John Galea's Blog

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Aukey 5000 mAh external battery

I’ve reviewed a couple of external batteries lately, pokemon Go is a HUGE power draw. Most people that are as addicted as I am walk around with a power bank in their pocket (or two) and a cable to the phone. Onto this one. So far I’ve been impressed by Aukey …

This one is reasonably small and light but they manage to pack in 5000 mAh worth of power. On the output spec it can pump out 5V 2A which is needed for Android phones and some iPads. My iPhone 6 can’t use the 2A, but this makes it more flexible. The only thing missing (spec wise) is qualcom quick charge that would add 9 and 12V output options for even faster charges.

The unit does not have a charge indicator (other than one LED that changes color based on the charge, red bad, green ok, blue good?), nor does it have an LED that could be used as a flashlight. Why this isn’t on every one of these devices is beyond me.

Input wise it can suck back in 2A for faster recharges.

On my iPhone 6 I was able to get 1.3 charges. It pumps out a steady 1A into the iPhone. This would amount to about 75% efficient. Not bad at all.

Recharge time was about 3 hours from dead. Not super quick but reasonable.

The charger does not support pass through so you will need to add a cable just to charge the external battery.

October 14, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Xiaomi Miband fitness tracker mini review

My good friend Lance was wandering through a park and tripped over one of these, so he gave it to me to play with. Searching the web says it’s not uncommon for these to become parted from their owners. Like most other trackers it does not alert you when it becomes disconnected from the phone. Also like other trackers, when you link a found tracker up with your phone it makes no attempt to reunite it with it’s former owner.

The MiBand (first gen) is a super cheap, Chinese activity tracker, think like $20 on Amazon. And it looks every bit as cheap as it is IMHO. So let’s see what we have. Delving into the app you find some interesting artifacts of Chinese all over the place. And it seems China has no idea Canada is a country when you go to setup it’s region. Ok so I guess I’m an American? Setup requires you to give it your phone number and a password to create an account. It then sends you a text with a passcode you enter and your done. Then you enter the usual handful of personal stats, age, sex, weight height etc. The app kept finding a firmware update was needed but it kept failing with no hint of why.

Like other activity trackers it tracks steps (which get converted into kms and calories) and sleep. Interestingly the calories do not include basal calories (active calories only), something I wish others would do. There is no move reminder. As an example Mi Vs Fitbit Flex: Steps 14519 vs 16230 (-11%), Kms 10.5 Vs 11.95 (-12%) calorie count is 580 Vs 2634, but when you remove basal of 1200 it compares with 1434. So other than calories the Mi does an admiral job of step counting. Especially when you include the price!

Sleep tracking is extremely basic and only tells you the time you were in bed and the time you were in deep sleep with light sleep being the left over. Nothing about how many times you were restless etc.
Comparing the Mi to Fitbit flex time in bed: 6.3 hrs Vs 6.9 (-9%). Again not a bad at all.

There does not seem to be a portal to view your stats on, so your limited to it on your device, I also see no way to export the data. The data can be fed into Apple health, a nice surprise and something Fitbit choose to not do.

Notifications (on an iPhone) for phone calls and alarms can be turned on in which case it vibrates quite noticeably, but the default is this is off, and no other notificatons come through to the tracker. Likely to preserve battery life.

There is a find your tracker function, in which case it buzzes if it is in bluetooth range.

The Mi unlike the Fitbits tell you clearly when you last charged it and the exact battery percentage. In 2days it went down a mere 8% which would project out to 25 days which is HUGELY impressive. My Flex gets about 7.

The app is basic, there’s no portal, and no way to export but if your looking for a budget tracker this is a much better choice than I anticipated. If they added full notifications it would present an additional use case for the device.

October 13, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Garmin Fenix 3 Sapphire review

Hot no the heals of the Fenix 2 I decided to return it and try the Fenix 3, I was that impressed with it.

The Fenix 3 comes in a host of different models to suit your tastes, and budget. Everything from the bottom end Fenix 3 to the Sapphire all the way up to the Sapphire HR (heart rate). I really had to push my mental limits on price for a watch to reach for this model. I bought it from GPSCity refurb for $529. The difference in price between the Fenix 3 and Sapphire was only $50 and changes to a metal band (although a rubber is included to swap out) and the crystal is a more durable sapphire. So I splurged.

A number of folks may only read this post so I will do it as a stand alone post. For those of you that read the Fenix 2 there will be some overlap, sorry about that.

My use case for this device is potentially an everyday watch, activity tracker, as well as use in sports such as hiking, biking and kayaking.

On with the write up. This is definitely a big watch. I have a small wrist and it’s noticeable. It looks a whole lot more elegant than the Fenix 2 but still noticeable as a sports watch. The metal band that is on the Sapphire is really quite heavy. Top that off with the fact that it is not possible to use the metal band with a handlebar mount and you have an issue. Fortunately they did include a normal rubber band and the screw drivers to change the band. Changing the band is a quick and easy task. I would have preferred that they included a spare set of pins but they did not.

The Fenix 3 includes a dizzying array of sensors (same ones as on the Fenix 2), a digital compass, a barometric altimeter, temperature sensor, gps and accelerometers. All packed in a watch. Without the metal band the weight is not that bad, 85g, the metal band weighs in at over 90g on it’s own. And it is actually possible to wear it sleeping. Even on my small wrist. As with any metal band you will need tools to get it sized right for you. Or take it to a jewler. Be sure and watch the direction you need to push the pins out to remove them, it is marked on the under side of the band.

On initial setup on the watch you have to enter your age/weight/sex etc. I guess this is in case you are going to use the watch face without a phone/computer but this just seems like a silly step.

The Fenix 3 uses a very different kind of screen which they refer to as “1.2-inch sunlight readable Garmin Chroma Display”. It’s focus is two fold, make it readable always (sometimes requiring a backlight), and consume as little power as possible. This is a color screen, but just barely. Don’t go looking for a bright vibrant Apple watch or Samsung Gear like screen. Colors are dull and washed out. That is not the focus point of this watch. It is generally a good display, although I am not sure I like it more than the Fenix 2’s …

The backlight on the Fenix 3 now has a setting that anytime you push a button it comes on. Brilliant (and obvious at the same time). Timeout can be set to anything you want, including always on which I am sure will have dramatic effects on the battery and be a good size distraction while your trying to sleep. I wish they had a setting for on during workouts. This would be handy for when in the forest mountain biking or anywhere there is low light.

The watch is controlled by a series of large buttons around the edge of the watch. This is not a touch screen. This is in keeping with the primary purpose of the watch which is a GPS watch. The buttons have a much nicer feel than the Fenix 2 and can be managed with some light gloves.

One of the major improvements for the Fenix 3 is the addition of support for Connect IQ. This is Garmin’s extensible architecture that allows third parties to release there own apps, widgets (data fields for the watch faces), watch faces and data fields (for use in activity screens). Connect IQ is managed from the Garmin connect app on your phone that then sends them over to the watch. Connect IQ support is a HUGE move for Garmin. I love the idea of it but Garmin seems to have SEVERELY limited Connect IQ. You can only have a set number of “open slots” that you can install these into and only so much space for them. Garmin gave you an area to manage the storage which shows you within the phone app how much storage and slots are available but you can not uninstall from this same screen. Clumsy. And the built in Garmin apps/widgets etc can be disabled but do not free up space. I had some challenges trying to figure out how to add back an app I had removed/hidden. Turns out its done on the watch not the phone. And try and uninstall from the phone your current watch face and you get a nasty failed message with no hints as to why. And once you’ve downloaded to your phone a particular app/widget etc they remain on your phone cluttering your lists indefinitely. As a neat freak this is troubling. I know get over it, but really Garmin could have done a much better job of this. I have to say the way it’s done takes a lot of the excitement of having this wonderful and extensible feature. Dear Mr Garmin … please please pretty please work on Connect IQ. Signed your loyal customer🙂 I do digress .. Oh and be aware that installing these apps/widgets etc while your fussing with a bunch of them really can smoke your battery fast … I had an issue that deleting watch faces was not freeing up slots to install another one, this was only resolved by a reboot of the watch. Oddly also missing is the ability to change the watch face from the phone, it can only be done on the watch. And on the watch there’s no preview so your stuck finding the name of the watch face on the watch and then finding it on the watch. Again, clumsy …

I love the ability to get different watch faces. I found the device and it’s screen lend itself far better to digital rather than analog ones. There are about 900 different watch faces out at time of writing. Here are some of my favorites:
Steam Guage 38aa7012-001d-4c6c-b0b4-fbfd0d5f2772 X-WF f5571054-aba2-4eb0-ad68-268b9dd395d5 GNX Digits 752bc414-1554-4fd4-a8d3-fb0c5e8205deAb Initio c6dd14bc-2e3d-4a9d-8f3d-f6dfb34a55b2LCD Digits ec0f0f6a-6dba-4823-9b9a-b80db8c91f78

There are watch faces that display your heart rate, but these seem to only work with the Fenix’s with heart rate monitor built in. It will not try and connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor. Similarly there do not seem to be built in apps that will just display the ant+ heart rate data outside of an activity. I did find a third party app that will give you current, min and max heart rate as an activity of it’s own Cardiometer

The Fenix 3 can do complete activity tracking including steps (that gets translated into kms and calories), floors climbed and descended (first time I’ve seen the ability to differentiate between ascend/descend, likely because of the barometric altimeter) and sleep. Steps and kms compared well with my Fitbit however calories are obviously calculated differently between the companies as they varied by over 20% with Fitbit being higher. Sleep stats are very basic but they are there. The watch can easily be worn while sleeping. Garmin even included move reminders, something Fitbit are still struggling to get on more than there newest devices. Like most of these devices they have forgot to pause step counts while in a workout, so I did a ride and it detected a thousands of steps😦 Just difficult can it be to get this right?
I did notice one really stupig thing. I took the watch off, went to bed and picked up the next morning. As far as it was concerned I had slept 100% the entire time. Doh. Dumb. Oh and Garmin automatically mutes notifications when it detects sleep, brilliant, however they seem to have thought of the possibility of taking it off to sleep and notifications just kept coming, waking me up. Doh, again dumb. The easiest solution to this is to turn on do not disturb mode on the watch and set your sleep time in the phone app (settings, user settings normal bed times).

Using Garmin Basecamp I was able to transfer waypoint between my other Garmin devices over USB. In fact from what I can see USB is the ONLY way to get waypoints/courses etc to the Fenix 3, you can’t do it over bluetooth or wifi (Fenix 2 was the same by the way). Unlike the Fenix 2 which slowed down when the waypoints got loaded up the Fenix 3 is fine. Waypoints are again sorted by proximity (to your last known location) and there’s no option for alphabetic. Waypoints are now called saved locations rather than user data as they were on the Fenix 2. Makes more sense.

When the watch is being used every day you have access to the altimeter, barometer and compass using the up and down arrow from the time. Garmin created a one screen app that is too confusing for me called ABC. Fortunately you can disable it and have access to each on their own screen. The compass doesn’t include an arrow to north, instead gives you the degrees. Not my preference but heh …

I couldn’t for the life of me get the Garmin weather app to work and lots of people complain about it so …

Watch wise Garmin have hit all the marks with multiple alarms, a stopwatch, and count down timer. You can also create a hotkey shortcut to the count down timer which shortens the number of clicks to get to it. Very convenient. Setting the countdown timer is a little clumsy but not unmanageable.

Garmin oddly refer to activities as apps. You can control which activities the watch displays and can add new ones. For each activity you define the set of screens that will be displayed during that activity. If you don’t add that screen to the activity’s definition you can’t get to it. To get back to the time/apps off the main screen press and hold the down button, then press back to go back to your app. Oddly a visual compass does not seem to be available within a workout but there are ones in the Connect IQ store.
My fav is Compass data fieldb20c6bcc-e3bc-4706-b8dc-732603eab951

Map is there by default now, as is HR Guage. I particularly like the heart rate guage. At a quick glance you can see where you are as well as the zone.

Heart rate alerts have been improved. Setting them is a bit bizarre they give you two thumbwheels to set your min/max (for custom). One has two digits and one has one. So to set 180 you set 18 on the one and 0 on the other. It confused me at first. Once set it works absolutely perfectly. It beeps, flashes the screen and pops the heart rate screen on for you to see. Very well done.

While in an activity (or not) you can start navigation to a pre-saved point or back to start or track back. Saved locations as mentioned above are sorted based on closest to your current location. Once you sort through your waypoints, and this watch can store 1000 (wow) you are ready to navigate to it. Garmin have dramatically improved the navigation screen. Navigation now becomes an added screen on your existing activity (rather than a separate activity as it was on the Fenix 2). On this screen you get an arrow to your destination and the distance to it (albeit in a super small font) on one screen. There’s a fair bit of wasted white space on the screen not sure Garmin didn’t make more efficient use of the space with bigger font/arrow.

When on other screens you get a little arrow showing you constantly the direction to your waypoint. Wow. I am thoroughly impressed by how well they have done this. Thanks Garmin you have restored my faith in you! The map of your current activity is also super easy to read with a nice wide track of where you have been and is easy to see. A really huge improvement

While in an activity you can press and hold the down button and get taken back to the time of day, and can then call up things like the music app, ABC etc. The music app by the way is super basic and even a little clumsy. You can use it to start stop etc the music. It works fine but don’t go looking for song playing etc it’s just not there.

Activities saved can be uploaded through the phone (through bluetooth, so be patient this can take minutes to complete) or you can set them to auto upload using WIFI in which case magic happens and it just works. Next thing you know the activity is on Garmin connect. It seemed to get the password for the WIFI from the phone. This is SUPER convenient.

From a biking point of view you the Fenix 3 supports speed/cadence sensors. There’s no explicit mention of a speed only or cadence only sensor but I believe it supports it. Standing still and spinning the wheel shows a speed so I am pretty sure it uses the wheel sensor to determine speed/distance when available (yay).

Sensor wise you can have multiple sensors in each category. You can manually rename them to something that is more meaningful rather than some silly number of digits. Sensors can easily be added/deleted, something that was an issue on previous Garmin devices. All in all the management of the sensor pool is well done. One odd thing though is there is no way to tell it for an activity to ignore sensors. As soon as you start an activity it attempts to connect to various sensors. The only exception to this is you can decide to turn off the GPS for a particular activity such as an indoor one. Garmin as always support only ANT+ sensors (not bluetooth), but you can always buy dual mode sensors (bluetooth and ANT+) such as the Wahoo Blue SC, Speed or Tickr heart rate monitor.

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. Garmin claim up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 6 weeks in watch mode. I can’t think of too many devices with that can compete with this. Using this device all day while snowboarding/skiing is very possible. Recharge time from dead is a little over 2 hours so not horrible, and is about half of what the Fenix 2 took. In about 2.5 hours the watch dropped a whopping 22% so that would translate out to about 11.3 hours. Way below the 20 hours they quote and well above the Fenix 2.

Garmin include Livetracking which allow you to share your current location, speed distance etc from your current activity. This can be shared over email facebook etc.

Garmin have included functions to find your phone from your watch and your watch from your phone. Assuming it is within Bluetooth range. They do not appear to have included a last seen location for your watch should you loose it. Something Motorola does.

Garmin have included a search utility to find friends, but it found only one. I know others using Garmin connect so I have no idea why …

Notifications are pretty well done on the Fenix 3. You get a nice little buzz on your wrist then the message pops up on the screen (in albeit small font size, unchangeable). This is comprehensive and covers all notifications on iOS including phone calls. You can even decline this phone call from the wathc. This works well and is super convenient while in the middle of a ride. They also notify you when it’s time to get off your butt🙂 The notifications come up nicely within a ride but the font is so small as to be unreadable. But they go away quickly.

Garmin wisely included the ability to power off the watch. This allows you to power it off and come back to it the next time you want it and it’s all powered up ready to go. A number of others forget this super obvious function. Some people do have more than one watch you know. No really they do!

There are a dizzying array of things to setup on the Fenix 3. And pretty much every one of them have to be setup on the watch itself (can’t be setup on the phone) and none of them can be backed up. Seems like an odd oversight.

There are definitely things that annoy me with the Fenix 3. The menu system and change of buttons from past devices being just a few. But even with that I have to admit this is an amazing watch. If you have a loved one that is into gadgets and like physical activity this may be the perfect decadent toy for them. Will it change your life, well no, but it real is a wonderful piece of technology!

For another even more in depth review checkout DC Rainmer’s review. Always one of the first places I go to for fitness based tech!

October 4, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

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.

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.
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.
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.

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.


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!


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 …


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.

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.

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.

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