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Windows Mobile 10 review (and a Lumia 625 review)

I’ve been making the rounds on mobile operating systems and this one was on the list to checkout. I last played with Mobile 7.5. I use to be a HUGE Windows mobile fan. Back in the days (I loath that phrase, what/when does it exactly mean? And why has it all of a sudden become ubiquitous in our culture?) before Android, Windows mobile rocked my digital world. At last a reason had come for carrying around a PDA. Integrating the PDA and a phone and the smart phone revolution was born. Fast forward to today and wow have the tables have turned. To say Microsoft has fallen behind is an understatement of epic proportions and would actually imply they were even trying. I have no idea given the lack of commitment to this space MS have shown why they even bother. One must only look to the current sales numbers to see the state of the current market place. At 2.6% of sales their numbers are low. Amusingly, somehow, selling more than Blackberry.

So on with the post. Windows 10 mobile’s idea is to create a common fabric across your digital devices. Why should you have to learn a different interface moving from your desktop, to your tablet to your phone. Microsoft even took the ludicrous step to continue this common interface into the server market with server 2012. That said, it is an interesting idea. As usual the devil will be in the details.

I snagged a Lumina 625 to write this post. This phone is a cheap, plastic, heavy, low end, old phone. I won’t waste a lot time in this post talking about this device. Suffice it to say, you get what you paid for which in my case was very little. If you are really interested here’s a complete list of specs. The diminutive processing power of this phone unfortunately is likely going to color my opinion of Windows phone 10.

Windows 10 phone technical preview is very much in beta mode. If you sign up for it you can enter two rings, a slow and a fast ring. The fast ring gives you access to the latest and greatest current versions of everything. The cost is frequent updates and less stable code. And to say this is unstable (on this phone anyway) is putting it mildly. I’ve had more lock ups in the last 24 hours with this device than in the 2 years. Battery life is equally bad. So be careful before you put this on your main phone. A point they warn you about repeatedly, and they really do mean it.

To upgrade this device (or any others) you strangely first need to upgrade the phone to the latest Windows 8 mobile operating system. This took forever on this device. Numerous upgrades, numerous reboots and a ton of time. It seems that the upgrades were not roll ups or comprehensive upgrades. It really took a HUGE amount of patience. Something I am not known for. Once the phone was finally current I could find Windows Insider in the Windows store. This app then easily and quickly allowed me to upgrade to Windows 10 mobile. Here’s an article on the upgrade/downgrade process.

With Windows 10 on the phone I can finally start playing. Windows 10 mobile definitely has a similar feel to Windows 10 on a laptop/tablet but the similarities come quickly to an end. Gestures like swiping to the side to see running apps, swiping down to close an app and the like all do not work on the phone. There is a look and feel, but it’s more like a skin than anything else.

Each of the builtin apps in Windows mobile are separate from the operating system and can be upgraded at any time. Microsoft have really taken this to a whole new level. What this means is once the operating system is updated then there are a ton of little app upgrades to further test your patience.

The phone only supports one userid at a time, even on Windows 10.

The built in apps for messaging, and calendar both work perfectly with google apps. A great thing given there are no google apps on the platform.

The music app (Groove Music) took a VERY long time to scan through my music collection. Reminded me of the early days on Android. Once scanned the app worked just fine.

I found most of the metro apps I like on my tablet installed and worked on the phone. A point that shocked me. Oddly Navmi (a GPS in car navigation app) would not. And some of the apps on the phone for some reason do not auto rotate even ones that do on my tablet.

Windows 10 phone brings in the new web browser Edge which means history and passwords saved on your desktop follow you onto your phone. But don’t look for too many more levels of cross device integration. Rumors are that Microsoft is working on the ability to send texts from your desktop, something Apple already does. No sign of that yet. Microsoft really need to come up with a sales proposition to tell someone why if they have Windows at home on there desktop/laptop why they want it on the phone. Being device agnostic is really becoming expected and it largely is not here (yet) on Windows 10 mobile.

There is a wallet app but there are so few plugins that support it as to be useless (well for now anyway).

Endomondo is surprisingly there, and it supported my Scosche bluetooth heart rate monitor. Yay! There is even a Fitbit app but I couldn’t get it to connect to my Charge in spite of everything I did. I was even was on a 1 hour tech support call with Fitbit to no avail.

Windows is all about live tiles. Live tiles put active data inside a square shape. There are three sizes of Live tiles. Wide which leave takes up a double width and on this phone leaves room for 3 tiles on the screen. So pretty uselessly large. Square which leaves room for 6 on the screen. And small which is so little room for anything active except maybe notification counts. As on the tablet Microsoft did not include a live tile for things like clock, current battery state etc. Fortunately there are apps for that, one of the few times you will here that on Windows mobile. Microsoft really need to add another in between tile size.

As instantaneous as everything is on iPhones, Windows is anything but, especially on Windows 10 mobile. Now there maybe a ton of debug code still around on Windows 10 mobile but for now I would not recommend Windows 10 mobile on the Lumina 625.

Microsoft maps app includes live turn by turn direction and worked fine as did it’s built in search.

In the end, too quickly really, I had to give up on Windows 10 on this phone. It constantly locked up, would have required me to carry around a lead acid battery to keep it charged and would have required more patience than I have to live on given the lags in the system.

So on with the downgrade process as documented above. All in all this process is pretty simple. Download the app, download the ROM for your phone (1.5G by the way) and away you go. The phone is wiped in the process. And for me, in the process the downgrade died. I was starting to worry I had bricked it. Smartly there is a built in emergency mode that resurrected the phone, and put Windows 8 back on the phone. And then, to my chagrin, I discovered the image from Microsoft was as old as the way the phone started with and I was back to doing the HUGELY burdensome, multi upgrade process. And for many hours of this process my phone was unusable. Being unplugged causes me twitches 🙂 I am a gadgeholic after all. Come on Microsoft, upgrade your base image … PLEASE. Many many hours later I finally had the phone back and could restart all my configs and install. To say this process is time consuming is like saying a Sumo wrestler is heavy … 🙂

So I had fun, burned a ton of time, consumed a bunch of patience … And onward we go in life.

February 8, 2016 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | 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.
Screenshot_2015-10-30-10-09-58 (1)>

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

Fitbit Aria scale review

This review will be short and sweet. Mostly because there isn’t a lot to this product, it just works. The Fitbit Aria scale is a WIFI enabled, battery powered digital scale. Setup is relatively simple with one major catch, the setup would not work on Windows 10. There is a web based setup but I couldn’t get that to work. So I dug out an antique of mine that just happens to still have Windows 7 on it and in no time flat the scale was setup. You start the app on your PC, put that batteries in the scale (which puts it into setup mode), and away it goes. There is a button on the bottom of the scale you can push with a pin to also reset the scale (this doesn’t seem to be documented anywhere). You will need to know your WIFI password, and you need a Fitbit account. There is no interaction with the Fitbit mobile app (on Android). And the mobile app does not even show your weight results.

Once setup it is ready for the first user and can be used by guests anytime. Guests results show up on your web portal under the measurements recorded for the device. For registered users the scale is able to use the info you have entered on the portal for your height etc and it also comes up with a number for your body fat% as well as your body mass index (BMI). For guests, since it does not have any info on them, all you get is the weight. You can see the exact date and time a measurement was done. It is always recommended you weigh yourself at the same time each day. Your weight can vary 5 pounds or more throughout the day. On the portal you can delete errant measurement easily, and even move guests entries into registered users.

From the web portal you can also invite others to use the scale. They will need a Fitbit web account. The web portal also displays the firmware of the scale, current battery state etc. You can set the scale for pounds/kg also from the portal.

As time goes on you will get a graph of your weight along with a statement of whether you are up or down from last month and by how much.

You do not need a phone to use this device (and in fact as stated earlier, for now anyway, the mobile app seems to for the most part ignore the scale other than list it in your devices). You do not need a Fitbit activity tracker either …

That’s about it. It just works. If your going to buy a digital scale anyway, might as well get one of these! They look stylish, and are easy to read.

As always Fitbit support is second to none. I had issues with my first scale and Fitbit replaced it quickly and efficiently. I had similar experiences with Fitbit support.

51L3aPTJNWL._SY355_

December 27, 2015 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | 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

Fitbit Surge review

I have been looking at these for a little while, it peaks my curiosity. It has a lot of potential like a lot of these new wearables have. But more often than not this potential is not realized. At this point I have played with numerous Android wear devices most recently the Samsung Gear Live, as well as the Moto 360 but in the end the battery life on them sucks. If your lucky you get through a day by not touching the watch. Both have pedometers (but sadly Google fit remains an island of data that you can’t get off) as well as heart rate monitors (though wildly inaccurate, especially on the moto 360). I do love the ability to constantly change the watch faces (on Android wear). I’ve also played with a Garmin Forerunner 305 as well as Garmin Foretrex 401 (still my favorite device and I don’t go out for a mountain bike ride without it) and lastly Garmin Forerunner FR70. Fitbit wise I’ve played with the One, Flex and lastly Charge HR

So with these experience points in mind I was interested to see what this device could do. For another point of view be sure and checkout DC Rainmakers review of this device.

My firmware is at 16.34.5.14.

Ok probably best to start out with what can’t this device do. It might rule it out for you right off the bat.

1) It can not connect to a Bluetooth heart rate monitor for more accurate exercise tracking. Wrist based heart rate monitors are not always the most accurate.
2) It can not be used to navigate even though it has a GPS. The GPS is used ONLY to log where you have been and calculate distance. By the way in a sport like mountain biking where you are doing a lot of twisting and turning GPS distance can be off quite significantly (compared to a wheel sensor), like 10-20%. It has to do with how frequently it samples the location.
3) The heart rate monitor on the watch can not pass heart rate data to anything other than FitBit app
4) you can not customize the watch face (outside of the watch faces provided). And no where does it tell you the current temperature (passed from the phone or otherwise).

So what can it do. Let’s start with the basics. It can do basic watch functionality including clock, date, timer, stop watch and alarms, all of which can be done on the watch itself except the alarm. Alarms can only be set on the web or the App.

It can also do everything the Fitbit Charge can do including continuous heart rate monitoring as well as exercise heart rate monitoring (more on this later), steps taken, floors climbed, auto sleep, etc. all the usual activity tracker functions.

This device also has a built in GPS which you can use in outdoor activities (hike, bike and run) to track your route etc.

There are also modes for indoor sports (non-GPS) including generic exercise (based on heart rate), elliptical, spinning etc.

On paper the device sounds like it is a jack of all trades. As always the devil is in the details so let’s jump into the details.

I’ve had a ton of experience with wrist based optical heart rate monitors from the Mio link to Android wear’s heart rate monitor. And if there is any constant its that for me, they all suck. Really badly. But then again maybe what is needed isn’t new tech but a level shift in expectations. If you focus rather on a point analysis of the heart rate data (which more often is an act of fiction) but instead on averages then maybe you have a more realistic expectation. And at the end of the day what really matters from a calorie count point of view is not high/low etc, it’s about the average. And if you can swallow this sad reality (these wrist based heart rate monitors are not that accurate) then maybe there is a place in this digital world for these devices.

Let’s start out with the display. This is a backlit LCD display making it a much better device for battery life and outdoor viewing when compared with the more traditional smart watch. And easily readable in the dark as well. The backlight can be set to off (for sleeping), on, and auto. In auto mode it attempts to detect when it’s needed. And if your sleeping that could be while you are tossing and turning. And in the dark if you turn the back lighting off your out of luck. You will need to wait until you get into the light to turn it back on. Why Fibit didn’t turn the back lighting on when you press the home button is beyond me. An over sight for sure.

The battery gauge is small and not the easiest to read. On the portal and the app all you get is a high medium or low for the battery. So it’s not easy to know just how much juice is left 😦 Fitbit make no attempt to tell you anything other than your battery is low charge it soon.

The experience (as a daily watch) is mired by a HUGE bezel as well as a shockingly poorly designed watch face featuring a small time display (on the default watch face) leaving a TON of wasted space on the wrist. The screen isn’t that big to start out with and to waste even a cm of it is a crying shame let alone how much of this watch face is often unused. This is a HUGE disappointment. And what a crying shame. Let’s put some numbers so you get a feel. The watch has a hard profile on your wrist of 33mm x 62mm. The screen itself is 20mm x 25mm. The default watch face shows the time in a 5mm x 10mm. So it utilizes 50/500 or 1/10th of the real estate. Ridiculous, and with an aging population whose eye sight including mine is fading fast. And if you take the whole profile it is using 50/2046 or 2.5% of the space. Silly. And it is really obvious when you see it on the wrist. I won’t say it looks bulky but to say it looks elegant would be a HUGE over exaggeration even to geek like me.
apple-watch-and-surge

You have a total of 4 watch faces to choose from.
Screenshot_2015-10-10-08-23-03
With the largest possible time display it’s 25mm x 8mm or 200/500 or 2/5ths of the display. This one is at least readable without my glasses. This is at least something I can hope fitbit will fix in future firmware releases.

Physically the watch is square with sharp edges that love to catch shirt and jacket sleeves. I found this an issue in everyday use as well as with exercise clothes for the cooler weather.

I have a super small wrist for a guy and I bought the small and this time around they really do mean it. It barely fits me. So be careful. I’ve read that the large and the small use the same electronics and just a different length band but can’t confirm that. The band itself is the typical rubbery stretchy band. It does not seem to be easily changed/replaced. Some have reported rashes from it. I found I had a minor irritation after a couple weeks right where the optical sensor is. It’s definitely functional and works fine. At least Fitbit didn’t try and reinvent the watch band unlike others.

On the underside of the device is where the sadly proprietary charge cable connects. Fitbit says 7 days (non GPS), 5 hours GPS battery life with a recharge time of around an hour. A charger is not included. Use a standard USB charger or plug it into your PC.
Fitbit-Surge-Cable-Connected_thumb

The cable is used only for charging and all data transfers are done using Bluetooth. The device supports both older Bluetooth (it refers to it as Bluetooth classic) as well as Bluetooth 4.0. You can disable classic Bluetooth support which likely saves battery life. They also include a bluetooth USB dongle in case your PC does not have bluetooth.

I searched and searched looking for how to do a factory reset of the device. I eventually discovered that pairing the watch with a new phone wipes all data and resets everything. I had to call their tech support to find out this one. And pairing the new device was done from the fitbit app not from the Bluetooth setup screen.

Once setup I was off to go.

The watch is controlled by a series of three buttons and a touch screen. It’s responsive enough and while not always intuitive you can easily get use to the controls.

The watch can do notifications from your phone for text, and phone calls. The notifications are strong and well done. You can drag it down and read the message but there is no ability to respond.

In bike mode (for example) the watch displays distance on the top in a small font, time in the middle in a large font and a selectable field of (current time, heart rate or calories) on the bottom in a small font. Beyond this the fields are not selectable. Garmin does a much better job of allowing the user to put what they want on the screens. Once an exercise tracking is started you can not move to the time display and put the tracking the background. Your stuck on the one screen until your done.

And the absolutely dumbest thing the device continues to track steps even while tracking biking (for example). So I got off my ride and it recorded over 7000 steps and 70 floors. Similarly it continues counting steps while your out running. Both end up double counting work outs. After 8 emails with Fitbit trying to describe to them the issue, I gave up 😦

At the end of the ride you get a on device summary. Very nicely done and probably the first time I’ve seen that.

Wearing the device is comfortable enough to be worn all day and night, and since battery life is multiple days you can use it as a sleep tracker. I did however find that wearing through a 2.5 hour mountain bike ride left my wrist sore from it bouncing around on it. There were no bruises perse.

Occasionally while riding I would compare the heart rate on the Fitbit with that of my Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor (all the while trying to avoid trees 🙂 It’s all fun and games until there is bark on the ground!). The Fitbit was off by as much as 15%. With a max heart rate of 200 on the ride this meant at times it was off by as much as 30bpm. But at the end of the ride the average heart rate over three different rides saw a variance of -2.5%, -1% and -13% or in bpm -4, -1 and -19. Each person has an acceptable amount they are willing to live with from an accuracy point of view. For me 10-15% is not great but not horrible either.

Heart rate data with fitbit is like the hotel California, you can checkin an time you like you can never leave. They do not allow you to export your heart rate data. So getting a clear picture of accuracy is really hard. So what I did was take a screen shot of the heart rate data of the first ride (that was -2.5%) and overlaid the data from my Scosche. It’s the best I can do. The graph actually shows the Fitbit tracked quite well. This is actually mountain biking too so rough terrain.
fitbit-comparison

The second time around not so well. I am not sure if maybe it was looser around my wrist of if the right hand was worse than the left, and this time it was road riding which I would expect to be less challenging given the smoother terrain. This is the graph for the -13% ride.

fitbitoverlay2

Calories is always an odd one. In reality what matters is more about the relative calories than the actual number of calories so you can compare workouts. That said let’s compare the results from the same three different rides. I used Endomondo with a heart rate monitor for comparison. Ride 1 Endomondo 2004 calories Vs the Fitbit at 1240 or a difference of -38%. Ride 2 964 Vs 618 or a difference of -36%. And ride 3 1305 Vs 683 or a difference of -48%.

Distance numbers on all three rides was pretty spot on, so one can say the GPS is accurate. Here is the data:
fitbitcompare

I compared Google Fit running on a Moto 360 Android wear smartwatch with the surge and the number of steps compares well, but the translation to distance and calories is not great.
fit-steps-compare

So to figure out how accurate the Fitbit is I went on a 1.5km walk measured by a GPS. Fitbit recorded it as 1km so it would seem that the fitbit translation into distance is a way off. Sadly I see no where to adjust your stride that would allow you to correct this error.

Wearing it sleeping is also comfortable enough. The backlight kept coming on as I moved around and sadly there is no easy way to 100% turn the screen off. You can manually turn the backlighting off. At the end of your sleep you get a report of how many hours, how it compared to your sleep goal, and how restless your sleep was. On the portal you even get a sleep efficiency (but not on the device oddly). And it doesn’t stop counting steps while your sleeping so you wake up in the morning and it has recorded steps. Last thing I checked I don’t sleep walk so it’s detecting tossing and turning through the night as steps. I also had a restless night where I was awake off and on through the night and instead of giving me a sum of the parcels of sleep I did get it gave me a couple of small sleeps. And this of course throws off the numbers. Less than perfect but not horrible either.
fitbitsleep
Screenshot_2015-10-12-14-11-41

You can swipe and see the current stats for calories burned, current heart rate, steps etc. There is no screen to show constant heart rate, and no where can you see the current altimeter.

My bud setup the Android Fitbit app on his Blackberry Passport and the app works to some extent allowing you sync your steps etc but notifications would not work and regularly the app would complain about missing Google Play services which is a common issue with Android apps on Blackberry.

So in the end I am both impressed and disappointed. As an every day watch I really would LOVE to see better time display. As an exercise tracker it is convenient and acceptably (IMHO) accurate. The exceptional battery life is a huge step forward from Android wear. Is it a “superwatch” as they call it? Well I think that’s a bit of a stretch. And the price tag isn’t cheap for what your getting. But all in all I do like it. Enough to keep it? Hmmmm

October 19, 2015 Posted by | Activity Trackers, Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Garmin FR70

I’ve been eyeing one of these for a while now. If your going to monitor only one thing during exercise, monitoring the heart rate gives you a clear and concise picture of how much you pushed yourself. Average and even max heart rates are key. Seeing your heart rate while you work out can also be helpful. I’ve played with a number of methods on my Samsung Gear live and they have all been clumsy, and have huge effects on battery life. Couple that with the screen on my Samsung Gear Live being hard to read in bright sunlight. Thus my curiosity with this device.

I’ve owned a number of Garmin GPS devices and love them. They work well, are simple, priced reasonably and just work. My device of choice for mountain biking is a Garmin Foretrex 401 which I have had for years and would buy again if it broke tomorrow (let’s hope it doesn’t).

Garmin were pioneers in accepting a wireless tech called Ant+ to connect sensors like cadence, heart rate, foot pods and more. Happily my Samsung Note 3 also has Ant+ support, meaning my phone apps can benefit from these sensors too. And there is an interesting design point that Ant+ can connect to more than one device at a time. So an Ant+ heart rate monitor can connect to my Phone and GPS device at the same time!

garmin_fr70_mens
Physicals
To say that this device is ugly is a cruel reality. It is definitely a purpose built design. The Polar ones are no better. The screen is a simple LCD display making it very easy to read and Garmin included back lighting for reading it in the dark. It is crisp and easy to read. This screen is one of the reasons it gets such good battery life. Garmin claim a year on a replaceable battery. Nice. Buttons are stiff and not the easiest to push. Impossible with any kind of glove. But the unit is waterproof so that’s the price you pay. Garmin chose to use a simple rubber watch band with a large clip as well as a locking mechanism on the loop that catches the end of the band. Why reinvent something that works. And like the rest of the watch, it’s purposeful. I don’t think the watch band is replaceable, or at least not easily.

The edges of the FR70 are all nice and round so that they don’t catch on shirt sleeves. Well done Garmin, learn from others mistakes (like fitbit).

The FR70 like other Garmins uses Ant+ to interface with sensors. It supports not just Garmin but other companies devices too. I was able to get my favorite Scosche Rhythm+ heart rate monitor connected. It also supports foot pods (for running), and cadence sensors for (cycling). Pairing new devices was relatively simple. The menus are not the easiest thing to figure out and are deep, but the manual does help you through it.

Like my Foretrex the screens are completely configurable as to what shows on them and how many fields are on the screen. The device can be set to auto scroll through the pages of displays and you can configure how many screens each sport you set up can have. It’s a little clumsy to setup but once done is informative, simple and well done. Perfect so that when your exercising your not spending time and focus playing with your gadget. A tree will not move just because you took your eyes off the trail to see your heart rate! Go figure.

The FR70 saves all the data and then can use Ant+ to upload to Garmin connect. The Garmin connect portal is simple and easy to use with some ability to export the data as well as some ability to interconnect with other sites like Endomondo. At the end of an activity one of the things missing is a summary. So you will have to upload the data to get that. Unfortunate. Also unfortunate to be tied to computer (using a USB Ant stick) to do that. Ah but wait, your not. If your blessed with a phone with Ant+ built in (and I am, my Samsung Note 3 has it) you can use a paid app Ant Uploader that will interface with the FR70, take the data off and then upload it to Garmin connect, Strava, RunKeeper or SportTracks. Once the data is uploaded you get some nice graphs and stats. Min/Max/Avg etc. Unfortunately none of the official Garmin apps support the FR70 because they all connect over bluetooth not Ant +

Don’t go looking for GPS on this watch, there isn’t one. This is all about being a watch face and logger for Ant+ sensors (like heart rate/foot pod/cadence).

I don’t see a way to turn the display off, or turn the watch itself off for prolonged periods of lack of use (like seasonal use) that might preserve the battery. I also don’t see a way to find out the status of the battery. The manual does say that it warns you when it is low. The unit takes an inexpensive coin CR2032 battery. Replacing the battery seems to be reasonably easy, remove the four screws on the back and your done.

Add an ANT+ cadence and wheel sensor (which I just happen to have) and you can use this device as a cycling computer. It will track your speed, and distance based on the wheel. Which believe it or not is more accurate than a GPS anyway. Very cool.

You can also buy an inexpensive handle bar mount to keep this device in view!
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The watch does have an alarm you can set but no chronometer functions (stopwatch or count down timer).

Oh and in case you didn’t know, cadence (in this context) is the rate of rotation of your bike crank.

That’s about it. The FR70 just works, is well designed, easy to use (once setup) and has some nice connectivity options.

Update: Bike season is now here and I have been using the FR70 on my mountain bike along with a Garmin Cadence and wheel sensor. The watch is a bit finicky in how it connects to the cadence and wheel sensor. I find it best to have the bike moving before I start the watch into bike mode. When I do this it connects well and stays connected. The watch on the handle bar provides a simple accurate speed and distance display while my Foretrex provides me navigation. It really does work well and is easily viewable in all circumstances. And being waterproof I don’t need to be concerned about rain. The calorie count in bike mode is flat our bizarre. On a ride where Endomondo shows 2493, the FR70 shows 228? WTF. I guess I have to spend some time to figure out what I have set wrong. I’ve always known the GPS based distances were inaccurate on windy rides like I do in the forest. It’s one of the reasons I wanted this device. So I did three different rides. I tracked the ride on Endomondo on my Samsung Note 3, as well as on my Foretrex 401 (both GPS enabled) and then compared them to the FR70 with a wheel sensor. Now you have to get the circumference right for the FR70 to be accurate. Comparing distance on Endomondo to the Foretrex (again both GPS enabled) showed a minor variance ~5%. Comparing distance on the FR70 to Endomondo showed an average variance of -20%. Lastly comparing distance on the FR70 to the Foretrex showed an average variance of 17%. I had always found it off by 10-15% compared to colleagues using a wheel sensor so this is pretty much in keeping with what I expected.

Update: I ran into the situation where the memory of the watch was full. Oddly what it did was beep every couple of minutes and give you no hints on how to make space. It actually turned out easy, history, delete old or delete all. I also ran into the situation where the battery was dieing. It stopped being able to transfer off data, and eventually gave me a low battery alert. Changing the battery required removing 4 screws. It needed a watch battery repair size screw driver. The battery inside is a CR2032. The watch has a rubber seal to make it water proof. The seal is loose and very difficult to get it back where it belongs. It should have had some kind of glue to keep it in place. Once the battery was changed the watch remembered everything previously set on it. Which is awesome.

April 2, 2015 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | 1 Comment

UHS SD/uSD cards

The speed of an SD card (or micro SD) is defined by it’s class. Each class means 1MB/s. The fastest class is a class 10 card meaning 10 MB/s. I recently started to notice UHS (stands for Ultra High Speed) on some of the cards with advertised speeds well above 10MB/s and was curious so I did a bit of reading. As usual Wikipedia has an article on it. UHS extends speeds well beyond class 10. So I got my hands on a Kingston Ultimate 64GB (Class 10 UHS-I) microSDXC Card, Up to 90MB/s read, 45MB/s write (SDCA10/64GB) when a friend Lance bought one to put it through it’s paces. This card will present itself as a normal Class 10 card to any system that does not support UHS. In this case you will get speeds close to 10 MB/s. So let’s try it out on some of my gadgets.

Asus Vivotab Note 8 R/W speeds
For reference a class 10 card 9.4/10.3 MB/s
UHS Kingston 18.2/18.1
So clearly it supports UHS but there is a bottle neck. Who knows how the SD card interface was designed but that sounds like a bottle neck inside the system, unrelated to the card itself. Now that said, it’s still almost twice the speed of a class 10 card.

MobileLite G3 USB card reader
Plugged into USB 2 26.6/23.9
Plugged into USB 3 72.1/60.4

Samsung Note 3
For reference a class 4 card 29.6/4.2
UHS 20.2/17.1

Samsung note 8
UHS speeds 13/10
So that’s class 10 speeds with no improvement at all

Asus Transformer
34.8/19.5
A nice little speed boost.

So as you can see, results may vary. So if you are buying one of these, don’t pay a huge premium for the added speed unless you know for sure you are going to get anything from your specific device. I never did get speeds as high as Kingston spec’d it at.

March 9, 2015 Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Garmin Foretrex 401 update

I bought a Garmin Foretrex 40 back in 2009 and it has been my trusted companion on my mountan bike and hikes ever since. I have a handlebar mount that keeps it always in view (this mount can be used on any watch sized device not just garmins).
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I was thinking surely there’s a new gadget to displace this device after all this time? Or surely Garmin has come out with a new device to help me part with some more hard earned cash on gadgets?

So what is it that I use this for? I use it primarily for navigating around places I’ve been before but don’t necessarily know well. I have waypoints for every place I mountain bike. And with 500 waypoints that can be stored, I’m always ensured of having what I need while out on the trail. The unit does not have topographic or trail maps, but this has rarely been a limitation. It connects to Ant+ heart rate and cadence sensors giving you all the data you need. It’s simple and easy to use, and the data can be offloaded easily to Garmin’s portal. While the heart rate and cadence data is not supported you can manually upload the file from the Foretrex to the portal (by pointing at the GPX file on the foretrex). Oddly Garmin do not consider the foretrex a fitness device so they choose to not give calorie counts for this device. Odd. The unit is small enough to be worn on the wrist for canoeing, hiking etc. The AAA batteries make it easy to carry a spare set.

So what’s missing?
There is no link to the phone to allow you to upload your tracks on the Go. You have to use the USB port connected to a computer to pull the data off. The unit has Ant+ so it would have been possible to wirelessly send the data the way the VivoFit does.

There’s no temperature sensor in the unit. A minor nit. No calorie count (as previously mentioned).

The unit supports the Cadence and Speed sensor but basically ignores the wheel speed sensor and gets the speed from the satellites. Garmin’s note on the subject.

Ok so now I started looking to what might be out there. I was shocked first and foremost to see this unit is still being sold. 4 years is an eternity. No new models to replace it. And the only firmware updates in this time has been time zone updates. And add to that every one of Garmin’s newer cycle computers like the Edge 305 have significantly less memory meaning I would have to preload my device with the waypoints I need for the day. Something that is problematic at best. Shy of being SUPER organized.

None of the running focussed GPS watches include navigation back to a waypoint or trail. So these all get dumped. This is a primary function of this device for me.

So what this leaves me with is believe it or not there is no device to replace this with. If it were to break tomorrow (heaven forbid) I would buy the same unit again. Despite it’s limitations is still does exactly what I need. The display screens are highly customizable. Battery life is excellent. GPS sensitivity is amazing. Since the start I’ve found the electronic compass on this device useless (except when not moving and level) and turned it off.

All in all a great device. And one I would still recommend for people to buy today! $189 at GPS city, where I bought mine.

August 25, 2014 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews, GPS Stuff | Leave a comment

Mio Link wrist heart rate monitor

I saw this product recently and it caught my attention. Wrist based heart rate monitors have never been any good. There`s too much going on near the wrist to be accurate. Witness the joke of a heart rate monitor on the Samsung Gear that only works if you sit still and push it firmly against your wrist, useless. Add in activities like mountain biking into the mix and you take a difficult situation and you make it perilous to get reliable date out of. This company seems to be a pioneer in the space so I thought I’d give them a try. If your a skimmer, I would not recommend buying this product. Read on for details.

Physically the device looks like a fitness tracker. It’s an innocuous rubber band. There is only one switch and one LED on it and it blinks different colors based on the zones your heart rate is in. A nice feature. There is an Android app that allows you to tailor your zones. The rubber band includes a locking mechanism that insures it’s snug on your wrist and isn’t going anywhere. Also the loose band can’t get caught on anything. The band comes in two sizes. Based on length I bought the smaller one (I have a small wrist) which turns out to be a mistake. Directly from their manual “If you use Mio LINK for biking, wear it higher on your forearm, since bending of the wrist may affect the heart rate reading. For cyclists or users with concave wrists, try wearing Mio LINK on the underside of your forearm.” Of course I didn’t see that before I bought it. Wearing it on the forearm would take a much bigger strap. And frankly, if I was going to wear it on the forearm I wouldn’t buy the Mio, I’d buy the Rhythm+ from Scosche.
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The electronics can be removed from the rubber wrist band to allow you to clean it as well as replace it. One of the times I was using it I tightened it too much and that caused it to partially come out of the band and thus loose contact with the skin.

Battery life is excellent. I got over 7 1/4 hours on a charge.

The device supports both Ant+ and Bluetooth Low power so you need a newer phone but it can connect to multiple devices at a time. I did run into a problem where my Garmin Foretrex 401 had issues with two Ant+ heart rate monitors (the Mio and my Garmin chest strap) and it kept bouncing between them every second and beeping annoyingly. I suspect that was because I had paired the Foretrex with both. But I was surprised it didn`t lock on one and stay on it. I also had issues staying connected to the Mio in a crowded environment with numerous bluetooth smart devices present.

On a brief walk I compared the Mio with a Zephyr hear rate monitor. I saw constant large differences. I was wearing it on the wrist on my left hand, right side up. The Mio got a (max/avg) 134/107 vs the Zephyr 112/110.5 for a whopping difference of 20/3%. Yikes. Zephyr raw data, Mio raw data.

This caught my attention enough I decided to focus on the reliability of the data. I went out for a mountain biking ride and recorded the data with the same app (RunGPS) with two different phones. I wore the monitor on my left hand, comfortably tight, at the wrist, facing up. I wanted to eliminate the variability of different apps. The data was partially spoiled because for some reason the Mio lost connection with my phone halfway through. This in turn through off the max/min/average and calorie count of the data.

This got me wondering about the accuracy of the Zephyr. So I did a comparison between my Zephyr and my Garmin Ant+ HRM. The Zehpyr data was (Min/Max/Avg/Calories) 55/93/68.8/92 Vs the Garmin at 55/99/69.5/95 for a difference of 0/6/1/3%. So the two chest based devices seem pretty darn close. So then I did a graph of a new data run between the two and found these two compared fairly well. See the graph.
garmin-zephyr
garmin-zephyr raw data

So I did the same basic comparison this time between the Garmin and the Mio. (Worn on the left wrist, upside down, just walking) The data showed a lot more variability from the Mio (in comparison to the Garmin/Zephyr). Stats wise it came up with (min/max/avg) 60/116/73.3 for the garmin Vs 50/121/74 for the Mio for a difference of 17/4/1%.
garmin-mio
garmin-mio raw data
At times the Mio just seemed to completely loose any semblance of accuracy.

I did another one where I was mostly inactive. The numbers came up as (Avg/Max/Calories) 67/124/157 for the Mio Vs 68.9/114/181 for a difference of 3/8%. Here`s the graph comparing data:
mio-garmin-2
mio-garmin-2 raw data

And yet another one, this time with the heart rate monitor on the left facing up.
mio-garmin-3

If this had happened once I would write it off. But it happened numerous times. During riding, walking and even inactive times (just sitting). Now maybe for some people this device works well, but for me it just is not reliable. Maybe it`s my small wrists, maybe my coloring, no idea.

I contacted Mio customer support. They were convinced I had a defective unit, so they sent me another one. It came with basically the same issues (inaccuracies). So I have returned my Mio Link (sadly). Not convinced? Here are a few graphs from the second unit:
mio-new-3
mio-new-4
mio-new5

So in the end the physicals etc are irrelevant (although I must say this is hands down the most comfortable heart rate monitor I`ve ever worn). If you can’t count on the data to be accurate then what in the world would be the point of buying one of these? I have to say I am thoroughly disappointed in this product.

August 15, 2014 Posted by | Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment

Amazon Fire TV mini review

I last reviewed a dual core MyGica android media player. It was good but not good enough. It was slow to scan new content within XBMC, had occasional hiccups on playback etc. Well this time around my friend Johannes who also loaned me the MyGica offered me a chance to play with his Amazon Fire TV. They are not available in Canada right now (hopefully they will eventually be) but you can slip over the border and pick them up for $99.

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Physically speaking this is a simple elegant design. Small enough to be not even noticed. On the front there is but one LED. Nothing on either sides. On the back are the HDMI, USB, barrel power plug, wired network plug can optical output. That’s it.
AmazonFireTV_1
The device is sealed and completely silent. No fans at all. And on playback it really does not get warm at all.

My focus for this device (and this review) is XBMC. I took a brief look at the rest of the Fire TV and it has apps like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon etc I didn’t spend time with them. I did notice a lack of a web browser but I’m sure you could side load one.

Since I had this device for only a short time and did not set it up you will need to look elsewhere to see how to load XBMC etc. That was all done when I got it.

The device is fast to power up with a simple display on the screen while it loads. I attached a Logitech wireless Keyboard and it worked perfectly. The keyboard came in handy for setting up my lan shares that all content was played off of. I used the wired network but there is wireless built in as well.

The remote has a nice solid feel in the hand and is very responsive. And looks simple and elegant. The connection for the remote is bluetooth so you don’t need line of sight for the remote to work. Meaning you could completely and easily hide the FireTV. It has a good quality feel. Thus comes the first hiccup of this device. The small number of buttons on the remote. It has a voice search button that is useful only within the FireTV. I did play with it a bit and it worked quite well. Making the lack of a keyboard less painful. The circle gives you the four buttons and the center ok button you need to primarily navigate around XBMC. Back button also becomes quite needed moving around XBMC. The home button is just plain irritating within XBMC because it keeps taking you back to FireTV menus. And to get back takes a few clicks. So every time in the dark that you hit the wrong button (and the remote’s keys are not backlit) it takes a bit to get back where you last left off before you stupidly pressed the wrong key. The menu key allows easy access to delete content once watched (once enabled within XBMC) as well as finding out movie information, or episode information. And the last three forward, back play/pause. That’s it. What is sadly missing is volume controls. To me this is a HUGE over sight. It means you pretty much have to have two remotes. One for your TV/Audio receiver and the FireTVs. And since the remote is Bluetooth (and no IR) you won’t be remapping a Logitech Harmony to work with the FireTV. Amazon have locked down bluetooth to only there own remotes and game controllers so this isn`t an option either. USB remotes might work if you can find one that the fire support.

Navigating with this remote (qualms aside) is smooth and painless within XBMC. The quad core processor in this puppy really shine through. I was shocked how smooth it was.

Initial scan of my 1TB movie collection took about half an hour but I interrupted it and it restarted so in reality less than that. On my core i5 that takes about 12 mins, and took over 2 hours on the MyGica. So the quad core process really does make a BIG difference (the MyGica as you may recall is a dual core).

Initial Scan of my 252GB of tv shows took about 5 mins. That takes 2.5 mins on my Core i5 and about 5 mins on the MyGica.

Cleaning of the database was a little slow as well but all in all this is acceptable to me. You rarely do a full rescan.

The FireTV outputs to both HDMI and optical all the time making it easy to switch between possible audio outputs.

The power adapter is reasonably small and connects to the fire with a round power cord. The adapter says 16W on it and in the fine print it says it is 6.25V/2.5A. For reference the MyGica was 18W and my Core I5 sucks back about 65 watts. So this device is quite low power and you can see why it does not need a fan to keep it cool!

Movie playback was very good on XBMC 13. I could see nothing to complain about. No hiccups, audio was also perfect. This is a device I could live with for sure.

Once setup there was absolutely no need for a keyboard or mouse within XBMC.

I tried plugging in a Windows media center remote, my personal fav, and sadly it was completely ignored.

Power management of the FireTV itself worked fine, coming in and out of standby quickly, but for some reason my HDMI monitor did not go into low power mode. It just stayed on. Perhaps there might have been a setting to fix that. I ran out of time. The way XBMC had been loaded every time the FireTV came out of low power I manually had to restart XBMC which was clumsy. Oddly there is no power switch on the FireTV, no power button on the remote or any menu item to power off or put the FireTV into standby. Odd. But given the low amount of power it consumes not the end of the day.

Under the covers FireTV is Android. And this device, hands down is the best Android XBMC experience I have seen. With some work to better integrate XBMC and if you could remap that silly home button I could very happily live on this media player and retire my PC as a playback device. All in all for the price this is a VERY impressive device.

June 20, 2014 Posted by | Android, Electronic gadget reviews | Leave a comment