John Galea's Blog

My blog on Gadgets and the like

Apple 2nd generation AirPods

I’ve tried some of the knock off AirPods and been disappointed enough by the reliability of bluetooth functionality as to return them. I have to say, the Airpods are VERY expensive so they need to be head and shoulders above all other bluetooth headsets for me to keep them. I bought them from Apple so that I could return them up to two weeks later if I wasn’t impressed. The Source, for example would not allow returns at all. Given I’m skeptical Apple it was.

Initial setup is VERY well done, as soon as you open the case my iPhone immediately saw them and asked to connect. Once connected the iPhone sees batteries in the case (while open) as well as the battery level of each of the headsets individually when they are in the case (and the case is open) or connected to the iPhone. You can use either, or both headsets which can get you lots of standby hours by alternating which one is in the ear. and the other one in the case recharging for things like phone calls that are mono anyway. But, the main use is more likely going to be listing to music. Battery levels are a widget, so on IOS 14 this can be on your main page.

There is only one button on the case which is used to put the headset into pairing mode. I had no issues pairing them with my PC for use in things like Teams for video conferencing. Manually I was able to move the Airpods between the PC and iPhone by just going into the PCs bluetooth settings and connecting/disconnecting. The experience with my Android tablet was also the same with manual connect and disconnect from the tablet allowing me to move the headsets between devices. The iPhone reconnected once others disconnected. Not sure how many devices the AirPods can remember. This is ALMOST perfect. The only thing I could wish for would for the connection to the iPhone to remain which is how some other multi device bluetooth headsets work.

In the car the bluetooth connection is perfect, connecting to both the car stereo’s bluetooth and remaining connected to your iPhone allowing you to use SIRI on the headsets. Music came out of the car stereo, and when a text message came in, it was read out over the Airpods, with the easy ability to reply using Siri. This is, hands down, a perfect, well done situation in the car. SIRI on the headset (hands free) is a game changer, and something no other headsets (to my knowledge) can do.

Range on the headsets is very good, and they reconnect if you wander too far from your phone, but I noticed music didn’t resume when they reconnected.

There is no battery level indicator on the case itself, unlike the knock offs. The case itself feels solid, well made and the cover and hinge also seem well made. The chance of these things coming open unexpectedly in your pocket (which would cause it to connect and thus loose calls, notifications etc) seems REALLY low. This is something that happened repeatedly with the knock offs I bought.

There’s a light inside the case that glows green when its charged, red when charging, and flashing white when it’s in bluetooth pairing mode.

Apple spec Battery life at 5 hours music, or 3 hours talk time, with 15 minutes of charge time, you get back another 3 hours of music so a pretty quick recharge. I haven’t been able to find any spec for standby time, it’s possible there is no such state within Airpods as they are always listening for SIRI?

Apple have designed in the ability to have the headsets easily move between Apple devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple watch) as long as they are signed into the same Apple account. This is definitely a game changer, but for me, I only have one Apple device so it’s not a big deal.

Sounds quality is REALLY good with lots of deep rich base. Probably one the best headsets I’ve used in a long time.

The firmware version of the Airpods can be checked by going into the info for the AirPods on the bluetooth screen on you iPhone. If the charging case is plugged in, headsets in the case, and your iPhone is near, if there is an update it will be upgraded automatically. On this same info screen you can define what double tapping each headset does. The headsets automatically power off when you remove them, and when they are put in the case.

At just 4 grams per headset these are light and very comfortable, even more comfortable than the wired headset, but they weigh enough to stay in place. You can almost forget they are even there.

Apple on the iPhone have done an impeccable job of remembering the volume of each bluetooth device. Something for a long time Android missed.

At this point it sounds perfect, and honestly speaking, this is, hands down, the best bluetooth headset I’ve ever used. Apple have really innovated, but there’s room for improvement.

It’s inevitable, these will get lost, a single headset, or the case. Apple have done NOTHING to help, well almost nothing. In iCloud, or from Find My on the iphone the last know location to the Airpods does show up, and if they are connected to your phone, and turned on you can get them to play a sound. If you misplace the case, your SOL. And if someone finds your Airpods, there is no way for them to repatriate them to you. You can change the name of the headset in bluteooth settings to your phone number which might help. There are no alarms if one of your Airpods drops out and becomes disconnected (this short coming is mind boggling). Apple make no attempt to prevent someone who finds an Airpod from using it, there’s no anti theft built in, at all. This is also mind boggling, even Xiaomi do this … The case itself can be engraved, or labelled, and this would be a good thing to do. All in all, this is a real let down. Apple, I guess, are really hoping you loose them so you can buy a new pair, or as a way of selling you Apple care.

Neither the airpods themselves nor the case are even water resistant. So if the case ends up in the wash, you might be done. Get caught in the rain and they might be done. There’s lots of discussion online on how tolerant they may be to water, and if there is a moisture sensor in either, but the official position from Apple is not moisture resistant. While Apple could be forgiven for the Airpods, the case could have been made water resistant for trips through the washer and the like. Sadly … NOT.

I had this one thought, I wonder where my I left my phone, I have my headset in, so I’ll use Siri to find my phone. Ehhhh nope, seems Apple did not include a command in Siri to find your phone, WTF. Well, there’s a simple fix to that, create a short cut, call it find my phone and make it start a timer for 1 second. Then from Siri just say run shortcut Find my phone. This is another glaring omission.

When you first take the Airpods out of the case and put them in your ear, it doesn’t automatically start playing music. I can see an argument both ways for this one.

Update: I’ve had these for a little over two months and love them. Sounds quality is excellent, battery life is great. The case is super slippery and can easily fall out of the pocket, and has. I bought a case off Amazon to provide some amount of drop protection as well as make them a little less slippery, but the biggest plus of the case is that it adds a carbiner that I can then attach to my key chain to insure these are always with me, and not at risk of calling out. I also got a label printed and attached my phone number to the case in the off chance they get lost. All in all nice improvements.



September 29, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zwift review

I recently bought a low end indoor bike trainer and one of the things I wanted to play with was Zwift. Zwift is an animation that uses data from your bike to control the images in front of you. With smart trainers Zwift can control the resistance (such as simulating hills), and provides things like power data back to Zwift, but this isn’t what I’m interested in, largely because I don’t want to spend that kind of cash for an indoor trainer. My intentions are to use Zwift to distract me from the boredom of riding indoors, on a large screen. You can use it for group rides, races etc, but that doesn’t interest me either, so I clearly have a very narrow, low expectation of what I want from Zwift.

My intention is to use my Garmin for data tracking of my rides.

As a minimum you need a wheel sensor to have the trainer interact with Zwift.

Zwift is available on multi plantforms, Windows, Mac, Android, and IOS. I first loaded it on my iPhone which was an ordeal since it was a 1.8G download so I had to remove a ton of stuff to make space. Once I did that it became painfully obvious, the small screen of an iPhone would not achieve what I wanted, so I uninstalled it and installed the Zwift companion instead.

I used a Windows PC for my first ride. The overall experience was good, images were ok but not even remotely realistic (riding through a tunnel under water WTF?). It’s all road, as a mountain biker I’d love for some forest, but so such choice. Windows Zwift connected to my Fenix 6, broadcast bluetooth heart rate sensor and to the wheel sensor without issues and off we go. At first I didn’t have the Zwift companion loaded on the iPhone so there was no way to interact with Zwift. On a number of occasions I saw the speed on Zwift go haywire and display way low data, while at the same time, the wheel sensor was working perfectly on my Garmin, so I know it’s not the sensor. In the middle of my ride I took a break and went and got a glass of water, the heart rate sensor disconnected, and never reconnected (you would have to manually reconnect it from within Zwift). All this means the data inside Zwift would be useless. In under an hour my Core i5 laptop’s battery was dead, and so was my ride as far as Zwift was concerned, so battery consumption was through through the roof.

On Android I first thought it would be nice to load Zwift onto my Kindle Fire TV, fat chance, after wasting over an hour trying numerous side loads I could not get it to install. On my Samsung tablet, no issues. I have a DisplayLink adapter so this be projected to the big screen.

Zwift can directly feed data in Garmin and Strava …

Zwift make it shockingly difficult to find friends and add them. Most other apps, Strava/Garmin make this a LOT easier.

After spending an inordinate amount of time trying to resolve that Zwift’s speed/distance data seem way out of whack I googled and found this to be a common issue, one without a solution. It seems Zwift have decided to apply an algorithm to determine speed and distance. So in essence, on a dumb trainer, they want you to ride with resistance on low with as high a wheel speed as possible. So this is SOOOOO not how I want to train making Zwift completely useless to me. Fortunately I figured this out before I’d spent even a single penny … Delete

September 19, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sportneer indoor bike trainer

Ok, I have to admit, I never thought I would EVER consider an indoor trainer, and yet here we are. I recently broke my hand putting an early end to biking and kayaking and found myself wanting to find a way to maintain some small amount of cardio. Given this is my first foray into this space I wanted to start small. I like how solid this unit is, and I like how it comes with a replacement wheel spindle to insure it stays in place. Coming out of the stand would be REALLY bad. It also comes with variable resistance and a remote control allowing you to change the resistance from your handlebars. Some care is needed in running the cable to the handlebars, you don’t want to get it caught in your feet, but note, they do not provide any zip ties, or velcro to secure it.

The design of the mechanism to lock into the wheels consists of an adjustable, lockable side and a ratchet on the other. To say this is firm is an understatement. Getting the bike mounted is a LOT easier with two people, but it can be done with one, even one with a broken hand 🙂

The unit is reasonably heavy and stable, it might have been nice to have a brace to keep the distance between the two parts of the stand for when your moving it, but that’s nit picking.

The unit requires no power, and is simple mechanical/magnetic resistance. It comes complete with a front wheel stand but the height is a little lower than I would have personally preferred, again nit picking.

With a Knobby mountain biking tire it was unbearably noisy, so I changed the tire to a thinner, slick, and over inflated it and this largely solved the noise issue.

What else will you need? The following are highly recommended: a fan to cool you, water, a towel to wipe away your sweat, a holder for your phone and you may want to try Zwift, something for a later post. You will need sensors for the bike, I originally thought I would need a wheel sensor, but later discovered a cadence (cadence in case you don’t know is rate of rotation of the pedals) sensor is more useful, especially for things like spinning classes that may refer to RPMs during the workout. A heart rate monitor will also come in handy for accurate calorie count.

Both my Fenix 6 and my Edge 130 have indoor cycling modes, and with the sensors mentioned above they will be more accurate.

The first time out I started at resistance 3 of 6 and found myself on quite a high gear with the wheel moving fast. This first time out set a baseline I could use for calorie count to try and do better the next time on the trainer. Second time out I bumped it up to 5, and ended up with a much slower, more comfortable wheel speed. By keeping an eye on the heart rate compared to the first time, I could insure I was getting a higher heart rate which allows me to burn more calories in a shorter time. First time out I burned 400 calories in an hour. Second time I was able to bump this up to 525 calories in an hour and you can see higher heart rate average BPM.

Update: I tried a number of spin videos, and quickly came to appreciate the work by Spintertainment. The videos are of mountain biking but what makes them unique is that they project a HUD of the current and next values for RPM, resistance and time until the next transition. It is quite motivating, and has allowed me to continue to increase the calorie count per hour, and even get close to real rides!

I also discovered Run.GPS has a spinning bike mode that works well while riding!

September 15, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fenix 6 Pro maps

When I bought the Fenix 6 Pro one of the features I was interested in was the maps. In fact, the list of included maps listed a North America Topo map, so I thought great, it comes with what I need … Well, as always, the devil is in the details. The maps included are pretty basic, and that’s being generous. There are options available to consumers, the Fenix is capable it just needs better data. So I started doing research, which is not easy there are limited guides. First off it depends what your looking for. Street level, routable maps are possible and DCRAINMAKER has you covered with a detailed how to … But what I have always wanted was a real topo map that included contour lines. Imagine your on a hike and have to get back, there turns out to be a ravine between you and your destination that would be clearly visible with contour lines, lines that show changes in elevation … With this I started looking. I was shocked to see how poorly this is documented. If you want to skip a bunch of this you can go to the bottom of the post and read about Talky toaster below.

Garmin offer their own topo maps, but for me the price is way more than I’m willing to pay. Garmin have made this super easy using Garmin Basecamp:
I did find a Cycling map from Garmin that is reasonably priced that seems to include contour lines, more on these maps a little further down the article.

I found one source that listed a number of different map options/source GPS File Depot

My prime interest in the maps is mountain biking and hiking, so Open Mountain Biking looked promising. They offer a one time purchase as well a subscription model that gives you map updates. They take Paypal, always a comforting thing for me, so seemed like a VERY viable option and maybe one I come back to.

And then I found IBYCUS that offer free TOPO maps for Canada. So I went on a quest. They currently only offer by DVD or torrent. The torrent was hard to find, and took a long time to come down but once it did I discovered the maps were about 10 years old.

So given it’s free I decided to explore what maps can do with IBYCUS. Once your download the ISO you install the map to your computer, the installer is for Windows. Once installed the maps show up in Basecamp, which from there can be installed onto your Fenix.

Installing of the maps was not a short process. It took about 15 mins to load them over USB and then once unplugged took about another 20 mins first time booting the fenix once unplugged to process the new map.

Once installed, inside Basecamp you can zoom in and shazam, sure enough, there are contour lines! These two images show the difference between the default Garmin maps and Ibycus.

The maps don’t have anything but major trails on them, but this maybe about their age. The package is BIG, occupying 3.9G on the watch, and menus involving maps, and even drawing maps are all slower as they process the detailed data. With nothing but major paths on them their less useful for me on my mountain bike. You can not split the maps up and keep only a province for example …
The installer tells you straight off that they have not done an uninstaller so your own. The installer does a good job of adding it to the Fenix as well as inside basecamp. Removing IBYCUS has to be done manually by deleting the map from your Fenix by finding the file \garmin\Ibycus Topo 3.2.img. Removing it from Basecamp is a little more tricky in that you will need to use a tool called mapsettoolkit. 3.8G is also loaded onto your windows machine you will need to also clean up.

BBBike is a free site that allows you to create your own maps, your own regions, but is a little complicated. First off you need to select the region you want to make the maps of, enter your email address and the type of map you want.

This submits a request to generate, and it emails you when it’s generated. You download it, uncompress it and copy the IMG file manually into the Garmin directory of your watch from your computer. I did a UTF first off and got an error message on boot of the Fenix that said it can’t authenticate, changing it to Latin solved the issue. When the watch is plugged into your computer and Basecamp has processed the map (first time is sees a new map takes a while) you can then see the map within basemap with all it’s contents.

Sadly these maps don’t seem to have contour lines.

Next up I decided to have a look at the Garmin cycling maps I mentioned above. A one time charge, (no subsrciption) of $26 seemed reasonable. Their description say:
“Includes cycling, tour cycling and mountain biking options to select the appropriate route for the type of cycling you do, taking you on paved roads, unpaved roads, or on paths and trails”
Sounds perfect. I bought them, paid using paypal, and they are downloaded and installed using Garmin Express, where you activate them. The files do not appear to be stored on your PC and are downloaded directly to the watch. If the download is interrupted, you have to start all over again, and the download is BIG like 7.5G. Seems the coder hasn’t heard of resume? Anyway once downloaded your good to go. Unplug the watch, let them initially get loaded, then plug the watch back into the computer and after quite a bit of time, like 15 mins or so, the maps are now visible in Garmin basecamp. They are NOT loaded into basecamp without the Fenix Given they are not loaded on your computer, I’m not sure what happens if you were to delete them from your Fenix. They seem to be locked to the Fenix.

I saw no noticeable slowdown on the watch once the maps were loaded.

Sadly, once loaded, and selected on the Fenix the map was blank. I raised a ticket with Garmin, who after weeks acknowledged the issue, offered a refund, but no fix 😦

I found Talky Toaster that seemed to have exactly what I was looking for, but sadly he doesn’t take Paypal and I didn’t feel comfortable with buying from him, in spite of his reassurances that his site is even more secure than Paypal. So I decided to buy a prepaid Mastercard which added a $5 fee to the cost of the purchase, just the cost of me being comfortable. Once paid a download link is sent. In my case, $25 got me only the province of Ontario, just how they have segmented the maps. If you need other provinces keep shelling … On the positive side it’s smaller since it’s only one province, so like everything, it’s a trade off. The map for Ontario is very detailed, 985M for 1 province Vs 3.9G for IBYCUS for the entire country. Instructions were clear on how to install them onto the Fenix, and bascecamp loads the map from the Fenix, but be super patient, first load took almost 1/2 an hour. Talky toaster told me you can put the maps in a folder called GARMIN, in the root of a SD, or USB drive and Basecamp can use them without the Fenix, and this does indeed work, and is a LOT faster and more convenient. Contour lines are there, details are there, and the maps are routable. The DEM map’s altitude data is seen by the Fenix and shows on the map at some intervals. The date on the maps is less than a month old, and Talky toaster confirmed “I release new versions of all my maps at least once a month, you get the latest version at the time of purchase.” The Talky Toaster maps are good!

September 7, 2020 Posted by | Fenix | Leave a comment