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Here a tracker there a tracker … Apple Health to the rescue?

Getting all your activity/sleep etc data in one place is challenging. The makers like fitbit etc have no motivation whatsoever to allow you to have devices from different companies. In fact, they use it to trap you into their ecosystem. If you happen to change trackers, do you want to change your scale? Of all the companies I’ve played with Fitbit, Polar, Misfit, and Xiaomi only Fitbit allow you to export your data. And then it dawned on me, in the Apple world there is a bridge to bring this data in one place, Apple Health! So let’s have a look at this …

When you install an app that supports Apple Health, you can control what amount of access it can have to Apple Health, ie what it can read and write. When you uninstall an app you can also choose to remove all data in Apple health from that app. You can easily see what sources currently have read and write access and tailor it as you see fit.
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For this to be a savior you need to keep an eye on how well the individual app works with Apple health. I found Garmin connect had some anomalies that were polluting the sleep data. It seems Garmin did not think of the possibility that you might not always sleep with your Garmin device and it used the definition of normal bed time (which is used to mute the device) on those occasions to populate your sleep? WTF.
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Fortunately it’s pretty easy to simply remove Garmin Connect’s access to just the sleep data.

Fitbit have chosen for now to completely ignore Apple Health, likely to keep your data in their vault. Fortunately there is an app out there that simply takes your fitbit data and pushes it into Apple health called Health Sync. It works well.

Fitbit do an incredible job of taking data from multiple devices and merging them. You can wear your Flex for part of the day and switch up to a different tracker and it merges them nicely. Apple Health however makes not attempt to do this. It does however allow you to prioritize which data is likely to be more accurate.
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Additionally you can manually edit and delete entries easily.

Data can be exported from the Apple health app, but I see no way of importing it. This is potentially a challenge if you don’t use the backup/restore method of migrating to a new phone at some point. The exported data comes out in an XML file that is challenging at best to do anything with. Fortunately there is an app called QS Access that will allow you to export exactly what you want to a CSV that in turn can be imported into Excel for graphing and analysis.

So an in all it can be done, but definitely could use some work by Apple …

November 15, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Misfit Shine

I’ve owned a number of the Fitbits and love the data you get out of them. I’ve seen the Misfit product line and been curious. I got a chance to snag one on the cheap so it’s time to satisfy some curiosity. This is by no means a new device, and in fact there is a shine 2 out.

The Shine takes a different approach to tracking, in that it makes no attempt to be anything but a tracker. Don’t go looking for notifications (I don’t think there is even a vibrate motor in it), doesn’t attempt to add a display (although there are lights on it that if you take the time to interpret can be used to read the time and percent to your goal you’ve done) nada. It just goes about it’s business tracking your steps and sleep while you get on with your day. There’s nothing to recharge, it runs on a disposable CR2032 battery that should last months. And within the app you can see the charge on the battery.

The Shine can be worn in two ways out of the box. Either with a band on your wrist or a clever magnet that can wrap around belt loops, pockets etc.
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There are also optional necklaces that can be bought or you can just carry it in your pocket. But I can only imagine the black will get scratched off by keys/coins.

The magnetic based loop works well and has a reasonably firm grip. Using this or the necklace frees up your wrist for other things like watches. A couple of cautions about the magnetic loop. Call me captain obvious but be careful not to have it close to things like credit cards, ID badges etc because it might just erase the magnetic strip. I also found that the magnet would latch onto belt buckles and rivets in belts. When it did that it was very easy to get loose (and potentially fall off). Speaking of fall off if you walk away from your phone or loose your Shine, sadly, the app will not inform you. It’s just gone. And misplace it and you can manually get it to light up, but it can’t buzz. So finding it can be a challenge. Same thing was true of Fitbits by the way. And there’s no signal strength within the app (there are apps for that) that might help you at least figure out the general area it’s in.

The app was dead easy to initially setup (I did it on an Iphone) and every time you open the app it syncs the data off. No idea how much memory it has for wearing it disconnected.

The Shine picks up cycling as steps, but with a Fitbit it uses some back end data processing to massage out the data. No such luck on the Shine.

The home screen of the app gives you a non-customizable view of your activity.
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It prominently displays some bizarre point system, and you can’t change it. Give me my steps instead in that nice display. It does however give you what more you need to do to meet your goals for the day. All in all the app is fine. All data is then uploaded to the Misfit portal by your phone. Default units were miles etc, I changed it over to Kms.

You can share you progress from the home screen to variety of different places.

The portal itself is also fine, a little basic. I see no way to export the data, although you can enable it to send your data to Apple health (something Fitbit has chosen to not do). I am not sure I understand where companies come off thinking your data belongs to them and shall never be removed from there cloud. It irks me. At least Fitbit allow you to export it one month at a time for external data analysis. We live in a world that is data rich, and information poor. If you don’t analyse and mine the data what are you collecting it for? End rant …

And don’t expect to be able to have apps like Endomondo feed into Misfit so you can get a total picture of your exercise. This is a HUGE miss … I like getting a complete picture of my exercise in one place. The apps it does support are VERY limited, and sadly none of the ones I currently use, but on the positive side they have included a link to Walgreens so you can ear rewards for your healthy choices? Seriously I couldn’t make something this silly up🙂
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Like Fitbits the Shine lacks an activity reminder, a prod to get off your butt and walk around …

Socially speaking the app can search your Facebook/Twitter and Contacts for people using a Misfit product. Oddly it found no one for me. It does give you a friend it calls Mr.Fit and average of all Misfit users today to compare yourself against. If you deny access to your contacts your going to go and manually dig to approve it (Setting, privacy, contacts). Once it finds friends you can add them, but you can not see if they are active or not (Fitbit does).

Sleep wise the shine supports auto sleep and gives you a view of how well you slept including how long in bed, how much restful sleep and how much light sleep.
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I had to replace the battery and had a devil of a time. I eventually figured out I had misread the instructions but in the process had gouged the aluminum. Then putting it back together the battery clip on the circuit board bent, and then broke off. Presumably I did not get the rotation of the lid correct. So this gave me the opportunity to try Misfit’s customer support. They are very limited in ways to get a hold of them, email was the only option. I tried to find a way to call them, no joy. It took Misfit support 6 business days to even return my email. They eventually sent me a new one which was generous of them. They could have said it was my fault for not following instructions. Of course I could say it was poorly designed (which I think it is). In the end it took a whopping 21 business days to get a new tracker. Wow.

If your looking for no muss, no fuss, no glitz, no glamour tracker, the Misfit Shine may very well fit the bill. But do be super careful when changing the battery🙂

November 9, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Windows 10 Lock screen Spotlight images

If you’ve turned on Windows 10 lock screen spotlight images (how to enable spotlight) every now and then you see an image you like, and would like to save. Sadly Microsoft left out this capability. A quick Google found a number of suggestions for how to do this, all of which are way too complicated. So I decided to make it simpler. Here’s a simple series of commands you can run to save them off. It isn’t perfect in that it grabs some other crap in the process but it’s relatively easy to clean these up. Here are the commands. Note there are only a few of the images saved so if you like what you see do it sooner rather than later.

mkdir c:\windows-images
xcopy %userprofile%\AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.Windows.ContentDeliveryManager_cw5n1h2txyewy\LocalState\Assets\*.* c:\windows-images\
ren c:\windows-images\*. *.jpg

Here’s the commands in a text file for you🙂.

November 8, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Today’s lighting market

Today’s lighting market has become increasingly complicated leaving a consumer with lots of options to wade through. Especially so when buying a new fixture, however evening existing lighting fixtures can give consumers options. Let’s take a quick look …

The obvious starting place is physical. In the halogen area the base size is called G8 or G9 (as well as others):
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There are increasingly options albeit pricey ones to replace halogen bulbs with LED which offer better energy efficiency thus less heat.

In the incandescent space there is a small, medium and standard base. A medium base can screw into a standard base but sometimes not the otherway around, and small is unique in size.

There are other sizes I could ramble on about but these are the most common.

Next up is the technology used to generate the light. The older style is simply called incandescent and dates back into the early days of tungsten bulbs. Incandescents consume the most power, generate the most heat, wear out the fastest, are the cheapest, but deliver more normal color of light (more beige than white).

Halogens have made a lot of headway in track and pot lamps. Honestly I hate them, I find them expensive, don’t last anywhere near as long as they say they should, deliver a narrow beam of light and as mentioned above I’ve had issues getting them out of sockets.

CFL or compact florescent entered the market a while back. The designers got clever and figured out how to make them fit in a normal standard incandescent socket. Honestly, again, I hate CFLs and have no idea why they are in the market. Each and every CFL contains mercury which creates a health hazard if it’s broken and a disposal challenge. If you simply throw them in the garbage that mercury ends up in our landfill and potentially our water table. Mercury is a NASTY chemical. CFLs take less power than incandescent but can be slower to turn on especially in the cold (we do live in Canada eh), and deliver a more white light.

Lately LED bulbs have been hitting the market in a variety of existing form factors promising lower power consumption and longer life. Let’s have a look at a box of a particular LED bulb.
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There’s lots of information on the label to digest. Lets start with how bright it is. Because incandescent, LED, and CFL all use different methods to generate light comparing them based on the old way of watts makes no sense (or cents for that matter:)) So instead they use a unit of measure of the brightness called lumens. Here’s a chart comparing lumen levels. You can use it if you are replacing an existing light/fixture.
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Next up you can see the number of watts this particular bulb consumes to generate those lumens. In this case it consumes 10W to generate the same lumens as a 60W incandescent bulb.

You can also see the color of the light which you can use to compare to an existing incandescent bulb:
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Next up you can see the projected life of the bulb. In this case it is 10,000 hours. Compare this with the incandescent which translates into 1971 hours. This would imply the LED bulb will last 5 times as long as the incandescent. If you look at the price of incandescent bulbs not even counting the inconvenience to change them, buy them and dispose of them they are between 0.50 and $1.25 at CanadianTire. I paid $15 for a 6 pack which works out to be $2.50 a pop. So if the projections of life can be believed LEDs can be justified solely on the basis of their life.

Next up we can look at the savings from an electricity point of view. For every hour they are on they save 50WH and will run for 10,000 hrs according to the manufacturer. So that’s a savings of 500KWH for the life of the bulb (per bulb). According to my hydro bill the cheapest hydro is during off peak hours is $.087 per KWH so this would translate into a savings of a min of $43.50 in hydro bills over the life of the bulb. At a fixture level I replaced a 4 bulb 60W chandelier with a 5 bulb 10W (not that it needed 5 just the one I bought) so that would be a savings of 190WH which translates into 1900KWH over the life of the bulb or a savings of a min of $165.30!

One word of caution some manufacturers quote years based on number of hours per day the bulb is on. Be careful, this can be misleading and is VERY dependent on your use case of the bulb. If you were to leave a bulb on 24×7 this would be 8760 hours so a 10,000 bulb would only last 1.1 years. This is particularly notable on fixtures I noticed when I was buying that did not have a replaceable bulb. IE you replace the fixture not the bulb.

Another thing worth noting is that some of the LED bulbs are not compatible with dimmers. If you want to use a dimmer you need to be careful with the bulbs you choose.

Well I would have to say, I have been slow to jump on the LED bandwagon and I am SUPER skeptical on the number of projected hours for the bulbs life but it looks promising with NONE of the negative effects of CFLs!

November 7, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Logitech K480 multi device keyboard

I spend a lot of time at keyboards. Typing blog posts, emails you name it. So finding the best keyboard out there is always something I look for. To top it off I have a bunch of devices I use everyday from a Windows laptop to an iPhone to an iPad. Now the easiest solution is one keyboard per device. But this keyboard offers the possibility of covering off 3 devices at a time. Its the party trick it brings to the table.
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Up in the top left corner of the keyboard you will see a dial, this allows you to pair and then select from three different devices to talk to. And each device can be uniquely configured as iOS/Mac or PC/Android which customizes the special keys. The special keys are all here from the windows key (cleverly mascarading as a start button?) to the options key on Mac. Start f1 on iOS performs a home function for an iPhone/iPad. Alt/tab functionality works perfectly on an iPad (sadly this function is not built into an iPhone) which allows you to quickly switch between apps.

Switching between devices is fairly quick, takes about 1-2 seconds to have it register. Not instant but not horrible either. I did find myself forgetting which device I was set to and typing on the wrong screen

The keyboard also has a nice slot to hold your iPhone/iPad.

Physically speaking if your looking for the perfect travel mate, this isn’t it. It’s a big bruiser.
Height: 7.68 in (195 mm)
Width: 11.77 in (299 mm)
Depth: 0.79 in (20 mm)
Weight: 820 g (1.81 pounds)

It is powered by a pair of AAA batteries. Given the size of this keyboard why it doesn’t use a rechargeable or AA batteries is beyond me.

I made a mistake and tried pairing it as an iOS device on Windows and it cleverly came up and told me I’d selected it wrongly. I had to delete it and repair it.

Pairing went super smoothly.

The battery level can be seen inside the optionally downloaded ap on the PC, but there is no iPhone or iPad app (there is Android). So without that your guessing the current battery level. The app will also allow you to change some options on the keyboard.

The power switch on the keyboard is oddly located on the underside of the keyboard. A silly decision and give the size of this bruiser it is perplexing why they would do that.

Feel wise the keyboard reminds me of an older chicklet style keyboard. It does not in all honesty have a great feel. Accuracy wise it is ok but not perfect. The lack of feedback from the keyboard means mashing the keys or making mistakes. It is really not a great feel.

Logitech wisely put rubber feet on the bottom of the keyboard and it works well to keep it in place.

There are some curiously missing keys: Page Up/Down, Home/End all of which I use often …

So all in all a great idea, marred by a cheap chicklet feel. Honestly I would not recommend it.

October 27, 2016 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.
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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 2 full charges out of it. 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.
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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.
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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.
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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?
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I did notice one really stupid 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). This does cause another issue, if you dont wear the watch while sleeping but it’s on and you have set the normal sleep time connect logs your normal sleep time in Apple health. And I woke up, took the watch off to shower and it thought I had been asleep the time I was in the shower. All in all the sleep area of the watch could use some attention.

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.
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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.
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This is very much a beginner chopper. It’s a ton of fun, inexpensive and a great place to start. Syma has done a very good job. I don’t have a lot of comparison points given this is my first chopper, but I can say you probably won’t go wrong starting with this one. Both my daughter and GF also gave it a whirl so it has allure to even non techno geeks.

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

Wahoo Blue SC bike speed and cadence sensor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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