Category Archives: review

Stay Safer with 2FA and a YubiKey



In the past couple of weeks I’ve received three notifications from haveibeenpwnd informing me that a couple of organisations didn’t do a good enough job keeping my info secure. While it’s always going to be a good idea to change your login and password, any sites that use 2FA significantly reduce the value of stolen credentials (as long as you’ve signed up for the 2FA option!)

What’s 2FA? Two Factor Authentication. Still not clear? Maybe you’ve used a web site that’s texted your phone with an extra number or code that needs typed in before you are let in to your account. That number is a “second factor” and you’re using 2FA to get into the web site. Excellent choice. 2FA is good because it means that even if ne’er-do-wells steal your details from a sloppy site, they don’t have access to your phone, so they can’t get any further. However, SMS authentication is not perfect – there are some vulnerabilities typically using “man in the middle” attacks.

If you want to take your online authentication to the next level, you might want to consider a physical security key for your second factor. This isn’t a key like you’d use in a lock, but a USB key that doesn’t look too dissimilar to a memory stick. A good example is Yubico‘s YubiKey 4 series range, which supports a wide range of protocols including “FIDO U2F, smart card (PIV), Yubico OTP, Code Signing, OpenPGP, OATH-TOTP, OATH-HOTP, and Challenge-Response” and can be used with many of the big names like Google, Facebook and Dropbox. The keys can be used for authentication when logging onto PCs too (depending on OS, version etc.)

As an end user, you don’t need to know all the technical stuff, only that it’s a very safe way of authentication and it’s simple to use. To get started, you first associate the security key with your account, and the next time you try to logon to the service, you’ll be prompted to insert the security key into a USB slot (or swipe for NFC keys). You can use one key for multiple sites.

Yubico provides YubiKeys for different use cases. There’s the standard YubiKey 4 which is designed to go on a keyring (keychain) and works with USB A. The YubiKey 4C  also goes on a keyring but works with USB C. The 4 Nano and 4C Nano are smaller and are intended for semi-permanent installation in USB A and C sockets respectively. For NFC applications, such as suitably-equipped smartphones, there’s the YubiKey NEO. Physically, the keys are tough. Allegedly, they can go through the washing machine and get run over by a car, though I didn’t try any of these.

Here I have a YubiKey 4 and 4 Nano (shown left) and they both work in the same way – the only difference is the size and what you touch to activate the key. Let’s take a look at getting Google setup with a YubiKey.

Login to your Google account, say via Gmail. Click up on the top right where your “headshot” is and then click again on “My Account”.

Head on into “Signing in to Google”. I’ve blanked out a few sensitive items.

2-Step Verification is what you want. Hopefully, you’ve already got this turned on but if not, go ahead and get this sorted out. This page shows the factors you can use for 2FA. Security keys are topmost with text messages and backup codes below (not shown).

Click on “Add Security Key”.

Get the YubiKey ready and insert when instructed. Hit Next.

On the YubiKey 4, the “Y” logo on the key will flash – tap with your finger to confirm. On the Nano, tap inwards on the end of the key. Once the YubiKey has registered, you can give it a name.

And that’s it – all set and ready to go. The next time you login to Google on a computer that you haven’t used before you’ll be prompted to insert your YubiKey to prove who you are. Super secure!

Other services are similar. Here’s part of the Dropbox procedure.

And Facebook…

Supported sites are listed here and you’ll recognise a good few of the names.

If you can see the benefits of secure 2FA, the YubiKeys can be purchased from the Yubico online store. The YubiKey 4 is US$40 and the 4 Nano is US$50, with similar prices in GB£ from amazon.co.uk.

The 4 series can do a whole lot more, and if you just want the basics, then a YubiKey 3 at only US$18 is a good start. I personally bought one of these awhile ago to secure my Google account.

Thanks to Yubico for providing the YubiKeys for review.


Kärcher FC5 Hard Floor Cleaner Review



Kärcher’s bright yellow products will be well-known to many and the brand’s almost synonymous with pressure washers: on any given Sunday, cars up and down the nation will be getting a clean aided by a Kärcher. Over the past few years, the company has been trying to increase its market with a range of household cleaning products and last year, the Window Vac seemed to be everywhere.

This year, it’s the turn of the floors and here we have the Kärcher FC5 hard floor cleaner. Hard floors are very much en vogue at the moment but keeping them clean involves dry vacuuming followed by wet mopping or steam cleaning. The FC5 is designed to get round this problem by combining elements of an upright vacuum cleaner with a wet floor cleaner. Let’s take closer look….and for those wondering, even geeks need to keep their houses clean.

The Kärcher FC5 arrives in substantial cardboard box, but it’s not as long as it could be as “some assembly is required”. Simply, the upper part of the handle needs to be slotted into the body of the cleaner. It’s straightforward and only needs a good shove to click it into place. Once together, the FC5 looks the business with a smooth aluminium handle extending out of a the obligatory yellow body. The unit is hefty enough at around 5 kg but it’s not unwieldy. The design won a Red Dot Award in 2017.

Taking a tour round the hard floor cleaner reveals most of FC5’s features. Starting at the top, there’s a rubberised handle with a power switch just within thumb’s reach. Slightly lower down is the power cable – 7m – which is coiled round two hooks. The lower hook rotates to quick release the cable which is handy when getting started. On the front of the cleaner body is the tall thin clean water reservoir and round the back is a stubbier dirty water container. At the bottom, are two fluffy rollers which spin when the cleaner is in action, giving the floor a good scrubbing.

The way the FC5 works is to suck water and detergent from the front reservoir, pour it onto the rollers, scrub the floor with the spinning damp rollers and then vacuum the now grubby water and debris up into back container. Sounds perfect and in practice, works well too.

Turning on the FC5 for the first time can be a little surprising as the rollers can get a bit of a grip on the floor and pull the cleaner away from you. It’s a bit little a powered lawn mower but not nearly as strong. Once mastered, the FC5 can be easily manoeuvred around the place and there’s a bit of tilt-n-swivel action. Tilting the handle to the left or right will turn the roller head in the same direction so you can kind of curve past things and into corners. The FC5 is noisy like a vacuum too – there’s no gentle gurgle of steam here.

Removing both water containers is easy enough – push down on the top and give the container a yank out. Filling the clean water reservoir is easy but it’s hard to see and use the “max” marker, especially as you’re filling the container nearly horizontal and you have to tilt it vertically to check on the water level. I found that one fill was enough to clean a hallway (solid wood), a kitchen (tile), a bathroom (tile) and a playroom (laminate) with a little left over. For reference, my house is about 100 sq. m on the ground floor.

After cleaning, the floor surface is left slightly damp but it dries within minutes. It’s much drier than it would be using a mop but it’s probably on a par with a steam cleaner.

The dirty water container comes in two pieces – there’s an inner structure which is designed to catch solid material like fluff, hair and squashed peas, and this comes out so that this stuff can be put in the bin. The grubby water can then be poured down the sink without worrying about blockages. Although it’s a little disgusting, you can see all the dirt that the FC5 has picked up. I don’t think of having a dirty house – there’s no pets, only two children who are fairly good at taking their shoes off at the front door – but I was still surprised at how dirty the water was.

The FC5 comes with a black plastic stand (or “cleaning station” according to Kärcher) which can be used both when the cleaner is resting under the stairs or in the utility room, and when cleaning is underway. If the stand isn’t used, the FC5 falls over – it won’t stand on its own. The base is also used to pre-wet the rollers for a quick cleaning start.

Talking about the rollers, or SmartRollers as styled by Kärcher, they easily unscrew for cleaning and drying. It’s very simple and as long as the blue roller matches the blue axle (and the green roller, the green axle), it’s impossible to go wrong.

In use over the past few weeks, I liked the Kärcher FC5. The pull from the rollers was an initial surprise but I was comfortable moving the cleaner around after a few minutes. It copes well with the different floor surfaces and after whizzing round the hard floors, I could see the dirt in the sucked up water. The FC5 handles fluff, hair, sand (Moon Sand), grit and other relatively small pieces of debris (Play Doh). It’s not a vacuum cleaner though, so larger items like stones, packaging and sweet wrappers are going to stay on the floor.

I have mixed feelings about the base that the FC5 needs to stay upright. I can kind of understand the need for pre-wetting the rollers but having to keep the base handy just to stand it up is a little annoying. If you can clean your whole house in one go, you’ll be fine; those of us who have to stop and move furniture will always be wanting the stand close to hand, only to find it’s on the other side of the room.

Priced at GB£239, the Kärcher FC5 isn’t cheap. In comparison, popular steam mops cost around a quarter of that, and you’re still going to need a proper vacuum cleaner. However the real benefit of the FC5 is the overall time saving of not having to vacuum before cleaning – you only need to go over the surface once with the FC5 and it’s job done. Definitely worth considering in homes with several hard floored rooms.

The Kärcher FC5 is available direct from Kärcher and other good retailers.

Unboxing and in action videos below.

This post was done as part of The Insiders UK Kärcher campaign.


Flic-ked into Action



Flic is a battery-powered Bluetooth push button that can be stuck to a flat surface or clipped to clothing. What makes it really flexible and smart is the accompanying Flic app that elevates Flic from a dumb button to a smart accessory integration with over 100 services, applications and functions. The outer packaging claims that inside is the “World’s Smartest Button” so let’s take a closer look.

The Flic button comes in a small box which opens up to reveal the button with the clip underneath. The Flic comes in four colours; black, white, cyan and lime. I’m kind of disappointed there’s no red one. A one-off Flic costs US$34.99 / GB£29.99 but the price drops quickly when buying in bulk. A pack of eight at $179.99 gives a unit cost of $22.50.

Flic is covered in a soft silicon rubber and needs a firm push down for a satisfying click – you won’t accidentally press it just by grazing the surface. There is a red LED behind the top surface of the button and it glows through the writing when required. The back of the Flic button unscrews to both change the battery and switch out the flat back for the clip version.

To get going with the Flic button, download the Flic app from the app store of your choice and fire it up. Because of the flexibility of Flic, you have to accept a long list of permissions. On first run, you’ll need to sign-up for a Flic account but once that’s squared away, you get a some advice and guidance on Flics and Tasks. We’ll come back to Tasks in a minute.

You then need to pair your Flic button with the Flic app and give it a name. It’s all very straightforward and the app walks you through the process. Once that’s done, you’re ready to automate your world.

Keeping it simple, a Flic button can be set to initiate one or more Actions. One Flic can run three up to different Actions; on click, double click or click’n’hold. An Action might be “Play Spotify” or “Take a picture”. You can also chain the Actions, so “Play Spotify” can be followed by “Set volume to 11”.

 

There’s a huge range of actions – at time of writing there were over a 100 gathered in seven categories; Phone Control, Lifestyle, Communication, Music, Home Automation, Fun and Tools. Some of the actions will require configuration before they can be used, e.g. connecting to Philips Hue, and many of the actions offer options, for example, is the front or rear camera to be used?

 

Tasks are a bundles of Actions which allow you to test the Actions without actually having to assign it to a button. It’s handy because otherwise you’d need a button for testing, and if you’ve stuck the only button you have to a surface, it could be inconvenient…think of Tasks being a virtual button.

As a practical example of Flic use, I used the Flic button to manage my smartphone while driving and it works really well. Here’s how…in the car I use my phone for two things; podcasts and navigation. I setup the Flic button so that a single Flic press launched Pocket Casts, set the volume and pressed play, and that a double press started Google Maps. The Flic is stuck on the dashboard close to hand and now I can switch between the two apps without even touching the phone. Handy.

Returning to the hardware, there are two kinds of Flic button, Flic and Flic Single. The standard Flic button works with all aspects of the complemantary app but Flic Single works with only one area such as music or lighting. The name of each Flic Single gives a clue to its area of expertise, with Flic Lights, Flic Music, Flic Selfie, Flic Find and Flic Location, and there’s a stylised logo illustrating use. The Single buttons are a good bit cheaper at US$19.99 / GB£19.99 but are only available in white.

Having played with the Flic button for a couple of weeks, I’ve had a few a few thoughts….

First, these need to cost less. At $35 / £30, they’re pricey enough for rubber blobs, especially if you are buying one or two at a time. Flics are competing with other controllers – compare them with the Philips Hue Dimmer switch at $25. Yes, it only works with Philips Hue, but it’s much more stylish.

Next, there needs to be a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone or tablet nearby for the Flic to work. It’s really the mobile device that’s doing the hard work, so a button on its own is useless. Let’s say I have Flics at home to turn on some lights. If I go out and take my smartphone with me, the Flics don’t do anything until I get back.

Now Flic spotted this too, and they ran an Indiegogo campaign over the summer for a Bluetooth hub that takes the place of the mobile device. A Flic hub certainly goes a long way to addressing the issue and as a bonus, it can handle way more buttons than the phone can.

Overall, there’s no doubt that Flic buttons and the Flic app have a multitude of uses and it’s very much a case of figuring out where to best use it. For me, the best uses I found were around personal configuration. The Flic in the car, the Flic on my desk. Places that were only about me and I’d have my phone with me.

Thanks to Shortcut Labs for providing the Flic for review.


DiskaShur 2 Secure Encrypted Portable Hard Drive



Laptops are data gold mines that criminals love to target. Due to my regular travel schedule, I have always put the majority of my media on external secure drives. I have used just about everything in the book when it comes to encryption and many of those tools are painful to use and often slow. For many years I carried an external Hard-Drive that required a biometric finger swipe to unlock. It was always a pain as I would have to swipe three or four times to get it to unlock. The folks at iStorage contacted me about there new DiskaShur 2 Secure Encrypted Hard Drive and over the past two weeks, I have been using it while on travel.

This is a device that I am honest requires few words to explain how to use it but the details of what it does is simply incredible. The DiskaShur 2 they sent for review was a 500gb drive that unlocked by entering an 8 digit pin and clicking unlock on the drive.  The instructions to change the default pin are clear and concise and foolproof so that you will not brick the device in the process. It works with any operating system that can attach a drive via USB 3.0

But what blew me away was the level they go to encrypt the data on the Hard-Drive and protect the data once it’s copied to the drive.  This thing is like Fort Knox just reading the security precautions they put in place, makes you realize that this product is in a class of its own. Let me try to summarize the features and in all honesty to get the full perspective you need to read their full product page.

  • EDGETM (Enhanced Dual Generating Encryption) Technology – built-in FIPS PUB 197 validated AES-XTS 256-bit hardware encryption engine. The data encryption key is randomly generated by a Common Criteria EAL4+ ready Random Number Generator and protected by FIPS validated wrapping algorithms.
  • FIPS PUB 197 Validated Encryption Algorithm – Employing AES-XTS 256-bit hardware encryption, the iStorage diskAshur2 seamlessly encrypts all data on the drive in real-time, keeping your data safe even if the hard drive is removed from its enclosure.
  • USB 3.1
  • Brute Force Hack Defence Mechanism – That destroys all data on the drive after a set number of incorrect password entries.
  • Drive Reset Feature – Which employs a useful drive reset feature, which can be implemented with a unique command. This clears all PINs and data and resets the drive to be redeployed.
  • Unattended Auto-Lock Feature
  • Tamper Proof Design – Any hacker trying to get to the electronics as everything is covered in a tough epoxy.
  • Data at rest protection – All data, PINs, and encryption keys are always encrypted while at rest.
  • Wear Resistant Epoxy Coated Keypad – Prevents keypad wear in allowing someone to determine keys utilized

So far as performance goes when the drive is unlocked it is fast and there is no slow down in copying information to the drive. But with a single click I can lock the drive down or in the worse case scenario I can enter the self-destruct pin and all data is cleared from the drive and is non-recoverable.

iStorage DiskaShur 2 Hard Drive Prices starting at around $210 dollars you really cannot go wrong. If you do not want to carry an external drive they also have USB sticks that employ the same technology. My goal is to make it hard as possible for a criminal to get to my data. So while my laptop may be the main target in a room robbery. Even if they get my secure hard-drive they are not going to spend the time and resources to get the information as they really put forth some incredible security barriers to do so.  This is the security product that you will find being carried in my computer bag where I can be at ease, knowing that my data is secure.


Small Size, Small Price – RCA Mercury 7L Tablet



The RCA Mercury 7L Pro tablet is a 7″ Android tablet with budget specs and a price to match, at just GB£49. That’s about US$65 and it’s right in there as an impulse purchase. But is it a case of buying in haste, repent at leisure? Let’s take a look.

Sold by Asda in the UK, the Mercury 7L is the little sister to the Saturn 10 Pro and both carry the RCA branding: I reviewed the 10 Pro a couple of weeks ago here on GNC and I’ll confess upfront to lifting parts of the Saturn’s review: unsurprisingly, the 7L shares many of the 10 Pro’s traits. There are two other models in the line up; a 7R which has double the internal storage at 16GB and 7 Pro with a folio Bluetooth keyboard.

Taking a quick look over the tablet, the first impressions is how small it is. It’s a 7″ 1024 x 600 screen and the device is 8.25″ across the whole diagonal. For metric people, the Mercury 7 is 185 x 113.8 mm and is 12.5 mm deep and as expected, it’s all pastic. In places, it actually feels that someone thought about how it might be used but in other areas, gets it totally wrong. For example, the bezel on one side is slightly thicker and if you hold it in your right hand in landscape mode, the front-facing camera is neatly positioned to the top right, away from your thumb. Briliant….except that the same hand covers up the microphone. So close….

Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button and volume rocker. The single speaker round the back is loud. It’s not terribly clear from the website but I think microSD cards up to 128GB can be used. It’s light at 280g.

Despite the name, speed is not one of Mercury 7L’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. Once apps get going, they’re fine, but starting a new app or switching between apps can be a little slow. For whatever reason, Geek Bench 4 refused to run so I can’t give a definitive comparison. Having said that Alto’s Adventure play surprisingly well (once it started).

The display could be better too but at this price, it’s in-line with expectations. 1024 x 600 on a 7″ screen is acceptable, the colours are strong and it’s reasonably bright. My only real criticism is that the viewing angle is a little narrow – it’s most noticeable when holding the tablet in portrait mode.

And as for the camera, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the one megapixel but for a bit of Skype, it’s ok.

As on the Saturn 10,  the user interface for the Mercury 7L would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) with a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred as my muscle memory expects it in the middle.

The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.

Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Mercury 7L is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.

After owning the Mercury for a couple of weeks, I think the niche for this tablet is in the portable media space. It’s fine for listening to Spotify, watching Netflix and reading ebooks on OverDrive, plus the microSD card slot gives plenty of room for media. Switching apps can be slow, so if you’re a social butterfly mixing Facebook with Twitter and Instagram, you might need some patience. Overall, it’s a budget tablet for a budget price. Understand this and you won’t be disappointed.

If the Mercury 7L is of interest, it’s available from Asda for GB£49 at time of writing. Thanks to Venturer for supplying the tablet for review.


Homitt 20 Cans Soft Pack Cooler Review



We live a very active lifestyle here in Hawaii whether it be beach outings or sports events the kids are involved in. The folks at Homitt sent me their 20 Cans Soft Pack Cooler to review. Like any product we test here at Geek News Central it gets a real world use. Yesterday my son had a cross country meet where we were going to be at the event for six hours. So at the last minute, I grabbed the Homitt 20 Cans Soft Pack Cooler and loaded it up with ice, water, gator aide and stuffed in some food to keep cool.

The cooler has a very thick barrier to keep the cold in and the heat out. It’s small enough to be perfect for a day outing and large enough to keep refreshments cold for the duration. Overall I was pleased with the performance as the cooler was in direct Hawaii sunlight for 5 hours and yet at the end of the day, there was still unmelted ice in the bag. It was in direct 90-degree sunlight for five hours most coolers would not have fared as well.

The only challenge I had with the cooler and it may because it’s new is that the zipper is really tight. Not to take anything away from the cooler you just have to use some force to unzip the top of the bag. Hopefully, designed that way to maintain cooler integrity.

Checking the bag 24 hours later, the bag still has a little bit of ice and the water is still cold. So overall I am pleased with the performance. I only put about 1/3 of a 10-pound bag of ice in the bag to start with. The price on this cooler does not come in cheap it retails for $109.99 but given the performance and holding up to five hours of direct sunlight and keeping things cold for its utility and the capacity this is a great beach or day trip cooler that’s easy to carry and you can be assured your refreshments will stay cold.

Amazon.


How Good Is Your Air? Foobot Knows



While air is all around us, colourless and odourless, we often seek a semi-mythical fresh air; at the seaside, in a spring meadow, after rain on a summer’s day, on crisp winter morning. We all have our favourite. On the other hand, bad air can be difficulty to identify too. Unless there’s mould on the wall or the smell of fresh paint, many pollutants are invisible too.

Around 5 million people in the UK suffer from various levels of asthma and for people with this condition, air quality can be an important factor in their quality of life. This was a reality for Jacques Touillon, whose son suffered from asthma. Back in 2014, he started a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for an indoor air quality monitor called Foobot (formerly Alima) and now the Foobot is available for sale in North America, Europe and Australia. Let’s take a look.

The Foobot is a semi-cylindrical gadget a little taller than a smart phone (17 cm), with what looks like an air vent on top. It’s not dissimilar to an Amazon Echo, only a little shorter. Unlike the Echo, the Foobot has sophisticated sensors to measure gases and chemicals in the air, glowing blue when air quality is good and orange when poor. In particular, the Foobot measures:

  • VOCs – Volatile Organic Compounds, which are toxic gases like ammonia and formaldehyde
  • PM2.5s – Particulate Matter smaller than 2.5 micrometres, like dust, pollen and pet dander
  • Carbon Monoxide, which can be deadly as it binds irreversibly with the haemoglobin in the blood
  • Humidity. High humidity can lead to damp and low humidity is an irritation
  • Temperature

As a smart device, the Foobot integrates with other smart home solutions, from Google Nest to Amazon Echo, and with the help of IFTTT, Foobot can also connect to over 120 home appliances, including Hive, the connected thermostat from British Gas. Of course, there’s a complementary smartphone app for iOS and Android that shows both real-time and historical information.

Powered by a USB charger, the Foobot connects via wifi and the setup procedure is very straightforward, using the clever trick of turning the Foobot upside down to initiate the start up procedure. The app then gets the wifi connection established, owner’s account set up, timezone confirmed, room location set, Celsius v Fahrenheit chosen. All exactly what you’d expect from an indoor air quality monitor.

What you might not expect is that the Foobot takes about a week to calibrate the sensors and settle down. Until this happens, there are warnings about the inaccuracy of the readings and some app features like notifications and alerts are unavailable until the bedding in period is complete.

Although light on the detail, the Foobot does colour itself to express air quality based on the GPI – the Global Pollution Index. Information on how it’s calculated is a little sparse though apparently it’s “a weighted compound of the different pollutants measured by Foobot“. Smaller is better, so less than 25 is great, 25-50 is good, 50-75 is fair and 75+ is poor (just move out). The Foobot will glow blue for great and good, and orange for a GPI over 50. The length of the lights is an indicator for how good or bad the GPI is.

The Foobot glows lilac if you disturb it by rocking or tapping it. The smartphone app will register and notify on the disturbance too. They’re called “knock knock” notifications and Foobot suggests they could be used to tell a parent that a child is home safe.

The really juicy stuff is in the smartphone app which is a free download from the relevant app store. To start with, the colour of the app will mimic the Foobot but more detail on the level of Particulate Matter, Volatile Compounds and Carbon Dioxide is available.  Humidity and Temperature are shown too. A couple of different views present the information in varying levels of detail.

 

Swiping up from the bottom shows historical information and swiping left or right moves between the measures. The information is presented by minutes, hours, days or weeks.

  

The Foobot app supports notifications and if any threshold is breached, sends the app a notfication. Notifications can be individually controlled but the thresholds seem fixed. Here in Northern Ireland it’s fairly damp much of time so the default 60% humidity threshold meant that I got lots of notifications. I turned it off.

Along with the notification, Foobot asks for clarification on what you think might have caused the peak and offers the choice of things like cleaning and cooking. One curious option is “olfactive decorator” which I think translates to “smelly paint”.

What surprised me was how much air quality was affected by people being around. The graph on the right shows a day where there was no-one home between 9-5 and we got an early night. During the day and night, the GPI drops to less than ten when there’s no-one about, but jumps up as soon as someone’s home.

The Foobot app has a couple of other settings. The intensity of the LEDs can be adjusted and the LEDs can be put on a timer so that if the Foobot is in, say, a bedroom, they can be timed to go off at night.

As a smart device, the Foobot can be integrated with other smart home systems to do clever things. There is official integration with Alexa but at the moment it’s limited to asking Foobot for an air quality summary (GPI), and turning the Foobot’s lights on or off. You can’t get specifics of temperature, humidity, VOC or particulates.  On the other hand, you can unofficially integrate Foobot with Samsung SmartThings to get this information – see left. There’s integration too with Nest and Lux thermostats from within the Foobot app: I don’t have either of those so couldn’t test further. At a higher level, there’s integration with IFTTT so there’s plenty of options there too. If air quality poor, turn up the ventilation….

What improvements would I like? Two things come to mind….one, for the alert thresholds to be adjustable to allow for damp countries and, second, for there to be a specific detection and alert for carbon monoxide (CO) with the option of alerting multiple people should it be sensed. CO is a dangerous poisonous gas produced by burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel that kills people in their sleep. I have a gas-burning stove in my home so I’m always conscious of this risk (yes, I have a CO-detector).

Overall, the Foobot does what it sets out to do – it measures indoor air quality – and if you do have a family member who suffers from a condition affected by air quality I think the Foobot is money well spent. I’ve had the Foobot operational in my home for about two months over the summer and I can already see trends associated with weather and indoor activity such as cooking (or burning!). If you are then able to match trends to symptoms, you are well on the way to better managing the medical condition.

Other scenarios might be if you lived near a busy road or a factory, and were concerned about pollution, or even to keep an eye on an elderly relative without going for the complexity of a whole smart home. The relative could “knock knock” every now and then, and you could make sure he or she is warm enough and not skimping on the heating. Just a thought…

I can’t comment on the accuracy of the VOC and particulate figures, but the humidity and temperature measurements were very similar to the values recorded by other smart sensors. Further, the general trends appeared to be correct – people in the room, vacuuming, opening windows, cooking – all impacted as expected on the measurements, so broadly I believe the figures are correct.

The Foobot is available direct from their website priced at US$199 and EU€199. The Foobot is on Amazon.co.uk too for GB£179.

Thanks to Foobot for supplying the unit for review. There’s an unboxing and review video below.


Great Features on a Budget Tablet – RCA Saturn 10 Pro



The RCA Saturn 10 Pro tablet is a 10″ Android tablet that marries budget specs with high-end features at an astonishingly low price, GB£109. That’s about US$140. Amazingly, that price includes a detachable keyboard, but have they cut the corners in the right places, or is this true value for money? Let’s take a look.

Sold by Asda in the UK, the Saturn 10 Pro is the big brother to the Mercury 7L and both carry the RCA branding though I’m not sure if the RCA brand is as strong in the UK as it might be in the US. Eagle-eyed GNC readers will spot a great deal of similarity with the Venturer EliteWin which I reviewed previously. Unsurprisingly it’s no coincidence as the Saturn 10 Pro is produced by Venturer under the RCA brand. For those wondering what happened to RCA as a company, it was purchased and then broken up by GE in the 1980s.

Taking a quick look over the tablet, I think the design has got stronger with each iteration of the tablet. MoMA won’t be asking for an exhibit any time soon, but the Saturn Pro isn’t far off some of the other low cost tablets from a certain large on-line retailer. Mind you, it’s still quite thick at 11 mm without keyboard. Handily, most of the controls and features have been concentrated on what I perceive as the left-hand side. This is a good thing as it means there’s one unencumbered short edge which can be used to grasp the Saturn Pro in portrait mode.

Quickly reviewing features, there’s a microphone, HDMI connector, reset button (that I never had to use), microSD slot, 5V DC jack (never used), microUSB (used for charging), 3.5 mm headphone jack, power button, volume rocker and full-size USB port. The keyboard connects onto a long edge via four pogo pings with magnets keeping the tablet in place. The single speaker round the back is possibly one of the loudest I’ve ever heard on a phone or tablet.

Speed is not one of the Saturn 10’s strengths. Although equipped with a 1.3 GHz quad core processor and 32 GB of storage, it’s held back by the paltry 1 GB of RAM. In benchmarking, Geek Bench 3 gave the Saturn 387 and 1113 in the single and multicore tests respectively. For comparison a Nexus 5 from 2013 scores 859 and 1764. In real world conditions, that means Alto’s Adventure takes over 20 seconds to launch. Still, it’s playable when it gets going though the tablet sometimes stutters when there’s too much action in the games. Surfing the web and watching YouTube is fine – give it time to get the videos loaded.

The display could be better too. 1280 x 800 on a 10″ screen simply is disappointingly low and at times there’s a hint of blurriness round text in places. Look closely at the “t” in the photo – it’s not crisp. 1280 x 800 was the resolution of the original Nexus 7 in 2012, and that had a 7″ screen. The Nexus 9 is 2048 x 1536 in a 9″ screen. To be fair, most of the time it’s not noticeable but open a text-heavy magazine in Zinio and it’s quite obvious.

And as for the cameras, lots of light is needed to get anything worthwhile from the two megapixels. Stick to using the camera in your smartphone.

What’s good? The plethora of ports is definitely interesting – full-size USB, microUSB, microSD and HDMI are all handy, particularly for photos and documents. Plug in a memory stick or card, fire up Google Photos and flick through the photos. Copy between media using ES File Explorer. I’m not sure if I had a setting wrong somewhere but I didn’t seem to be able to use the microUSB port for anything other than charging. Connecting up the Saturn to my PC via USB didn’t show any additional drives.

Connecting the Saturn to a big TV via HDMI is fun. I had the tablet on holiday with me and I could take the day’s GoPro footage and check it out on the big screen in the evening with the family watching. It’s good from that point of view.

Of course, the keyboard and touchpad are a win too. The keys are small but big enough for even a fat-fingered typist like myself to touch-type without too many errors and the key action is perfect acceptable. The keyboard has a sixth row of keys for back, home, search and other functions which greatly improved the Android-with-a-keyboard experience. Turning the tablet screen off is possible with the keyboard, but it’s not possible to wake the tablet from keyboard. The touchpad is sensitive, though I found it suffered a bit from stray fingers brushing the surface and occasionally text would end up being typed in the wrong place.

On first inspection, the user interface would appear to be mainly stock Android 6.0 (June 2016 security patch) but there are a couple of customisations. The most obvious is the that status bar has few additional icons. Pressing the camera on the left takes a screenshot and the speaker icons control the tablet volume. It’s a smart idea to have onscreen volume controls though I would have preferred keeping the Home button centred.

The other change is more of a disappointment – the “Firmware update” screen is black screen with a grey “CHECK NOW”. How hard would it have been to code a screen in keeping with the rest of the OS? It’s somewhat concerning too that the most recent security update is from June 2016.

Everything else is as expected for an Android tablet with full access to Google products; Play Store, Music, Movies, Games, Maps and so on. It’s all there – the Saturn 10 Pro is fully functional Android tablet (specs). Battery life is quoted at six hours and that’s not far from the truth.

Let’s be clear, the Saturn 10 Pro is not a Pixel C but then again, you’d get three Saturn 10s for the price of one Pixel C. The Saturn 10 is a budget tablet with a great deal of functionality from a microSD slot to a full-sized USB port,  HDMI out and a keyboard. On the other hand, the tablet is slow, cameras are low-res and the screen is disappointing for a 10″ display. What’s important to you will determine if £109 is money well spent on the Saturn 10.

As an example, I wouldn’t buy one personally because I read lots of magazines on my tablet and I want a glossy hi-res screen to enjoy the features. That’s important to me, but if you want to do a bit of email on the sofa, having the keyboard might make it a killer proposition at the price. As an aside, if Venturer was able to produce a tablet that bumped the specs to the mid-range and priced it well, I think they’d have a real winner.

If the Saturn 10 Pro makes your shortlist, it’s available from Asda for GB£109 at time of writing. Video unboxing and review below.

Thanks to RCA Venturer for providing the Saturn 10 Pro for review.


1More E1001 Triple Driver Earbuds



As I unpacked the box for the 1More E1001 triple driver headphones, I realised that there was good chance that these earbuds might be something a little bit special given both the attention to detail on the packaging and the price at just under GB£100. Was I disappointed? Let’s take a look and find out.

Starting with the E1001’s box, it’s designed to look like a much-loved hardback book, with detailing on three sides to give the impression of pages. Held shut by a magnetic catch, opening the outer cover reveals pencil-drawn draughts of the headphones construction. On the right are the earbuds, and lifting the tray reveals accessories in neat boxes.

The largest box holds additional eartips for the E1001s. In total, there are six sizes of silicon earbuds going from 10 mm up to 14.5 mm, plus three sizes of foam tips at 11, 13 and 14.5 mm sizes. With having a range of sizes, swapping based on use is realistic: one size for listening at home on the sofa and a larger size for walking in the park.

Other boxes contained instructions, a pleather case for the headphones, an aircraft adaptor and a clip for holding the cable in place. The clip does make a big difference when using the E1001s on a call as otherwise the microphone picks up too much background noise. Both the adaptor and the clip are finished in brush gold effect.

Returning to the headphones themselves, the body of the earbud is made entirely from metal; there’s no plastic here.  With two contrasting colours on the earbuds – soft gold and blue grey – the E1001s live up to expectations with a lovely finish. If gold’s not your colour, there’s a silver version to lower the bling level. The earbuds point forwards slightly and I had no problems with comfort and fit.

The cables running from the earbuds are equal length, and the right side has an inline control for volume, next track and taking calls. The control sticks with the grey and gold colouring. 1More keep it simple when it comes to the control – don’t expect to be able to manage two calls or anything fancy, but it does work on both iOS and Android. The lower part of the cable is braided and ends in TRRS 3.5mm jack. The total length is about 1.2 m from jack to earbud.

With the physical review completed, let’s move onto the important bit….what do they sound like? In one word, stunning. Tuned by a Grammy-award winning sound engineer, Luca Bignardi, they deliver an accurate listening experience which is frankly wasted on smartphones and mp3s. I hooked up the E1001s to a Yamaha amp with Pioneer CD source and listened to albums all over again. I particularly enjoyed listening to acoustic tracks, especially R&B like Keb’ Mo’ where you can hear every slap of the guitar, every nuance in the vocals, every thump of the bass. There’s tremendous clarity and detail in the sound coming out of these earbuds and the triple drivers deliver where it’s needed. Unless I’m going to the gym, these are my current favourites for listening.

Priced at GB£99.99 and US$99.99, these aren’t cheap but in terms of bang for buck, the E1001s are great value. If you are interested in buying from the UK, there’s currently a coupon on the website to get 20% off, which is an even better deal. When you consider 1More released its first headphones in 2015, it’s astonishing that it’s now producing earbuds of this quality in 2017: the established players in this market should be concerned.

Thanks to 1More for providing the E1001 triple driver headphones for review. Unboxing video below.


Unboxing and Review: iXCC Stand for Apple Watch



iXCC StandEarlier this year, I bought a refurbished Apple Watch Series 2 from the online Apple Store. It’s a cool device. But it shipped with the bare essentials, including the watch, a small manual, and a magnetic battery charger.

That meant that, when I needed to charge my Apple Watch, I had to set it on a table like this:

Apple Watch on table

And doing that technically works. But it’s kind of an inelegant solution. It also looks just plain awkward. That’s why I was excited to receive an iXCC Stand for Apple Watch. The manufacturer of the stand recently sent me a review model in exchange for posting my thoughts on the device here at Geek News Central.

The iXCC Stand for Apple Watch works with both 38mm and 42mm Apple Watches (I have the 42mm version). The iXCC Stand comes in a white box that contains the stand and a small booklet that shows how you can connect with the manufacturer online, if needed.

iXCC Stand original box iXCC Stand and booklet iXCC Stand and bookletUsing the iXCC Stand for Apple Watch is a straightforward process. The stand itself doesn’t have any built-in electronics. Instead, the stand has a path molded into its design that allows you to run the Apple Watch’s stock magnetic charger thru the stand, with the magnet at the top. This diagram from the back of the box tells you everything you need to know:

iXCC Stand Diagram

It takes a little time and effort to get the magnetic adapter cable to slide into place. But once it’s in, it’s good and doesn’t feel like it’s just going to fall out of place. When that’s done, all that’s left to do is to place the Apple Watch onto the stand. Tuck the lower part of the watch band underneath the head of the stand, and the Apple Watch easily magnetizes to the charging adapter.

iXCC Apple Watch charging

That looks a lot better than just resting the watch on the table! I know for sure the watch is charging because the charging indicator is lit on the watch, and the watch also made its signature charging tone when I placed it onto the stand.

The only negative I’ve found with the design of this stand is that, when you go to remove the watch from the stand, the magnetic adapter slightly pops out of the stand. But it’s easy enough to just push it back in. Also, it might be possible to alleviate this condition by placing some pressure down onto the stand next to the watch with one hand while removing the watch from the stand with the other.

Overall, I’ve found this to be a simple and effective stand for charging and displaying my Apple Watch when the watch isn’t in use. The iXCC Stand for Apple Watch retails for $7.99 at Amazon and other online retailers.