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CHUWII Vi8 Windows/Android tablet mini review

Recently there are host of inexpensive tablets coming out of China to tempt us. This particular tablet come with both Windows and Android loaded on it. You can switch relatively easily/quickly (<30 seconds) between the two. This tablet is available for under $100 on places like BangGood.com (trust me I couldn’t make up a name like that :))

The hardware is relatively good with the exception of the screen. 32G SSD, quad core Atom Z3735f, 2G of memory and some pretty bad cameras. Port wise it has a microUSB for charging/UST OTG, microSD (with 64G support), microHDMI (impressive), 3.5mm audio bluetooth and Wifi.

The screen is 8″ 1280×800 or 189 pixels per inch. It is by far not the brightest, or most vivid I have seen. It is reasonably responsive. I’ve seen lots of complaints about it scratching easily. It comes with a screen protector from the factory that is pretty bad. On one of the ones (two of my colleagues bought one of these) I saw there was imperfections either between the screen and screen protector or under the screen. I’m not sure which. There are comments about imperfections and dead pixels littered around the web. This is definitely a place where they saved some cash. There is a soft Windows button on the front that also doubles as a home button when in Android. Android relies on soft buttons for back/home/options.

The case itself is as usual quite plasticy. I can’t imagine this being all that durable. Think of it more as a disposable device.

The choice to have Android and Windows is an interesting idea, but I’m not sure it’s all that practical given hardware limitations. With no GPS one of the things I would want an Android 8″ tablet for (GPS navigation) is out the Window (pardon the pun). Dual boot literally shuts down one operating system and starts the other. And the device restarts in whatever operating system it last booted on. They have not given you tools to remove one of the other but it can be done manually. You simply need to traverse the dizzying number of partitions on the SSD, 17 if you can believe it. And your going to need to do some work to properly back up the SSD. Most solutions would only handle Android or Windows. There are of course backup solutions that simply do raw copies of the partitions that can be used.

Of the 32G Windows itself gets 13G leaving 7.5G free on first boot. Install patches and the like and your going to be kinda limited in space REAL fast. Android reserves 8G for itself. The Android load is impressively 4.4.4. No idea if or when it might get 5.0. The Android load is very vanilla and stripped down. It does impressively include the Google PlayStore for getting Android apps. The SSD registered 49 MB/s write and 69 MB/s which is reasonably quick. For reference the T100 was 25/40 , 25/46 for the Asus Vivotab Note 8, 66.2/81.6 for the Dell Venue 10 and 47/93 for the Acer Switch 10.

The tablet includes a 5000 mAh battery. I didn’t have enough time to play to get consumption numbers.

The quad core Atom is powerful enough for Windows and Android. And even runs Kodi on both Android/Windows for high def movie playback.

All in all this is not a bad a bad tablet. And given how cheap it is it’s hard to complain.
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May 19, 2015 Posted by | Android, Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Asus TF100T Windows tablet review

Another day another tablet … In my quest to replace my Asus TF701 android tablet I have had a couple of bad devices. The Acer switch 10 as well as the Dell Venue Pro 10. Interestingly enough this tablet was the one I was first going to buy and then changed my mind. The TF100T has been in the market a while (Sept 2013). A fact that tainted my interest in the T100 originally. On the positive side there are lots of accessories available for it, and there are lots available on ebay and the like for very good prices.

Asus has freshened the product line with the T200 which has an increased screen size (11.6 Vs 10″) but sadly they did not increase the already low screen resolution leaving the pixels per inch even worse. The T200 also adds in a 2.5″ drive bay into the keyboard for more storage.

To frame this review, I am working at finding a Windows replacement for my Android Asus TF701. That’s a tall order. The TF701 is an excellent device. Fast, instant on, great battery life, high resolution, very usable keyboard but it has one HUGE limitation. Android. Web sites that don’t display right, constantly getting the modile version of the site, no decent Microsoft Office solution, clumsy multi tasking, clumsy cut and paste as well as RDP issues etc left me wanting to return to Windows.

Physicals
10.4x263x171mm 544g
10.75×279.8X176.4 mm 437g (for the dell Venue 10).
The edges are more rounded on the Asus making it actually feel better in the hand.

Ports include USB 3 on the keyboard, microHDMI, microSD, 3.5mm audio and a microUSB for charging and USB OTG. The adapter is a standard microUSB 5V 2A charger so as usual it is not the zippiest charge. Everything is a trade off. The microHDMI is a great thing to have!

Specs
10.1″ 1366×768 resolution for a pixel per inch of 155 which is a little low
Atom Z3740 1.33
2G RAM
64G SSD (but there are 32G ones out there)
Note this model does NOT have a GPS. Not a big deal since there are little to no decent navigation apps for Windows, but still a little disappointing.

The SSD measured 25 MB/s read and 40 MB/s write which compares well for the generation of device (25/46 for the Asus Vivotab Note 8) but compared to newer devices like the Dell Venue 10 at 66.2/81.6 MB/s and Vs 47/93 for the Acer Switch 10 is slow. The T100 is really starting to show it’s age.

Compared to newer atoms like the Z3735 in the Dell venue the CPU is about 10-20% slower. So not all that significant.

The keyboard is well laid out with all keys where they are supposed to be. The unit is entirely passively cooled (it has no fan) so is entirely silent. Since all the electronics are in the tablet the unit does not get all that warm and is very comfortable on the lap. The tablet itself does make the unit a little top heavy and it can tip. The locking mechanism between the tablet and keyboard is a little mushy requiring you to push it until you hear it click. Once in place it is reasonably solid but when you close the device it is possible for the keyboard/tablet to loose connection. The keyboard has nothing else in it. No extra battery like the TF701 and no hard drive bay like T200.

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There is no rear facing camera (no big loss), there is however a front facing camera, albeit low res. There is no flash on the camera so this is basically a web cam.

Overall performance is smooth. Boot is reasonably quick. Resume is instantaneous. If your using it in tablet mode I highly recommend you add a pin to your windows account sign on options which makes unlocking the device much quicker (albeit less secure). You can find that in account settings, sign in options. Be ware that Windows 10 has a bug and this feature is not there.

As expected pens do not work well on this device at all. There is no digitizer. I tried a thin capacitive pen and it was completely ignored. A thick capacitive pen pen was somewhat registered but was not usable.

All in all there is little to complain about on this device. It works well and when you add in the price you can get it for on ebay it’s a bargoon. The 2G of ram is limiting but the reasonably quick SSD helps with swapping speeds. I’m not sure if I would pay new prices for it, too many other choices.

I played around a bit with Ubuntu on the device. After some futzing I was able to get a Ubuntu EFI boot USB drive to run following this post. (More on EFI in a future blog post). Ubuntu did boot and will install. On first boot the touch screen works but not the broadcom SDIO abgn network card. From what I can see it is not possible to boot off of the SD card. I tried to install to a USB hard drive but that would not boot once installed. I wasn’t ready to wipe the internal drive so left it at that.

I also played with Window 10 technical preview on this tablet. The 64G SSD leaves enough space to dual boot. Once all the Win 8 drivers were installed from the Asus web site Win 10 runs fine. It’s a little slow to come out of suspend compared to Win 8, and I had some instabilities in the networking. Other than that it runs well.

May 1, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized, Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Amazon Kindle Fire TV OS update 1.5 mini review

The Amazon Fire TV is a great little media player. Kodi (formerly XBMC) runs well on it once you have gone through the process of installing it. One of the limitations (in the past) was that Amazon did not support any form of USB storage on the device. Well, Amazon recently released an update to the FireTV which has fixed this little oversight. Now when you plug in a USB key it gets mounted and Kodi sees it perfectly. The pop up from the Fire TV announces it works best with USB 3.0 flash drives less than 128G and does not support USB hard drives (actually says USB hard drives may be unstable). I played back a video file off a slower USB flash drive and it played back perfectly. So this is a welcome add and gives another possible use for this great inexpensive media player!

Update: I found another feature Amazon quietly rolled out in this release. They added the ability for the Fire to act as a Miracast adapter! Way cool. You turn it on by going into settings, display, enable mirror (or press and hold the home button and then select mirror). Once enabled the Fire sits and waits for a connection. The Fire can not do anything else once it has entered this mode and the feature does not run in the background. I tried it with both my Windows 8.1 Asus T100 tablet as well as with my Samsung Note 3 Android 5 phone and both worked perfectly. They connected well and were quite smooth with next to no lag. I was even able to use Kodi to stream a movie (although I only did it briefly). There were some very small hiccups in the playback but to date this is the best miracast I’ve seen. Interestingly it even worked better than the Microsoft Wireless display adapter I previously reviewed. And much less laggy than a miracast adapter (no name el cheapo) I bought off ebay. Wow. Nice!

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April 28, 2015 Posted by | Android, Mutlimedia | 1 Comment

Dell Venue 10 Pro review

Hot on the heels of the disappointing Acer switch 10 I bought this one. The Acer was an ok device but it felt sluggish and the keyboard had a nasty bug that it dropped the first character every time it woke up. I also hated the Acer keyboard layout.

To frame this review, I am working at finding a Windows replacement for my Android Asus TF701. That’s a tall order. The TF701 is an excellent device. Fast, instant on, great battery life, high resolution, very usable keyboard but it has one HUGE limitation. Android. Web sites that don’t display right, constantly getting the modile version of the site, no decent Microsoft Office solution, clumsy multi tasking, clumsy cut and paste as well as RDP issues etc left me wanting to return to Windows. The fact that I could live on Android as long as I did as my main device speaks volumes of either my patience or how far Android has come. And those that know me know the possibility of it being my patience is slim to none and slim left the building a long time ago :) Moving on …

Honestly I don’t need a Windows tablet. Windows actually sucks (IMHO) as a tablet OS. The OS itself is not great as a touch interface (outside of Metro) and the apps are even worse. Metro is awkward, and the onscreen keyboard could not have been implemented worse if they tried (and I am sure they did). What I really wanted was an Atom powered netbook with 2-4G of memory, an SSD and a touch screen, reasonably priced. Believe it or not one does not exist. And so I saw this one. It is very similarly designed to the Acer switch.

Specs
Intel Atom Processor Z3735F (2M Cache, up to 1.83 GHz)
2GB DDR3L-RS
64GB SSD (mine is a hynix hcg8e emmc)
10.1 inch 1920×1200 IPS Multitouch Display with Wacom active stylus digitizer
Broadcom AH691A-2×2 (802.11 a/b/g/n)
optional keyboard

Dimensions
279.8 X 10.75 X 176.4 mm 437g

Port wise there is microHDMI, microSD, microUSB (for charging and USB OTG), full size USB 2.0 (according to the docs), 3.5mm audio jack, volume up/down, and a a windows key on the side of the display

The tablet itself is kind of square around the edges. Not sharp like the Acer Switch but square none the less. There is an almost rubber feet to the edges. The tablet feels solidly built in spite of being very plasticy.

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The optional keyboard has no ports whatsoever and does not have a secondary battery. It’s a keyboard and a keyboard only. The keyboard has good feel and all the keys are where they belong, however as is common with Windows 8 machines the keyboard has delegated the standard PF keys to alternate functions and requires a FN key to be a PF key. Something I’d love to find a way to turn off. I prefer it the other way around.

It has a multi touch enabled touch pad. There are quick keys to disable the touchpad, yay! The tablet can be put forward or backwards to the keyboard to allow you to have a number of orientations. The hinge can be bent right back allowing the keyboard to be attached and facing the back of the tablet in what Dell call clamshell. The hinge itself is stiff. So stiff in fact that it flexes the connection between the tablet and keyboard to the point that the contacts between the keyboard/tablet would connect and disconnect. The bottom of the keyboard has a sharp rubber piece that works well at keeping the tablet in place on hard surfaces but is uncomfortable on the lap. So much so that it left impressions on my leg. If I was to keep the keyboard I’d find a way to remove these.
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The latches that hold the keyboard in place have a click that locks it in place but all in all the feeling is not great. As great as the keyboard is to type on, it really is poorly designed. The tablet literally wobbles in the keyboard so much that it connects and disconnects from the tablet. I had the keyboard replaced under warranty and the next one was as bad or worse.

There are suppose to be LTE versions but if there are in the Canadian web site I can’t find them

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The 64G SSD is reasonably quick at 66.2 and 81.6 MB/s (write/read), Vs 47/93 for the Acer Switch 10, and 25/46 for the Asus Vivotab Note 8.
As always the SSD provides quick start up and resume as well as good swapping. SSDs are the way to go!

The hi-res display is a huge step forward from the ubiquitous 1366×768 you see on so many other devices in this category. Puts the device a step above the crowd.

The charger is a standard micro USB with 5V 2A or 10 watts. One of the challenges with using a standard microUSB charger is slow charging. Convenience comes with a cost. This one charged the device 65% in a little over 4 hours for a projected full charge from dead in 6.4 hours.

Connected standy numbers are pretty good. In just under 10 hours it dropped 13% or 1.32%/hr with the keyboard connected and down 6% in just over 14 hours for 0.42% per hour. It compares well to past tablets but of course below Microsoft requirements which say “Connected Standby systems must drain less than 5% of system battery capacity over a 16-hour idle period” (0.3%/hr). Worked reasonably hard typing this article, general surfing etc the battery dropped 51% (on Win 10) in 3.5 hours which would project out to almost 6 hours battery life.

The microUSB charge port as mentioned above can be a USB OTG port for use as a second USB port. The full size USB port is indeed only USB 2 (as it says in the docs). I wish it was USB 3. The microHDMI port is (for me) a must.

Overall responsiveness of the system is excellent including exceptionally fast resume.

I tried repeatedly using the keyboard to get into the EFI bios only to discover the only way to do it was to use an external keyboard and press F2 (or press the power and volume down button. Booting from an external USB device also required an external keyboard and F12. Odd that the optional keyboard doesn’t get paid attention to.

The tablet has a Wacom digitizer. I tried my passive pens from my Samsung Notes and they were completely ignored. The pen Dell sells is an active stylus. I also tried an active pen from a Microsoft Surface 3 and it too was ignored. Eventually I gave in and bought the Dell pen and it works well feels nice in the hand is a very pleasant writing experience. At 10″ I am not going to be lugging the tablet around a whole lot to take notes when I have 8″ tablets but it is an option and I can see uses for it. Like students.

Overall software load is light which is great. The 64G SSD leaves lots of space (about 40G free). I was able to partition the hard drive and load Windows 10 32 bit preview. I had to manually load all the Windows 8 drivers from the Dell web site to get the system usable (touch screen didn’t work, video was jerky and numerous devices not detected etc). Win 10 runs well on this device and is a huge step forward from Win8. A lot of the clumsiness I always find with Win 8 is much improved on Win 10. I can’t wait to see the final version.

In the end, like the Acer Dell have failed to properly design the interface between to the keyboard and tablet. A shame really. It was a nice device. I contacted Dell and returned it for a full refund. If their design dept get’s a knock, their customer service get’s full marks!

April 20, 2015 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Microsoft Wireless display adapter mini review

I’ve been eyeing one of these for a while now. It allows you to add a remote display to a Windows or Android tablet (in theory) using an industry standard called Widi or Mircast. In Windows the display can be completely configured to shadow, replace or extend your existing display. In Android it is a mirroring of the display. The adapter is a little larger than a USB stick and has a USB jack on one end (for power) and an HDMI jack on the other end. If your TV has a USB jack then all you do is plug this in both ends and your done. If not then you will need a USB power adapter.
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The adapter itself has a power LED on the end and that’s it. No switches nada. The adapter powers up and displays a nice little screen comes up to show you how to connect. And that’s about it. The info is really intended only for Windows.
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Let’s talk about the best case I saw with this device. I only had it for a short period of time so could not do extensive testing. On my Asus T100 Atom powered Windows 8.1 tablet it saw the Microsoft display adapter, connected to it and I could configure Windows anyway I wanted to use the display. There were occasional digital corruptions and very slight lag but it was very usable. Even with the mouse. I did not get a chance to try movie playback so can not comment on it. There is a Windows Store app to support the adapter and update the firmware, but even when connected it kept saying it wasn’t connected so that was a bust. All in all if this was the only experience I had with the device I would have been impressed (other than the store app).

Sadly it was not … Next up I tried an Asus Vivotab Note 8 running Windows 8.1. Oddly the hardware is extremely similar to the T100. It would see the adapter, try and connect and then eventually give up. I tried about 5 times and of that once it connected. And when it did the orientation on the screen and the orientation on the tablet were off by 90 degrees? Odd. So all in all not great.

Next up I tried my Samsung Note 3 running Android 5.0. This looped and looped trying to connect before it gave up and never did work.

So all in all the device is interesting but still not ready for main stream. A whole lot better than the uber cheap one I bought on ebay a couple years ago, but still not worth the time. Bring on the HDMI cable! Another prod that if your tablet does not have an HMDI port of some kind your limited in options.

April 16, 2015 Posted by | Android, Other reviews, Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Dell Inspiron 11 laptop review

I recently bought a new Dell Inspiron 11 3147 for my daughter for university. This is another of these oddly designed units you can flip around and pretend it’s a tablet. It makes no attempt to recess the keys of the keyboard (unlike the Lenovo Yoga) so they are exposed ready to be abused when it’s in tablet mode. They do disable the keyboard at least when in this mode. And have intelligently added a Windows hard key onto the front of the screen. I can’t say I’m a fan (or even see a whole lot of point) of this tablet mode, but one can always choose to not use it so decided to not write this one off because it has this feature. What drew me to this device is a combination of good portability (size/weight) as well as reasonable power and battery life. As a university student there are times when one is not close to a power outlet. Let’s talk about specs:

Intel® Pentium® Processor N3540 (2M Cache, up to 2.66 GHz)
4GB Single Channel DDR3L 1600MHz (4GBx1) (which according to some YouTube videos can be upgraded to an 8G DIMM by removing the back of the unit)
500GB 5400 rpm SATA Hard Drive
11.6-inch HD (1366 x 768) Truelife LED-Backlit Touch Display with Wide Viewing Angle (IPS) touchscreen
43 WHr, 3-Cell Battery (integrated)
802.11bgn + Bluetooth 4.0, 2.4 GHz (looks like no 5GHZ)

Ports:
Full size HDMI™ 1.4a, SD Card Reader, USB 3.0 (1), USB 2.0 (2), Security slot

Multi-Touchpad with integrated scrolling & gestures

Weighs 1.39kg and measures 19mm x 300mm x 201.5mm

dell-inspiron-11-3000-modes

Physically the design is clean and well thought out. The display bezel is small and the screen bright. The touch screen is responsive enough. The keyboard feels good and is easy to type on. The The touchpad is fine and detects taps just fine. As always I am not fond of touchpads (I prefer the old style IBM track sticks) but this is an industry wide decision so it is what it is. Obviously you can easily add a bluetooth or wireless mouse.

The order was bought Mar 24th, shipped Mar 27th (3 days) and arrived Mar 31st (7 days). It was shipped from the US using Purolator.

Initial power on was smooth, once I figured out where the power button is. It is oddly placed on the front ride side of the base unit. Be sure and not hit it when in tablet mode. I would have preferred it on or near the keyboard but then I guess that too could have got hit. So it is what it is. Once initial Windows setup is done your onto patches and here comes a HUGE patience test. For a model that is brand new, and could not be that long from when it was produced it needed 86 Windows updates to be downloaded and installed. Sheesh. And one of the things I have always found is that Atom based processors (which this is in spite of naming) are REALLY slow on Windows update for some bizarre reason. To the point that it took over 5 hours from power on to patches installed. Holy crap. Dell really could have helped this process by having a more current image. But that said, this is not uncommon.

Outside of patches the N3540 seems like an ok processor. Giving a good trade off between power consumption and processing power. I would put this somewhere near an i3 (likely slightly below). There are lots of comparisons out there you can read to help you sort out what is best for you.

4G of memory is reasonable and as far as I am concerned a minimum. If it can be upgraded to 8 in the future all the better (not that I can confirm or deny that to be possible on the one I have until I take off the back).

The achilles heal of all PCs today is the hard drive. This one is no exception. At only 5400 RPM it is no speed demon. Why more companies do not offer the option of an SSD is beyond me. I would pay (as long as it was a reasonable price). SSDs are more durable (no moving parts), draw less power, generate less heat, have no such thing as seek time (making swapping a whole faster) and are faster than rotating media. The size of the hard drive for me is virtually irrelevant. I do not keep a lot on my local laptop drive anyway. And I need more I can always carry a USB stick. Speed wise it was quite surprising at 77.8MB/s write and 74.5 MB/s read. But the 5400 RPM does show itself more as the system gets busy and the seek time starts to come into play.
inspiron

Industry wide 1366×768 is a very common resolution. This includes models from 11 inch to 15 and larger. At 135 pixels per inch on an 11 inch display and down to 100 pixels per inch for a 15.6 inch display (compared to 263 on an iPad) this is really becoming limiting. So this particular tablet does not set itself above the masses in ppi. The 768 can be quite limiting with some screens in Windows not fitting properly, and some web sites not fitting as well as one might hope. But all in all it is an adequate display.
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As always with Windows 8.1 the onscreen keyboard is dumb as a stump and keeps popping up even with a physical keyboard present. The easiest solution is to disable the touch keyboard and hand writing panel service from the control panel services interface. Why Microsoft do not make it easier to disable the onscreen keyboard is beyond me.

This system is not entirely silent in that it does have a fan. And the area on the bottom side of the laptop where the processor is gets noticeably hot. Hot enough to be noticeable even through pants.

I was pushing the unit pretty hard doing installs and the battery went down 31% in under 2 hours giving it a projected battery life of only 4.5 hours. Not great for a machine in this category. The adapter for this is a whopping 19.5V * 3.34A or 65.13 watts. A typical tablet charger is around 18W. This charger took it from 52% to 79% in 35 mins. A projected full charge would occur in around 2.2 hours. Wow. Super fast charge. This is the benefit of using a proprietary barrel charger instead of a micro USB charger.

There’s only one LED on device (well one plus one for when the camera is on). It is in the front corner of the unit. Not easily seen.

All in all this is a good laptop. Nothing outstanding but a good work horse. For the price it’s a reasonable deal.

April 5, 2015 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Garmin FR70

I’ve been eyeing one of these for a while now. If your going to monitor only one thing during exercise, monitoring the heart rate gives you a clear and concise picture of how much you pushed yourself. Average and even max heart rates are key. Seeing your heart rate while you work out can also be helpful. I’ve played with a number of methods on my Samsung Gear live and they have all been clumsy, and have huge effects on battery life. Couple that with the screen on my Samsung Gear Live being hard to read in bright sunlight. Thus my curiosity with this device.

I’ve owned a number of Garmin GPS devices and love them. They work well, are simple, priced reasonably and just work. My device of choice for mountain biking is a Garmin Foretrex 401 which I have had for years and would buy again if it broke tomorrow (let’s hope it doesn’t).

Garmin were pioneers in accepting a wireless tech called Ant+ to connect sensors like cadence, heart rate, foot pods and more. Happily my Samsung Note 3 also has Ant+ support, meaning my phone apps can benefit from these sensors too. And there is an interesting design point that Ant+ can connect to more than one device at a time. So an Ant+ heart rate monitor can connect to my Phone and GPS device at the same time!

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Physicals
To say that this device is ugly is a cruel reality. It is definitely a purpose built design. The Polar ones are no better. The screen is a simple LCD display making it very easy to read and Garmin included back lighting for reading it in the dark. It is crisp and easy to read. This screen is one of the reasons it gets such good battery life. Garmin claim a year on a replaceable battery. Nice. Buttons are stiff and not the easiest to push. Impossible with any kind of glove. But the unit is waterproof so that’s the price you pay. Garmin chose to use a simple rubber watch band with a large clip as well as a locking mechanism on the loop that catches the end of the band. Why reinvent something that works. And like the rest of the watch, it’s purposeful. I don’t think the watch band is replaceable, or at least not easily.

The edges of the FR70 are all nice and round so that they don’t catch on shirt sleeves. Well done Garmin, learn from others mistakes (like fitbit).

The FR70 like other Garmins uses Ant+ to interface with sensors. It supports not just Garmin but other companies devices too. I was able to get my favorite Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor connected. It also supports foot pods (for running), and cadence sensors for (cycling). Pairing new devices was relatively simple. The menus are not the easiest thing to figure out and are deep, but the manual does help you through it.

Like my Foretrex the screens are completely configurable as to what shows on them and how many fields are on the screen. The device can be set to auto scroll through the pages of displays and you can configure how many screens each sport you set up can have. It’s a little clumsy to setup but once done is informative, simple and well done. Perfect so that when your exercising your not spending time and focus playing with your gadget. A tree will not move just because you took your eyes off the trail to see your heart rate! Go figure.

The FR70 saves all the data and then can use Ant+ to upload to Garmin connect. The Garmin connect portal is simple and easy to use with some ability to export the data as well as some ability to interconnect with other sites like Endomondo. At the end of an activity one of the things missing is a summary. So you will have to upload the data to get that. Unfortunate. Also unfortunate to be tied to computer (using a USB Ant stick) to do that. Ah but wait, your not. If your blessed with a phone with Ant+ built in (and I am, my Samsung Note 3 has it) you can use a paid app Ant Uploader that will interface with the FR70, take the data off and then upload it to Garmin connect, Strava, RunKeeper or SportTracks. Once the data is uploaded you get some nice graphs and stats. Min/Max/Avg etc. Unfortunately none of the official Garmin apps support the FR70 because they all connect over bluetooth not Ant +

Don’t go looking for GPS on this watch, there isn’t one. This is all about being a watch face and logger for Ant+ sensors (like heart rate/foot pod/cadence).

I don’t see a way to turn the display off, or turn the watch itself off for prolonged periods of lack of use (like seasonal use) that might preserve the battery. I also don’t see a way to find out the status of the battery. The manual does say that it warns you when it is low. The unit takes an inexpensive coin CR2032 battery. Replacing the battery seems to be reasonably easy, remove the four screws on the back and your done.

Add an ANT+ cadence and wheel sensor (which I just happen to have) and you can use this device as a cycling computer. It will track your speed, and distance based on the wheel. Which believe it or not is more accurate than a GPS anyway. Very cool.

You can also buy an inexpensive handle bar mount to keep this device in view!
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The watch does have an alarm you can set but no chronometer functions (stopwatch or count down timer).

Oh and in case you didn’t know, cadence (in this context) is the rate of rotation of your bike crank.

That’s about it. The FR70 just works, is well designed, easy to use (once setup) and has some nice connectivity options.

Update: Bike season is now here and I have been using the FR70 on my mountain bike along with a Garmin Cadence and wheel sensor. The watch is a bit finicky in how it connects to the cadence and wheel sensor. I find it best to have the bike moving before I start the watch into bike mode. When I do this it connects well and stays connected. The watch on the handle bar provides a simple accurate speed and distance display while my Foretrex provides me navigation. It really does work well and is easily viewable in all circumstances. And being waterproof I don’t need to be concerned about rain. The calorie count in bike mode is flat our bizarre. On a ride where Endomondo shows 2493, the FR70 shows 228? WTF. I guess I have to spend some time to figure out what I have set wrong. I’ve always known the GPS based distances were inaccurate on windy rides like I do in the forest. It’s one of the reasons I wanted this device. So I did three different rides. I tracked the ride on Endomondo on my Samsung Note 3, as well as on my Foretrex 401 (both GPS enabled) and then compared them to the FR70 with a wheel sensor. Now you have to get the circumference right for the FR70 to be accurate. Comparing distance on Endomondo to the Foretrex (again both GPS enabled) showed a minor variance ~5%. Comparing distance on the FR70 to Endomondo showed an average variance of -20%. Lastly comparing distance on the FR70 to the Foretrex showed an average variance of 17%. I had always found it off by 10-15% compared to colleagues using a wheel sensor so this is pretty much in keeping with what I expected.

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Rdio Android app mini review

I`ve played with streaming music players before and been underwhelmed. A colleague at work was raving about this one so I thought I`d give it a try. My train trip home has spotty cell reception. I like to snowboard and mountain bike which can also have spotty cell reception. So to say my expectations were low is a statement of the obvious … Captain Obvious to you … :) There are two levels of Rdio. Free and subscription at $9.99 a month. You can not do offline on the free and their are also commercials played every so often that you can not skip on the free version. You are also only allowed to skip so many songs. The price of free … I guess they are trying to make it annoying enough you buy the monthly subscription. Ya I’ll get right on that. And remember, a number of phone have built in FM radios anyway. But what irks me the most about apps like these are how dumb they are. Ok when the app starts up why not scan any content on my phone (optionally) and make suggestions? Or why not tell me about the song being played. Tell me some about the band, tell me their discography. Maybe let me buy their music. See the lyrics for the song. Something. Please give me some kind of intelligence to justify why I might run this app on a smart phone? All in all I was underwhelmed. A brief trip through a cell dead zone and playback stopped. No value add information. No suggestions of other bands I might like. On the positive side, uninstalling was quick and painless. Another poorly written basic music app … yawn.

March 28, 2015 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Acer Switch 10 review

Yup another Windows tablet to review! As usual some framing, I am coming off using my Asus Transformer TF701 Android tablet as my main device for the last 6 months. The transformer is a beautifully designed device (for the most part). Android as a main device has worked well and gets great battery life. I have run into a number of challenges using Android as my main device. Printing, using Office, limitations of OneNote on Android, websites that do not display right on Android (yes even when you request desktop mode), websites that flat out don’t work on Android (for example anything flash based, or requiring plugins), clumsy cut and paste, spell check which does not work on some web sites (like my blog) and poor RDP support (particularly on high res devices). The one thing about the transformer is I really hate the mechanism locking the keyboard to the tablet. It just does not feel good. So much so I found myself rarely using this device as a tablet. A shame really because it really is a good tablet. Light, thin, and powerful. Everything one could ask for. Asus really have a done a great job on it. The Windows version of this Transformer has a better locking mechanism, but still not great IMHO.

So that prompted me to have a look at what was out there on Windows. So what I really wanted was a quad core atom (reasonable performance with good battery life), 2G RAM min (more in a bit), 64G drive, touch screen, HDMI out, and a decent keyboard. And preferably not too expensive. I really don’t care if it’s a tablet or not. I found a few that met most of my requirements, but I was shocked to find devices without touch screens in today’s day. WTF. Tigerdirect had this one on sale and the price was what I was willing to pay so I bought it. Up until recently Atom processors were limited to 2G RAM max. Intel quietly released a few Atom models that now support 4G! Some tablets are starting to hit the market with this new Atom but for now they are on the pricier side so fell off my radar pretty quick. Hopefully that will sort itself out soon.

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Onto physicals. This is a tablet with a removable keyboard. Acer have done a great job on the interface between the two. They use a magnet to draw the two together along with a couple guiding posts. Separating the two is a reasonably easy feat, but it does take two hands. The magnets are strong enough to be able to hold the device by the tablet and the keyboard hangs on. All in all I like it and would be more likely to use it as a tablet on it’s own. Interestingly enough the tablet can be connected to the keyboard in either forward or reverse facing and the USB port still works. Oddly the keyboard/mouse only work in forward mode. Although, if the display was facing away from the keyboard your unlikely to use it anyway, so no big deal. The keyboard does not contain a second battery (as it does in the Asus transformer). I had read in some posts that the device feels top heavy and tips. I have not found that. In fact I found the transformer more tippy in spite of it having more weight in the keyboard (the second battery).

Dimensions
262 x 178 x 10.2 mm (tablet only) 1170g (including the keyboard)

Overall the tablet itself feels a bit boxy/clunky in the hand. The square edges are a little sharp in the hand. The weight does not feel too bad.

Button wise there is a power button, volume up/down and a windows key all on the right side of the tablet. I still would prefer the Windows key on the front of the tablet.

Port wise there’s a microSD, microUSB port (for USB OTG), microHDMI and the proprietary barrel charger on the tablet itself. The charger is 12V 1.5A for 18 watts. By comparison most tablets that use standard microUSB (which I prefer) have been limited to date at 5V 2A for 10 Watts. The cable on the proprietary charger is a bit on the short side for my liking.

On the keyboard there is a standard USB 2 port (which supports USB hard drives) and that’s it. I would have liked to have the charger on the keyboard so that I could use it like a dock but it is what it is. The keyboard has a reasonable feel to it but it has the usual crappy Acer layout which puts a slash too close to the enter key and the other slash too close to the shift key (and then makes a smaller shift key). While I won’t say I hate the layout, I don’t really like it either and it will take some getting use to. There is a glide point on the keyboard (which I hate and am clumsy with) but heh, it’s the way the industry mostly make them. The track point can quickly be turned off by a function key (yay thanks Acer!).

Spec wise the one I bought has a Quad core Atom Z3735F
cpu-z
2G of memory, and a 64G SSD. The 64G leaves a reasonable amount of storage left for your apps (around 40G). And you can add a microSD card that can be mapped into your drive space for use as program or content storage. Performance was good at 47MB/s write and 93MB/s read. Much quicker than my Vivotab Note at 25/46 MB.s. The drive arrived uncompressed and the recovery partition is on the drive (vs on a microSD card as it was for the Vivotab).
local-drive

Acer really do load on a ton of bloatware onto the tablet. If you use it then I guess it is value add software. Fortunately it can be uninstalled.
bloatware

Screen resolution is 1280 x 800 which is low for Windows and below there min giving you the usual warning indicating things can (and will) be cut off. I can only hope Microsoft will wake up and embrace the tablet marketplace.
resolution
There are 8′ tablets with this resolution and given this is a 10″ there’s just no way to call this high resolution by today’s standards. My Transformer is 2560 x 1600 for reference at the same screen size. Nough said.

If you connect to the HDMI the default is to mirror the local screen and the resolution ends up being 1200×768. Changing over to HDMI only I was able to get full 1080p HD. Which is perfect if your going to use this device for media playback (XBMC/Kodi). And it nicely remembers your settings the next time you reconnect the monitor.
hdmi

Oddly I had an issue with my one of my BT mice being extremely jerky on this tablet my other BT mouse was fine. No idea why. This same mouse (a Dell) works perfect on every other device I’ve tried it on.

I saw some odd behavior on the keyboard. The first key touched after a period of inactivity would be missed. Very bizarre. I called Acer and it is a known problem. They told me to take the tablet back to a restore point before March 10/2015, that a Windows update patch had broken it and Microsoft would be working on a fix. I restored back to the factory install and the issue was still there. So I contacted my retailer and returned it.

I did try a couple of capacitive pens. The thin tip was completely ignored. The fat one was detected and could be used, but doesn’t feel anything like a real pen. But that’s why devices with digitizers like my Asus Vivotab Note, and Samsung note family exist.

I ran 1.5 hours of Kodi doing movie playback through HDMI (with the on board screen off) and the battery went down by 16%. Extrapolating means a whopping 9 hours of battery life. Kodi playback was relatively smooth, but I did notice it was jerky as an email was coming in and being processed. Sadly I can’t imagine how you could control that other than getting rid of the mail configuration in the Metro mail app so it does not run in the background.

Like all devices in this category it uses a power management scheme called connected standby to keep the device updated in the background. With the keyboard attached I saw 15% decrease in battery life over 12 hours or 1.25% per hour. The tablet only drew 12% in almost 16 hours or 0.8% per hour. By comparison, my Vivotab Note drew 0.5% per hour. Microsoft requirements are “Connected Standby systems must drain less than 5% of system battery capacity over a 16-hour idle period” (0.3%/hr). So higher than it should be, but I am sure it varies depending on how many accounts you have syncd how many background apps etc. And of course since it is %/hr adding a bigger battery (as the Vivotab Note has) helps skirt the issue.

The battery charged 73% in just under 2 hours so a pretty impressive charge time. The benefit of using a proprietary charger. A standard microUSB would like take 3-4 hours.

It’s worth noting that there is no onboard wired ethernet. Not a surprise really but notable if you were going to use this device as a media streamer. You could add a USB ethernet adapter but you would be limited by USB 2 data rates.

In spite of having a faster hard drive, this tablet just seemed laggy. In the end, the keyboard issue did it in and back to the store it went. I have no idea why these devices are on the market as long as this issue persists. I guess some people, don’t notice, or don’t mind. For me it was maddening. One of the reasons I bought this device was the keyboard. So for this to not work is just not going to cut it.

March 23, 2015 Posted by | Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Blackberry Passport mini Review

It’s been a bit since BlackBerry introduced anything new (the Classic wasn’t new enough for me to be even remotely interested). I updated my Q10 to 10.3 so I had seen most of what was new (from a software point of view) that was brought out in the passport. Some of the newer features have yet to officially hit the Q10. A friend of mine, Lance, got a passport and offered to let me play so I jumped at it (yes I have friends! Who knew:)).

There are two things that make this device unique. Size/shape and the keyboard.

Let’s start with Size/Shape. The Passport is the size of, well a passport. Which is big for a phone, but not a whole lot bigger when you compare it to say a Samsung Note (which admittedly is a large phone).
Size
128 x 90.3 x 9.3mm 196g (Passport)
79.2 x 151.2 x 8.3mm 168g (Note 3)
As you can see in the pic the Passport is a little wider than the note 3 but much shorter.
IMG_6005s

Button/port wise there’s Volume Up/Down, Mute, Lock (for Power On/Off) and a microUSB port. The Power button is on the very top of the device making it quite a reach. Lots of things on a phone this big require two hands and while Samsung have made an effort to allow some one handed on screen keyboards blackberry has not. There is no HDMI port on this one so if that was something you used on the Q/Z be aware of this. The microUSB 2.0 port is for charging as well as USB OTG. I plugged in a keyboard/mouse and USB flash drive (formatted as fat32) all of which worked.

The display 1440 x 1440 resolution 4.5″ diagonal Vs the Note 3 at 1080×1920. As you can see the display is square as it is on the Q10. This does present some challenges for apps that are use to rectangular screens. The display itself is bright, vivid and crisp. As always font size can be easily adjusted to your tastes.

The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 with 2.2GHz Quad-Core CPUs (MSM8974-AA) which makes everything zippy. Couple this with the well designed real time operating system QNX and you get a smooth instantaneous feel that is unrivalled off of an iPhone.

Memory 3 GB RAM, and 32 GB Flash which can be upgraded via the microUSB slot.

The back of the phone does not come off, and the battery is not removable. Behind a small removable flap is the microSD slot as well as the nanoSIM slot. That’s right nano. So you will likely need a new SIM card if you are not coming from an iPhone. Very few phones use nano.

The battery is 3450mAH integrated non-removable battery with BB claiming up to 14 hours GSM talk time. I didn’t get much of a chance to play with the battery life of the device but it seemed quite good.

The phone sports Bluetooth 4.0 and Android has been updated to include support for it so you can use things like BT4 heart rate monitors and the like. Google Play services is still missing so apps like Google maps etc that are dependent on it will either not work right or flat out crash. Android wear would not run at all meaning using Android Wear smartwatches is not going to happen.

There’s a nice big, visible LED for notifications and Blackberry’s case has been cleverly designed to let the LED shine through. Something Samsung still have not got right.
19390

The main app screen seems to me to have a ton of white space around the icons. While this makes it easy to properly select an app it seems wasteful of precious real estate.
BRITAIN-US-IT-BUSINESS-TELECOM-BLACKBERRY

LTE speeds were quite good at up to 102.6 Mb/s down 25.1 Mb/s up. Some of the fastest speeds I’ve seen.
speedtest

Ah the keyboard … Blackberry have been known for their keyboards, and that is one of the things that would attract someone to this device. But to call this keyboard different would be an understatement. The keys are rectangular in shape rather than square. There are only characters on the physical keyboard with punctuation, numbers etc all showing up on an onscreen keyboard above the physical keyboard.
blackberry_passport_8
BlackBerry-Passport-Review-Photo5
The space bar seems almost recessed and I found I had to make an effort to get it. The enter is so far down that I found myself really stretching my thumb to get it. The buttons themselves just don’t feel as crisp as the Q10s, which is excellent by the way. The keyboard include a sensor and you can use it to scroll up and down pages. All in all, while I think I could get use to it, it would definitely take some time.

One of the new features in 10.3 is called BlackBerry blend. It gives you remote access to your email, bbm, text messages (the hub basically) as well as your calendar, contacts and files. All through an app you load on your PC or Mac. There is no web portal for it. It can be accessed over the cell, wifi or USB connection. And you can control where you do and do not want it. I like the feature. A number of phone companies are moving in this direction.
bb-blend-s

Blackberry still have not added the idea of a priority inbox. They have a priority hub but that is only a viewing filter. I wish they would add the ability to notify only on the priority hub. That way you only get notified for the “important” people. Sorry if your not in the category :)

The platform has continued to evolve and Android compatibility is excellent. With the recent release adding support for Bluetooth 4.0 a number of my road blocks to using a BlackBerry for me have been removed. The sole remaining one being Android Wear. Play services can not come fast enough. Would I buy this unit myself? I have to say I really found the new keyboard clumsy. I wouldn’t be rushing out. I found the odd dimensions clumsy in the hand, and found myself reaching for the edges of the screen. Even more so than on my Note 3.

March 20, 2015 Posted by | Blackberry 10 | Leave a comment

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