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Wearables, my thoughts on the current state

I’ve definitely been an early adopter in the wearables area, and I have to say I have come to the point where I have become fed up. In fact I recently ordered a good old fashion mechanical watch (more of that to come in a future post).

I love the whole Fitbit eco system. A great portal (with the ability to export for further data analysis), a good app (although I really wish they would focus on giving more stats, like max steps walked, woohoo you exceeded your previous max etc), and a host of different form factors to choose from. But that said I’ve actually got rid of my One, Charge, Charge HR, and Blaze and gone back to a good old Flex. Why? Simple, you can buy a third party normal buckled strap and put the little peanut in it. Or buy a holder that magnetically clips onto clothes and keep your wrist free for other things. And the Blaze while a terrific tracker sucks as a watch.
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Android wear is great, well sort of. My last Android wear was a Moto 360 gen one. I loved it, comfortable looks great, bright screen, excellent functionality. BUT (and you knew there had to be a but), it is far less functional on iOS. Watch faces are severely limited (again on iOS), and battery life totally sucks. Barely a day. So bad I actually bought a second charger to keep at work. Sheesh. And if I was going away for a weekend, not a chance it was coming with … And the “Ambient screen mode” (Motos version of always on) was very poorly implemented.

Of the devices I own the Polar A300 is one of the better. Super battery life, always on screen, reasonably comfortable and works with any bluetooth chest strap. Notifications even on iOS are well done and smooth. It actually can act as an activity and sleep tracker making it an all round every day watch and fitness watch. If they had included a chronometer features it would have been a clean sweep. When I decided to clean out my wearables this one got to stay!

The number one area wearables are falling down is the simple act of wanting to know what time it is. It is a watch … Bizarre to have to harp on this, but between screens that are unreadable in bright light, to notifications getting in the way of seeing the time, to not detecting my wrist turn and thus not turning the screen on, it can be maddening. And ultimately it is when I am pressed for time, catching a train or the like and it makes me just wanna scream.

Who knows what will catch my eye next in this category but for now I sold them all …

August 29, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android Wear (Smartwatch) | Leave a comment

IPTV

I’ve played with IPTV a couple of times in the past, all free systems and been underwhelmed. Inevitably I just get it working the free system gets overloaded or shutdown. In case you don’t know what IPTV is, it uses the internet to deliver streaming live TV to your home bypassing the traditional Bell/Rogers/Cogeco. Here’s a starter guide to IPTV.

So this time around I figured I’d look and see if there are services I can buy. I was able to find a few like Vmedia but they insist you get your internet from them as well. That would be a pain in that I already have internet and not from them. Vmedia mention on their website that this bundling of internet and IPTV is a CRTC requirement. I have not been able to independently verify that.

On Kijiji there are a number of folks offering IPTV services so I decided to give them a try. Now if the comment above about the CRTC requiring bundling is true these IPTV services is somewhere between flat out illegal or skirting the edge of legal. So given that I am wary about giving these folks an annual fee. And equally nervous about buying some kind of custom box from them.

So what are my requirements? I want North American channels, (US/Canada), want to be able to use it with one of my existing media players (an Android based Kindle Fire, or my Asus AsRock Ubuntu Kodi), be able to create favorite lists, preferrably be able to record, and lastly be as simple to use as a TV. Imagine that 🙂

List of types of IPTV I tried

IPTV Express (using APK)
Voodoo (Using Stalker PVR under Kodi)
IPTVsubs (Using a custom Kodi Video add on)
IPGuys (Using Stalker PVR under Kodi)

IPTV Express
So first up I bought a month $15 of IPTV Express. The provider sent me over an Android APK and informed me the best way was to buy a custom media player from him for another $130. The service worked fine (when it worked), quality was really quite good, and selection of channels was broad. The Android app is very basic in that it does not include favorites, and no record capability either. But the real killer (and not in a good way) for this service was that the Android app would not always connect to a channel you asked for. And when it didn’t the best you would get would be a blank screen, however the worst was the app completely hung. Which then left you fumbling for a task manager to kill the app to restart it and try again only to have the same thing happen. To say this was clumsy was an understatement. the app allows you to try the service but is unusable on a daily basis as far as I am concerned. I would not unleash this frustration on my family. So this one is good quality, good channels, unreliable (well the APK is), and for me unusable.

Voodoo and Stalker PVR under Kodi
So next up I found a guy that was offering what he called Voodoo. It connects with Stalker which is an IPTV protocol. It is nicely supported under Kodi. At first I tried to get the Kodi Stalker Video add on working but no joy. I got no where. Then I found there was an IPTV PVR add-on within Kodi on Windows that worked and connected. Even giving an electronic program guide so you know what’s playing when. The service is locked to a MAC address but this is not a physical MAC address but a software based one. And the nice thing is the Stalker IPTV PVR add on allows you to specify the MAC address meaning you can use the service across multiple devices (although be careful to not use it at the same time or you could cause issues. Two computers with the same MAC address is a VERY bad thing).

The occasional channel did not come up but when it did not come up it just came back and you could choose another one, no muss no fuss.

I was able to get the Stalker IPTV PVR working on Windows, iOS (iPad) and Android easily. To get this working you enable TV, then it complains there are no PVRs enabled, so you enable and configure the Stalker one:
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Within Ubuntu Kodi it was a little more challenging. It turns out the Stalker client is not loaded. In fact no PVR services are loaded so you can not even enable TV. It just hangs. From the command prompt I had to run:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install kodi-pvr-stalker

I also had to upgrade to Kodi 16 to get TV running under Ubuntu.

Under iOS on my iPad I was able to get it running but only the first time. Subsequent attempts to get it running crash Kodi and there was no way back other than uninstalling Kodi and reinstalling. A real pain on iOS.

But low and behold it’s up and running. And probably one of the best IPTV experiences I have seen to date! It even works correctly with the channel up and down of my Windows media center remote running under Ubuntu/Kodi allowing a real feel channel surf! You can even pause live TV.

Cost wise it’s: $15 for 1 month, $40 for 3 months , $75 for 6 months, $140 for 12 months. The guy I bought it prefers eTransfers. This is the guy I bought from. The content (for now anyway) is coming from iptv.tecfront.ca.

IPTVsubs (using custom Kodi Video add on)
Next up a colleague pointed out IPTV Subs. This company also has a free trial day and the cost going forward is $13 US. In this case there is actually a real company your dealing with. This one was a little confusing but in the end you have to add a source to Kodi. This source has the zip file that is a custom video add on. Then you install the repository. Lastly you install/enable/config the video add on.
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There is no PVR for this option which means you can not record. On the positive side you do get video on demand using this method.
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The channel offerings from this provider are broad and include a good number of Canadian and American channels. Quality is very good. I found it sensitive to what was going on with my internet connection, more so than the others I tried. Selecting channels works and has a nice GUI. It does not work with the channel up and down button on my remote so not a true channel surf. And to make matters worse when you select a channel there is about a 10 second delay before anything happens , then another 15 seconds before the channel shows up. That first 10 seconds leaves you wondering if it’s hung. And the next 25 just seems like forever.

I was able to get the video add on running on Windows, Ubuntu/Kodi, Android and iOS. It was solid.

IPGuys (Using Stalker IPTV PVR Under Kodi)
Next up I played with IPGuys. This service setup exactly like Tecfront, a Stalker IPTV PVR under Kodi. I encountered some issues at first in that Kodi was not reloading the channels and groups from scratch. It turned out I had disabled that so I could remove channels I didn’t want. So I had to go back and re-enable that and then clear the channel data from the Setting TV section of Kodi. Once done the channels showed up. The guide however was more stubborn and would not load on my Ubuntu/Kodi box. I was able to get the guide going under Windows so it’s not a service issue. There are lots of HD channels under this service and quality seems good. Initial load time on Kodi was noticeably slower and I noticed a slight lag between the audio/video. I would say around 1/10th of a second. Not huge but there if you looked. Channel surfing worked beautifully. This is again another highly usable service. I’m convinced the guide is a Ubuntu/Kodi issue.

I briefly played with Star TV which worked fine on the Avov box and their set top box emulator but I could not get it to work under Kodi IPTV Stalker PVR. No idea why.

April 18, 2016 Posted by | Android, Mutlimedia, Other reviews | 4 Comments

Denon AVR S700W review

I’ve been using an older Panasonic SA HE70 receiver for a while now. It was a piece of crap, but then it was given to me so I guess I got what I paid for 🙂 So when I went looking for a new one I started out with a list of features I was looking for. I am looking for an HDMI 5.1 receiver with lots of network connectivity. WIFI is fine but I would prefer wired. Bluetooth would be nice. DLNA and Airplay would be awesome. iPhone support is a must.

So I found this device and it seemed to hit on all my needs.
The front panel is a fairly generic receiver with a nice bright easy to read display. There are convenient front panel HDMI connectors as well as USB for iPhone/iPod/USB flash drives.
AVR-S700W
The back panel reveals the flexible input and output of this receiver.
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The unit comes with a basic remote. It does not have any learning capabilities.
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Denon have created a Android and iOS app to act as a remote control that is a nice touch. Not perfect but given it’s a free app it’s a nice to have.
denon

For a complete list of specs check out the Denon web site.

Setup of all of the features can be done on the small screen of the receiver or it can output to the HDMI port which works very well and makes it easy.

A receiver is dominated by the inputs and outs and I will start with that as a focus.

Speaker wise the unit supports everything from stereo setups to 5.1 to 7.2, so it can grow with you as you add more speakers. The unit comes with a microphone you move around the round to calibrate the unit to your room. Well done, and simple to use. It was so well done it detected I reversed the polarity on one of the speakers. Wow.

Let’s start with the AM/FM receiver. This is very basic. It doesn’t even support RDS which is a disappointment. It does have presets which you can manually name (since there is no RDS support).

HDMI is the center of this receiver’s universe. And from this point of view this one is pretty basic. It supports 5 inputs and 1 one output. Don’t look for anything fancy, no picture in picture etc. And only one output. All in all it works and simply switches from numerous HDMI sources. But I ran into the first issue. My Ubuntu-Kodi system had issues with the Denon, the playback kept loosing sync. After a bunch of trouble shooting I found I needed to change the refresh rate to 60 from 30 and the issue was solved. And then I bumped into issue number two. Very poor power management. You would think that if the input source went to sleep that the receiver would also go to sleep. Well not only does the receiver not go into sleep, but even once the source goes to sleep it keeps the TV from going to sleep indefinitely. Pooh. The only solution I have found is to turn the receiver off manually. I eventually discovered that this was the default and you could change it so that it went to sleep automatically in the Settings, general, eco auto standby. Sweet problem solved.

They have cleverly put the receiver into pass through mode when you turn it off passing through whatever was the last input. At last a positive in this space.

When the receiver is on audio to the TV is turned off. They also designed in a TV input so you can take the sound from the TV into the receiver. This can be either SPDIF optical or coax. Perfect and exactly what I wanted.

Network wise the receiver can be connected by either WIFI or wired. Setup was easy. Once setup the receiver can update it’s firmware from the internet. Once connected to the network you now have a couple of additional input options including Airplay (for iPad/iPods) and DLNA for Android. Both only work for audio. But you do get a nice album cover showing you what is playing. There is no support for Airplay or DLNA video. Airplay/DLNA is initiated from the Phone and the receiver switches over automatically once the connection is started.

The receiver also supports Bluetooth and can remember numerous Bluetooth devices. Upon selecting Bluetooth from the remote the receiver will attempt to connect to the last device that connected. Initial pairing is done by putting the receiver in pairing mode. Once paired and playing you get a description of what is playing but no cover art. The receivers remote can be used to control the Bluetooth connected device for play/pause (enter button) and forward/reverse (up and down arrow). Control can also be done on the phone. Manually connecting the phone to the receiver from the Bluetooth menu then switches the receiver over to Bluetooth and away you go. It’s actually well done. I can’t think of how it could have been done better (other than cover art missing).

There is a front panel USB for connecting your iPhone or iPod. The playback can then be controlled by either the receiver or the iPhone/iPod. On screen you get a nice menu showing you what’s playing along with cover art. The port can put out 1A so should also be able to charge your iPad/iPhone.

There is also a front panel jack for HDMI input. Handy for occasional use.

When playing music the sound comes out only from the front speakers and subwoofer just the way it should. You can control special effects which then start using the other speakers to create the effect but frankly these always seem hokey to me.

Missing from the back panel of the unit is any form of switched or unswitched AC receptacles. In the old days we would use this to turn the cassette deck on and off when the receiver turned off (no I won’t mentioned 8 tracks or vinyl which is making a come back).

The unit also includes built in the ability to do online music from internet radio, Pandora, flickr, Sirius XM, etc.

So all in all some disappointments, but overall it does what I need it to do and given the cost is worth the money. And a huge step forward from the Panasonic.

February 14, 2016 Posted by | Android, iPhone Stuff, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blackberry Blend (mini review)

A while back I played with Blackberry blend on my Q10 which at the time was a new feature. Blend allows you remote access to your HUB, contacts, calendar and files on your Blackberry Q10 and Passport over the cell or WIFI network. Blackberry quietly added clients for iOS (iPad/iPhone), and Android. Blackberry Blend is also part of the standard desktop software on PCs and Macs. What this means is you can remotely access your hub and type corporate emails, answer text, BBMs etc from whatever device is in front of you. There’s a bit of setup that needs to be done on both the blackberry and on the client you want to use, but once setup it is pretty easy to use. You will need to know your Blackberry id that your Q10/Passport is using. I am pretty impressed with how well this works. Wow … Check it out!
Screenshot_2016-02-05-14-59-09

February 5, 2016 Posted by | Android, Blackberry 10 | Leave a comment

Black listed phones (quick post)

A while back the government forced, at the carrier level, enforcement that if a phone that was listed as stolen tried to be used that it be denied service. This is called a black list. The problem is that onus is on the buyer to insure that when purchasing a used/refurbished phone that is not on the black list. I recently bought a refurbished phone from BestBuy auctions, now called 2nd turn. When I tried to get it on the network it simply reported no service. Upon contacting Fido I found to my horror I had been sold a black listed phone, by a reputable organization. Now clearly Fido/Rogers has this new process in place. I can only assume others like Bell/Telus etc do as well. So if you are buying used/refurb’d phones beware. If you were to buy one on Craigslist for example you would have absolutely no recourse. Be sure and check that the phone is on a network before you leave the sale. You can also check the IMEI (the phones serial number) in the database on a site like IMEIData.

February 2, 2016 Posted by | Android, Blackberry 10, iPhone Stuff, iPhone/iPad, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fitibit Charge review

I’ve done a bit of a tour around the Fitbit family but had skipped this one … until now. I liked the Fitbit Charge HR but it was expensive and I found the underside of the watch uncomfortable for everyday wear. The heart rate monitor while a nice add was not that accurate and Fitbit did little with the HR data (think data rich, information poor). I like the Fitbit Flex and with the introduction of auto sleep it made me reconsider it (I sold my last one). For me it was a toss up between rebuying the flex and trying the Charge. Given I hadn’t reviewed the Charge the decision was an easy one.

The Charge is for all purposes a freshened Flex. Frankly I am not sure why Fitbit keep the Flex in the market. That said there are a number of differences between the Flex/Charge …

Physically the charge uses the same silly band that the Flex uses. I REALLY wish Fitbit would use more of a traditional watch band like they do on the Surge. This band is clumsy and likely the number one reason people stop using this device after a while.
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The band is not easily replaced (if it’s even possible) and the Charge is available in different sizes (at time of purchase). And when Fitbit say small, they REALLY mean it this time. The small just barely fits me (and I have small wrists), it is on the very last holes and is still snug. So don’t buy the small unless your sure. Fitbit say 14-16.5cm. On the flex they ship it with both a large and a small band and you can remove the tracker easily from the band. No such luck on the Charge so make sure you get the size you need. Fitbit still have not added any kind of a safety in case the band comes undone. At least when I lost my Fitbit One they replaced it free of charge. I use a small string (it’s a lanyard) between the two parts of the band as a safety. There are also small rubber bands you can get on ebay that also try and help secure the catch …
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Doing the band up takes a bit of patience and is best done when you have time, ie not in a rush. As in the past the Fitbit app does not inform you if it looses contact with the Fitbit (ie it fell off).

The underside of the charge is much more smooth than the Charge HR so more comfortable. The underside is where you find the proprietary charge port. The electronics form a solid piece on the bottom. While not as uncomfortable as the Charge HR, it still could be better. Like most fitbits it tends to catch on shirt sleeves. Add in winter jackets and fleeces and the Charge can get positively driven (exaggeration obviously) into your wrist. There have been times it has totally infuriated me. I have no idea why they insist on make the edges of the device so sharp and square. It’s this shape that makes it so easily caught on sleeves. If they would just add round edges on the sides it would be SOOOOO much better.

Battery life according to Fitbit is 7-10 days.
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Like all Fitbits the Charge allows activity tracking of steps (which gets translated into Calories/distance and active minutes). It also adds back stair tracking. Oddly I walked up 6 floors and it didn’t increment at all. The next day I walked two floors and it got that right. So I am not sure if the Charge was stuck or what.

Fitbit wisely added automatic sleep tracking. This was plum annoying on the Flex as you tapped the thing a bunch of times until it blinked in a particular way to indicate you were starting sleep and same to end sleep. And manual entries lead to missed entries. So I am happy to see this add (it was also added to the Flex). In addition to hours of sleep you also get a coarse view of quality of sleep, time as well as average hours of sleep. Good enough for what I wanted. I do not see a way to manually start and stop sleep any more. The one thing missing is the ability to manually add notes about your sleep. You could use these to determine (or explain) reasons for not sleeping well, and maybe learn something from it. As usual data rich, information poor.
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One of the major differences between the Flex and the Charge is the addition of a display. In this case it’s a small, but bright display. You can use it as a watch. You can choose from a few different watch displays:
Screenshot_2016-01-06-12-26-35
The Charge attempts to detect when you rotate your wrist to read the display or you can tap the side button (which is a bit awkward). Oddly there is no easy way to turn this on/off for sleep and it is not automatically detected. I found the display came on as I tossed and turned through the night. Irritating. This was so bad I gave up and turned it off from within the Android app. This issue is such that the display is somewhere between less useful than it could have been and totally useless.

Using the button you can toggle between all the activity data for the day. Within the app you can choose what is available in the list and what order they are in.

As with all Fitbits there’s also integration with the likes of Endomondo. Your steps are pushed to Endomondo, and you can have Endomondo push back workouts to Fitbit so on either site you can get a complete picture of your workouts.

The android app is reasonably well done. There isn’t a lot of visual fluff in the app but what you need is all there.

As the Charge gets close to needing recharged (whatever close means) you will get a notification/email to tell you to charge it. No idea how much notice this will give you. There is no way to check the battery from device itself. And if you have all day sync turned off the battery will ONLY be checked when you manually sync the device which will further delay the notification you will get about the battery getting close to dead. All in all this is poorly done IMHO.

The Charge added the ability to get a vibration when there is an incoming call, but this is really poorly done. You get one vibrate and then the display lights up telling you who is calling. And that’s it. So if you miss the first vibrate, tough, and there is no way (that I can see) to redisplay the notification. And no notifications for anything else (not for texts, emails nada). Of course, there’s an app for that 🙂 BitTicker that works well. At least for now. Given the level of integration with the Fitbit App I wouldn’t be surprised to see it break in the future. This app is positively brilliantly done, brilliantly executed, and adds a whole new reason to wear the fitbit (secondary notifications from your phone). There are a few steps to get it setup, and the app guides you through them. You then go in an select the apps you want the Fitbit to vibrate on and that’s about it. It just works! And you do not need all day sync on for notifications to come through. I’m sure there will be an impact to battery life but for the added functionality it is well worth it. Why Fitbit didn’t include something like this is beyond me. Heck go buy the company that makes it …

As in the past the Fitbit will not tell you when you have been inactive for too long. A feature long missing on Fitbits. There is an app for that Bactive, but this ONLY works if you have All day sync on.

From either the app or the portal you can add food consumed to get a picture of calories in/out.

I still do not see a way to pause the fitbit while doing activities like cycling, snowboarding etc.

I was doing reading and constantly saw references to MobileTrack which is supposed to allow you to use your phone to track steps if you left your tracker at home … Don’t bother the list of supported phones for this mode is very low.

I also saw mention of the ability to adjust your stride length to make the calculation of distance more accurate. On Android this can only be done on the Fitbit website. (Settings, Personal Info, stride length).

So that’s about it. The Charge is a very good device, a nice evolution from the flex, with lots of unrealized potential and some minor irritants. If the price difference between the Flex and Charge is small go with the Charge otherwise just get the Flex (unless stairs climbed is important). The addition of secondary notifications

January 14, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivoactive review

I last reviewed the Fitbit Surge and while there is lots to like, it just wasn’t good enough for me to keep and wasn’t comfortable enough as an everyday wearable. So this one caught my eye. GPS City had refurbs on for a reasonable price so I decided to take the plunge. I first have to sit back and scratch things about what is it I am looking for in a wearable? Activity tracking (steps, sleep etc), secondary notifications, great battery life (5-7 days), and if it has some fitness elements all the better. A heart rate monitor on the device is a nice to have as long as it can connect to heart rate monitor somehow.

Let’s get the worst of this device up front. The screen on this device is bad. If you read any reviews on the device it gets maligned constantly for the screen and it has been well earned. It is dull at the best of times. Readable only in reasonable lighting/sun otherwise you have to use the back lighting. And the device could be hugely improved if Garmin focussed on the back lighting. The controls of the back lighting are awful. It makes no attempt to detect your hand moving to automatically turn on the back light. And the default timeout on the back light (which mercifully can be changed) is a ridiculous 8 seconds. What all this means is in anything but the best of lighting conditions it takes two free hands to check the time. You have to push a button toturn on the back lighting. Thankfully notifications do wake it up and turn back lighting on. The screen is a color screen but just barely. Don’t be looking for a bright vivid display and in fact don’t even bother with watch faces or apps that use color because it is almost indiscernible.

Ok now thats out of the way lets get on with the rest of my thoughts (assuming you are still reading). Physically the device is uber thin. Shockingly so. It has a nice rubber band that can be relatively easily swapped out and one size truely does fit all. The overall unit is light, comfortable and does not catch on shirt sleeves unlike so many other wearable. Physically speaking garmin did a great job. The device sadly is square. The reality is I prefer round (and I think many others do too). The device is charged with a proprietary dock that includes a magnet that pulls the watch onto the dock (and helps it make firm contact) and keeps it firmly in place. It works well enough. No complaints.

It does steps, and sleep tracking and has a pretty good Android app as well as a very comprehensive portal. I have numerous other Garmin devices so am well versed in the portal. All activities are sync’d wirelessly with your phone. It can also exchange data with both MyFitnessPal as well as Endomondo. Garmin have this pretty well done.
Screenshot_2015-10-30-09-45-06

The device will even remind you when you have been too inactive.

Step wise compared with Google fit on day one:
13710 steps (11.1 km 2048 cals) Vs 11343 steps (5.26km 1898 cals)
on day two
16511 (13.37km 1815 cals) Vs 14310 (5.86km 1544 cals)

Sleep tracking is good enough for me and automatically detects sleep. You can manually edit the times it detects to insure your data is accurate. You get a picture of how sound you slept. All in all it is what I am looking for.
Screenshot_2015-10-30-09-47-33

The device does notifications under Android very well and is completely flexible and tailorable in terms of what interrupts your day.
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The watch itself does not have a heart rate monitor but in true Garmin style can connect to an ANT+ heart rate monitor as well as an ANT+ cadence/wheel sensor. Very nice!

Garmin a while back introduced a concept called ConnectIQ. It allows third parties the ability to develop for their watches. For this device this falls into four categories. 1) Watch faces (over 250 available) 2) Widgets (more than 50 available) 3) Applications (about 90 available) and 4) Data fields (more than 140 available). Widgets are little apps that open up when you swipe the display from the clock and display some content. There is some slight noticeable lag between opening the widget. If there is a lot of data to get like weather for example the delay can be seconds. Not exactly instantaneous. Applications appear in a tiled menuing system allowing extra content. Lastly data fields add additional content you can add to configurable apps like swim/bike etc. The built in apps are somewhat configurable in that you can select the number of data fields and what is in those fields. Unfortunately the smallest number of items you can have on a screen are rows of three making a data fields small and hard to read. Especially if your biking or running while trying to avoid things like, oh I don’t know trees 🙂 Why Garmin did not allow you to have one large item on the screen is beyond me and seems a huge omission.

Text size throughout the watch is quite small which given the grainyness of the screen is an odd choice. And there is no where to change the default text size.

Garmin do include a widget for weather but I couldn’t for the life of me change it to Celsius in spite of following every instruction on how to do it. There’s also a music control widget that works fine but does not display the song being played (Android wear does for example).

There is a neat app that allows you to remember where your car is and then track back to it by pointing in the direction (and telling the distance) to your car. This could also be used for something like hiking. But frankly is pretty much the only way to navigate on the device. Unfortunate. There is no ability to save a waypoint and navigate back to it. Like you can on the Foretrex 401 I use all the time.

I quickly came to the realization that this device would not replace my Foretrex 401 while cycling/hiking. And would not replace my FR70 which I use as a bike computer. It would somewhat replace my Android wear watch. So in the end, I elected to return it while I could. A nice idea, poorly executed.

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Android, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Aukey 5 port desktop charger (mini review)

If your like me you have a selection of devices which need charging. I have a collection of chargers and a AC splitter to keep everything charged. So this device looked like it might be a solution. The device has 1 Qualcomm Certified Quick Charge 2.0 12V/1.5A 9V/2A 5V/2A port and 4 5V 2A ports. It has it’s own built in power adapter all in a compact package. The AC cable on it is a bit short. About the only thing I would complain about the unit. It included an 20AWG 3.3FT Quick Charge Cable. I’ve had issues with some of my devices being picky about chargers, so I tried a bunch of my devices. It worked perfectly with my Asus t100T, T100 Chi, Vivotab Note 8, Dell Venue 8 Pro, BlackBerry Q10, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iPad mini 2 and Samsung S5. Basically it worked perfectly on everything … Not much else to say. It is one of the most flexible chargers I’ve encountered. And with all five ports humming it didn’t even get hot!

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December 15, 2015 Posted by | Android, Blackberry 10, Windows tablets | Leave a comment

Samsung S6 mini review

Back in July I was up for renewal with my cell provider and hummed and hawed between a Samsung S5 and S6. The S6 had some negatives for me which included a nano SIM, no microSD card and a non replaceable battery. I decided to go with the S5. Honestly I have been on it about 5 months now and I am less than thrilled. The waterproof cover over the charging port is just plain irritating. I’d rip it off if I wasn’t hoping to sell it at some point. The silly system that tries to detect if your back cover is on right does not work right and detects at least once a boot. I took the phone back to my provider and basically got no where. The outside edges of the phone are made out of such a soft cheap material the are a scratch and dent magnet. This from a guy that treats his electronics gently and notices every imperfection. The front button seems to constantly wake the phone up in my pocket. And overall there just was not a lot new in the S5 in comparison to the S4 so I have been underwhelmed and irritated.

So my buddy Lance was getting a new phone for his wife and decided to give me a chance to play … Thus you have this review. My time with this device was limited to a few days, so I am not able to get as in depth or as accurate results, thus the mini review.

The S6 is a nice physical package. Really quite different from the past Samsungs (S2/3/4/5). It really looks and feels a lot like an iPhone. You could easily be excused if you looked at it and thought it was an iPhone. Physically:
Galaxy S6 Design: 138g, 143.4 x 70.5 x 6.8mm
Galaxy S5 Design: 145g; 142.0 x 72.5 x 8.1mm
The thinness of the phone is really quite noticeable. It really has a nice, quality, albeit slippery feel in the hand.

The battery drops to 2550mAH in the S6 from 2800 in the S5. An odd direction. A sealed unit (non replaceable battery) usually lets them get more not less battery capacity out of the same space.

Display wise 2540×1440 for the S6 Vs 1920×1080 for the S5, so a pretty big bump in DPI. The display really is quite crisp and vivid, although I have to say I never had any complaints about the S5 anyway. This is more of a spec game IMHO than anything else.

The processor moves to an Octo core from a quad core, but this is really misleading, it really is a dual quad core, one set of quad cores fast and one slow (for standby). Only one of the pairs is running at a time.

I’ve never seen it before but the phone came up with something called tap and go (turns out to be new in Android 5). Turn NFC on your old phone bring it into contact with the back of your old phone and Android transfers all your accounts and settings to your new phone. Sweet. I found it worked somewhat but apps didn’t transfer just account settings. But at least it saves you some time.

The microUSB plug as always can be used as USB OTG for USB flash drives, keyboard/mouse etc.

The phone as usual mounts to Windows as a media device (when plugged in by USB into a computer). I managed to copy 565MB in 85 seconds or a typically slow 6.6MB/s. Given that there is no microSD slot on the system it means transferring your large music collection onto your device is going to take a lot of patience. To put this in perspective if you had a 64G music collection it would take you a whopping 2.7 HOURS to transfer it onto the S6. Sheesh. That’s aweful.

The vibration on the phone is REALLY quite strong compared to past models. A nice welcome improvement.

Lance put on an iSheild glass screen protector. I am impressed with it. It actually feels normal to the touch but you can see the thickness of it compared to other protectors.

The S6, like the S5 etc has Ant+ built in. Yay. I use this for my heart rate monitor on Endomondo.

The WIFI supports both 2.5 and 5GHZ, but I was unable to test out speeds on the network to see if it was using single or dual channel.

I ran into my first MAJOR anomaly with this phone, the app drawer is not sorted alphabetically. Now tocuhwiz has always done this but you had the option to change it back. Well for some odd reason on a lot of the models Samsung have removed the option to change this. There’s lots of chatter around the web about the issue and no fix. Likely a root fix. I did find an app called App Swap that gives a new app drawer that you have a lot more control of. Sadly you can not hide and replace the Touchwiz app drawer on the bottom of the screen so you end up with two app drawers 😦 (Low and behold an update came along to 5.1.1 and the A-Z sorting option is back).

I tried both my MHL adapter from the S2 as well as the one from the S3 onward. The newer one from the S3-S4/note would not fit at all physically. The one from the S2 fit, and charged the phone but no HDMI out so it seems this function does not exist in the S6. Samsung had poorly implemented it in previous devices so not a huge loss anyway. Doing a bit of digging sure enough Samsung come out and flat out say no HDMI output on the S6 😦

The thing the Octo core is suppose to help out is standby power so I decided to have a look at that. First on WIFI. The phone went from 97% to 83% in 12.3 hours or about 1.13%/hr or a projected battery life of 88 hours. Compare this to the S5 with a projected WIFI battery life of 52 hours. This translates into the S6 being 69% lower power on WIFI standby than the S5. This is a HUGE step forward. So it seem like the Octo core is actually helping out. I am shocked. On LTE I was not able to get a really accurate reading due to lack of time with this device but I saw the phone go from 100 down to 96% in 8.7 hours or .5%/hr, projected life of 218 hours. So it seems like, just like on the S5, Samsung have heavily optimized LTE standby power. A welcome improvement. It’s worth noting that my error would be as high as +- 50%. Which would lower projected life down to 145 hours, but either way it is very good.

The factory charger output has both 9V 1.67A or 15 Watts and 5V 2A 10 watts. This is the first time I’ve seen this. They call it an adaptive charger.

Using a normal 5V 2A charger the phone went from 55 to 93% in 60 minutes or around .6% per minute which extrapolates to around 150 mins from dead. Compare this to the S5 which did about 1% per minute or about 96 mins from dead.

Now let’s look at Samsungs Fast, adaptive charging. As noted earlier the adapter on this one is quite different. You even get a notification that a fast charger has been plugged in when you use the default charger. The phone went from 69% to 96% in about 35 mins. After 96% it seemed to level out the charge rate. That would give it a charge rate of .8%/hr or an extrapolated from dead charge in 130 mins. The adaptive charger seems slightly faster (150 mins Vs 130) but that’s hardly enough to justify buying new chargers.

I had no issue finding a cheap unlock code ($19) on ebay. Oddly when I unlocked it the phone reset and everything I had done on WIFI was gone (with no warning). Now this could have also been to do with the SIM change but either way, not good.

I tried the phone with my Qi wireless charger (an Itian 3 coil) and it worked perfectly (albeit a slow charge but this is normal).
51WiGIeRF7L._SL1000_

Samsung have gone backwards and put back the standard micro USB port (the S5 was the micro USB 3). Given the slowness of data transfer noted above this is no loss. That and they did not implement a higher current charger on the S5 anyway.

Samsung introduced a new color for this device, gold. And I have to say it really is quite pretty. Very girly :). Oddly at least now, it seem to only be available in a 32G model (in gold).
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The back of the phone has a nice glass/mirror finish to it. And man is it a magnet for finger prints. It is just never clean and always looks grimy.

In my short time with this phone I have to say I am impressed. The S6 is actually a lot better than the S5. And it would seem when I chose to go with the S5 I made the wrong choice. Quite a nice device! Special thanks to Lance for letting me play, and his wife for having patience waiting for her new toy!

November 30, 2015 Posted by | Android | Leave a comment

Data interoperability

If your like me you use a number of different gadgets and apps meaning your exercise data is spread out across a number of different platforms. Fortunately a number of companies have started to work on creating data bridges rescuing your all important data from being stranded on a island or stuck in the hotel California. Figuring all these inter connectives can be neither obvious nor simple. And if your not careful, you create a situation where exercise data gets counted once, or twice in the same portal. Manually exporting and importing exercise entries is sometimes possible (and sometimes not) but is inconvenient at best.

Getting all your data in one place allows weekly/monthly summaries to give you a clearer picture of how active you’ve been. But this is a lot harder than it ought to be. And thus this post.

I mountain bike, cycle, walk a fair bit, and do some hiking. Being the gadgeholic I am (and no I don’t need help :)) here is my basket of tools. From an app point of view I use:
Endomondo as my primary exercise tracking tool.
MyFitnessPal for tracking food data.
RunGPS is the best app for hiking in that it includes the ability to navigate back to way points and do point to point routing. (My Review)
Google Fit is a necessary evil of Android wear and includes a pedometer that can be used with or without a watch. (My review)

From a Gadget point of view I use:
Garmin Foretrex 401 whenever I cycle as well as canoeing etc. It supports full navigation back to waypoints as well as supports ANT+ cadence and heart rate sensors.
Garmin FR70 with an ANT+ wheel sensor to give me a more accurate display of distance which cycling. I have handlebar mounts for both the Garmin devices. Garmin devices upload only to their portal called Garmin Connect.
Scosche Rythm+ heart rate monitor
I have a Garmin wheel and pedal Cadence sensor that works with both of these devices as well as talks to my phone. Samsung a while back added Ant+ to their devices and I love it. Ant+ supports talking to numerous devices at the same time with one sensor. Sweet!
Samsung S5 is the center of my mobile universe (well it is for now).
Fitbit Surge as an activity and sleep tracker
Moto 360 (first gen) Android wear smartwatch

Below you will see a diagram showing the inter connectivity for these apps/gadgets. I’ve left off Facebook because at this point pretty everyone does Facebook so it just over complicates the diagram. Hope you find this helpful.

data-interoperability

November 4, 2015 Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment