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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 possible😦 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:
iptv-1
iptv-2

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 | Leave a comment

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.
polar-h7-heart-rate-sensors-set-98309-en

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.
5018-949_NOC02_view1_720x720

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 terms😦 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).
Fitbit-Blaze-Unboxing-Watch-Charger_thumb

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.
hr-schosche
hr-blaze

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 anything😦

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 stats😦
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:
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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 do😦 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 sleeping😦

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

Pebble time mini review

Ah the Pebble … With my recent move to an iPhone I find myself hugely disappointed with how minimally Google have implemented Android wear on iOS. I wonder why they even bothered. For me a smartwatch comes down to a few things. 1) the ability to whimsically change your watchface. Primarily I like the time/date and current weather on it. Android wear on iOS is severely limited in the number of watch faces available. 2) secondary notifications 3) Stopwatch/Timer

Android wear on iOS does not have an activity tracker solution so I have been wearing a Fitbit Charge. I love the battery life on the Charge, love the sleep tracking, but hate how it constantly catches on my shirt sleeves. How many generations of trackers does it take to learn that square edges catch shirt sleeves. Round them off PLEASE. And having multiple devices on my wrists is a little less than ideal. Sleep tracking on my Charge is another thing I quite like. Ideally I would move entirely to the Pebble time and stop using the Fitbit. Fitbit have fantastic integration with things like Endomondo and the like and Fitbit’s portal is excellent as well. I even have a Fitbit scale … Fitbit however have not played nice with Apple so there is no integration with Apple health. There are data bridge apps to fill this gap.

On with the pebble. The original Pebble was more like a childs toy than anything I would be caught dead wearing.
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The Pebble steel was a nice move forward. But the original Pebbles didn’t even do activity tracking. Pebble recently added this feature (as well as sleep tracking) but only on the Time models. An indication that support for these older models in spite of still being sold today is waivering. Recently BestBuy had a sale on the Pebble time so I bought one. $149 so kinda hard to pass up.

Let’s look at specs:
3.81x 9.5mm 42.5g
1.25 inch screen at 182 ppi
5-7 days battery life
Android/iOS compatibility (no Blackberry)
Standard 22mm watch band (an excellent decision) with a normal watch clasp. Yay why reinvent the wheel.

To say the screen is diminutive is an understatement. It has a sort of retro look. First there is a plastic bezel around the outside of the display (5mms) and then there is a black bezel surrounding the screen itself (another 3mms). That’s 16mm of bezel on a 20mm screen, so all in all the screen looks to be quite small compared to the size of the watch.

The Time Steel increases the battery size, gives you bettery quality buttons and gives you a metal (rather than plastic) bezel but is identical otherwise. This pic shows the Pebble Time, Pebble Time steel and the now outdated Pebble Steel.
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The band is a standard fare rubber band. It’s comfortable enough and easy to do up and undo. The watch for all intense and purposes is hardly noticeable on the wrist. Lots of folks have written that the band is a lint magnet and they are right. It always looks like it needs to be brushed off. I did find I sweated under the band which is unusual for me. The band can be easily removed with quick disconnects on the pins. A welcome new trend in the wearable market. There are lots of bands available for it on Amazon and the like.

The charging port is on the back of the watch and uses a proprietary connector held in place by magnets that then plugs into any USB port. They say charge time is an hour. The magnet isn’t the strongest. Spare cables can be bought inexpensively online should you want a spare or loose yours.

The screen uses color eInk (think of a Kindle) and is nowhere near as bright or vivid as say my Moto 360, it really is in a different league. But then the battery life is also in a different league and the screen has a lot to do with that.

The screen is not a touch screen and navigation is done by buttons on the side of the watch.

Setting the device up is pretty easy, download the Pebble Steel App and go through the prompts. Mine required numerous updates all of which took a while so only start this when you have time (pardon the pun).

Once your up and running you can start to learn the interface. The left hand button turns on the backlight as well as acts as a back button. The backlight can be controlled from settings on the watch to detect ambient light, and wrist flicks to turn it on when needed. You can also control quiet time based on a schedule or manually (by pressing and holding the left button) that are also setup on the watch. In fact none of the settings for the watch with the exception of the watch face are controlled by the phone. I like the way Fitbit allow you to set things up on the phone and back them up to the cloud. You can put the watch into Airplane mode as well as disable bluetooth on the watch (no idea what the difference between these two are). Notifications are calls, all notifications of none. The vibrate is good and strong. Text size in message boxes can be increased (to some extent) for those visually challenged (like me). The buttons on the right of the watch are up, enter and down and are how you navigate and select on the menus. Overall traversing the menus is smooth enough and responsive. Not zippy, but not sluggish either.

Similarly you can not see anything about the watch from the phone. Not battery status, not version number nada. Hopefully something they will add.

The Pebble ecosystem includes the ability to add watch faces as well as apps. There are a good number of free watch faces, many more than on the Fitbit Surge for example. Given the size and brightness of the screen getting anything that is too busy or too ornate is just a waste. Installing new watch faces (or apps) is done via the Pebble time app on the phone. Once loaded the watch faces can be selected from the watch or the phone. Apps appear on what Pebble call the timelines. This is actually well done.

Apps are similarly loaded. Endomondo has written a pebble app and it is well done and integrates well with the phone app. You can customize what you see on the screen. The workout can be started, paused and stopped from the watch. Very well done. Sadly there is no integration between pebble health and Endomondo.

Pebble have been quite bright in that even apps written for the first ever Pebble will run on todays Pebbles. This means there is a good selection of Pebble apps out there.

Powering off the watch completely can be found in the settings menu, so not exactly convenient.

The recently added Pebble health brings about the much needed activity tracking to the Pebble. It includes Steps, Distance , time active, Sleep, amount of deep sleep, and charts (it does not track floors climbed). All this can then feed Apple Health on iOS. One of the few that have bothered integrating with Apple Health. But here is the BIG catch, all this data is ONLY available on the watch. There is no phone app to view the data (unless you allow Pebble to update Apple health on iPhone or Google fit on Android), there is no portal, and the data does not seem to be backed up anywhere either. This seems to be a pretty big gap. But given Pebble only thought of adding activity tracking maybe this is to come. Even if you Sync to Apple health that data is only available on the phone. Loose or damage or replace your phone/watch and the data is gone (on an iPhone a backup/restore would preserve the data). And the watch can only store so much historical data (no idea how much that might be). Given this data is only on the watch (or phone) don’t expect much in terms of data analysis, trends and the like. And don’t look for a data export either. As usual data rich, information poor.

Almost every wearable at one point or another goes missing. Falls off, you forget where you left it etc. There are no apps for find your watch (or find your phone) with the pebble. And no checkins by the pebble so you know where it was last seen. Definitely some room for improvement here.

Voice wise Pebble recently introduced the ability to reply to an SMS through voice on the watch but I couldn’t figure out how this worked. There are no Voice commands as yet (Android wear has them).

The timer app works fine, something I use quite a bit when cooking. But the lack of voice commands means I’m more likely to do this on the iPhone with Siri.

On day one the step counter on the Pebble was 9411 on my Fitbit Charge was 9680 so well within reasonable numbers.

Sleep tracking is also in line with my Charge. There are two challenges with sleeping with the Pebble time. First is keeping it quiet. This is resolved by manually putting it into silent mode or by programming a scheduled quiet time. The second is keeping it from turning the backlight on. Why Pebble didn’t link these two is beyond me. The best way to achieve this is to turn off motion in the display settings. The watch is plenty comfy to sleep with.

Battery life on this watch is an interesting discussion. Standby battery is so low that when you do things with the watch it has profound effects. On day one I futzed with it a bunch, loading new watch faces and the like for quite a bit. Next thing I know battery was at 60% in day one for a battery life of a couple of days. eInk displays draw power when they change. So choose a watch face that is active and you will see a decrease in battery life. Do you really need to have an animated watch face? Well then you made a choice … The next day I chose an inactive watch face and left the watch alone and it projected out to 4 days, much closer to the 5-7 days they project. By the way good luck in finding the specific battery status outside of some watch faces that include it. I found an article on best apps for Pebble time and one of the apps they mention is called Battery+ which works to solve exactly that issue.

All in all the pebble is an interesting device but what is missing is that gee wow I gotta have it. It’s like a toaster, you need one, but is this the one to have? It’s definitely more of an engineer’s toy than a mass market appeal. For me it would replace neither my Moto 360 (not even in the same league), nor my Fitbit charge (lack of data export/portal/inter connectivity).

March 5, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

iPad 2 mini review

Table of contents
Introduction
iPad Models
Physicals and specs
General stuff
Initial setup
Apps
Accessories
Pens (and OneNote)
Mobile Browsing
In car navigation
Kindle
Tethering
iPad/iPhone/Mac integration
Phone calls

Introduction
My digital tablet landscape is a little busy to say the least. My main device day to day is my a T300 chi, but honestly I use it more as a laptop than a tablet. Windows as a tablet even on Windows 10 is hog tied by a poor onscreen keyboard and an operating system that really is not all that touch friendly. even the new Edge browser was poorly designed in my opinion for touch. Look at the size of the forward and back buttons as one trivial example. Windows does some things really well, One note for example is best and the most feature rich on Windows. I take digital notes regularly and the hands down best experience to date is the Asus vivotab note.

But the only in car gps navigation app (on Windows) is Navmii and it is eccentric at best. Web browsing is hands down best on Windows (compared to iOS or Android). Constantly being forced onto mobile web sites is limiting. But most Windows tablets (T300 not included in the comment) have very low resolution. 8″ tablets are very convenient but are limited by the same size that makes them uber portable.

In the Windows space my devices are the T300 Chi, Asus Vivotab note, Dell venue 8 (largely a backup to the Vivotab that had been hugely unreliable), and a T100 (that is largely disabled due to issues between the tablet and keyboard).

In the Android space I have aSamsung Note 8. It is a very versatile tablet. Still one of my favorite tablets. Great for games, great for in car navigation (using CoPilot, and google maps), the pen is second only to the vivotab note (although the OneNote functionality is severely limited on Android) and has a cell radio in it making it very handy. Battery life is not great and charge times are slow. The biggest limitations are low resolution and the limitations of constantly being held back by the mobile browsing experience.

All this is said to set the stage for the iPad … This is my first ever iPad. The iPad is for all purposes a large iPhone. The app space is the same. And so on with the review.

I’ve gone through iOS fairly heavily in my recent post on the iPhone 5s. I will focus on what’s different on an iPad

iPad Models
Sorting through which iPad to choose was relatively straight forward for me. This Wikipedia article shows the generations. The iPad mini 2 is a much improved screen, and much faster processor so that was a no brainer. A little catch is that the WIFI only models do not have GPS which would remove the possibility of using it for in car navigation. And I have found having a built in cell very handy. Lastly comes memory size, to make it dead easy to manage I chose the exact same size as my iPhone so 64G. So this one is an iPad mini 2 LTE, 64G. I bought a refurb from Factory direct.

Physicals and specs
200×134.7×7.5 mm 341g
210.8×135.9×8 mm 340g (Samsung note 8 for comparison)
220.9×133.8×10.95 mm 380g (Asus Vivotab 8 for comparison)
Size and weight wise this is the space I like for uber portability. The limiting factor is one of screen size.

The power button is oddly on the top of the tablet (instead of being halfway on the side).

7.9-inch 2048×1536 resolution screen at 326 dpi (same dpi as an iPhone 5s/6)
800×1280 pixels (~189 dpi) (Samsung Note 8 and Asus Vivotab 8 for comparison)
as you can see the iPad is in a totally league.

Battery is 6471 mAH, more than triple that of an iPhone, and battery life is one of the strong suits for this device.
Mini 2’s come with a 10W charger (5V 2A). I found the mini 2 much more picky with higher current chargers than others, more often barely drawing 5W which sustains but really doesn’t charge much.

The processor on this one is an A7, same generation as an iPhone 5s (an iPhone 6 is the newer A8), you’d have to go all the way to an iPad mini 4 to get to an A8. The speed difference coming from my iPhone 6 is noticeably slower, but that said everything is still pretty darn instantaneous.

General stuff
First off, iOS devices including this one only support one userid on the tablet. So if you were thinking you could have one in the house that everyone can share … sorry not here. This is somewhere between clever (from Apple’s point of view) and dumb (from the users point of view). I guess they want you to buy one per person. Apparently this is something Apple are working on, at least for schools, have to see if the general public gets it too.

The launcher on the iPad seems particularly odd. There is a lot of wasted space between the icons. On an iPhone there is a zoomed and unzoomed mode which changes the number of icons on the screen. No such thing on the iPad. So your stuck with 5×4 in landscape and 4×5 in portrait. So this means the location of icons changes when the screen rotates. Screen rotation works well and is implemented everywhere including the home screen. No idea why Apple left that off of an iPhone.
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My music collection of around 25G sync’d in about 30 mins which would be around 14MB/s so like the 5S not earth shatteringly fast. Fortunately the device is usable while syncing and follow on sync only have to replicate what’s new.

For some odd reason Apple removed the tremendous Wallet app from the iPad. No idea what their thought process (if any) was on that.

Initial setup
An iPad can not be setup from a backup of an iPhone so sadly if this is your first iPad you will have to manually set it up from scratch. Future iPads can be setup using backups but for your first your on your own. Now this is at least partly because of the iPhone Vs iPad apps but still I think Apple could have done something to make this easier and encourage iPhone users to buy an iPad.

Apps
When the iPad first appeared in the market Apple needed to jump start it’s app list, so Apple allowed the iPad to run iPhone apps. This situation sadly still exists. I personally would prefer Apple make developers write for both. So in the app store when you are on a iPad you sometimes can not find an app that you can find on an iPhone (the developer decided to not allow iPads), apps custom written to take advantage of the higher res iPad and apps that were written for an iPhone but will run on an iPad. This last category can manifest itself in a number of ways from not rotating the screen to low resolution on the display (including large onscreen keyboard).

Accessories
There are tons of accessories available for the mini, but really they are the same ones available for the iPhone. There are keyboard cases, flash card readers, and the like. There is even an HDMI adapter for it, but Apples stubbornness to not allow Bluetooth mice makes this option a whole lot less useful since you will still need to touch the screen to select stuff. And try and do RDP without a mouse. There is no USB OTG cable or a cable that would allow you to charge your iPhone from your iPad. A shame. Given the size of the battery this would have been a neat feature.

Pens and OneNote
I tried a couple capacitive pens I have one thin, two fat. The thin one was completely ignored. One fat one was detected but was too sticky on the screen to be usable. The other thick one (that came with a cheap case I bought off Amazon) actually works fine for occasional use. One note on iPad has done something brilliant. You put it in draw mode and then the pen starts doing something. Gestures are then used for scrolling and zooming. So there are no issues with palm detection like there are on Windows 10. Microsoft wrote version of OneNote just for the iPad. It actually works reasonably well. Still missing are things like OCR, handwriting to text, ability to use templates and the like. All the usual things missing on mobile platforms. You still need to go to Windows to get the full OneNote experience, but that said, it’s wonderful to have this cross platform tool. I use it all the time.

As with the iPhone there is no Kodi available for the iPad. You can hack your way through installing it but the process is arduous at best. Unless you can get a friend like Johannes to do it for you:) There are people on Kiji that will do it for you for a fee. The fee seems pretty reasonable given the difficulty and time consuming nature of the task. Particularly so if you don’t already have a Mac.

Mobile Browsing
As with all but Windows tablet, the iPad suffers from constantly being handcuffed by mobile web sites, even when you ask for the desktop websites. This happens on both Safari and Chrome. It really is a plague. Not sure if webmasters know better than their customers or they have no idea how to process the request for the desktop web site but it’s annoying.

In car Navigation
In car navigation is well covered on the iPad (but remember, only the iPad minis with cell have GPS in them). There are three choices that I use, the built in Apple maps, Google maps and Copilot. Copilot license from Android is carried over into iOS and Copilot supports offline maps. The size of the iPad mini is perfect for in car navigation. You will however have to find a car mount for it. I did find the the iPad mini is about the same width as the height of my iPhone 6 so the same holder (if it’s strong enough) can be used for both.

Kindle
Amazon have created an iPad Kindle app. It works fine, and supports downloaded books (the Windows version does not) but oddly does not allow you to buy books on the app. It doesn’t even link to a web page to allow you to buy the book. All in all it is less than a seemless experience. I can imagine there are conflicts with Apple books but still …

Tethering
The iPad can be used to tether (yay they didn’t remove tethering) to another device in one of three ways, WIFI access point, blueooth and USB. It’s wonderful to have bluetooth back because it’s something you can enable on your phone, leave enabled and it uses little power. Then from the remote client you can connect to it when you need it without having to take the phone out. Of course bluetooth tethering is limit to about 1MB/s so everything has it’s price.
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iPad/iPhone/Mac integration
This is one of the main reasons I wanted to play with an iPad, to see how Apple has integrated the devices. Apple call this Continuity. This breaks down into a number of areas. First and foremost is text messaging. Apple use the iMessaging app to in the back end blend your devices. No matter where you are, no matter what device your on you get to see all your iMessage and text messages. This really is a thing of beauty. Now to use it you have to not have disabled iMessaging, but be warned, if you move your phone off iOS to another platform disable iMessage and wait “a while” before you move your SIM to a new phone or your messages from other iOS users will continue to go to iMessage and be lost in the ether. Until some magical timeout, measured in days, occurs. Why sit typing on a small screen text messages or iMessages when you could be at your Mac or iPad! Of course what is missing (intentionally) is a Windows or web client. This is to provide value to the Mac ecosystem. iMessage by the way includes the ability to see the progress of your message, delivered, and read (and when it was read).

The second level of integration is what Apple call hand offs. A number of default apps Safari, iMessage, mail etc all can be handed off between devices. So you can start surfing (for example) on one device and go to another device and pickup where you left off. The implementation of this is a tad clumsy but it does work. On your iPhone or iPad when you double click to see the list of running apps there will an icon for anything that is available to resume on this device.

The third and final level of integration is for phone calls. When a phone call comes in, if your Mac/iPad and iPhone are all on the same wifi network (it only works over WIFI) your call comes in and is magically sent over to your iPad or Mac through FaceTime audio. It really works smoothly. From your iPad you can also make phone calls again through FaceTime. Sadly all this ends if your not on the same WIFI network. When a call comes in on your iPhone there is not even a notification on your iPad.

There’s a number of things missing IMHO. For example it would be great to be able to see the battery level of your iPhone on your iPad. And if you left your iPhone at home it would be nice to remotely forward your phone. Neither of these can even be done on iCloud. And if you have the same app on both wouldn’t it be nice to have back end data syncd? Say progress on a game, or if your tracking a package from UPS for example why do you have to put the tracking number into both devices? These are a couple examples. Moving seamlessly between the two devices would create some real platform synergy.

I really see great value in this kind of work (integration between devices). Apple have gone way farther than Microsoft in this space. Which isn’t hard given Microsoft so far have done next to nothing:)

Phone calls
Like on most of these tablets the ability to make and receive phone calls has been removed. Oddly on the phablets like the Samsung Notes they leave it. So that leaves a number of choices, but all of them are handcuffed by the way iOS handles background apps (which is not well). Skype out works but there are no Skype In phone numbers in Canada. BBM has audio but can only be used between two BBM clients. Call quality is very good on BBM audio and free. Why BBM has not monetized this and brought about a BBM out service is beyond me. For a company struggling as Blackberry are this could be a very welcome revenue source. Generic VOIP can be used if you have a VOIP provider. I found Media5-fone and setup it up with my VOIP provider (Anveo). This app is written for iPhones not iPads so it is small and low res. But it’s a dialer to kinda who cares. Apps in the background on an iOS device are always less responsive so incoming calls will take a bit to register on the phone.

Bluetooth keyboards work just fine, and brilliantly Apple turns off the onscreen keyboard once the Bluetooth keyboard is connected. Why can’t Microsoft learn that trick? Bluetooth mice as always with iPhone/iPads are ignored. If Apple would reverse this stubbornness it would open up new use cases for iPads. Sadly it’s been this way for years and doesn’t seem likely to change anytime soon.

Standby power management is really very good on this device. Probably one of the best I’ve seen to date. I left the iPad on WIFI and the cell network for 49 hours and it went down from 100 to 92. That would come out at .16%/hr or a projected standby life of 26 days. Unbelievable. The numbers were similar on LTE. Indistinguishable really.

Another missing utility (on top of wallet) is Apple Health. Wouldn’t it be nice to look at your health data on a bigger screen instead of your phone? This seems like a perfect opportunity for cross device integration …

So all in all I am thoroughly impressed with the iPad mini. Great size, performance, battery life and integration. I always use to say people that jump into Apples ecosystem have drunk the KoolAid but I think now I know they (and I) have really drank the Apple juice …:)

March 2, 2016 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

iPhone 6 review

I enjoyed my time with the iPhone 5s but screen size and I bought too small memory meant I couldn’t live on it. I did a thorough post on the current iOS and I won’t repeat that here. I will try and talk about areas I did not explore or what’s new on the iPhone 6. The 6 is a departure from past iPhones, it’s much more round on the edges and it looks a lot more elegant. I really like the look. Mine is Gold in color, 64G so lots of storage for my music and stuff. The phone is at 9.2.1 (13D15) for reference.

Let’s start with physicals
123.8 x 58.6 x 7.6 mm and weighs 112 grams (iPhone 5S)
138.1 x 67 x 6.9 mm and 129 grams (iPhone 6)
143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8 mm and weighs 138 grams (Samsung S6 for comparison)

That comes up to 28% larger than the 5S and it is noticeable. And just the right size. I owned a Samsung note for a while and it was just too big. The iPhone 6 Plus by the way is about the same size as the Samsung Note so not something I considered. A friend once said it’s too small to be a tablet and too big to be a phone.:)

4.7-inch 1334-by-750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi
4.0-inch 1136-by-640-pixel resolution at 326 ppi (iPhone 5s for reference)

Apple really want to their customers to upgrade to a new phone each and every time it comes out. So they have focussed on making this process as easy as possible. Android/Samsung could learn a LOT from them. I have spent countless hours every time I change my Android phone, and as my readers know, that’s often. So I was really interested to see how Apple do it. Well it couldn’t be easier and less painful. You create a phone backup on iTunes (or on the cloud) if you’ve enabled that. Then when you power on the new phone you get asked if you want to restore it from an existing phone or setup a new one. Simply restore from the backup of your old phone and that’s it. The phone then proceeds to download the apps you previously had on your phone and most of the settings are kept. Some of the apps required passwords to be re-entered but all in all it was a painless process. Shockingly so. Kudos to Apple.

Bluetooth keyboards work just fine, and brilliantly Apple turns off the onscreen keyboard once the Bluetooth keyboard is connected. Why can’t Microsoft learn that trick? Bluetooth mice as always with iPhone/iPads are ignored.

The battery is 1810mAh Vs 1560 for the 5s or an increase of 16% over the iPhone 5s.

On WIFI standby the phone consumed a meager 1% per hour for a projected battery life of 100 hours (measured on 22 hours). For comparison the Samsung S6 which was a whole lot better than the S5 consumed 1.13%/hr. When you take into account that the iPhone’s battery is smaller than the Samsung S6 this means the iPhone 6 has 39% better standby power management than the already impressive S6. Wow.

Turn on the LTE radio on standby and the phone consumes 1.2% per hour for a projected battery life of 85 hours. This translates to about an 18% increase in power consumption on the cell. This is actually not bad. Samsung have worked a lot on cell standby power, so much so that on the S5/S6 there was little to no power cost to using the cell instead of wifi.

The iPhone 6 ships with a standard 5V 1A charger or 5Watts. So let’s have a look at charge times:
Using the 12W charger, in a little over an hour the phone went from 28 to 85% or about .95%/min for a projected full charge time of 1 hr 45mins.
With the stock charger it went from 37% to 84% in just under an hour or .92%/min. for a projected full charge time of 1 hr 49 mins. So well within error. So it means for the iPhone 6 there is no benefit to the higher wattage charger.

Apple have still not embraced wireless charging. A shame really, so I bought an iTian wireless cover that is a TPU gel case with a built in wireless coil. It says it puts out 400-700ma (Vs the 1A of the default charger). This charged the iPhone at a rate of about 0.53% per min or a projected full charge of just over 3 hours. It turns out to be about 60% the speed of the wired charger. Perfect for the evening or while your at your desk. If there is any downside to this case is you have to remove it if you want to use the wired charger for a quick blast or to use an external battery pack or to connect to iTunes by wire.
51BYmaa+APL._SL1024_
I had an issue with a torx head hanging low on the one I bought (a defect) that made it too sharp so I returned it and bought a second different one, a Qi-infinity™ Wireless Charger Qi Receiver Phone Case for iPhone 6.
This one is a much more clever design. It has cutouts for the power button, volume controls, silence button etc. The connection to the lightning connector can be simply and easily slid down for you to be able to use a car charger, wired connection to iTunes etc. This one charged the phone from 57% TO 84% in an hour or about 0.45% per hour about half speed compared to the stock charger. If there is any downside to this case they left the whole top of the phone unnecessarily exposed. There are no jacks, speakers, buttons etc on the top of the phone so I am not sure why they did that. The case itself well made, thin and light. A perfect add to the iPhone 6.
61iysdRq4SL._SL1167_

Find friends app is really neat. You set it up and in the future if you want to know where your family members are you can easily see it. Now that can be creepy and borderline stalking … From the app you can turn it on and off anytime you like.

The new A8 processor in the S6 is noticeably faster than the A7 of the iPhone 5s or iPad mini 2. Everything is instantaneous as it always is on an iPhone.

I have to say all in all I am happier with the iPhone and how much better it is than Android. Living on an Android phone is always a collection of irritants and imperfections. Things on an iPhone just seem to work better, smoother and more integrated. The dramatically better standby battery life is amazing.

All in all the iPhone 6 is an improved, larger 5S. Continuing the spirit of incremental improvements. The iPhone as a platform is stable, fast, and solid. Little to no pregnant pauses where you sit wondering WTF is my phone actually doing (compare with Android for example). Apple’s control of developers and lack of customization that is King in Android are likely one of the reasons the iPhone platform is as good as it is (performance and battery life). Background apps are particularly hog tied on iOS and it shows in things like exercise apps. Android wear really is in it’s infancy on iOs. But all in all there’s lots to like in an iPhone.

February 22, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amazon Fire TV Firestarter (mini review)

I bought an Amazon Fire TV and while back, and the main purpose of it was to run Kodi as a media player. Installing and maintaining Kodi was a pain, practically hacking. And using it was clumsy and inelegant. That said I have used it for the last almost 2 years and it continues to work surprisingly well. I work with a bunch of technocrats and we have lively, informative, lunch conversations. This time around the topic of the Amazon Fire TV. There is a newer generation out there and Amazon broke the way Kodi use to work. So the geniuses out there started working on a newer better way to fit Kodi onto a first or second generation Fire TV.

Firestarter is an alternate launcher that starts up on boot and provides a nice simple GUI menu from which you can start, manage, install and update Kodi, or any other Android apps you decide to load onto your fire. Or simply go to the normal Fire menu.

There’s a detailed guide on how to install it but it is simply a side loaded APK so for me that was obvious. firestarter_screenshot_01_small
It really is brilliant and works on first and second gen Fire TVs. Give it a whirl. It’s easy to setup and easy to remove if you don’t like it.

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

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