Devolo has rounded out the range of sensors in its smart home system, Home Control, with the addition of two new sensors for humidity and water (flood). Although previously announced over the summer, these devices are now available for purchase through several on-line and high street stores. The folks at Devolo were kind enough to send two units for review. Let’s take a quick look.
Both sensors use the same basic “mini PIR” design that’s shared with the existing movement and door sensors, though the water sensor has a long tail with the water detector on the end. Obviously this is so that the main part of the sensor can be mounted conveniently and the detector positioned down the back of the washing machine, touching the floor.
The sensors are a sturdy white plastic, much as you’d find any domestic security system. The rear clips off to change the battery which has a claimed life of up to 5 years. I’d be a little skeptical of that based on my experience of similar sensors in the range, but YMMV,
The sensors aren’t much use on their own and have to be paired into the Home Control central unit. All the sensors use Z-Wave to communicate with the central unit and getting them setup is easy to do out-of-the box. Simply pull the battery tab out of the back to put the sensor in pairing mode, and then use the app on a smartphone to detect and add the sensor into Home Control. The app goes through it step by step, with helpful videos presented for information. There’s a new Home Control app which is much improved over the previous version but does have a few cosmetic issues.
Once the sensors are in the Home Control environment, they can be incorporated into rules to do useful things. For example, if the water sensor detects water (under the washing machine), then send a text message or email to alert the owner. If the humidity sensor says that it’s too damp, automatically turn on the power to a fan (and then turn it off when the humidity falls). You’re limited only by available sensors and acting devices. The new smartphone app doesn’t provide rule editing features yet, so the full web app at mydevolo has to be used for the rules.
The water sensor isn’t terribly interesting as it’s all or nothing: either the floor is dry, or it’s time to call a plumber. On the other hand, the humidity sensor is much more fun as it records both humidity and temperature. The Devolo Home Control app shows the current state of the sensor and also historical data, so you can review the graphs to look for trends.
Overall, these are handy additions to the Home Control ecosystem. Each fulfills a slightly different role, in that the water sensor is for emergencies, whereas the humidity sensor has a day-to-day function. The sensors aren’t cheap, with an RRP of GB£49.99 (and they are a little more expensive than their main competitor) but if you are bought into Home Control, they’re worth considering. For me personally, the water sensor is ideal for my garage as it has a tap without a drain. If the tap is left on, even just slightly, the floor floods over a couple of days. With the Devolo water sensor installed I’d get a quick warning of the problem.
If you want to see more, there’s an unboxing video below.
Thanks to Devolo for providing the sensors for review.
Back in June I reviewed the Devolo dLAN 550 WiFi Starter Kit and this time round, I’m looking at the “plus” version of the same kit. What makes it a 550+? Simply that the WiFi adaptor is now bigger and has a power socket pass thru. Let’s take a mini look…
As the Starter Kit is broadly the same as last time out, I’m not going to be doing a full review. If you want to see screenshots of the setup procedure, Devolo’s handy desktop software or smartphone app, I suggest you take a look at my original write-up. All I’ll say in this review is that the 550+ WiFi works just as well in terms of setup. The adaptors are paired out of the box so getting started is simply a case of plugging them into power sockets and then connecting a network cable from a neighbouring router or switch. The wireless access point can be then be configured remotely. It’s easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy!
There’s no real technical change between the 550 and and 550+ WiFi units. Both provide 11n WiFi at 300 Mb/s, whereas the previous generation 500 only transmitted at 150 Mb/s; the upgrade comes from 2×2 antennas which boosts both the rate and the range with the 550s. Additionally, the transmission range across the electrical wiring is increased to 400m through the use of all three conductors (live, neutral and earth).
The main change is that the new 550+ WiFi is a bigger adaptor with the same rectangular form factor as the non-WiFi units, including a pass-thru. The picture on the left shows the old adaptor, which was smaller and squarer. My only gripe with Devolo is that the newer adaptors have the network cable coming out the top, rather than below.
Looking at the prices, the RRP of the 550+ WiFi Starter Kit is GB£109.99 whereas the 550 WiFi Starter Kit is ten pounds less at GB£99.99. Both kits do the same job, so if there’s no need for a pass-thru or a smaller unit is preferred, go for the cheaper one. If a pass thru is needed, take the 550+. As an aside, if speed or 11ac is needed, check out the 1200+ WiFi Starter Kit at GB£159.99.
For more detail there’s an unboxing of the Devolo dLAN 550+ WiFi Starter Kit below.
Thanks to Devolo for providing the dLAN 550+ WiFi Starter Kit for review.
Designing out the headphone jack on the iPhone was a brave move by Apple but the price of both Bluetooth headphones and speakers have fallen to the level of an impulse buy. Consequently the change isn’t quite as costly as it would have been a few years ago. Naturally audiophiles may disagree on audio quality grounds. Still, anyone with a Bluetooth equipped smartphone might be interested in this compact portable speaker for music on the go.
On review here is the iClever Wireless Speaker (IC-BTS04). It’s shaped like a small brick measuring 16.2 cm by 6.2 cm by 2.8 cm and weighs a little over 250g. Consequently, the BTS04 can be conveniently slipped into a cargo pocket or a backpack for travel. Unlike some of the more brightly coloured competitors, this speaker goes for understated black plastic and dark grey metal. It certainly doesn’t shout “look at me!”
Along the top there are five buttons for controlling music and managing calls. Round the side is the microUSB charging port and audio input socket, both covered by a rubber flap. There’s some nice details to the speaker, with small hex screws on the metal grilles.
In the box there’s the speaker itself, a carry strap, a 3.5 mm audio cable, USB charging cable and the usual assortment of instructions, guarantees and happy sheets.
Getting started is easy once you figure out which is the power button. Oddly it’s marked with a “minus” sign rather than the usual circle and bar but once that’s pressed for a few seconds, the BTS04 powers up and the LED on the middle multifunction button starts flashing for pairing mode. After that it’s the normal process which ends with a voice announcing “Connected” and the blue LED on the button going solid.
With music playing, the buttons work as expected. Play / pause, next track, previous track. For volume control, the two track buttons are used with long presses: to start with I found this a little fiddly and jumped tracks instead of adjusting the volume but I got the hang of it. In terms of loudness, it’s surprisingly loud for a pair of 5W speakers. It has little sticky feet on the bottom which keep it still on smooth surfaces, otherwise it would vibrate its way across the table at full volume. While the sound quality isn’t going worry Sonos or Bose, it’s fine for a some casual listening in the office.
The BTS04 works as a speakerphone too. When a call comes into the smartphone, pressing the middle multifunction button pauses the music and connects the caller. Pressing the button again drops the call. Don’t want to take the call at all? Long press the multifunction button.
Battery life is rated at 10 hours which sounds about right as I got more than a working day of tunes. The multifunction button glows red during charging or if the battery power gets low.
If I’m being honest, the iClever speaker doesn’t have a single standout feature, but it is a neat assembly of features that won’t disappoint – solidly made, reasonably loud, decent sound, blends in, doubles as speakerphone. Priced at US$27.99 or GB£24.99, it’s a perfect Christmas present for someone who prefers something discrete. I suspect teens and tweens would want something more colourful.
Thanks to iClever for providing the IC-BTS04 for review.
It’s a real first world problem – finding enough USB charging points to keep your gadgets powered up, especially for families with multiple phones and tablets. Fortunately there’s a solution in Choetech’s 6-port USB-A desktop charger which combines two QC 3 ports and four smart ports that will deliver up to 2.4 A for charging thirsty smart phones and tablets. Let’s take a look.
This is the Q3-4U2Q model and the packaging follows the standard Choetech style of branded outer sleeve with plain cardboard inner box. Inside the carton, there’s the 6-port charger, desktop stand, USB-A to USB-C cable, power cable, instructions and help sheet. The instructions are largely superfluous other than to confirm the charging voltages and currents for the USB ports.
To be clear, the Q3-4U2Q is only a USB charger: it’s not a USB hub and won’t connect a mouse and keyboard to a PC. There are two Quick Charge 3.0 ports for devices that support the QC standard and will deliver the higher voltages required.The other four smart ports will charge up to 2.4 A at 5 V and the charger will deliver 50 W across all six ports. The tongue inside the QC ports is helpfully coloured blue and an LED lights up to show that the charger is powered on.
Physically, the charger is about the size of a fat pack of playing cards – it’s roughly 9 cm x 7 cm x 3 cm. The charger is covered in a soft rubber coating except for the back panel and a small area at the rear. There’s a figure 8 two pin power socket on the back. The Q3-4U2Q fits snugly into the desktop stand which does make it look much neater than if it was simply lying on the desk.
In use, the Choetech charger performed as expected – devices seemed to charge at their maximum rate, whether that was 1 A, 2 A or QC, and was able to provide power to all the connected tablets and smartphones regardless. For transparency, I wasn’t able to test this with a QC 3 device but it worked fine with a Galaxy S6 (QC 2). At one point I had a OnePlus 2, two Nexus 9s, a Motorola Xoom 2, a Chromecast and a USB battery pack all running off the charger. It got a little warm at full pelt, but certainly wouldn’t describe it as hot.
Overall, the Choetech Q3-4U2Q is a competent six port charger with QC 3 support. While I liked design and feel of the charger, there’s no single feature to mark it out from the many competitors. QuickCharge support is good for the latest phones, the stand is handy for a desktop charger and it seemed well enough made, so it’s definitely worth considering. If interested, the Choetech Q3-4U2Q is currently for sale on Amazon for GB£20.99.
Thanks to Choetech for supplying the Q3-4U2Q for review.
The physical USB type A interface connector seems to have been around forever and to be fair, it’s had an impressive lifespan starting with USB 1.0 back in 1996. Since then, the communication standard has been updated several times and the connector is still very relevant with USB 3.1 which now sports transfer speeds of up to 10 Gb/s.
USB type C is the latest connector design providing high speed data comms in a neat reversible design. So neat that a couple of manufacturers have ultraportables with a single USB C port. No USB A, no ethernet, no video. Looks great but a pain in the port if there’s a pile of cables to plug in. Accessory makers have stepped in to address the problem and here we have the Topop USB C to three USB A 3.1 ports and RJ45 Gigabit LAN adapter.
As the unboxing video shows, the adapter arrives in plain packaging and it’s a fairly functional device: this isn’t brushed metal milled from a single block of aluminium to complement the MacBook. It’s a sturdy matte black plastic . In terms of ports, there are three USB 3.1 type A ports on the top and a Gigabit network port on the far end. A short cable terminates in a USB C plug.
Having three USB A ports and a network port is very useful on these minimalist devices. Who has a USB C memory stick? And there are always wireless dead-spots. The Topop adapter gets out of these predicaments.
However, I discovered quite quickly that the presence of a USB C socket on a device does not guarantee functionality, so check compatibility on the website and assume that the adapter only works with phones, tablets and laptops mentioned. Believe me, it doesn’t work with the OnePlus 2, 3 or Google Pixel C, but find a device that is compatible (Apple Macbook, Google Pixel Chromebook) and the adapter will work fine.
Priced just under GB£20, the adapter’s in the right price bracket for the features that it offers. There’s no doubt that the Topop is a handy gadget to throw in a bag for occasional use, though if I was looking for a dock-lite on my desk, I think I would pay more for a better match to my laptop. Of course, your aesthetic requirements may differ.
If you spend any time at all tinkering with computers, it’s inevitable that one day you will have a computer with one set of ports and a peripheral with a completely different set of ports. Back in early 90s, before USB, serial ports changed from 25 pins to 9 pins and you needed a whole bag full of adaptors and gender changers. Or SCSI, which went through a series of connectors faster than you could say Sun Microsystems.
Today, it’s usually video standards that cause the problem, with VGA, DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort and even USB C all trying to get in on the act. Often it’s an older VGA PC trying to connect to a newer HDMI flatscreen TV or an HDMI-only ultraportable wanting to use a VGA equipped data projector. In this case, it’s the former, as I take a quick look at the Topop VGA to HDMI Converter with Audio Support.
As you’ll see from the unboxing video, the converter comes in plain packaging and there’s no branding on either packaging or the converter. In the pack, there’s only two cables, the VGA to HDMI converter and a USB to micro USB cable which is used to power the converter via socket on the back of the HDMI part. The additional power is needed because there’s electronics in the converter to change the picture signal from analogue VGA to digital HDMI.
Getting going is simplicity itself. Plug the VGA end into the PC or laptop and then use a standard HDMI-to-HDMI cable to connect the other end of the converter into the monitor or HDTV. The 3.5mm stereo jack needs plugged into the PC’s sound card or headphone socket and finally the converter needs powered using the USB to microUSB cable.
Turn on the computer and the HDTV. If it’s a laptop, don’t forget to toggle the relevant function key to get the laptop to output to the VGA port. On the TV, switch to the right HDMI input if it doesn’t switch automatically, and Bob’s your uncle as they say.
For me, it worked perfectly first time on an old Toshiba Satellite Pro A120 running at 1280 x 800. The picture quality was good too. I wasn’t expecting much as even directly connected VGA can look a bit fuzzy on a bigger monitor but the Topop converter does an excellent job. Here are a couple of screen shots which aren’t really going to show off the picture quality but if you click through they’ll give you an idea. The converter had no problem keeping up with video either and I was able to watching Netflix and YouTube.
The converter has audio support so sound comes out of the TV speakers. Possibly the only downside of the converter is that the audio cable could be a little longer. It’s around 55cm, which seems fine, but if you have a laptop where the headphone socket is on the front, the cable has to come under the laptop rather than round the side. Other than that, it’s hard to fault and the converter seems well enough made – I tried a little wiggling and nothing came free so QC passed…
Note that this converter will only go from VGA to HDMI. It will not do the reverse, HDMI to VGA, so don’t buy it thinking that it might.
In summary, the Topop VGA to HDMI converter with audio support works well and gives a good picture on the screen. At GB£10.99 it’s well priced, especially if you want to prolong the usefulness of an older computer with a newer monitor. It’s worth it too if you occasionally want to show some digital photos on your big HDTV and like to keep it simple.
The Logitech C922 Pro Stream Webcam is the long awaited replacement for the Logitech C920. I have been a fan of the C920 as I have at two of them shared between the studio and travel kit. The C920 has been the go to Webcam for a lot of folks for a long time. So when the C922 was announced I hit the Logitech team up and they where nice enough to send one over for a review.
Sadly as of this date 10-16-2016 the Logitech site does not have updated drivers for Windows 10. This was disappointing as the standard Windows drivers do not allow for the camera to be used in the 1080p at 30 frames video record mode that is advertised. I am not fully sure why Logitech has not yet released drivers for the camera but that is the case.
Fit Form wise the Webcam looks nearly identical to the C920 and from a image quality standpoint it does considerably better in low light than it’s predecessor. In all honesty though I was expecting a little more of a bump in image quality. The image below was during daylight houes and no overhead lighting turned on, which is really important to folks as that is where most webcams fail. In the default setting the camera needed a contrast adjustment which I had a hard time dialing in with no lights on.
Many gamers use the virtual Personify ChromaCam, and testing that function it did a great job in blocking the background when the camera was directly in front of me. If it was off to the side it had a bit of a problem, but that is to be expected when the camera is slightly shadowed.
Included with the Webcam was a mini desktop tripod and of course the C922 has nearly the same exact mount as the C920 with a bit of a bigger lip that goes over the monitor. This may block some of the screen if your using this webcam with your laptop.
The price is $99.00. But if you have a perfectly working C920 I am not sure that I can say at this point to run out and get the C922. But this is a great bump up from most other Webcams. I am hopeful that Logitech will release drivers for this camera shortly so that we can get the 1080p at 60 frames function out of it.. For now you are stuck at 720p / 30 Frames
The LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition – Model W200A was sent to me by the folks at AT&T to review. This is the first Smart Watch I have reviewed, and as I was contemplating the criteria for this review I decided on the following points. Wear-ability, Usability, Battery Life & Style.
With any watch it is my express opinion you should visit the retailer and try the watch on, and play with it before you buy. So while many sites will dig into all the Android functions, once you have used or tried an Andorid Wear product the functions are nearly across product lines and best tried in person.
Wear-Ability – The LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition has a 1.38′ inch OLED screen, thus the body of the watch has a pretty large profile which is a popular style today. It weighs in at 3.27 ounces and is considerably heavier than my Apple watch. But wearing the watch for 8-10 hours a day was very comfortable unlike my Apple Watch I did not have to adjust the strap a dozen times a day.
Usability -Like any new tech you have to learn how to use it and felt that manipulating the controls was pretty easy, it probable took me about a day to adapt to all the functions. My watch had a cellular connection and I could take calls and text without having my mobile.
Battery Life – This was what impressed me the most it has a 570 mAH battery and I only had to put it on the charger once every couple of days. Charging with the included cable you had to be careful to make sure the cable / connector would not get bumped which happened a few times.
Style – The screen is simply incredible and you can pick from several watch faces but, I kept the default and received several compliments. Many did not even realize it was a smart watch. The included band was practical, but I think I would want to upgrade to a leather band or something similar if it was my daily wear watch.
The price is the best part @ $199 with service plan is a great deal for what you get. I think I was shocked the most about the low price.
The ZTE – SPRO 2 Smart Projector is like a mini-multimedia center. Running on Android 4.4 KitKat you can use access and project media just about anyplace, connect it via WiFi, or hook it up to an AT&T wireless plan. This portable projector can be used for fun or business. With a 6300 mAh battery you are good to play full featured movie or do a business presentation with no wires.
It weighs in at 1.26 lbs and has an included carrying case, with Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity, Standard DLP Technology, 720p , autofocus and keystone correction, 20-120″ screen size, 5″ touch screen display, dual speakers, HDMI out and USB port to hook up an external drive.
The projected image of the SPRO 2 Smart Projector is perfect for business and recreational activities. My boys have been using it in the garage to play some movies during fall break. Overall for it’s sized I am always impressed on the output quality. Check it out today priced at $449.00
When it comes to media streaming via hardware, it’s a four way fight for your eyeballs between Roku, Apple TV, Amazon’s Fire TV and Google’s Chromecast. The most recent entrant, Amazon and the Fire TV, came to the UK in October 2014 and I reviewed one of the boxes back in January 2015. Over eighteen months later, Amazon’s Instant Video and Fire TV are more well known, with a large element of this courtesy of Jeremy Clarkson and the ex-Top Gear crew. To see what’s changed since then, Amazon kindly sent me a the updated Amazon Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote. Let’s take a look.
The Fire TV stick comes in the usual flip open box used by Amazon for its electronics. Inside the box, there’s the Fire TV stick itself, the Voice Remote with batteries, USB power supply with cable, an HDMI gender changer and some slim instructions. As it’s generally expected that the Fire TV will connect straight into an HDMI socket, there’s no HDMI cable. There’s an unboxing video below if you’re interested.
Before getting started, my tip of the day would be to plug the microUSB end of the power cable into the Fire TV stick BEFORE you push the Fire TV into a spare HDMI socket. This saves too much faffing around the back (or side) of the TV and alerts you early to a potential problem. As the power connector is on the side of the stick and the cable comes out at right angles, it’s possible that this will foul against an adjacent HDMI connector. On my TV it was apparent that the Fire TV was always going to sit in the topmost socket. Alternatively, I could have used an HDMI cable along with the gender changer to locate the stick away from the sockets and avoid interference. YMMV, as they say.
The other end of the USB cable goes into the power supply and once all connected and powered up, it’s simply a case of switching to the right HDMI input and following the prompts. The setup begins with pairing the remote to the stick and then connecting to wifi. As with all devices bought from Amazon, it comes pre-configured with your account details.
To make life even easier, there’s a set of cartoons to take you through some of the features of the Fire TV stick.
With that all done, you’re dropped into Amazon’s Fire interface. It’s largely unchanged since I first reviewed the Fire TV but that’s not a bad thing given that it’s big, bright and intuitive. Click up and down with the remote to move between the media areas….TV shows, Movies, Games, Apps, Music and so on. Click right and left to scroll through the chosen area. The Home area summarises recent activity so it’s easy to get back to something that you recently viewed. The interface is generally responsive but there can be a little lag when going into a new area, such as Photos, where it’s checking to see if there are any new media. I assume that the lag will be inversely proportional to your network connection speed.
There’s no doubt that the Fire TV is best used with Amazon Prime and other Amazon services – much of the promoted material is for Prime shows – but other media services like Netflix and Spotify are present via apps, and there’s a full range of catch-up services for UK’s terrestrial services (BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and My5). When I first reviewed the Fire TV a few of these were missing from the lineup so it’s good to see the extras. In addition to film and TV, the interface presents music purchased through Amazon as CDs and Amazon Music. If you use Amazon’s storage for photos, they’ll appear in a section too.
Video playback on the Fire TV can’t be faulted. I watched a number of shows through a variety of services, including Netflix, and the picture quality was unfailingly good. Programmes started quickly and got into HD picture quality within a few seconds. No problems here.
The Fire TV Stick supports apps as well, and these mostly offer other media services, such as YouTube, or games, such as…..well, loads including Crossy Road! It’s actually good fun playing mobile games on the big screen, though some require the Fire Game Controller (GB£44.99) rather than just the remote. Some games are tricky enough with just the remote, so if you are gamer, expect to stump up for the game controller. There’s something for everyone, as they say, and I played a fair bit of Lego Star Wars – The Yoda Chronicles. Overall, I felt there was a much greater range of games than last time and more of the headline titles were available.
While having loads of media is a good thing, it’s even better when there’s a search function to quickly find what you want to see. This is the Voice Remote version of the TV Stick and as such, the remote has a button at the top with a microphone symbol. When pressed and held, you can simply say what TV or film you are interested in, and the Stick will work it out and show you the options. Owners without the Voice Remote will have to laboriously type in the name of the programme. The voice recognition is accurate and the subsequent search recommendations are valid. Press the mic button, say “The Fall”, and the first programme it offers is the BBC drama (the one I wanted) followed by other films or TV programmes with the word “fall” in their title, such as “Downfall”.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like search has moved on too much. It is good at finding stuff but it still seems to only reference Amazon-hosted material. Take the above mentioned “The Fall”, which is currently showing the third series on BBC and aired episodes can be viewed for free on iPlayer. However, search on the Fire TV Stick would have you pay £2.49 for the HD version of episode 1 without mentioning the freebie option at all. More on this in a moment….
Back in January 2015, I said, “Overall the Amazon Fire TV compares well with the competition and if you are into Amazon’s ecosystem, then the Fire TV is a no-brainer buy at the current price of £64 giving easy access to familiar photos, music, movies and games. Even if you aren’t a fully paid-up member of the Amazon fan club, there’s still plenty to recommend with the current selection of apps and games which will undoubtedly grow over time as more broadcasters and app developers get on-board.” Here in October 2016, there’s not much to add except that it’s even better now than it was then; there are more broadcasters on-board, there are more games and the Fire TV Stick with Voice Remote is cheaper at £44.99. It drops to only £34.99 with the standard remote.
But….since starting the review of this Fire TV stick, a new version has been announced, at least in the US, which addresses some of the remaining deficiencies, namely cross-media search. Obviously it’s not clear right now when that will arrive in the UK or which apps will be searched in addition to Amazon media. Interestingly, the new Fire TV Stick comes with Alexa so the voice interaction won’t be limited to only search but other queries too. I’m looking forward to it already.