John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Strava app mini review

A while back I heard about an exercise app called Strava and have been playing with it for a little while. It runs on your phone, logs your workout, can connect to sensors and the like. From this point of view it’s kind of a standard app. There is no way to navigate with it for example to save waypoints so for hiking it still does not beat my reining king RunGPS (which runs on Android and iOS). You can create routes based on yours, or someone else’s previous workout and then use that route the next time you got to that place. To do this, from the website (I don’t see it on the app) click on your friends workout, then click on the wrench on the left that says actions and click Create route.

So at this point, and the first time I looked at it, your thinking, ok who cares about Strava. Digging in a little deeper there are a few unique things that Strava does, and they are plugging a HUGE gap in the Garmin infrastructure. Social. Strava allow friends to follow of you similarly to the way twitter/facebook does. And you get a newsfeed of your friends activities. You can cheer them on, you can share pictures with them. Comment on their activities and the like. You can do similar stuff on Garmin but no one on Garmin seem to permit people to see their activities, it’s locked down by default, and no one seems to changes it. Even Fitbit do a better job than Garmin in this regard. In fact of all the people I know with Garmins, NONE use this feature. Hello Mr Garmin???

And there is one other unique feature on Strava called segments. Parts of a trail, road course etc get separated into what Strava call segments. I notice Garmin connect is starting to implement segments. At the end of a ride, and on some newer Garmins you get it live, you are told how you did on the segment compared to your past as well as to others. And you get badges. This is actually quite neat. I’ve head some complaints from pundits saying people are dumbing down mountain bike trails to get better Strava scores which sounds positively mental.

For now I am only using Strava in free mode (non Premium). At $84.99CDN a year it would have to be pretty compelling. The one feature not on the free is the ability to download the GPX which then could be use as courses on your Garmin.

One of the things Strava has done exceptionally well is to connect to a plethora of other platforms.

And Strava have been smart and if it sees the same activity from multiple sources it only takes one, preferring the Strava app of course 🙂 Once connected Garmin connect (the one I play with) works well and feeds all activities into Strava. There is no way to configure it, all or nothing. And what comes across is ONLY the activities. Not your steps etc. So at the end of a week/month you get only your activity calorie count.

To level the playing field Strava does not take the calorie count from other apps. The reality is, each app calculates calories differently. This is a unique approach and something I have not seen before. One of the challenges for me is that I use the calorie count on my Garmin during a ride to push myself depending on whether I am looking to build or maintain cardio levels. So using calorie counts on the app doesn’t work for me.

Strava is really intended mostly for hike/bike/run. It tracks other activities but only these get calorie counts (for now).

Overall Strava is interesting, and requires little to no effort to maintain, so I’m not rushing to get rid of it. But I’m not finding it indispensable either.

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October 24, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Heh SIRI not working

I’m still running an iPhone 6, and for a while I was confused by the fact Heh SIRI would work sometimes and not others. Well it turns out on older iPhones like mine Heh SIRI ONLY works while on a power source to save battery. Now Apple could have saved me a time by simply putting a note next to the switch setting that turns on Heh SIRI to say only while on AC, but they didn’t.

So with that sorted out I now know when it’s on my bed side plugged in, I can ask for weather etc. And when plugged in the car I can use SIRI to navigate stuff. This can basically take the place of things like an Amazon Echo or Google home, for free! This may seem super obvious to those in the know, but if it tripped me up, chances are one or two others may have missed this point too …

Article defining where heh SIRI is supported.

October 24, 2017 Posted by | iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad | Leave a comment

Syma X5HW quad copter review

I previously owned a Syma X5WSW and had a bunch of fun with it. Sadly it met an early demise when it got sucked into a vortex and found it’s last resting place in a neighbors tree 😦 Ooops. I then played with an X8, an X5 on steroids, but that one had no end of reliability issues. I’ve stayed away from drones ever since, almost a year ago now. And then an ad for a selfie drone caught my attention on facebook. It was a JJRC H47. But after doing a bit of reading and watching reviews I decided to go back to the Syma.

Now let’s be clear, all of these I have played with are at best toys. Inexpensive disposable, smile to the penny … So my expectations are not that high. For example the camera that came on this one is .3 mp. What’s that about 1990s tech? But I do have an XDV action camera that if I can figure out how to mount it on the drone will more than take care of video needs. The biggest challenge with finding a mounting point for an action camera on this drone is on the underside there isn’t enough clearance, on the top the drone is round making it challenging. Or so I thought. Once I got it mounted, and it took a bit of time I discovered the motors do not have enough power to lift the extra weight. Ooops.

I had a few spare parts left over X5WSW I previously had the props, prop guard (something easily broken during even minor collisions) all fit. They have changed how the props are mounted, there is now a screw involved instead of just a friction fit. The battery on the other hand uses a new connector so the old ones don’t physically fit. There are converters between the two but they are almost the same price as the battery. The remote from the old copter did not recenter when let go on the left control, so this too is not usable on the new copter. Speaking of the prop guards I noticed that they have a strange end to them that can make it easy to get caught up in trees. So I cut them off. Technically prop guards are more for indoors, but who is going to bother taking them on and off.

There are two new tricks up the sleeve of the X5HW. The copter has two power modes. These amount to changes to the amount of pitch you can get out of the copter, which yields differing amount of fine control you have on the copter. In low mode it is intended for low to no wind, or indoor. In this mode you have a much finer control over the copter. But get caught in low mode in the wind and you will find yourself out of control. In high mode you can visibly see a lot more pitch to the copter. I flew the copter in winds of 24-36km/h and it was still able to be handled. This seems to me to be a lot more agressive/powerful than the older copter and makes it much more of a rounded flyer for indoor/outdoor use. The mode (H/L) is displayed on the LCD display on the controls

The second big change is altitude hold … Now this is a HUGE improvement. What it has is some kind of a sensor, I can only guess some kind of barometric altimeter. The control for altitude (left handle) can be let go (in which case it comes to the center) which tells the copter to hold current altitude. This means for the most part you can fly this with one hand. This works shockingly well and makes this a LOT easier to fly. No this isn’t perfect to say the least there are times the copter can be seen literally bobbing up and down even indoors. And tip the controls on hi mode to max and you will see the copter go up or down and you have to compensate. But even with this, I would call this a must have feature going forward for me.

One of the things missing is an emergency off. You can push and hold the left control all the way down for three seconds and this constitutes an emergency off but three seconds in a panic situation is an eternity. Your better to simply turn the remote off and the copter will shut right down. There’s also no one button to take of and no one button to land. Although as the battery is getting low the copter does start to bring itself lower and lower in altitude, ignoring your commands until it finally shuts off.

Charge time is around 2 hours for a flight time of 9 mins or so. Additional batteries can be had on Amazon or ebay, but be careful to get the right one or they are useless.

Syma include a clip that can hold your phone in landscape mode while you handle the remote. This particular copter sends back over wifi the video to your phone. They call this a first person view and they envision you can fly the copter as if you were in it by watching the screen rather than watching the copter. This is the reason the camera is so low quality to reduce the bitrate. The pics/video you take are all stored on your phone. Interestingly enough the ad on Amazon calls this an HD camera. Ya right .3mp is HD on what planet? There is another version of the copter the X5HC which includes a higher res camera and the pics/video are stored on an SD card on the camera. In retrospect I believe this would have been a better choice for a mere $15 more.

As a tip, if you notice your copter is drifting consistently to one side, you can adjust the trip. On ther LCD display you can see the current trim settings. You ought to sit the copter on a flat ground, then calibrate the gyros by pushing both joysticks to the bottom right and hold for 2-3 seconds. Then adjust the 4 trim levels to center (as shown on the LCB display of the remote). This ought to fix the issue.

Within it’s limitations this copter is a bundle of fun for the price. Super easy to fly. The biggest let down would be the camera. You might want to opt for the higher res X5HC.

Here’s a great video review by Quadcopters 101 on Youtube!

Update 11/03: After using the copter for two weeks one of the motors went completely dead. Wouldn’t spin at all so I had to return it. This is now the second Syma copter I’ve had with reliability issues. I know this is a cheap toy but really? Two weeks?

October 15, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

XDV 4K action camera

Ok, every now and then I give in, and without research, just impulse buy something. It more often than not turns out to be a bad decision but sometimes you just have to say WTF, why not. And thus we have this gadget. It came across Factory Direct’s mailer as a special for a mere $70 plus taxes. Well first off, I have to say Factory Direct’s return policy for defective product is less than convenient. I had to take it back to a store? So what’s the purpose of buying it online? They ain’t no Amazon. And now you wonder why I had to look into the return policy … well the WIFI on the first one I got was dead. So back to the store I went. Took another one, sure enough … another one with dead WIFI. By the time I got to the third camera I finally got one that the WIFI worked on. So I guess this is an omen for what I can expect for quality on this device. Anyway, while it’s working let’s get on with the review …

The camera is a plastic, styless brick. Not uncommon with these action cameras. It came with a plethora of mounting clips, and brackets. Everything from a waterproof enclosure, to a clothing clip, zip ties, sticky tape, and even velcro straps. I really was quite impressed with the amount of stuff in the box. What didn’t come is something that you could use to mount it in a car. More about the car in a bit.

The camera itself has a typical fish eye lense with no optical zoom.

(Photo shamelessly pilfered from Pevly who also has a great review of this gadget).

What this camera does not come with is much of a manual, or much any software for that matter. There’s no photo editing software for your PC. Nada. Your left to sort it out on your own. There is a phone app you can use to control the camera remotely and setup settings. The app relies on WIFI to create the connection. It sets up a hotspot on it’s own (press and hold the volume up key or press a bunch of menu buttons), you connect your phone to the WIFI, and then start the app.

The camera has a screen that covers pretty much most of the back of the camera and is likely a scratch magnet. The front of the camera’s fish eye lens is also waiting to be scratched. My overall impression is that this is not going to be a durable device. Control of the device is by 4 buttons, power, ok, up and down. The menuing system is simple enough and fairly straight forward. The camera can take a uSD card and is charged by a standard micro USB port. Shockingly an AC adapter was included. You need to make sure your uSD card is fast enough to support writing at speed. The camera is pretty much useless without a uSD card. No internal storage even for pictures. You can use this for still photos, but I can’t imagine why you would. Any point and shoot, not to mention phone, would take as good or better pictures. And no flash to boot …

The battery for the device is behind a super cheap door but it can be removed if you can figure out how to get it out. It’s a 900 maH battery, no idea if you could find spares.

I got about 1 hr 15 mins of battery life. You could add an external battery back to it and get longer running time (without the waterpoof case of course). In colder weather (10C) battery time dropped down to just under an hour (52 mins).

There are lights on the front of the display for power, charging and one on the top of the camera for when WIFI is on. On power on and off the camera gives a goofy noise and shows a goofy hi and bye message. The camera does not have any light to show it’s recording, and in bright sunlight the screen isn’t the easiest thing to see. And in the waterproof case you can’t hear much either, so it’s a little hard to know if you have started it recording or not. And it’s super easy to hit the stop button (a simple press stops it) so all in all it would be very easy to miss recording something you really wanted to record.

Nauseating detail alert 🙂
According to the factory direct listing the camera uses a Sony 179 sensor. The sensor according to specs is a 8Mp, or 3280×2464. So 16Mp which is what is advertised is at best an embellishment. 4K video is 3840×2160 so this too is not as advertised. 2.7K is 2704×1520, 1080p is 1920×1080 and 720p is 1280×720 so they are possible with this sensor. With a pixel rate off the sensor of 260MHZ this means at the max resolution it can just barely meet 30 frames per second. The camera says 4K is recorded at 30 fps but based on the specs this would absolutely be at the edge of the sensors specs. For high action shots(this is supposed to be an action camera after all) you want higher frame rates, 30 is barely passable. Choosing 1080p 60 fps, or 720 90/120 seems a lot more realistic, but 2.7K 30fps might also be ok.

When plugged into a PC the camera gives you three choices, charge, USB to read off the uSD card or PC camera. I tried repeatedly and couldn’t get the PC camera mode to work. It just dropped back out. USB works fine. If this device is firmware upgradeable I don’t see how.

Size wise it is: Camera Dimensions: 29.8 x 59.2 x 41 mm, and weighs 58g with battery.

There is a car mode in the menus. In this mode using it like a dash cam when the power comes on the camera comes on and immediately starts recording. But I didn’t find it stopped or shut off when the power shut off. Of course this relies on the fact that your car’s lighter plug goes on and off when the car does (which neither of mine does). So all in all this seems half implemented and thus not usable.

So let’s have a look at 1080p 60 fps. I think that is going to the place I want to focus on. Acceptable resolution, good frame rate. I did a 15 min video, and it ended up 3.29GB. This translates to 3.7 MB/s. On a 64G card this would allow you to store up to 290 mins or about 4.5 hours of video (once formatting losses in FAT are taken into account). The video taken seems good enough for what I want.

So now let’s look at the results. First off is using the clothing clip with it on my belt. With no image stabilization the video is clear but there’s so much jiggle watching it could almost make you sea sick. Higher end cameras include some image stabilization. Sample (hosted on a super slow link be patient).

Next up lets have a look at using it as a dash cam. In low light the results are practically useless. And this is on a city lit street with headlights on. Making almost anything of any consequence out is going to be challenging.
Sample (hosted on a super slow link be patient).

In brighter daylight but with the sun in your face the results are better except when you go into and out of brightness it struggles pretty much as expected.
Sample (hosted on a super slow link be patient).

Mounted on the deck of my kayak was super easy and it worked very well in this mode. In gentle waters the camera captures crisp clear videos. Works well in this mode, which is actually what I bought it for!
Sample (hosted on a super slow link be patient).

On the handle bars of a full suspension mountain bike the results are not too bad. Again the lack of image stabilization is a limitation. Detail and motion even at 60FPS are good.
Sample (hosted on a super slow link be patient).

If your looking for a free simple video editor
NCH Video pad
works well.

The camera splits files just under the max 4G limit of FAT64. For 1080p, 60fps this ended up being 15 min chunks.

Now one of the reasons I bought this camera was price. Of course it’s worth pointing out that it was an impulse (non researched buy). I notice now that GoPro Hero+ camera which are at least on par with this one are available refurb on Amazon for around $159. In retrospect, I think I’d belly up the extra cash for the GoPro. But in all this camera is better than I expected and for $70 why not …

October 4, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment