John Galea's Blog

Just another weblog

Nice2 Bone conducting headset (mini review)

These are somewhat of a knock off of more expensive bone conducting headsets like the Trek Aftershokz at about 1/3 the price. The idea of these is to be able to hear music and your surroundings at the same time. Think for example riding your bike in the city. Interestingly they come with a set of ear plugs you can use to block out ambient sound when you want to. These sit just in front of the ear and conduct the sound through the bone rather than the ear drums.

In the back of the unit is where the electronics are. There’s a standard micro USB charge port with a rubber cover to make them more waterproof. Technically it might be possible to swim with them, but I can’t imagine it. There’s a slide switch that will turn the unit off when not in use. An LED to show the connection status, and volume buttons. The location on the volume buttons makes them virtually useless. There are buttons on the side of the headset for accepting calls, push and hold for SIRI (on an iphone) and play/pause. The buttons are not the easiest thing to press and end up pushing in on the head uncomfortably. The design of the over ear hooks means you can wear these with glasses, but as with all of these over ear hooks I find them uncomfortable in short order. Positioning on the cheeks seems to fit quite naturally but move your jaw much and you get a really bizarre almost echo. Sound quality is not great, these will not get confused with a high end headset. They do all in all hold in place with walking. Getting these to coexist with bike helmets, glasses etc will definitely be a challenge.

There’s a band around the back of your head that when adjusted correctly it keeps the headset in the right place, but unfortunately as you move your head up and down, the positioning on the head moves and I found the ear getting pinched.

These headsets can be paired with multiple phones at once, always a nice touch. They are compatible with the iPhone battery status app so you can see how charged your headsets are at any time. According to their web site the headsets should get 5.5 hours of streamed music, so pretty on par with most bluetooth headsets.

In the end there is not a chance I could wear these for any period of time.


September 28, 2017 Posted by | Other reviews, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

8 Cups digital water bottle

My sister got given this at a conference and wasn’t sure what to do with it so she gave it to me to play. So what the heck is this thing? A digital water bottle that tracks the amount of water you are consuming during a day and reminds you to take a drink. Now give me one of these that measures beer or wine and now we are talking 🙂 It sells for $129 (no idea what currency that is) from the company’s web site. The box is pretty simple and the included manual is minimalistic. Your going to have to figure stuff out on your own. It comes with a wireless charging pad which is a nice touch (I tried it on a standard Qi wireless charging pad but it just flashed at me), as well as a USB to microUSB cable, no AC adapter is included. The company says it can charge in 3-4 hours and lasts 4 days. The water bottle has no buttons on it whatsoever, and just one light.

And so on we go … the minimalistic approach continues into the iPhone app. It asks you a bunch of personal questions, age, sex, weight, height and then later asks for access to the iPhones healthkit information (which it could have got that data from there). The app starts up and you make your account. There is no web portal to see your data. Each time you take a drink it blinks to say heh thanks for having a drink and eventually syncs to your phone. The bluetooth connection to my iPhone 6 was flakey and I had to repeatedly close and reopen the app to keep it connected. The bottle has no buttons so it can not be turned off. There is a washing mode that you can put it in, in which case it stops counting.

The biggest miss on the app, amongst others, is the inability to add/remove or edit the amount you’ve drunk. I mountain bike and carry a camel back when I ride. There’s no way to enter that amount of water. Nor is there a way for it to adjust to the fact that because of exercise in the heat that I should drink more. I forgot to turn the bottle into wash mode, rinsed the bottle and next thing I know the data for the day is skewed. I’m at work during the day, home at night, am I going to carry this bottle with me at all times? Have two maybe? All this makes the data out of the app useless.

The bottle itself is super small in how much water fits in it, 11 ounces, or 1.4 cups. The design of the bottle, tall and skinny, means it is easily tipped. And I did just that on day one. And of course the app counts that spilled water as drank.

Looking inside the bottle they made the inside clear, so you can see the electronics. Not a comforting thought when your looking into something your going to drink out of.

It does blink when you should take a drink, but if you aren’t facing the LED, you can easily miss it. There’s no buzz.

The app does not even include a find my bottle button.

I’d love to say this is the best idea ever … I’d love to say they have done an incredible job. Sadly what you have is a silly idea, half baked implementation, and so many flaws in whatever might have been the thought process as to be laughable.

If you ever think of buying one of these, give the money to charity, you’ll feel better for it and it will have a much greater impact on your day/life than this bottle could EVER make.

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

Blackberry Passport mini review

I know … your thinking … what? Ya I know … I got a chance to play with a Blackberry Passport from a friend (thanks Lance). So I was bored so I decided to play. First and foremost the lay of the land at this point is that any BB10 based devices which this is, are for all purposes DEAD. They will continue to work but to expect any form of evolution path for these is delusional. Blackberry as a company has moved onto Android based phones manufactured by a Chinese company. With that out of the way …

Ok so let’s start with the number one reason people choose BB … the keyboard. This particular one is unique in many ways. First off the keys are rectangular rather than square. So the spacing is odd. So you need to retrain your brain to use it. And the feel is nothing like say the old bold. The overall results is an eccentric feeling keyboard. Couple this with a line of soft keys above the keyboard and you have a weird experience that is going to take time to get use to.

The screen on this device is definitely the highlight. It’s big and largely square making it perfect for reading email etc. The ppi is very good at 453 which actually better than the iPhone 6. The screen is bright, crisp, vivid and big.

The other benefit to how big this phone is, is that the battery is equally big at 3450 mAH, compared with an iPhone 6 (for example at 1810). The net result is you have a multi day phone. As important as battery life is, charge time is equally important. The included charger is only 1A charger. With a 2A charger I was able to get it to draw 1.4A and that projected out to a full charge in 2.4 hours. Not great but not horrible either, but that would be really slow on the 1A charger. I found the passport to be a little more picky than others when it came to cables/chargers.

Weight and thickness of the phone are good and overall the device feels good in the hands.

The number one weakness of all BB10 devices is apps. BB brilliantly added Android compatibility a while back but stopped short of solving the problem. BB did NOT provide access to the Android Playstore and expected Android app makers to port their apps into the BB App store. This enmass did not happen. You can add the Google Playstore to BB10 pretty easily but then you run into the next major hurdle, there is no way to get Google Play services on BB10. So without this a LOT of Android apps just don’t work, are buggy, freeze, lack functionality and the like. The net result is a suite of apps that’s like a piece of Swiss cheese with all kinds of missing apps. The chances you could ever exist on this device ONLY as a power user are Nil. Some Android apps do work, but don’t get your hopes up.

Functionality of Google/Microsoft/Exchange etc are of course excellent. This includes, mail/contacts and calendar. This is one place this device shines, and frankly if it didn’t I’d wonder about BB as a company. If there is anything missing it is the Google priority inbox. The BB Priority hub is really not well done and is missing OBVIOUS things like, if they aren’t in my contact this, they aren’t a priority. The lack of this means you get bothered constantly with junk mail. And notifications can’t be set for things only in the Priority hub so all in all it was poorly implemented.

LTE radio is excellent as is the hotspot on this device, battery life on the hotspot is also quite good. Unlike an iPhone that after a period of inactivity turns off the WIFI part of the hotspot the Passport soldiers on making it much more of a set it and forget it hotspot.

All in all I like the passport. It’s a great upgrade from Q10 who’s miniscule screen is laughable for anything other than super short emails. Should you run out and grab one? Ahhh nope. But if you were given one it is an excellent device.

August 18, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nikon AW120 waterproof camera review

I love taking pictures. I’m not a HUGE camera buff, but love having the pics to share with friends and have a memento. Having recently added Kayaking into the mix and my new Kayaking blog I’ve been fussing with what I wanted to do to take pictures while kayaking. So many beautiful images waiting to be captured! At first I started using my iPhone in a waterpoof bag. This was clumsy and overall the pics while adequate weren’t great. I dug out an older Canon SD450 I had stopped using and figured if it ended up in the drink so be it. This improved the picture quality over the iPhone but this camera’s days are long past. I’d love to take my Canon rebel XS DSLR but the idea of it ending up in the drink would make me want to cry. If I can come up with a way to carry it around, and get it in and out easily while in the kayak I’ll eventually do that, but for now … For comparison, my main point and shoot is Canon ELPH 330 HS. By the way, the AW120 is by no means a current camera, it’s at least 4 years old, I bought it used off Kiji. There is a newer AW 130 but there’s shockingly little new in the 130.

Let’s start with some simple comparisons:

5 / 12 / 16 mp
4 / 10 / 5 x zoom
4.94 / 4.41 / 7.5 oz (weight)

This camera could replace the SD450, on paper at least, but the 330HS is still a better camera IMHO.

Physically the camera is a bit on the chubby side, compare to my Canons. To make this camera waterproof all of the moving parts of the lens are hidden inside the camera, it’s one of the reasons why the zoom is so low. There is digital zoom you can use, but this has always seemed silly to me, just crop it afterwards. Fortunately it can be turned off. The lens is nicely recessed to protect it, but there is no lens cover or auto closing shutter on the front. The positive side of this is that the camera jumps to life almost instantaneously whereas the Canons all have a slight delay while the lens opens up. This may seem trivial but as a bird unexpectedly jumps into flight that delay can result in missing the picture.

Like most of these waterproof cameras all of the ports (micro USB, micro HDMI, SD slot and battery) are all hidden behind a rubber sealed door. The camera attempts to detect when this isn’t sealed properly and alerts you to reseal it.

The battery for this camera is a EN-EL12 and it can be replaced, or you can carry a spare. They are readily available on Amazon. The battery is charged using a standard micro USB cable. There is no external battery charger although you can buy it as an option if you wish. According to Nikon it charges in about 2 hours. This same micro USB cable is also used to transfer the images off the camera without removing the SD card. Once plugged in (on Windows) the camera shows as usual as a media device and you can simply and easily copy off the pics. The camera can not be powered on while charging, so you will need to wait until charging is done to play …

This camera is packed with sensors/features … let’s jump into them briefly.

Barometric altimeter displays on the screen your current elevation/depth. A neat add, but the data is NOT stored in the meta data. Electronic compass is displayed on the screen and the data is stored in the log files of your pictures, but not in the picture itself. More about the logging in a bit … There’s even a GPS in the device to add Geotagging automatically to your pics meta data. I love this, and would be an incentive to upgrade my current camera. It gets suprisingly quick locks. I’m sure it has impact on the battery life, and you can turn it off if you wish, but I love this feature. GPS can also be used to set the clock automatically which would also take care of time zone changes …

Update: To create quick position locks for geotagging, the GPS is always on. Past cameras I am told were notorious for ending up with constantly dead batteries. On this one I brought the phone in the house in between uses and got 3 weeks before the battery was showing half dead. When in the car however when there was constant motion the camera was dead in a week. So if you think your going to be not using the camera for a while and don’t want to come back to a dead camera when you need it, turn off GPS or always have a spare battery!

The camera has WIFI, well sort of. The ONLY thing you can do with the WIFI is use it to connect to a smart phone. Connecting is SUPER clumsy and poorly implemented. Nikon could learn a thing or two from EYE-FI. To use it you have to first set it up on the camera/phone. Once setup you need to initiate from the camera the connection to the smart phone, then go to the smart phone (I’m on an iPhone, no idea if Android is any better), start up the Nikon app, then manually transfer the files you want. If there is a way to make this happen automatically to keep your camera backed up to your phone, I sure don’t see it. You can also use the WIFI connection to remotely take pics, a nice touch. Lastly you can see the exact battery level of the camera on the phone.

There’s internal storage on the camera (320MB) but it’s really not meant for using. When there is no card present WIFI is disabled, a bizarre combination. Images stored on the internal storage are copied over by the camera itself when you insert an SD card. But other than that the only way to get images off the camera would be the USB cable.

Most of the back of the camera is dominated by a large screen. It’s a HUGE scratch magnet. If you buy one of these cameras your going to want a screen protector, a case or both. The buttons to control the settings are all fairly small. Almost impossible with any form of glove and challenging if you have large fingers. Fortunately the zoom control is on it’s own and relatively easy to control.

Turning the camera on shows you the battery status (in a small indicator) as well as the number of shots left. Pretty standard stuff. There are a MYRIAD of icons all showing the status of the camera and it’s sensors. I mean a LOT!

There are mount points for lanyards on both sides of the camera, allowing this point and shoot to be carried using a shoulder mount. There’s also an optional floating strap that will provide enough buoyancy to make sure the camera doesn’t sink if dropped into the water. If yours didn’t come with one you can find them on Amazon. There’s also a tripod mount on the bottom of the camera, a must in my mind!

The camera shoots pretty quickly onto internal storage, and then seems to write it back to the SD card. If you try and view the image before it’s done you will be told to wait 🙂

The camera has an interesting log mode, that uses the internal GPS and takes and stores bread crumbs of where you were that day. This can be viewed on a map. It also logs anywhere you took photos. An interesting feature that would take some sorting out to figure out what to do with it.

Scene shooting modes are super limited at just Easy Auto mode, Scene mode, Special effects, smart portrait and auto mode. Flash can easily be turned on, off or auto, something Canon buries behind a number of menus for some BIZARRE reason. Self timer is easily accessible from a dedicated button. Very well done.

Overall this is a good camera, but honestly if I paid full price for it, around $350 I would likely return it. At the price I paid it just now depends on if the resulting image quality is good enough … The edges of the picture once zoomed in are definitely soft as you can see below.

Complete list of specs.

Here are some sample images, my use case is 100% outdoors …

There is no macro mode on this camera so super close ups are not as good as other cameras.

August 3, 2017 Posted by | Other reviews, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Advancedframe® Expedition AE1009 inflatable Kayak (mini review)

I recently purchased/reviewed an Advanced Elements AE1012 inflatable kayak, and I love it. It has opened up a whole new sport to make it accessible without the issues of storage and handling of a regular kayak. A friend, Susan, bought the Expedition and let me give it a whirl and thus you have this post. This post will cover off what’s different between them. From a specs point of view:

As you can see the major difference is in the length, with the expedition being 2.5 ft longer. This added length is quite visibly noticeable. It also means it takes a little longer to inflate as the chamber is larger. This added length allows more leg room, something some may need over the AE1012. The longer front deck also means this boat does a little better in waves. I’ve found, on occasion a wave will break over the deck of the 1012, but even in 2 foot swells the Expedition did better. There’s also a adjustable foot rest, along with positioning of the back of the seat that you can use to position yourself where you want to be in the cockpit of the kayak. It’s a little finicky to get set just right, but once you’ve got it set right your good to go assuming you don’t have more than one person using the boat.

There’ also some additional storage space behind the seat to store stuff. To call this an expedition ready kayak is a bit of a stretch IMHO.

This boat was made in 2008, it looks like later models added some dry storage in the back of the boat that would be helpful.

Once inflated the boat handles a little differently than the 1012 due to the added length. I would say it takes a little more effort to paddle, but to be honest that is a perception, it is not quantifiable. The expedition seemed to be a little more rigid front to back the AE1012 and thus flexed less in the waves. It was noticeable.

The boat we got also seemed to have the optional lumbar supported seat.

There is an optional rib you can buy they call a backbone that will increase the boats rigidity as well as make it track better.

There’s also an optional hard floor you can buy that they call the dropstitch floor also designed to increase rigidty.

Here’s a great video showing these two optional components.

All in all the Expedition is a nice boat, slightly larger than the 1012. It’s not a night and day difference.

Here’s a comparison of all of their models.

July 24, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivosmart HR review

I last reviewed the Garmin Vivosmart 3 and loved it but the display was completely unreadable in sunlight and heart rate accuracy specifically in cycling was bad, so I returned it. I went backwards and bought the older model, this one. There is also an HR+ that has a GPS, this one does not. I don’t need it. If I want a GPS I will use my Fenix 3. Not a chance the Vivosmart HR+ is ever going to replace my treasured Fenix 3 … This device can be had on Amazon and other places Garmin refurbished super inexpensive. I paid $105 Vs the $213 (taxes in) I paid for the Vivosmart 3 (VS3 going forward).

Starting with the physicals the device is fairly light, small and thin. The VS3 is noticeably thinner. This older unit lacks some of the newer innovative features of the Vivosmart 3, but heh … The band is made out of a stretchy almost elastic material that can be replaced (with screws) but not swapped. It is done up using a standard watch buckle. Yay … It’s comfortable enough … The heart rate sensor on the bottom is a little more protruding than the VS3 but for me anyway it’s not noticeable and I have thin and small wrists. The band itself is an untextured smooth black band. It’s pretty innocuous as these trackers go. As with past Garmins, this is function over form. Garmin do not offer a band extender you could use to wear the tracker further up your arm to get better heart rate accuracy or to wear it around the ankle. There are third party ones but they are not cheap like $30 with shipping all in.

The unit charges with a clip that goes around the back. It’s reasonably easy to get on and clicks in place. These unusual clips are the price you pay for a waterproof tracker. Something that I want since I now kayak.

The front of the unit has an ALWAYS on, sun readable, back lit display and a single button on the front. The screen is operated by swiping and this works well, in fact better IMHO than the VS3. The display is reasonably large and reasonably easy to use. There are no colors on the display whatsoever. The back lighting attempts to come on when you rotate your wrist. Which works sometimes and sounds like a good idea until it wakes you when you toss and turn while trying to sleep. Again Garmin make no use of knowing your asleep and doing obvious things like this. The backlight can be summoned for a short period of time by pressing the front button. All in all the UI on the tracker is relatively simple to use. You swipe through the pages of information, which you can decide which to turn on and off, and you swipe through the menus by pressing the front button. You can not however change the order of screens. And this unit is NOT compatible with Garmins extensible Connect IQ. One somewhat obvious miss is a way to 100% turn the display off to make it an almost invisible device. You can program almost any screen (except heart rate) to be your home screen or you can have it remain wherever you last left it. This is a brilliant design. I can only imagine the inability to choose heart rate is to do with saving battery. Screens like this draw more power when changing. All in all I like the display, a huge improvement over the VS3 which is bizarre since the VS3 came out long after this one. The display can be put in portrait or landscape but there are a number of areas including menus that always stay in landscape mode. Do be aware though the screen is absolutely not gorilla glass, and can be relatively easily scuffed/scratched. You may want to buy a screen protector, but I have no idea how good those are.

As a tip, if you put the Vivosmart HR in heart rate broadcast mode you can have your heart rate always displayed! But be aware this consumes a fair bit of power. In 14 hours the battery went from a full charge to 2 bars. So you’d maybe get a day out of the battery in this mode. But you do however get second by second heart rate data stored. And it continues to work as a tracker, and you get notifications while in this mode.

The data screens for workouts (Walk/Run/Cardio/Other) can be changed in true Garmin form. Workouts track mostly heart rate although they do record steps too for Walk/Run. On a small walk I did I found the Vivosmart HR compared with Endomondo tracking on the phone yielded 1.89Km, Vs 2.39(for the GPS) or it was off by -21%.

The trakker can not connect to any external sensors, not heart rate sensors, not wheel sensors, nada. It can broadcast the heart rate on ANT+, but not to bluetooth (which you would want to send it back to your phone), although you can not view any other screens while in broadcast mode. You can brilliantly lock the screen in broadcast mode to avoid it coming out of that mode. (Press and hold front button).

The unit has a barometric altimeter which means it can count floors, as well as the usual step counts. Goals can be set for steps, as well as floors and you congratulated with a nice buzz and a graphic when you meet it.

I’ve read on other forums that the heart rate sampling rate varies depending on how active you are. This would be a little more problematic to know your resting heart rate, but I get it, they are trying to preserve battery life. Overall I found anytime I looked at the heart rate the data was immediately available and updated quickly. I do wish Garmin would give some info other than hi/low for the days heart rate. Maybe like average, or average while awake etc. Having data is great, having information is useful. Without analysis what is the point in collecting the data? The light from the heart rate sensor bleeds out from under the trakker ever so slightly on my wrist, when wearing it a comfortable tightness, not enough to bother my sleep but I can see it. The heart rate monitor can be turned off to save battery life, and it will turn back on when you do an activity, or want to broadcast it. But they do forget to turn it back off afterwards so be aware of that.

As with other Garmins, notifications just work and are well done. Fibit could learn a thing or two … The notifications are reasonably strong, but you can not program any patterns to the notifications. One buzz and that’s it. There’s a screen where you can review your past notifications. If you turn this screen off, you all of a sudden loose even the buzzing notifications. Odd.

Sleep is all automatically tracked, and somewhat accurate. As an example of stupid, I take my band off and go up and shower. I know I can shower with it on but don’t see the point. It knows I’m not wearing it, in that it turns the heart rate monitor off. Then I put it back on and look at my sleep and it decided while I was in the shower I was sleeping.

There’s a nice weather app you can call up or see on your home screen. A great add and something I always have on my smartwatches. Love it! I’m a little unclear on the update frequency of the app. It seemed to get stuck sometimes 😦 And there’s no way to see how stale the data your being presented and it never seems to expire, giving you the impression it’s current when it may not be.

There’s a nice Music controls screen that will allow you to FWD/RWD and play pause. Only thing missing would be volume controls. But this is a simple and nice touch!

Battery status is completely hidden, and all you get is a small battery Gauge inside the information section with 4 bars.

Alarms work and are quite loud and almost impossible to miss. They are set from the phone but can be viewed on the tracker.

As with past Garmin trackers there is a move reminder and a move bar to tell you to get off your butt 🙂

Sadly Garmin have left off a countdown timer and stopwatch function. Waaaaaa

Pushing and holding the button the on front brings up the ability to lock the screen as well as the ability to power off the tracker when not in use … Yay!

So what do you loose over the Vivosmart 3?
– heart rate is not truly all day so resting heart rate may not be accurate.
– no VO2 Max (it’s a calculated guess I am not sure I care)
– HRV (was hidden behind a silly stress score so who cares)
– no timer

That’s about it. For less than half the price …

Let’s talk a bit about heart rate accuracy. As mentioned in previous posts optical heart rate sensors, and more specifically wrist worn ones are a crap shoot for accuracy. It depends on your size, coloring, how tight you wear it, and what your doing when you care about your heart rate. Let’s have a quick look. We will look primarily at average heart rates. Min/Max can be misleading if the data is off for brief periods of time such as a flexing wrist. I will compare the data against a chest strap. In this case a Polar H7 or Wahoo TICKR both of which I have found to be super accurate when compared with each other as well as a Garmin chest strap.

For the graphs below I tried a different method of processing the data. Sadly it gives me less control in how to format the graph. I’m not happy with the results but the old conversion tools had troubles with this data set.

First off just sitting around working at my desk typing for a little over half an hour. This is about as easy as it gets. The Vivosmart HR got 83 BPM Vs 82 for the chest strap.

Next up I went for a 20 mins fast paced walk and both agreed on an average HR of 110 bpm. And here’s a graph of the data:

Next Up I did a five minute stair walk up and down 9 floors. The Vivosmart HR got 120 bpm Vs 116 for the chest strap or a difference of only 3%.

Next up a roughly 2 hour kayak trip. The chest strap got an average heart rate of 106 and the Vivosmart HR 102. Calorie wise the Fenix 3 got 354 and the Vivosmart HR got 542, so calorie count is wonky but average heart rate is pretty close. Every so often there was an odd variation between the two. And here’s a graph of the data:

One of the places wrist based heart rate monitors do badly often is cycling … First up a road ride. On an hour and a half ride both the chest strap and the Vivosmart HR got 114 average BPM. Oddly my fenix said 380 calories while the Vivosmart HR said a whopping 610. So the calorie count is a bit wonky here. Here’s a graph of the data:

Next up an epic 3 hours mountain biking ride … The chest strap got an average of 162 BPM while the vivosmart HR got 153. That’s impressive, and one of the first times I’ve seen a wrist based heart rate come as close as this. And my Fenix showed 1739 calories Vs 1819 for the Vivosmart HR. So all in all very good. Now visually I saw the heart rate being off by well over 20 BPM so while you can use this for average calorie count, using it for zones may not be all that useful. Here’s a graph of the data:

Battery life is advertised at 5 days, and I got 5.5 when the low battery alert came up. No idea how much longer it would have gone beyond that. Recharge took a little over an hour. With the heart rate turned off I got 10.5 days and that’s including about 8 hours of heart rate broadcast.

So I have to say, the data on this is shockingly good. Not good enough to be used for zones without the occasional mis-trigger, but otherwise quite good. Calorie count is just inconsistent, which is problematic if you are trying to use it to compare against other workouts.

All in all I have to say I am HUGELY impressed with this tracker. Probably one of the best on the market right now. Better accuracy for some reason than the Vivosmart 3 (which is newer). Full sun readable, backlit display. And give the price of this in refurb it’s a BB Bargoon.

June 29, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Garmin Vivosmart 3 review

I’d been a Fitbit fanboy for quite a while … and then the tarnish started to show. Incomplete notifications, hidden (non exportable) heart rate data, all lead me to stop loving them.

I’ve loved Garmins for a long time. I never mountain bike without at least one Garmin, and more often two. So I decided it would be nice to have all my data, daily activity etc all in one place, the Garmin portal which I love … their inter connectivity, completeness of data, ability to export etc are all excellent. So I have been looking at a number of Garmin products when this one hit the market. There are a number of innovations in this product so I decided to take the plunge.

Let’s start out with physical. The band is made out of a rubbery, almost elastic band than is super comfortable. They went with a standard watch buckle to do it up. Yay. The band is replaceable (by removing screws) but isn’t really swappable. I wish Gamin had gone the way of Fitbit. Garmin also do not offer a band extension that would allow you to wear the heart rate monitor further up the arm to give it some hope in hell of accuracy, but more on that in a bit. The band certainly does not scream I paid $213 including taxes for this puppy. And that subtle form over function continues right into the display. You can tell an engineer designed this and no fashion consultants were harmed in the process. If your looking for bling … don’t look here. If your looking for something that just blends in … then this is your tracker. This tracker is small, light and thin. Really quite impressively compact.

Recharging the device requires you to clamp this bizarre clip around the trackker and get it in the right orientation in the right place. Garmin have done nothing to try and guide you to getting this right and it is best done when your not in a rush.

The display is a real let down. It’s behind a fuzzy shield that almost blurs what I can only imagine is a decent display. It’s black and white, no colors ANYWHERE. The display is absolutely NOT readable in direct sunlight. This is a HUGE mistake for a device that is supposed to be used for tracking workouts. It’s so bad that you will be looking for a shady place to be able to start using it as a activity tracker. And forget about using this as a watch replacement when it can’t be read in the sun. This is bizarre to me, no one knows how to make a sunlight readable devices quite like Garmin, and then it appears they forgot. At least you can change the orientation on the display so it is in the right orientation.

There are a number of innovative new stats that this tracker can do. This includes “All day stress”, VO2 Max, as well as more common resting heart rate (7d RHR). All of these take a number of days to set a baseline for you before they are accurate. And they are bizarrely hidden in Health and Performance on the Connect app, and can not appear as a tile in your Snapshots. Like most things they are also available on the portal so you don’t have to look at your phone’s screen.

All day stress uses heart rate variability to determine your stress level, but sadly hides it behind a “stress score”. So there is no way to compare the data with other HRV and little to no way to interpret it. This to me makes this gimmicky at best. Sure it can tell you you just had road rage and are pissed off … but where is the usefulness in that? And you need to be still to update your stress score, even walking gets a response that your too active, not that this isn’t completely understandable when you know more about HRV, but still …

VO2 Max is a guess based on some calculations. How accurate it is … I have no idea.

One of the bigger misses is the lack of phone assisted GPS. Fitbit do this well. Garmin don’t even try. So use it to track a workout and the only thing you get is time and heart rate data.

One of the features of this device is true 24×7 heart rate monitoring. Unlike a number of other devices (including past Garmins) that sample at some periodic, and sometimes sporadic interval, this one samples constantly. All day, all night. The main feature of this is to give a more clear picture of your resting heart rate. Of all the devices I have played with that have heart rate monitors, this is hands down the comprehensively done to date. And could easily be used as a benchmark for how everyone ought to do it, or just give up 🙂

Garmin have given you a collection of different watch faces to choose from, but this device is NOT compatible with the extensible Connect IQ. Data screens for each of the exercises (Walk/Run/Cardio/Strength/Other) can all be customized in true Garmin form.

Sleep is all automatically tracked, and somewhat accurate. As an example of stupid, I take my band off and go up and shower. I know I can shower with it on but don’t see the point. It knows I’m not wearing it, in that it turns the heart rate monitor off. Then I put it back on and look at my sleep and it decided while I was in the shower I was sleeping.

Notifications just work and are well done. Fibit could learn a thing or two …

Battery life is advertised at 5 days and I got almost 6 (5.9 days). It raised an alert about low battery at 10% on the device and no other warnings, so if you missed it … It kept working for another 12 hours or so after the alert was raised. The device continued being completely functional right until the end … True 24×7 heart rate monitoring. Very impressive. Tracking activities changes nothing about the way the device functions and does not take any perceivable additional battery life. FYI I only used it to 3% so I have no idea what the last couple of hours of battery life might look like.

Garmin have refined how an alarm works. The alarm comes on once, buzzes for a period of time and then just decides surely you must be awake. I get it, saving battery life, but really? Not even a second time?

One of the major oops by Garmin is in the area of sleep, for some odd reason it ignores do not disturb mode (I’ve seen others complain of the same so I know it’s not just me) and notifications come through. Not true on the Fenix 3 so this seems bizarre to me. And the automatic wrist detection does not shut off when sleeping and I found it coming on through the night. A distraction and irritation. On the positive automatic wrist detection doesn’t work well anyway (it’s supposed to wake up and show you the time or whatever your opening screen is when you turn your wrist towards you) so you can just turn it off. I didn’t find the HR monitor LEDs bled through at all during sleep, an issue I’ve had with other devices.

Garmin have as usual included move reminders, something Fitbit were STUPID SLOW to add. They are simple, effective and just work.

There’s a count down and stopwatch on the device a nice touch and something I use often for cooking, BBQing etc.

There’s a nice weather app you can call up or see on your home screen. A great add and something I always have on my smartwatches. Love it! I’m a little unclear on the update frequency of the app. It seemed to get stuck sometimes 😦 And there’s no way to see how stale the data your being presented and it never seems to expire, giving you the impression it’s current when it may not be.

Optical heart rate sensors are really hit and miss. They generally do ok on the sedentary stuff, but activities are super challenging and depend on the person and the sport. You really need to check them out thoroughly before you depend on them for calorie counts (to compare for building endurance) or heaven forbid you want to use them for heart rate zones/alarms. If you decide you want to you can turn the all day heart rate sensor off within the menus.

The trakker can not connect to any external sensors, not heart rate sensors, not wheel sensors, nada. It can broadcast the heart rate on ANT+, but not to bluetooth (which you would want to send it back to your phone), although you can not view any other screens while in broadcast mode.

Garmin have really not made it easy to find the current battery status. It’s not on any screen, can’t be found in the connect app (that I can find) and is only found on the device in the settings about which takes a long press and 16 swipes to get to. Sheesh. If there is a way to turn the tracker off, I can’t seem to find it.

DC Rainmaker already addressed using this device for cycling by saying “In case it’s not overwhelmingly obvious above … It sucked. Badly.” And I can concur. It can’t even get averages right let alone using it for zones. My average heart rate mountain biking over a 2.5 hour trip according to the Vivosmart was like 111 Vs 160+ it should have been. Atrocious. And this directly translates into major issues with calorie counts 871 Vs 1212. No small difference.

Next up I thought I would try it kayaking. Being waterproof this would be a perfect companion (well other than having no GPS, and not being visible in the sun). Here it did much better. Compared with a Scosche Rhythm+ on a 1 hr 21 min row it did much better and nailed the average HR at 112 and came in with a calorie count of 438 vs 384 on the Fenix 3 (with Scosche). Not horrible. Of course with no rowing mode you get no data like stroke rate etc. Here’s an actual comparison of the data. As you can see it wasn’t great, but not bad either, and in the end by the miracle of math got the average right 🙂

Little niggles aside, and ignoring the horrendous choice of display, this might be one of the most comprehensive, best trackers on the market today. But that said, the display choice is just unforgivable for me, and will be rewarded by me returning it. Sadly …

June 16, 2017 Posted by | Activity Trackers | Leave a comment

Advanced elements AE1012 Inflatable kayak

Ok I know this is a little off my normal topic, but thought I’d share anyway. I have loved kayaking every time I have tried it. The major stumbling block to buying one has been putting a roof rack on my car. Those of you that know (and some of you who love me :)) know I am a bit obsessive about my car. And the thought of on my own lifting a clumsy, 40 lb+ kayak over my head onto the roof rack just sounded like a pulled back waiting to happen. So I haven’t bought one … And then a friend (thanks Val) last fall introduced me to products from this company. And to make matters even better another friend (thanks John) offered to lend me one to try! Can you believe my luck!

Advanced elements web site

So what I am looking for is a kayak to take on short trips in rivers near me. 1-2 hour trips near home in gentle flowing rivers. The kayack is about the size of a hockey bag folded up and weighs 36 lbs. The newer hockey backs come on wheels, this could use that idea 🙂 The bag even includes a pouch for the manual. A nice touch would have been to include a laminated picture, sadly they didn’t.

Setting up this kayak is as simple as it appears in the videos on Youtube. I won’t bother making one there are tons out there already. Here’s one for a slightly different model. The first time I tried to set this up after watching the videos it took me 15 minutes, and deflation even less. It really is as simple and easy as it seems. A standard high capacity pump just like you’d use for an air mattress is all you need. Absolutely no need for a power pump, don’t waste your time, money and hearing (the damn things are loud). There is one trick, these pumps have an inflation and a deflation port allowing you to suck the air out of the kayak to make disassembly even faster. The vales on the boat include a switch between inflation and deflation making it easier to pump it up and then remove the pump loosing little to know air. Finding each of the tubes to inflate can be a bit challenging and they could have done a better job in the manual to show them. The caps for the inflation ports are tethered to the boat so you don’t loose them, but unfortunately they are pretty easy to snap off (I did on first use). Now your challenged to not loose the cap 😦

The bottom of the boat is covered in a rubber coating over the firm front and back of the boat. But this can easily be damaged dragging the boat so be careful. They could have made this more robust … I would consider this the Achilles heal of the boat. In the front they added a drag protector but not at the back. And in the front where the boat beaches is also quite susceptible to damage.

Once in the water the boat because of it’s width is surprisingly stable. More so than other Kayaks I’ve been in. Getting in is made easier if you undo the front zipper.

There’s an adjustable seat back that makes the boat a whole lot more comfortable. I’m not all that tall at 5’9, with a distance of 40 inches from my toes to my waste and my feet are at the end of the boat with the seat mostly to the back. So if your super tall this boat might not fit. There is a bit of storage on the back of the seat, but not all that convenient to get at.

The boat has a little keel and hard parts in the boat that make it track as well as, and as fast as a normal kayak. I have to say I was thoroughly impressed. Even in a fairly windy day (24km/h) it stayed on track and was easy to handle. I don’t have all the right words and phrases, I’m a beginner when it comes to kayaks, but this had what I wanted from a performance point of view.

If there is one thing missing it would be a water proof storage compartment for your gadgets and a bottle holder. You can buy your own and strap them into the front of the boat but this seems like a simple thing they could have added

Folding it up and getting it back in the bag was simple and easy, easier than I thought. The hard parts of the kayak make it obvious where to fold it up. The bottom inside of the kayak has a rubber coating making it easy to dry off the boat. I wish they had used the same coating on the deck of the boat. When your paddling the water from the paddle gets the deck quite wet.

This boat does not have a lot of end to end rigidity so would not be the best in rough waters. You can get an optional hard floor for it that would improve this somewhat. The boat does very well in very shallow waters too.

The boat all in all is amazing, there are always things that could have been improved, but that said this is an impressively designed and executed product. Something you don’t often hear from me 🙂

Owners manual

As an interesting side note, the Garmin Fenix 3 that I love has a rowing mode. In this mode you get lots of stats about your rowing, as well as a nice map of your trek. Here’s a sample of the data you get from it.

And another interesting side note, I did three different types of exercises and compared the calorie counts. The results are interesting.

If your looking to pick one of these up Atmosphere, The Paddle Store as well as Steveston Marine (in BC)here in Canada carry them.

If your looking at used I got this from their forums: Each kayak has a number on it that identifies it. This is called the Hull ID Number. The Hull Id # is located on the kayak and begins with XZE. The last two digits are the ones that will tell us what year it was made in. It will look something like this….XZE0186AA202. The “02” tells us that the kayak was made in 2002. It should be this way with all of the kayaks unless you bought a sample model or any other non-production model.

By the way, I’ve found customer support from Advanced Elements to be excellent, prompt and efficient. While they don’t on their web site support clients from countries other than the US, I contacted them and they shipped to Canada parts for reasonable fees.

I also found out from them that if you need more glue to repair holes (the boat came with a repair kit, but very little glue) you can use M Essentials Aquaseal Urethane Repair Adhesive, readily available on Amazon.

If you need to restore the waterproofing on the deck I found this product Woods Instant Waterproof Spray which I was able to get at Canadian Tire worked well.

What do I need to get into kayaking?
To start off lets make a statement of the obvious, your going to get wet. And while tipping a kayak isn’t an easy thing to do, it’s by no means impossible. Get it sideways in a wave and you could be tipping. An unfortunately placed sharp rock or brank and it could be torn (although unlikely). So you need to wear clothes that are ok in the wet, and you can swim in them if you had to. Since there is no dry storage in the boat you may want to buy a dry bag or dry box to put stuff like cell phones or cameras in. I bought a waterproof bag for my phone. It comes with a tether and a place for a key. It works well.

Safety wise you need a life jacket, and you should get a whistle to call for help if you needed it. You will need a paddle. This boat is a little wider than some and a little higher so you need a longer one. I bought a 213 cm long one and it was too short. I moved up to a 230 and it is much better, I think 240 would be even better. The one I ended up with is a Protex Logan. Cheap at Sail. One of the previous paddles I tried came with a nice soft grip on the handle and I really liked it.

For your feet since you will need to get wet a pair of water sandals I found work best and are the most comfortable. Undoing the front zipper makes getting in and out of the boat easier. And taking the sandals off once in the boat is just more comfortable. You will need a high volume pump if your boat did not come with one. Be sure and get one that is double action so you can deflate the boat more quickly. There are foot pumps, but the they move less air.

And if your a gadget guy like me a Fenix 3 can help you track your route, get stats on the trip and be used to navigate. It can also be used for live tracking.

June 12, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Jumbl Bluetooth headset/receiver

I know, I know, not another bluetooth receiver … As you maye have guessed I am having trouble finding one to do exactly what I want. I find it odd, because with the move of iPhone 7 to removing the 3.5mm jack I would have thought these would be become even more popular. What do I know … So I now try this one … Nice and small with nice BIG (sort of) buttons. And this time they made sure volume controls are two of them. Is that not blatantly obvious? Moving on … The device has a standard 3.5 mm audio plug and is compatible with both 3 pin stereo and 4 pin stereo and mic headphones. It charges with a standard micro USB charger. This unit seems to be sold under a number of names (judging from physical appearance). This includes a Noisehush and Griffin iTrip, from a preliminary look, there may be others.

The unit clips to clothes with what appears to be a fairly robust clip that just might not break as easily as others in the past.

Spec wise they quote: “On a single charge, the built-in 120mAh rechargeable li-polymer battery keeps you going for 8 hours of music playback, 10 hours of hands-free call time, and up to 150 hours of standby.” The unit from dead took just under two hours to charge and you can use it while it’s being charged. It claims to be the newer bluetooth 4 spec, but there is no mention of APTX support. The iPhone doesn’t support APTX so not an issue for me.

It is compatible with the iPhone bluetooth battery headset widget. In case your new to this it’s a widget called battery that you can see by swiping to the left from the home screen. If the bluetooth headset is attached you will see the battery status of the headset in what appears to be 20% increments (for this headset anyway). There is no alert of an almost dead headset and I didn’t find any apps that you can use to do this. I found the count went from 100% to 80, then 60 and then dead with only a brief warning. I got approx 7 hours streaming battery life so the 8 seems possible. But the misleading 60% to dead is disappointing. Not sure how common this is. The widget also does not show the state of charge of the headset.

Pairing the device was easy, push and hold the center button until the two lights flash and away you go. Turning it on requires you to push and hold the center button but just long enough to turn it on without putting it in pairing mode. I found this hit or miss. The easiest way is to carefully listen to the beep or watch for the blue LED to come on, takes about 2 seconds. Once powered on you need to wait a bit of time, what seemed longer than most other bluetooth headsets before you could use it for streaming music. And sometimes in spite of being connected as a phone headset the music would not stream to it and I had to turn it off and back on and try again. I found this buggy at best. Once connected it works well and sound quality is good, with no drop outs.

When a call comes in you simply press the center button to accept and end the call and then your back to your music. It works smoothly.

There does not seem to be a way to call up SIRI … pooh.

When pressing the buttons on the outside (volume or fwd/rwd) it’s pretty easy, especially with gloves, to hit the play pause instead.

All in all this is a good device, not perfect, but it does work, has good battery life and sound quality is good.

June 2, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Mengk bluetooth headset Eurobird HM2000

I was looking for an inexpensive bluetooth headset to replace my iKross BT19 which is no longer available. I saw this one and decided to try it.

Size and weight are good, buttons are very minimalistic, so much so as to make this device super clumsy to use. There is a fwd/rwd button that if you push and hold act as the volume up and down. Seems to me one would use volume more so why it isn’t the one that does not require holding is beyond me. The button on the front turns the unit on, and changes between streaming bluetooth and FM and powering off. Getting the front button right is all about pushing and holding just the right amount of time. Too long and you just powered it off. It’s irritating

The 3.5mm audio plug is NOT compatible with 4 pin stereo/mic headsets, only stereo ones. Sound quality is really not great even in blutooth streaming.

FM radio is reasonable well done and includes simple to use audio prompts in english.

The device can not be used while charging so it is useless as a permanent bridge.

In the end I returned this device due to poor audio quality, the lack of support for a 4 pin audio plug and maddening usability.

May 27, 2017 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment