John Galea's Blog

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Syma X5WSW Quadra copter/drone

I’ve been looking at drones for a long time now, but haven’t belly’d up. I got the curiosity itch and after doing a bunch of reading decided to buy this one. As it turns out a number of my colleagues have also been on the sidelines, so are anxious for this review so on we go.

These drones have come a long way. They have gyros in them that keep them largely level (once you have trimmed them) and what you are doing is simply providing the tilt to move it in whatever direction you want. The moves relative to what is called the head of the copter. In this case the direction the camera is pointing. If you get on the opposite side of the chopper then directions are reversed and it’s super easy to get confused. To counter this the copter has what is called headless mode. This removes the orientation, well sort of. If your behind the chopper the prespective is still off, but rotating it no longer effects it.

This copter is quite rugged but not indestructible. In the first week Is broke two of the four prop protectors. Ooops. They were pretty bad crashes. One into tree and one from a good height onto a rock. But it kept on flying! Replacement protectors and blades can be bought on Amazon pretty cheapily. The copter comes with a second set of blades but not protectors. Odd given the protector takes most of the beating. The protectors do not protect 100% of the copter or 100% of the blades. No idea why they this. It would have been much better had it been all the way around as it is on some choppers.

They included a 2mp camera that snaps onto the bottom of the copter. Careful there seems to be ones out there that are only .3mp. It streams video to your phone over wifi. There is a delay so flying through the phone is problematic. But for taking pics and video it works fine.

The remote is well made to make it simple as possible to fly the copter. They also included a phone holder so you can easily clip your videos and pics from the Syma app for Android and iPhone. I like this arrangement much better than the ones that use your phone to fly the copter. The remote can be used in one of two modes mode 1 and mode 2 the difference is just what the remote control does. In mode one the left controls throttle and rotations while the right controls the 4 degrees of tipping. In mode 2 the rotate left and right switches over to the right controller and the left and right tipping. Personal preference as to which you prefer.

Flying time on the included 500 mAh battery is 5-8 mins depending on whether the camera is on or not. You can buy spare batteries on Amazon to increase flying time. Recharge time is about 2 hours.

Indoor flying to start out with teaching you to be very subtle with the control otherwise you will be smashing into the ceiling and just about everything else. Outside the copter is super light and easily affected by the wind. Thermals can also pull the copter up uncontrollably. Once out of range the copter drops until it’s back in range. Much higher than about 5 km/hr wind and the copter really does not do well outdoors.

There are gyros to keep the copter level, but as you bank forward and backwards you will need to adjust the throttle to compensate otherwise you will find it rising or falling unexpectedly.

To calibrate the copter to hover level put it on a level surface turn it on and bring the controls all the way to the top, then all the way to the bottom, and then lastly all the way to the right until the copter flashes to acknowledge.

Don’t get confused by the buttons on the bottom to the left or the right they do nothing and are decoration.

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

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

Wahoo Blue SC bike speed and cadence sensor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garmin Fenix 2

Garmin make some of my favorite devices but I have had to keep a number of devices around to do all I like to do. I admit to being a bit neurotic when it comes to having the perfect device. It’s probably worth setting the stage of the devices in my bag of goodies and when I use each to frame this review.

For mountain biking I love my Foretrex 401s big memory for waypoints (500), fantastic navigation, easy to read screen, and it’s use of AAA batteries making it possible to carry a spare set. The 401 however is getting long in the tooth and is having issues with it’s battery connector. It also requires a physical USB connection and a legacy upload to get data off it. And there are no heart rate alarms a feature I now consider a MUST have. Wheel sensors are sadly ignored from a data point of view … I also use it for hiking and kayaking, physically though it’s big on the wrist to wear for both.

My Garmin Fr70 is a great standalone watch, extremely readable in all light, year long battery life and a fabulous Ant+ data capture device for wheel and heart rate sensors and includes heart rate alarms (something I only recently discovered in training, alerts, heart rate, on and then set your custom hi and low levels). Garmin connect support is through an Ant+ USB adapter, but there is no GPS so no ability to use it to navigate. It also lacks chronometer functions. So this is largely a supplemental toy … It can’t replace any other device. Just another data screen while I am riding. Which, is not a bad thing.

My Edge 305 is a great cycling computer and includes heart rate alarms but is SERIOUSLY limited in it’s way point memory at 50. The larger screen makes it easily read when mountain biking but useless for almost anything else like hiking or canoeing. Syncing is done using a USB connection there is no support for Bluetooth or Ant+ sync. This has become my primary riding Garmin.

And thus we have the stage for the Garmin Fenix. Spec wise the device seems to be a little piece of heaven. It has a host of sensors that deny it’s size, ANT+ and Bluetooth support. I’ve looked at the Fenix a number of times but have been scared off by the price.

Ok let’s start by talking about what’s missing … There’s no daily activity or sleep tracking (that would be in the Fenix 3), there’s some notification support but it’s so bad as to be unusable (super small text, over laid notification support.

So that aside let’s look at the Fenix 2. Bargain wise it’s available on refurb for $199, compared to $499 (at GPS city) for the Fenix 3.

Let’s start out with the physics. This is a pretty large watch for everyday use. It’s quite thick and moderately heavy. Given everything in this package the size is understandable. It has a lot of sensors inside a digital compass, a barometric altimeter, temperature sensor, gps and accelerometers. There really is noting missing. If I had a wish on any previous device it’s in the Fenix.

The screen itself is a 70 x 70 pixels; transflective, monochrome LCD (negativemode-black). The displays is backlit in a florescent orange color. It is very readable in almost any light (with the backlight). The backlighting can be controlled as to always on, on after dusk, or programmable timeout, if they missed anything, on during an activity would have been handy. Other companies could learn from Garmin in something as simple as giving the user control of the backlighting. The displays low power contribute to it’s good battery life. The backlighting can suck juice so watch your setting. In always on in 10 hours it sucked up 23% of the battery so about 2.3% per hour. Ouch.

Battery life on this watch is dependent on what your doing with it. GPS mode draws the most. Watch mode the least. Measuring actual battery life is very difficult unless you dedicate time to doing just measuring the battery life ie not using the watch. So I don’t have actual numbers for you. Bluetooth can be used to sync the watch’s activities, but be patient it can take 5-10 minutes. Always connected is documented in a number of review sites as severely draining battery life. I didn’t find that but also noticed watch only battery life does not seem to be anywhere near what Garmin quotes: “Up to 50 hours in UltraTrac mode; up to 20 hours in GPS training mode; up to 5 weeks in watch mode”. On a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride using ant sensors and GPS in normal mode it consumed 10% of the battery so the 20 hour number they quote seems accurate. Battery status can be seen in menu anytime and gives an actual battery percentage I wish Mr F’nBit would learn this one.

As important as battery drain is battery recharge is too. This is by no means zippy. In just under 4 hours the watch charged 90% so roughly 0.4% per minute on a 500 mAH batter. The watch can be used while charging and there are ways to wear it and use an external charge pack for extreme battery life.

If your not going to use the watch for a while you can completely power it off by pressing and holding the light button. A welcome feature some watches forget. Yay!

The watch is controlled by a series of 5 buttons around the dial of the watch. They really don’t have a great feel when you press them. The default is no sound for buttons but fortunately can be changed. The buttons can be pushed with light gloves on but likely not with winter gloves.

Each and every time Garmin release a new product line they design a new user interface. It’s maddening and bizarre. Common interfaces make users learning curve to new devices small, and encourage upgrading. And if you have numerous Garmin devices as I do it leads to constant mispresses and quests to find a menu item. All of which distract from whatever it is your trying to do. Take the FR70 which predates the Fenix 2, as an example. The up down buttons are on the right along with the lap reset button. On the Fenix they are on the left. The only button location they didn’t change from the Fenix is the light button. Sheesh.

Garmin have included a small selection of clock faces to choose from and additional data that can be added to the clock faces. All in all it is not a bad set of choices. It’s no infinitely customizable smart watch, that would be, you guessed it, the Fenix 3.

There are a dizzying array of options that can be set on the Fenix 2 and they all have to be done on the watch (not on the phone). And there is no way to backup those options 😦

There’s a stopwatch, timer, and alarm all on the watch. They are all a little clumsy to use but work fine if you have the patience.

Outside of an activity the watch allows you to call up the compass, altimeter, barometer, and temperature.

Once you start an activity only those screens you have explicitly setup for that activity can be called up. Bizzare (so if you don’t have a compass data screen for example in your activity, no compass for you).

Waypoints can easily be transferred from other Garmin devices using Garmin basemap over USB. Waypoints can be added on the watch but it’s a little hard to find (press and hold the down button, or menu, tools mark point) and naming them is a little bit of a patience test. The font for the name of the waypoint is super small and hard to see in the best light let alone in the middle of a forest).

Navigating to a waypoint is equally clumsy. To start a navigate menu, user data, waypoints, or start, navigate, waypoints and then the waypoints are listed by proximity to you. You can do a search for a waypoint but there is no simple alphabetic listing of waypoints. Once you start a navigate only those screen explicitly defined for navigate (even when your in the middle of an activity) are visible. It’s a bizarre way to arrange things. And on screen you can see the direction to the waypoint and distance to the waypoint on another screen. The Foretrex gives you both on one screen so your not fussing while dodging trees.

I did notice once I loaded 500 waypoints into memory the watch became noticeably more sluggish.

The Fenix is a super flexible bike computer in that it supports power meters, speed only sensors, cadence only sensors and speed and cadence sensors. But be careful to select the right one when you set it up. I had made a mistake and setup my wheel/cadence sensor as a cadence only sensor and then wondered why it was ignoring the speed part of the sensor. DOH 🙂

GPS can be manually turned off for indoor cycling with a speed sensor.

The sensors seem to have one memory for each category, one heart rate, one speed/cadence etc so if you use multiple sensors off and on it’s a bit clumsy and you will have to repair them each time your switch it up.

The heart rate alarms are also a little clumsily done. When an alarm is triggered a teeny tiny font comes up to say heart rate below (or above) and the value. It beeps only once, and the message stays on the screen for a period of time blocking your precious data display pages until you manually tell it to go away.

Battery nags started at 20$ but the watch continued to function including GPS until the bitter end 🙂

So in the end, I am impressed with the Fenix 2. Outside of clumsy benus and poor buttons it’s an amazing device. Take everything in it and put it into a cycling size and I’d buy it in a heart beat. The nagging question is, given the cost delta of $300 is the Fenix 3 better enough to justify? Hmmmm

In terms of what could it potentially replace? It’s a great backup to the Foretrex 401, a replacement for the FR70 and a supplement to the Edge 305.


September 9, 2016 Posted by | GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Wahoo bike speed sensor and Wahoo fitness app review

I’ve owned a Garmin combination Cadence and wheel sensor for a very long time. Cadence if your not aware is the rate of rotation of your pedals on a bike. Now if I was a more serious cyclist I would be concerned with cadence, as it is I am more interested in distance accuracy which is what drew me to this sensor. This sensor broadcasts on both Ant+ and Bluetooth. Ant+ can be used to talk to a variety of Garmin devices as well as smart phone apps. But now comes the catch, Garmin did not include a speed only (or cadence only) profile on some of their older models. And some models read, record and then ignore the speed sensor in favor of the GPS. I emailed Wahoo to be sure that my Edge 305 was supported, they insured me it was, sadly it doesn’t work and is completely ignored. On my Fr70 it does work however. On my Foretrex 401 it says right in the manual it will always use the GPS for speed/distance so this is not useful (although I didn’t actually try it with the 401 I have tried others and confirmed exactly what they said, they don’t use it for speed/distance, so ignores it, so why did Garmin bother).

So why would you care? A GPS samples it’s location every so often. In between it assumes a straight line. In a sport like mountain biking it can make a difference in distance. Let’s have a look at a couple runs for comparison. I did two short rides using the Garmin Fr70 with the sensor, and the Garmin Edge 305 using GPS. Even on a road ride the distances were 2.13km Vs 1.83KM or -14% for the GPS vs the wheel sensor. Ride two got 2.18km Vs 1.84KM or -15.5% for the GPS.

Looking at the windy trails of a mountain bike trail I got 28.15km from the sensor and 23.54 from the Garmin Edge (using GPS) or a difference of 21%. The sensor will always be more.

Physically speaking the speed sensor is a magnetless design. It straps around the hub of the wheel and transmits rotation. You tell your device (or app) the size of your wheel and you get speed/distance. The design is brilliant. Well it would be if Wahoo had thought of spoofing it being a speed and cadence sensor which they did not. If your device supports this device it is an excellent choice. If not, as is my case, it get sadly returned. I am a little disappointed in Wahoo support who mislead me about my Edge 305 support.

On my next post I will be covering the Wahoo fitness app that can be used with this and many other sensors!


September 2, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment