channels I didn’t want. So I had to go back and re-enable that and then clear the channel data from the Setting TV section of Kodi. Once done the channels showed up. The guide however was more stubborn and would not load on my Ubuntu/Kodi box. I was able to get the guide going under Windows so it’s not a service issue. There are lots of HD channels under this service and quality seems good. Initial load time on Kodi was noticeably slower and I noticed a slight lag between the audio/video. I would say around 1/10th of a second. Not huge but there if you looked. Channel surfing worked beautifully. This is again another highly usable service. I’m convinced the guide is a Ubuntu/Kodi issue.

I briefly played with Star TV which worked fine on the Avov box and their set top box emulator but I could not get it to work under Kodi IPTV Stalker PVR. No idea why.

April 18, 2016 Posted by | Android, Mutlimedia, Other reviews | 3 Comments

Beelink Mini MX TV Box mini review

There are a plethora of media players out there at stupid low prices. My bud Lance decided to plunge into the quagmire and choose one or two to buy and let me play before I have to buy. Right now I have an Amazon Fire TV first generation as well as a Asus ASRock running Kodi/Ubuntu as my two media players in the house. These become the benchmark for me. What am I looking for in these devise? Well they have to work as well as my current devices otherwise why would I bother. Silent and low power (including power management) are a must. As close to instant on as possible. And a good, easy to use remote that resembles a good ole VCR remote. I have a couple people in the house that are less techy so having to use a keyboard/mouse just ain’t gonna fly. It will just end up with me getting a WTF call to figure out how to use the darn thing with a frustrated end user on the other end of the phone. Exactly what I do not need in my day.
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On with this mini review. Here is the link to ever buying for it. A Beelink Mini MX TV Box Amlogic S905 Android 5.1 Quad-core 2.4GHz. I did not spend a lot of time with this device so the review is at best cursory. The device is small, and very closely resembles my Amazon Kindle Fire TV first gen. They say being copied is the best form of flattery and that seems to be the case here. The back is exactly like the fire TV and has a wired Ethernet, optical out, HDMI barrel power charger, and USB port and that’s it. Hiding on the side is a second USB port, and a micro SD slot. On the front is an over sized LED that shines blue when on and red when in suspend. The device happily comes out of suspend from the remote and comes on quickly. Sadly the device does not seem to go into suspend automatically. This is a big problem for me. If the media player does not go into suspend, then the HDMI receiver does not go into suspend, and of course that means neither does the TV. So in the end it is a power mess. I have not found a setting that can change that, but do remember my time with this device is limited. For me this alone would be a drop dead and I would not buy this device.
Update: Turns out it’s in the setting, display, day dreamer?

It came with a remote (more on that in a bit, a micro USB 5v 2A charger and an HDMI cable. A surprise given the price.

The device is small, and completely silent (no fan).

The player runs on Android 5.1.1 and includes the Google playstore, which is excellent. Kodi is preloaded including the a raft of add ons. Kodi are actually all over devices like this for making it look like Kodi themselves have produced these devices as well as blurring the line between what this vendor chose to add on and what is actually part of Kodi. A real and present threat/danger to Kodi’s reputation and future.

Having the playstore makes it easy to add any Android app you want. Plex for example can easily be added.

The remote has one HUGE oops. They didn’t add a play pause. Oops. They did include volume control, a toggleable air mouse and Android settings button all of which work perfectly with Kodi. The remote is small, light and works well with lots of feedback when you press buttons. The remote itself is infra red so line of sight to media player is needed. It does open up the possibility that you could use universal remote like the logitechs.

They have put a menuing system in front of Android that as a whole is easy to navigate with the remote (without a keyboard or mouse). The interface while functional is amateur hour by comparison to more polished devices like the Fire TV.

Overall navigation within Android is responsive. From within Kodi, over WIFI it is a little noticeably laggy compared to my other devices. Playback within Kodi is also a little more laggy but both of these comments are being super picky.

There is a miracast app loaded but I could not get it to connect no matter what I tried and eventually gave up. The Fire TVs for example works MUCH better. Well it actually works.

Plex loaded and ran fine (but my media player is Kodi so I didn’t do a whole lot).

Overall this is a thoroughly adequate device. It would never displace either of my current incumbents. Is it worth the money? It’s really hard to compare, the price is super cheap at $53, but for me I would pay more for a better experience.

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Mutlimedia | Leave a comment

Polar A300 and H7 chest heart rate monitor

When changing tech as I have (moving to an iPhone from Android) there are known costs and unknown ones. I knew I would loose support for ANT+ but I thought my Bluetooth Zephyr heart rate monitor would still work … NOT, seems iOS does not support them. So I needed a chest strap heart rate monitor. I use it to keep an eye on my optical heart rate monitor from Scosche a Rhythm+. Still the most comfortable and mostly accurate heart rate monitor I’ve owned. So I needed a new chest strap heart rate monitor. I got the chance to snag the H7 brand new and basically the A300 was thrown in, so I said WTF. A new gadget to play with.

Let’s start with the H7 chest strap heart rate monitor. This is pretty much standard fare for this category of device. It supports Bluetooth low energy as well as the older gym link (not that I care). The H6 drops the gym link which would have been my preference. Actually what would I have loved would have been an ANT+/Bluetooth low energy, (so it would work with my Garmin devices) but heh. It is powered by a coin lithium battery that should last a good while. I get over a year out of my Ant+ Garmin one. The battery is a CR2032 watch battery. The battery status can be displayed within lots of different apps. The h7 can be used totally without and has nothing much to do with the A300, although it of course supports it. As a statement of the obvious the H7 has no internal memory so something has to record the data (phone or watch). Polar give away an app called Polar beat that you can use with the H7 or use your favorite app. I had no issue using the H7 with Endomondo, RunGPS, etc. It just works. The unit consists of a fabric strap that on the underside is a coating that picks up the heart rate. It must be wet before putting it on. This is not uncommon for chest straps. The monitor itself is a larger solid block that can be removed and should be removed to basically turn it off and preserve the battery. There are instructions for how you can wash the strap.
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And now onto the challenging part of this review, accuracy. One of the reasons I needed a new chest strap is because neither my ANT+, nor old Zephyr were compatible with my iPhone. And I had sold my Samsung S5 so didn’t have a platform for the test. So what I ended up doing was wearing the Polar connected to RunGPS (then exported to GPX and converted to CSV using GPS Visualizer app, then I had my Scosche Rhythm+ connected to Endomondo (again exported/converted), and lastly I wore my Garmin ANT+ connected to my Garmin FR70 (exported as a TCX and converted using TCX converter app. What I quickly discovered is my Scosche is having some issues. It was having times when it was wildly inaccurate. I know this because the heart rate was not really possible (based on how I felt). This is shocking to me because it has always been rock solid. So I tossed out the Scosche and was left with a comparison of two chest straps. And what do I find? They track amazingly well. The Polar H7 is VERY accurate (when compared to my Garmin chest strap). Even looking at the summary data they are within 2% of each other.
garmin-polar

It’s worth mentioning that unlike ANT+ which can allow you to connect one heart rate monitor up to numerous devices (like a phone, and a watch at the same time, a feature I currently use), this is not possible with Bluetooth low energy devices. This is not the fault of the H7, but a limitation of Bluetooth. I did however find that iOS allowed two apps (say RunGPS and Endomondo) to connect to two different Bluetooth heart rate monitors at the same time with no issue.

So in the end the H7 is an excellent chest strap. If it had ANT+ as well (an after thought in my purchasing decision) it would be 100% perfect. But even with that, it’s pretty close. It’s definitely more comfortable than my older garmin chest strap and very similar to my even older Zephyr. I think if I had to look again it would be a Wahoo TICKR I would buy since it supports ANT+. The TICKR X adds memory to it allowing you to record in the heart rate monitor itself without a phone.
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Well given the chest strap was what I really wanted that was what was important. None the less lets move onto the A300 watch. Up front lets get the fact that the Polar does not have a built in GPS. And unlike Fitbit who supplement the lack of GPS on the watch with one your phone, Polar make no attempt to do that. So that’s that. I had a thought that maybe the A300 might be a substitute for a smart watch, or a Fitbit, both of these thoughts went away quickly. Maybe I am too demanding of my gadgets. I know as I have seen more and more functionality I start just expecting it. Now that said, the A300 is by no means the top of the heap, nor is it one of Polars newer watches. Anyway let’s get on with the specifics.

Physically the watch is relatively small, and light but the height off the wrist is a bit much and can catch on shirt sleeves. The display is 18x23mm with a bezel that is 8x10mm. The bezel is by no means the smallest or the largest. The display is a backlit one and is easy to read other than in the dark. It is an always on display. When you need it you manually put the back light on and it can easily be read in the dark. It makes no attempt to detect your wrist movements and turn the backlighting on automatically. You can not adjust the backlight timeout, it is what it is. All this is designed with one point in mind, battery life, the Achilles heel of most wearable. Polar projects 4 weeks of battery life which is outstanding. When you need to you pop the electronics out of the rubber band/holder and charge it by USB. The band can be swapped for different colors easily. The band itself is well designed to accommodate just about any wrist size. It made of the usual rubber/silicon and can be easily cleaned with the electronics out. (Photo shamelessly pilfered from DC Rainmaker)
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The watch face chosen is efficient and gives you a progress bar of how your making out towards your goal, the date and time. All displayed in an easy to read, large enough (for me) font size. But nothing on the watch face can be changed.
polar_90051951_a300_fitness_tracker_heart_rate_1125982
All navigation within the watch is done by the buttons on the side, this is NOT a touch screen.

The A300 can track activities, basically sleep and steps (no floor/stairs). Steps gets converted into distance and calories. The app shows some nice graphs to show you when you were active (and not) and how many minutes in the categories. It’s actually a little more thorough than Fitbit in this category.
IMG_0739IMG_0740portal
But don’t get confused by Polar’s other portal Polar Personal Trainer. I’m sure there is an explanation for the two portals and what is stored on each but I have no idea what that is. Moving on …

As you can see sleep data is also recorded. Again Polar seem to go into a reasonable bit of detail on the data. Missing as usual is any form of historical comparison (your doing better than your average etc). But all in all this seems well done. Sleep however for some odd reason while displayed on the portal was not displayed in the app.

Syncing the data from the watch is oddly done from the watch itself and can not be kicked off from the app. And the app can not tell you anything about the current days data until the end of the day and it’s uploaded at the end of the day (Vs Fitbit for example that in the app shows you the current number of steps). And don’t look for the current state of the battery of the watch in the app either. Nope naha, not happening.

Now from a steps point of view to say the A300 is generous (when compared with my Fitbit blaze) is an understatement. I wore both and on day 1 Fitbit said 3415 steps, 1.93Km, and 2397 calories. The A300 7735 steps, 2098 calories 0.75 km. Day two didn’t fare a whole lot better the fitbit logged 3325 steps, 1.85 km and 2271 calories, the A300 7400 steps 2.46 km, and 2078 calories. So I decided to switch wrists. On the left the A300 fared much better it saw 10225 steps, 4.41km and 1636 calories Vs the Fitbit 12,217, 8.93KM and 1992 calories. The Fitbit sets the wrist as dominant and non dominant. The A300 sets left and right. Odd, dominant seems to make more sense. It should be noted I have no idea what the basal calorie count for either the Fitbit or the Polar is.

The A300 has a nice little inactivity monitor to remind you to get moving, something that is still missing on the Fitbits. I have no idea why fitbit have been so reticent to add this feature.

Sleep wise day one the A300 logged 7hr 35 mins Vs the fitbit 7 hr 44 mins and on day two the a300 logged 10 hrs Vs 9 hrs 54 mins on the fitbit. So sleep compared ok, however when it came to tracking restful sleep the Fitbit and the A300 seem to count it very differently. On day one the A300 saw 70 mins of restless sleep while the Fitbit saw 14 mins. On day two the A300 saw 107 mins restless while the Fitbit saw 25 mins.

So I have no idea what to say about that. Although, in reality what matters is not the actual number but your trends.

The Polar flow app supports sharing data back to Apple health (on iOS), as well as MyFitness pal, and that’s it.

The A300 can be used with the H7 heart rate monitor to track exercise. Now this is what for a long time was the bread and butter of Polars so I kind of expected this to be well done. When you start an exercise the watch changes over to show you lots of data that you can manually scroll through. Heart rate, exercise time, calorie count, time of day. All in all it works fine. What I don’t see is a way to set heart rate based alarams such as min/max. The previous Polar watches all had this, and I thought it was handy. I was unable to get the A300 to talk to my Scoscherhythm+ Bluetooth heart rate monitor. Seems like it has to be a polar.

So what’s missing? Well … there’s no support for a bike wheel sensor (that would allow it to be used for cycling). There apparently is Footpod support for jogging. There are no smart phone notifications (in iOS), in spite of the fact Polar apparently committed to do so by mid 2015. There’s also no stopwatch or count down timer. And no ability to customize the watch face.

So in the end, the main issue I have with this watch is the competition. If I didn’t already have a Fitbit then I might be more interested in it for the exercise/sleep tracking. If I didn’t already have a Garmin FR 70 I might use it to display my heart rate while cycling. But given all the limitations I found, I am not sure it displaces the incumbents. Which more and more is becoming a challenging place for products in my life. Other than battery life, I can’t think of one area it is better than anything I already own.

April 3, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Fitbit Blaze review

I’ve been looking to find a replacement for both my Android wear watch (which is become so much less functional since I moved to an iPhone) as well as my Fitbit Charge which is forever catching on my shirt sleeves. I love the fitbit eco system. The portal, the social, it is all well done. I wish they did more data analysis on the data, but other than that it is well done. Sadly Fitbit does not play nice with Apple Health, the two are not on speaking termsšŸ˜¦ I found a great app for that called FitbitSync. Quite flexible.

There’s been a lot of maligning of the Blaze since it’s release. Personally I think the people that have been slagging it had an expectation of what they thought it ought to be. Which, to me, is bizarre. Look at the device, see if it fits into your life. I actually don’t think the Blaze is meant to replace any of the devices in their current lineup. It’s another option.

A while back my bud Lance was looking at a TomTom Spark and he said I am not sure I want something called a spark on my wrist. Well if that’s the case what about the name Blaze? And what does that name even mean … Moving on …

Let’s start with physicals. Fitbit decided to completely redesign how the watch is charged and sits in it’s band. And I have absolutely no idea why. The have come up with a design that is eccentric at best. There is a metal housing that holds the fitbit. You have to remove the Blaze from the housing, and then insert into what looks more like a Pentium processor clip, or a programmable logic array socket. It’s bizarre. The watch band can be easily removed and replaced with a standard. You can also buy replacement cages so you can have more than one band to pop it into. From this point of view I like what they have done (making it easy for you to customize your watch).
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The watch has a 4mm bezel on either side and the screen itself is 25mm. Not the smallest bezel, but not the largest either. The screen itself is bright and vivid.

The band is available in two sizes, Large and small. I bought the large this time, I have small wrists and it barely fits, I’m on the second from last hole. But, this also means you can wear the watch further up the arm for better heart rate accuracy during workouts. Right in the manual it talks about wearing it comfortably for every day when accuracy is not a huge concern, and then further up the arm for workouts. I found when I wore it further up the arm it just slid down. There are metal bands available for the Blaze but they are outrageously priced.

The wrist is a horrible place to get a heart rate accurately. And I have small wrists as well as I mountain bike which just even further goes to complicate getting an accurate heart rate. So I don’t have high expectations for accuracy …

On a 25 minute walk the Blaze showed a max heart rate of over 170 (can’t see the exact max and Fitbit don’t tell you), and an average of 130 compared with my Scosche rhythm+ with a max heart rate of 128 (Blaze was off by 33% or 42 BPM) and an average of 111 (Blaze was off by 17% or 19 bpm). This is actually not horrible, but then it’s all about expectations.
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As always Fitbit do not allow you to export your heart rate data so you can’t even do your own analysis. Not like it’s your data or anythingšŸ˜¦

The heart rate monitor can not be used by any other apps.

There are no alarms that can be set based on heart rate (below min, above max) as you can on things like Polars.

The heart rate can be displayed on the watchface, during workouts (refreshed more frequently) as well as on the today screen.

Heart rate can be disabled from the phone anytime you want and would presumably increase battery life.

Sitting quietly on the couch I watched the heart rate monitor and it was always within a few BPM or my Scosche Rhythm+.

And now we come to the comedy section of this post … There’s this hilarious line from Home Alone 2. A line that ONLY Tim Curry could deliver … What kind of idiots do you have working here? Only the finest!
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Fitbit have outdone themselves. In my time with the Surge I discovered that when you were tracking a manually started exercise it continued tracking steps, basically double counting. I raised an incident with Fitbit only to be told it was working as desired. Desired by who’m? No intelligent person that’s for sure. Well on the Blaze they have taken the idiocy one step further. So I decide to go for a bike ride. I start it up on the Blaze. The options allow me to start it with or without the phone’s GPS. Nice option for indoor rides. So I choose without, and start my workout and I am presented with a the first screen showing me my speed, which is of course, zero since I chose no GPS. Now why am I looking at a field I can’t change that just keeps showing zero? But this is not the point of insanity yet. So the whole time I was riding, not only was I racking up steps and climbing floors, but the Blaze also auto detected that I was out for a run. So in all it was triple counting. Now what will I do with my time now that I have mastered being not two places at a time, but three! Man am I good!:) And when your done you get to go back and manually clean up the mess it makes of your statsšŸ˜¦
This shows how the automatic exercise came over to Endormondo proliferating the triple counting. Those two in green are at the same time as the cycling in the yellow.
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Ok now that the sillyness is past back to the post, let’s have a look at data. The heart rate data is a pure act of fiction, I looked at my wrist while riding and the heart rate it showed, when it showed, was more often way off than right. But let’s just accept that and see what difference it makes to the stats. So I tracked the same ride with Endomondo and a Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor, as well as a Garmin capturing the same heart rate monitor. Now to set the stage there really is only one reason I care about my heart rate and that’s to get a more accurate calorie count of my ride. I like to make sure I am increasing and building stamina. At some point I might care about my max heart rate in which case the Blaze is the wrong tool for the job. Probably so is every other consumer grade device. First up let’s look at the graphs from the Blaze. You can see the drop outs in the flat lines, as well as the cliffs that my heart rate according to the Blaze was doing.
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Now for a laugh let’s visually compare the Garmin/Sacosche with the Blaze.
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Like I was saying an act of fiction. But let’s look at the data anyway.

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The data for max heart rate and average heart rate is way off. I saw this during the ride. In spite of that as you can see the calorie count compared with Endomondo is pretty darn close.

For the second ride I used the phone’s GPS for the Blaze:
to-data-compare
You can see that the ending data is actually pretty darn good. Better than the previous one. And, using the phones GPS works just fine and creates a decent map on the Fitbit portal. And the calorie count compares quite favorably with the one I get out of Endomondo! Impressive.

In terms of accuracy, for me, the heart rae monitor it best for non-active measurements. Which is when it will be used more anyway …

The watchfaces are really (sadly) quite limited, only 4 chocies. I really wish Fitbit would open this up to designers/developers like so many other platforms došŸ˜¦ And none of the watch faces include the current weather, something I quite like. But at least one does show you your current heart rate. You can only change the watchface from your phone. There is no setting for always on for the watchface. So you have to manually wake it or hope it detects your wrist movement (Fitbit refer to that as Quickview). With quickview off the only thing that wakes the screen is buttons screen taps are ignoerd. There is an ambient light sensor to be able to detect brightness. These settings can be changed on the watch. You can not change the screen timeout setting.
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There are no apps you can add to the watch to act as a secondary display to things like Endomondo or the like. And there is no support by Endomondo either. Although Fitbit and Endomondo can be set to cross pollinate data.

Notifications can be set to Calls, texts and calendards and bedeep bedeep that’s all folks. And there is no way to change the font size. So better hope it’s what you want … Notifications can be scrolled through and dismissed on mass. It’s actually quite well done and efficient. Notifications are silenced when your phone is silenced. A welcome feature for something you are supposed to sleep with.
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Fitbit have designed in the fact you can have multiple Fitbits and choose which one you wanna wear on a given day.
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There are no voice commands at all …

As with all of the Fitbits good luck finding the exact battery status, best yu get is high medium and low.

The usual suspects are here from activity tracking, steps, calories, kms and floors. Floors is something that only some of the fitbits do. Daily stats can be seen on the watch anytime. As with every fitbit to date there is no get up and do something reminders … Apparently the up and coming Alta will add this so maybe Fitbit might see fit to add that. Pun intended.

In addition there’s also a stopwatch and count down timer, that work but are a bit clumsy to start.

Fitbit have included FitStar an animated workout app. And sadly you can’t remove it if you don’t want/need it.

Manually entered exercises can be started on the watch for a number of different activities. These can be added/deleted from the list on the phone (that then is sync’d to the watch). You can not create your own workout types.

A quick drag down from the clock reveals music playback controls as well as a quick way to turn notifications off. I would love to see an option there to allow quickly turning on/off quick view for sleeping.

Local alarms can only be set on the phone not on the watch.

On first use I got just under 5 days before the Fitbit said it was low. Then another 1/2 a day before it said the battery was empty. So battery life is excellent. And this is with all day sync on, screen on default brightness, and quick view on. I did not get an email or notification oddly as I have other Fitbits. In an hour the battery was charged back to full so a pretty quick charge. I did find it buzzed twice when it was low, sadly when the phone was in quiet mode and while I was sleepingšŸ˜¦

So in the end I like the Blaze. As is often the case in this wearables category there are SO MANY things that Fitbit could have added to make it a slam dunk. Companies don’t seem to want to finish the job. To busy rushing to get it on the market I guess. The Blaze is a complete replacement for my Fitbit charge. The data rich environment that Fitbit have created it amazing and the Blaze adds in the heart rate date which is interesting to see. The biggest let down of the blaze are the watch faces. I still like the glitz of my Moto 360 so likely will occasionally wear it. Such as more dressy occasions. But all in all I think it’s found a place on my wrist. It is expensive for what your getting IMHO.

Dear Mr F(n) Bit. I love your products but I have three wishes … 1) Give me more choices on watch faces 2) Fix the triple counting of work outs, 3) More reasonably price the metal watch band

For more information be sure and checkout DC Rainmaker’s detailed review of the Blaze.

Update: 4/26/2016
I’ve been watching for reasonably priced metal bands to replace the rubber band that came with the blaze and while they have been around they have been only from China. And it’s been hard to tell if they have the same quick disconnect pin like the Blaze does. Well one finally showed up on Amazon. It’s a Moko. The pins that came with it have the easy to release pins, or so I thought. Taking the original band from Fitbit off and back on was easy. I had thought that I could swap out bands from time to time as the whim moved me. After 20 minutes of trying to get the band onto the frame I gave up and went to a jeweler. Even they had trouble and ended up using their own pins.The tolerance on this design are just too tight. What this means is you will need to consider purchasing a spare frame if you want to use the provided rubber band. Fortunately these too are available and inexpensively on Amazon from a company called Toopoot (really I couldn’t make that up) and even come in an assortment of colors.
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Fitbit are really being dumb keeping the prices on accessories like this expensive IMHO.

Once swapped out the band can be easily adjusted with the provided tool to the right length and your done. The band does not include an intermediary adjustment so the only adjustments are add a linkand remove a link. So your likely going to have to settle for a little loose or a little tight. True watch bands have an more granular adjustment at the clasp. This one does not. The watch looks a WHOLE lot better with the new band and looks a lot less like an exercise band.

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March 20, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

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