John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Garmin Vivoactive 3

Those of you that are my regular readers know I embraced wearables pretty early on. Some of them were not great. To date, hands down the Apple watch is my favorite everyday smart watch. On the plus side the screen wakes up VERY well (although I still prefer always on), notifications are very readable, watch bands can be brilliantly swapped, there are some apps for the watch, and siri on the wrist is killer. Apple pay works well but given your reaching for your wallet or phone for loyalty cards is not the killer feature it could be. On the miss side all of the fitness data (heart rate, steps etc) go only into Apple health with is clumsy to get off the phone and has not portal. Battery life is not bad at almost 2 days, but still not good enough to use to track sleep. My series one is not water proof so no kayaking for it. The built in fitness app again sends workouts NOWHERE. Heh if it isn’t on Strava, it didn’t happen! I actually have largely given up on the built in fitness app and use Workoutdoors which does export to Strava and includes maps. The only thing it doesn’t include is navigation which for me would be killer. So what this leads me to is that I use my Apple watch everyday, and then weekend hits, and for my weekend warrior sports which include kayaking, hockey, hiking, mountain biking and snowboarding (for now) I pull out my Garmins …

For hockey I still use my Garmin Vivosmart HR mostly because it’s cheap and I won’t cry if it gets broken 🙂 Other than that I use my Garmin Fenix 3. It’s waterproof, includes navigation (courses and waypoints and breadcrumbs of your adventure), gets amazing battery life (days to weeks depending on how much GPS you use) and is waterpoof. Watch bands can be swapped but it’s now where near as elegant as the Apple watch’s solution requiring you to pull out a pair of torx drivers. The biggest misses on the Fenix for me include no heart rate monitor (which is a non issue for mountain biking where I use a chest strap for better accuracy and zone alerts/training), it’s large and heavy (I have small wrists), and the notifications are really badly done (so small as to be unusable). What I really would like would be Fenix 5+ but I can’t justify the cost and this wouldn’t change the weight/size issue for everyday.

And so we have the Vivoactive 3. As always DC Rainmaker has a fabulous review of this device. The Vivoactive can be thought of as poor mans Fenix. And with the release of the Gunmetal version of it, it looks a lot like a Fenix, so after some research I decided to try it. There was a sale on over Christmas knocking $90 off the price bringing it down to $250!! At that price if it doesn’t do what I like then I can sell it on kijiji. I suspect Garmin had a lot of uptake at the lower price because the gunmetal has been back ordered for a long time, 5 weeks from GPS City.

For comparison here are the sizes:
Apple 42.5 x 36.4 x 10.5mm 30g
Vivoact 43.4 x 43.4 x 11.7mm 43g
Fenix 3 51.0 x 51.0 x 16.0mm 85g

For a complete list of specs checkout the Garmin site.

Size wise this unit is super small, thin and light. It fits well on the wrist.

The Vivoactive uses the same always on, backlit screen as the Fenix. It suffers from the same problem as the Fenix which is that the backlit comes on when I toss and turn at night leading to restless sleep. It’s trying to detect wrist movements. Fortunately this can be turned off, unfortunately, other than sleeping I would prefer it was on. Too bad Garmin didn’t pay attention to their own Do not disturb settings for the backlit gesture. Oh well … The screen is covered in Gorilla glass so it ought to be pretty durable. That’s the same stuff on a lot of phones.

The heart rate monitor has been dramatically improved over the Fenix 3 HR, as well as my Vivosmart HR in that it reads the heart rate every second, all the time. Not just in activities. This gives you much more accurate resting heart rate and you can really see how well you are sleeping based on how low your heart rate went. This improvement alone is quite impressive.

One of the first things I wanted to do was to transfer my waypoints from my Fenix onto the Vivoactive. I immediately ran into a MAJOR limitation of the device. I had read the manual for it prior to purchasing it and it described saved locations. Well it turns out in Garmin terms saved locations and waypoints are different. Saved locations on the Vivoactive 3 can not be loaded externally using something like Garmin basecamp, can not be backed up, can not be imported, can not be even named, nada. They just live in their own little world, isolated … They are persistent across power on/off so at least there is that. For me this is a dead in the water this thing is getting returned moment … Without this feature I can not use this for mountain biking where I use the saved waypoints ALL THE TIME. You can use the Vivoactive 3 to navigate back to start of an activity, and back to a saved location. I don’t see a trackback ability which is on other Garmins.

From within an activity you can not navigate to a saved location, in fact navigate is itself an activity. Navigate on Garmin connect.

This watch supports ConnectIQ which is an extensible architecture that allows third parties to add widgets, watch faces and the like that they design. The major miss in this is that the third parties decide which devices they want to support. Every time Garmin release a new device they have to go back and add it to the list of devices they support. The result of this is that I found a number of my favorite watch faces from the Fenix were not supported (ie not available) for the Vivoactive 3. This was quite disappointing, albeit somewhat obvious in hind sight.

Move alerts are well done. The usual assortment of activity tracking, steps, stairs, sleep and the like are all here and well done. The device also includes all day HRV (heart rate variability) which Garmin have chosen to mask behind an algorithm and call it all day stress … It also creates an estimated VO2 Max.

Notifications work well and the vibrate is strong enough but I do have it cranked up to max.

GPS accuracy in a dense area like downtown Toronto is bad. I mean real bad. That or I’m drunk. I was walking on a street the whole time.

The menu system is quite different than the Fenix in that it is a touch screen with only one button. This isn’t as good for a sports watch that you need to operate wearing gloves.

The activity screens are customizable for how many screens, and what you want on each screen, but there is only one setting for how many items on each screen. Each field can contain varying amounts of choices for content. Some fields are quite limited.

The watch gets 7 days of battery life without the GPS, more GPS = less time. To recharge it you plug in a cable on the back of the watch. Existing battery status is clearly displayed.

The Vivoactive can talk to Ant+ or Bluetooth heart rate sensors for times when the wrist heart rate monitor isn’t accurate enough.

While I can see how to see the heading during a workout by adding it onto a data field, I do not see how to display the compass outside of a workout (or altimeter).

There is a weather app and it actually works. My weather app on my Fenix 3 NEVER worked.

Watch bands (20 mm) can be swapped out using the quick disconnect pins that are common on many watches, meaning there are lots of bands out there for this watch at reasonable prices.

The Vivoactive 3 does NOT have WIFI. Not that I think this is a big deal …

I bought the gunmetal grey one, I think it looks less “flashy” than the silver rimmed one and kinda Fenix like.

Outside of the major gotcha of waypoints the Vivoactive 3 is quite well done! It’s so light and small and packs in a ton of stuff with decent battery life … impressive. Not a chance it could replace my Fenix 3, but it could give the Apple watch some competition with much better more comprehensive health stats and data into the Garmin ecosystem.

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Dlink Dir878 mini Review

Recently my daughter started having WIFI issues in parts of the home. As usual the first thing was to translate what she was seeing into what the issue is. She just kept saying she was getting kicked off the internet. I had to do some digging to find the problem. I used an app called WIFI Analyzer to have a look at what was going on in the air waves around me … Seems my neighbor had updated his WIFI to a higher power one and was overwhelming mine. I’ve been using a Linksys E3000 router for a while now, I’ve been looking for a reason to replace it, seems I found one 🙂

Newer routers such as this are improved in three areas. First they have upped the transmit power. Now what exactly that means I can’t seem to find specifics but it was the cause of my woes. Second newer, faster speeds have been released, in this case AC1900. And lastly they have brought out what is called MU-MIMO which is supposed to be better at handling more than one user at a time and keep the one user from swamping the wireless lan. With external hi gain antennas (Vs only internal smaller antennas on the E3000) reception should be improved.

Immediately I could see the improvement in the signal strength from the new router and the neighbors signal was now below mine instead of them overwhelming mine. My router in the house sits comfortably and safely behind my Pfsense firewall which keeps it solid, reliable and unhacked. This means my router sits in bridge mode. Some routers have a setting for bridge mode, this one does not. So what you do is set your lan IP address to static and assign it to your internal networks settings. Then turn off DHCP on the router. The cable plugs into LAN port and your done. This is different than some that you plug into the internet port and put it in bridge mode.

Once setup it’s time to see what kind of improvements in speed you can get. To test this out I use iPerf which tests raw network speed. You load a server on one machine and then point your client at that sever and you get your results.

First up the E3000 on 2.5GHZ, sitting close to the router I got a link speed of 72Mbps and measured a speed of 45.4Mbps. By comparison the new router got a link speed of 144Mbps and a measured speed of 81.3Mbps. This translated into 79% faster on 2.5GHZ.

Next up lets try the E3000 on 5GHZ, again sitting close to the router and I got link speed of 144Mbps and 89.7Mbps. The new router got a link speed of 867 Mbps and a measured speed of 313 Mbps which translates into 249% faster, WOW.

I bought this router off Amazon after reading reviews for $100 refurbished. For such a low price the performance is exceptional and has solved my range problems to boot! There is another router that is supposed to be even faster DIR882 AC2600, but this is good enough for me. It’s worth noting that the DIR882 also has a USB 3 port.

It’s worth noting that this router does NOT have a USB port so can’t server up anything. It also with the external antennas is not the best looking thing in the room. It by means blends in, rather it sticks out (like a sore thumb). To get the best performance the router should be as close to your main living area as possible. It’s worth the time to run a network cable from the basement where your cable or DSL modem is likely located to the router.

February 19, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Amber alerts

If you live in the GTA then you experienced being startled out of your sleep by a series of Amber Alerts. The situation, a missing child, had actionable information as to the person, and the vehicle that the police believed had the child. This information was sent out to the public, in hope that someone might see the car and find the child sooner …

A further alerts was issued when the child was located, sadly dead, reportedly at the hands of her father who they believed had her.

A situation like this is EXACTLY why the amber alert program was started. The police IMHO used the system appropriately and reasonably. There are rumors that some people called 911 to complain about being awoken from their sleep. If true, this is truly an example of stupidity. To call 911 for a non emergency is an offence, and frankly one that people should be charged for. 911 is critical to getting help to those in need. And the police are not the owners of the Amber alert system AlertReady are (in Canada) they simply use the tools at their disposal. If you have a complaint about the system, direct your concern to the right place.

The main flaw in this system IMHO all started when they decided to roll Amber alert out to wireless public alerting (WPA not to confused with WIFI WPA) which extended it out to all LTE compatible devices. This got further aggravated when the CRTC got involved and decided that the general public can not be trusted (as they are in the Unitied States) to not opt out of this service and MANDATED all cell phone providers to make this non optional. And just to throw gas on the fire the alert system does not respect the do not disturb or the silent mode the phone is in. This is irritating to put it as gently as I can. What is the point in waking thousands of people from their collective sleep for an alert they are going to do nothing about? Are you going to hop out of bed and join the hunt? I doubt it. Not that I think being awoken for such a tragedy is such a bad thing, it’s just pointless. The system needs to be changed to respect the do not disturb and or silent setting of the phone. I encourage anyone who has a thoughts one way or the other to give AlertReady your thoughts.

And to even further aggravate the situation Canada’s Weather Network also implemented Amber Alerts, leaving users with NUMEROUS notifications. Why The Weather network felt it necessary to get involved is beyond me, I can only assume they think they are attempting to get the message out even broarder. So to remedy this, simply remove Canada’s Weather network app or remove the apps ability to send notifications. Not like there aren’t many other weather apps out there, we do have choices. Feel free to send your comments on the Weather Networks app.

As you can imagine, blocking AlertReady has all of a sudden been trending on Google. Not that I think blocking is the answer, but given the current flawed implementation, I can totally relate and I myself did the same google search.

So what can you do? Well to start off, ignore all of the American posts that show you how to turn off Amber Alerts. Here in Jolly old Canada this has been removed (as mentioned above). So sadly this leaves you with only a few choices.

The most rational choice is to ignore this interruption in your sleep. Amber alerts fortunately happen infrequently, so do your best to not over react. But if this is not within your abilities then here are your choices. The obvious one is turn your phone off when your sleeping (or put it in airplane mode). For some this is not an option given loved ones may need to get a hold of you for emergencies.

Your next option is to turn off LTE. According to the AlertReady site it depends on LTE. This does not immediately imply turning off LTE will disable AlertReady but it might. Some blog posts do say this works, I’m just unsure, it’s not like you can test it. This is a bit of a drastic choice too as it drops data rates down to 11/2 Mbps Vs 108/15 for LTE. On Android there might be ways to automate this, but not on an iPhone. Jail breaking your iPhone MAY give you back the option to disable amber alerts, I’m not sure. Sadly that’s about it for your choices given the current state of things. Update: Sadly this didn’t work.

So we are back to a couple options. Turn your phone off. Put your phone in airplane mode. Or jailbreak your phone to get the opt out option that is available in the states back (I think).

I had a friend check and even iPhone bought directly from Apple (rather than a carrier) also have the opt out option removed.

Update: I can now 100% confirm that putting your phone in Airplane mode and turning on WIFI 100% blocks Amber alerts. This allows you to control what does and does not wake you in the middle of the night! Woohoo!

February 18, 2019 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment