John Galea's Blog

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SHARK S3901C LIFT AWAY STEAM POCKET MOP

Ok to say this is a little off topic is an understatement. I’ve seen these advertised on factory direct and wondered how well they work. I spoke with two colleagues at work, one swore by it and the other said it was no more effective than a mop and pinesol. Not that I can stand the smell of pinesol but … So I decided to buy one. What it is, is a steaming floor mop. Now they claim it cleans deeper and sanitizes. Now I don’t much buy the sanitation part but wondered if it might clean better. For example according to the CDC to kill salmonella takes a rolling boil of 3-5 minutes so the chance of a passing of steam has little chance of killing it, as one example is NIL.

Putting it together was a bit of a brain test with little to no instructions, but then this is a refurb I bought. Once together it was time to take it for a spin.

So I set out a little test. I vacuumed my kitchen floor. Then mopped it with water and vinegar. As usual the water came up pretty dirty. Then I set out to use the shark. I put it on max steam level, scrub. It took about 2-3 minutes to get ready to start and ran for about 8 mins on max steam. Again I used water and vinegar. They recommend using distilled water for obvious reasons. Ever looked at the scale on your kettle? Here’s what the pad looked like when I was done, and this is on a small sized kitchen.

So what you can see is it definitely lifted more dirt off of what I would have considered a clean floor. The pad can be machine washed and you can get lots of extras on Amazon. Be sure that pads are still available if your going to buy an older model. The one thing that can be said about the pad, is they grab and hold onto dirt. And that is good and bad. Cleaning the pad afterwards is a pain.

The steaming unit can be removed from the floor unit and used to clean things like bathroom tiles/showers and the like, but be aware the unit itself is fairly heavy and it does not come with a hose to leave the unit on the floor while you were cleaning walls for example.

So overall, for $49 which is all I paid for the refurb, it seem like it’s doing something.

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December 6, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Windows 10 feature continue on PC

Recently Microsoft added a new feature to Windows 10 called Continue on PC. What this does is allow you to transfer a web page you were viewing on your phone or tablet to your PC once you get home. It’s one directional (to the PC), a little clumsy, only works with Edge browser, but it does work. The setup is poorly done. The easiest way to set it up is to do it manually. On an iPad or iPhone go to the app store and find Continue on PC. Install it. Then open it. It will tell you have to manually add Continue on PC to your share app list. Once done from a web page click on the share icon and select continue on PC. You can have multiple phones/tablets setup to send pages and multiple PCs setup to receive them, it asks you which. It’s all linked through your Microsoft account you use to logon to your PC. A good article on Continue on PC.

November 25, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apple watch review

I’ve played with a number of Android smartwatches, as well as a few Garmins and often wondered what I might be missing about the Apple watch. So a friend had made the switch from Apple to Android and had an Apple watch he wasn’t using so he let me play to try and see … The watch is a Sport 38mm 1st Gen running 3.2.3 (updated to 4.1) to be specific. I was able to find out the version of the watch I had by entering it’s serial number into the Apple check coverage web site.

Android wear works on an iPhone but the functionality is so limited as to wonder why they even bothered. So when I moved to an iPhone my Android wear watch became a whole lot less functional.

The 38mm is shockingly small. I was REALLY surprised how small it is. And super light as well. The 38mm would be perfect for women, and people with super small wrists, otherwise the 42 is the way to go.

The Apple watch charges by magnetic induction charging, which is amusing given Apple have only recently (iPhone 8) embraced wireless charging on the iPhones. The wireless charger does not draw a lot of power, like .2A so it can be plugged into almost any USB port, even an older USB 2 port. Charging time from a 100% dead watch appears to be about 84 mins based on a charge rate of about 1.2%/min. I tried putting the watch on a standard Qi wireless charging base and it didn’t work. Apple have provided a lollipop that magnetically sticks to the bottom of the watch.

If you prop your watch on it’s side while charging it can be used a “nightstand” clock. It then dims and comes on when jiggled/prodded. The only thing missing in this mode is a way to have it stay on all night which for me would have eliminated the need for a clock. And when you unplug the watch, the cord falls to the floor. I’m a surprised Apple did not create more of a cradle to hold the watch/charge it on it’s side like say the moto 360 does. Fret not the aftermarket has them. But be aware do not have the charger themselves they use the Apple one. I bought an Orzly on Amazon

The 1st series watches do not have a GPS in them, so they can not be used as stand alone exercise tracking.

Initial setup is super smooth and easy, just as one has come to expect from Apple. Watch apps are often extensions of iPhone apps. As such when I first setup the watch with my phone there were a PILE of watch apps to be loaded. In addition to the 17 built in Apple apps, 26 of the apps on my phone had watch apps that loaded onto the watch. The initial sync took quite a bit of time to complete. It does give you the option to not install the watch apps, and you can add the ones you want later.

Apple have done a nice job of making it super easy to manage a bunch of the settings, and app installs/uninstalls from the phone itself (rather than on the watch). This is pretty well done. Or they can be uninstalled from the watch if you prefer. By contrast, my Garmin for example has to be setup on the watch itself, so your futzing about with little buttons on a little screen through pages of menus to find the setting you want to change. It’s not impossible, but not elegant either.

A PIN can be setup on the watch and anytime you take the watch off and then back on the PIN has to be entered. A nice feature should you misplace your watch.

Apple include an Emergency SOS button a nice feature!

Messages received can be read on the watch and replied to using canned replies as well as using SIRI to dictate. Android wear had this, but my Garmin does not.

There are number of canned watch faces you can choose from, and each can be thoroughly customized. The biggest limitation here being screen size and your vision 🙂 Apple includes a Face Gallery for easily finding more watch faces. These can be easily added to the watch from the phone as well as activated from the phone. The number of watch faces available pales in comparison to the dizzying array available for Android wear through Facer/Watchmaker. And with Facer/watchmaker anyone can make there own simply and easily. I don’t see an easy way for a user to make their own watchface. This is one area where Apple is a serious let down compared to other smartwatches. Very little choice and not a lot of pizzazz to their watch faces.

The watch’s firmware can easily be updated from the phone. Updates are downloaded while on WIFI to the phone then onto the watch. Firmware updates are around 500MB in size. I do not believe the watch has WIFI and don’t see other ways to update the firmware other than this. Downloading this amount of data over bluetooth takes some time, so it’s best done when your not in a rush. Even installing a new version of the update took over an hour to complete (after it was downloaded). The whole process took over 2 hours.

Apple Pay can be setup so you can use the watch to pay for transactions, however it requires a passcode be setup on the watch. This is one area Apple really blazed trails. Fitbit and Garmin years later are only now adding this.

Music can be stored directly on the watch and can be played/paused etc from the watch. And the watch shows you what is playing. From the watch you can completely see your phones library and pick music from that library. This is the most complete set of remote controls I’ve seen on a watch to date. Music can very easily be added to the watch from the phone. The watch can then play music directly to a bluetooth paired headset when without the phone. For people that like to workout without their phone this is a fabulous option and pretty easily setup. Well done Apple, although not something I would bother with. When I workout (kayak/mountain biking etc) I want my phone with me for emergencies anyway. While playing music a now playing comes up which I think is awesome. How many times have you heard a song and wondered the name or artist it was?

Activity tracking has been implemented (step and heart rate tracking through the day, no stair counting though, it lacks a barometric altimeter) and customizable move reminders are there too! How long did it take Fitbit to add this feature? You also get resting heart rate for the day. Given that Fitbit have chosen to not add support for Apple health, this is another plus for the Apple watch. It integrates (as you would expect) very well with Apple health. Steps are pretty close to my Garmin Vivosmart HR, but as expected both translate that into calories and kms differently.

An actual workout tracking however, is fairly basic. I did a 30 min walk and it was recorded as 2.8KM Vs 2.9 on my Garmin Vivosmart HR. Average heart rate was spot on between the two at 115 BPM which is impressive. You do get a map of the workout (after the workout) inside Apple Healthkit which used the iPhone’s GPS to create, but I don’t see any easy way to share it. If you did the workout without the iPhone I would presume you would loose the map. I don’t see a way of seeing graphs of your speed, heart rate data etc after the workout. I see no way to create waypoints and navigate to those waypoints (other than using the Maps app). I also see no way to see on a map where you’ve been during a hike for example. Or a way to follow a previously defined route. External bluetooth heart rate monitors can be paired with the phone for better accuracy during workouts. I don’t see a way to export workouts either, nor do I see a interconnectivity to things like Strava or MyFitnesspal etc. In this particular area Apple are way behind and this is a CLEAR statement to me that the Apple watch does not stand a chance (nor did I expect it to) to replace my Garmin Fenix 3 for things like hiking, biking, snowboarding, kayaking etc, basically sports.

The Apple watch actually gives you your estimated VO2 max (only available after a workout is recorded on the watch), something even my Garmin doesn’t do. How accurate it is, who knows. They also include heart rate variability (done during a breath session, and workout), but don’t tell you what parameter they are displaying or how to interpret it, so a one hour support call and they told me the parameter they are displaying is SDDN (No RR, rMSSD etc.). And again, no idea how accurate it is. With this you can compare the results with other aps like EliteHRV. If you want to learn more about HRV I have a post on How to use HRV as well as one on HRV Tools.

The Apple watch can be used to make and receive phone calls. You talk to, and hear from the watch. Something neither the Android wear watches, nor my Gamin can do.

There’s both a stopwatch as well as a timer feature on the watch. The timer is a little clumsy to setup but is easy to use with Siri. This is a super basic feature but something I use ALL the time. Whether timing cooking, baking etc.

Notifications on the watch are extremely well done and easily customized. They include both an audio as well as a vibration, both of which can be customized. You can even go back and see previous notifications. Overall this is probably one of the best, most comprehensive notification systems I’ve seen to date. Fitbit by comparison is one of the worst when paired with an iPhone.

You can use Apple maps on the watch and directions requested on the phone show up on the app on the watch. Quite impressively done.

From iCloud you can remotely play a sound (to help find it) and even erase the watch. You can not add a message to the watch (say something like call me yadda yadda) and the location of the watch is not displayed, not even it’s last seen location. This is an area where others have done better to help you find your missing watch. Interestingly enough location was shown correctly on a newer Series 1 Gen 2 watch, so this seems to be a limitation of the 1 Gen. Of course all of this functionality would ONLY work if the watch is in bluetooth range of your phone.

One of the greatest features of the watch is to be able to use Siri without ever pulling your phone out!! But Siri does require your connection to your phone. You can also use siri to “take a note” which makes this quick and easy!

The Apple watch is NOT waterproof, only splash resistant. So from an exercise point of view better hope to not get caught in the rain.

I tried to sleep with the Apple watch, mistake. I put it in do not disturb mode. At some point it took itself out of do not disturb and woke me a couple times for notifications. One of which was to tell me to stand up and move 🙂 And even with that it did not track sleep. Now given the battery life of the watch this is not a loss but be aware.

On every other smart watch I have played with the wrist detection has been hit and miss. So much so I have considered always on a MUST. Apple have actually perfected this, it’s rare for it to miss your wrist being raised to see the time.

On day one I had the watch on for 11 hours and still had about 25% of battery left with light use through the day. So this is definitely a charge ever day device. You can completely power down the watch so if it’s not going to be used for a bit you come back to a charged device. Like most wirelessly charged devices, while being charged it is on. Fitbit continue to leave out the ability to power off their devices. Surely your going to wear it every day right?

Apple wisely made it pretty easy to swap bands by designing a unique way the band locks into the watch. The aftermarket stepped in and adapted Apples lugs so they take more standard bands. And there are a cornucopia of bands available on Amazon/ebay from leather to metal. And who doesn’t like to accesorize their gadgets 🙂 There are two colors of Apple watches, a flashy silver and a gun metal grey. Be sure and grab a band with the right color lugs to match your watch!

Apple have included something they call power reserve. But this puts the watch in such a deep sleep mode as to be useless. Even seeing the time took pushing buttons. If you need to save power the easiest way is simply to put it in airplane mode which cuts the watch off from everything, dramatically improving battery life. But then it’s just a watch rather than a smartwatch. In airplane mode you will get DAYS of battery life. Oddly it seems move reminders stop when in airplane mode.

Because of the smooth edges on the watch I have not found it catches on sleeves like pretty much every other smart watch!

If there is one place I think Apple really missed the mark it’s the user interface. Which is bizarre because Apple are usually stellar at it. Samsung’s current generation using a dial around the watch to control it, brilliant and elegant. With Apple you get this melage of tennie tiny icons you have to find the one app that your looking for. If you have large fingers or bad eye sight this is a challenge to say the least. Numerous times I found myself starting the wrong app.

There is a dock that’s much easier to use for your most commonly used apps but even this is not what I would call elegant. I personally found the UI complex enough I had to read a manual/watch a youtube video to get started.

Summary:
In the end, outside of Apple pay, the Apple watch didn’t really innovate, they more perfect/iterated. However, if your going to carry an iPhone the Apple watch is pretty much, hands down the best, most complete offering to date. For me it’s a product drag rather than draw. I wouldn’t convert to an iPhone to use an Apple watch. Given there are now 3 series of watches in the market you can pick up a Series one pretty inexpensively on ebay/Kijiji. I found a 42mm still under warranty for $250 so the entry point now is low enough, and the functionality high enough, I bought one! While there is not a chance the Apple watch could ever replace my Fenix 3 … it can also be said the Fenix 3’s smartwatch features don’t measure up to the Apple watch for day to day.

Apple Watch complete beginners guide

November 21, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

VPN

If you download movies, music, torrents or whatever, or just don’t like being tracked you may want to consider using a VPN. It stands for virtual private network. What it does is create an encrypted communication (called a tunnel) between your home and the VPN provider. The communication then comes out of the VPN provider instead of you creating a level of indirection. It makes it harder (although still not impossible) to track your movements on the net. This is a super basic but useful step.

There are lots of VPN providers out there, so how do you find one you like? Well first off is what are you willing to pay for what could amount to paranoia? Well just remember, your only paranoid if it turned out they weren’t watching you 🙂 I started by looking at one a friend (thanks Lance) recommended PureVPN. PureVPN provide a simple to use app that is supported on a lot of different platforms to make setting up a VPN as trouble free and easy as possible. But this isn’t what I wanted. So I asked them if they support Windows built in VPN connections (ie no need to install or trust an app) and they said yes. So I ventured into it. They have a guide for setting it up. While not massively difficult (for an IT guy like me) it does take some work. There are three options for the underlying technology of the tunnel, PPTP, L2TP and SSTP. I hadn’t heard of SSTP before so read into it. I like the sound of it so chose that. Be sure and review the settings for the tunnel. I made sure encryption was required (which wasn’t the default), and I tuned off file and print sharing and client for microsoft networks.

In the setup of your VPN you can choose a VPN server located anywhere in the world. I chose a place that has serious laws on privacy the Cayman Islands!! Remember that your data is flowing through the VPN provider so your going to want to make sure they have unlimited data (which PureVPN does).

Once setup the next thought is to find a way to make sure it’s always there. I have a VM that I do my torrents on so I can turn VPN on for all traffic from the VM. The tunnel will ignore local traffic so it has no effect on local file sharing rdp and the like. I also wanted to make sure the VPN is always on, and if disconnected it was obvious. So first up I found a way to automate the connection to the VPN. You can call rasdial with the name of the VPN connection from a batch file to setup the tunnel, so for example:
rasdial PureVPNUT

Next up to insure it is obvious if it is disconnected I took the extreme measure of deleting the default gateway from my TCPIP stack (I’m on fixed IP address within my home network). Then added a route just to VPN server using this command:
netsh interface ipv4 add route 45.74.25.129/32 wired 192.168.1.1 store=persistent (for example)

Now I can get only to the VPN server from this machine and then if VPN becomes disconnected it will be painfully obvious. It would be irksome if after paying for VPN I discovered that it wasn’t been used and I hadn’t noticed.

PureVPN allows up to 5 machine to be simultaneously connected so you can move on to setup other machines next.

Ok now comes the testing … First up I want to prove that the tunnel is working. By going to ipaddress.com you can see what your IP looks like, what country it thinks your in and who is your internet provider. By doing this with the tunnel on and off you can see that your IP is now hidden, making it less easy to track your movements.

Your probably going to want to test bandwidth of the connection with the tunnel on and off using a tool like DSL Reports. Personally unless it is dead slow, I’m not sure I care a lot.

Next up is the issue of the VPN connection dropping. Oddly Microsoft does not include an auto reconnect feature for VPNs. So I decided to create an automated script. This script logs the VPN connection/disconnection and retries to connect. Here’s the script. You would need to set the parameter for the name of the VPN connection you created.

With that the VPN is setup and working …

November 17, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cellstar CX-10D Nano quad copter (mini review)

Ok, let’s me clear about this … this is a toy. Ok now we have this out of the way, let’s have a look. What we have here is a super small, nano quadcopter. But it’s features are really quite impressive. This copter has altitude hold, one button take off an one button land. And these actually work. The copter does not have a camera, so this is meant just for flying. The super small size makes it perfect for flying indoors. The battery in the device is NOT removable, and sadly is charged by a proprietary plug. Too bad they didn’t use a micro USB plug. Oh well … It came with a cage that goes completely around the copter making it possible to bump into the wall. And if you hit something moderately hard it intelligently just shuts down the motors to protect them. The copter will also not start if it lands upside down. The 3D flips are actually completely possible indoors. All in all I am shocked how well designed and thought out this is. Flight time is around 5 mins and recharge time is under half an hour. This would be a great toy for kids and big kids alike. But for young kids just know this is not indestructible.

November 11, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Wireless charging

With the iPhone 8 and X now supporting wireless, charging (welcome to the game Apple) more people are looking into their options. I fell in love with wireless charging a while back. I’m still on an iPhone 6 so a long time ago I bought a Qi-infinity Wireless Charging case that allowed me to retrofit wireless charging onto the iPhone 6. They have a clever design that the bottom connector slides down to allow access to the lightning port. It works, although not perfect. The case itself is super rigid and has saved my phone on countless occasions.

Back to the wireless charging … So with this case I decided to compare a couple wireless charges. It’s worth noting, that be careful, a number of the super cheap charge pads are single coil devices. This means it has a very narrow magnetic field. So you
have to be super careful with where you put the phone down. I had an early one of these that I paid $3 for and eventually through it out after more than once thinking it was charging and it wasn’t. Most of the charge pads have a light to show you the power is to the charge pad, and a light to indicate it’s charging the phone wirelessly.

It’s worth noting that wireless charge pads are in general slower to charge your phone that by a wired charger, to do with the inefficiencies of wireless charging. The losses involved. They are ideal for overnight charging where the speed of the charge is of little importance.

The first one I tried was a Docooler G300. This turned out to be the slowest of the charge pads I had to try. It charged the iPhone 6 with this case at a rate of 0.375%/hr or a projected full charge of 4.4 hours. Now the speed and amount of time is of less interest than the relative numbers. Your numbers will vary depending on your phone and charge pad.

The second one to try was an Itian Qi. I really like physical layout of this charge pad because it makes it simple to get the phone on the right spot. This charged at a rate of 0.48%/hr or a projected full charge of 3.5 hours. This would make this one 27% faster than the Docooler.

Last up I tried a Seneo Fast Wireless Charger. This one is also a good design for making it easy to get the phone on the right spot on the charge pad. This one charged the fastest at a rate of 0.54%/hr or a projected full charge of 3.1 hours. This one would then be 44% faster than the Docooler.

By comparison a wired charger for an iPhone 6 can deliver about 1%/hr or a projected charge of about 1.5 hours. So you can see what I mean by wireless chargers being slower. You can even see it in the current drawn. The charge case that I bought says right on it that it delivers a max current into the iPhone of .6A, while the power drawn from the USB to give that 0.6A is about 1.2A. In other words you loose about 50% due to the inefficiency of wireless charging. You can see the current (and voltage of a USB port by using a USB amp meter like this:

November 2, 2017 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, iPhone Stuff | Leave a comment

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.

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