Category Archives: review

Shoot-Em Up with the Bitmore AR Gun



Looking for a last-minute stocking filler? Take a look at the Bitmore AR Gun. It’s a Bluetooth-enabled toy gun for a bit of smartphone shoot-em up action. Let’s take a quick look….

The AR Gun is a bright blue wooden toy gun with a smartphone mount on the top. The idea is simple. Put the smartphone in the mount, load up the app, pair the gun with the phone over Bluetooth and start shooting aliens, planes, tanks, spiders, dinosaurs and sharks. What’s there not to like?

Working with both iOS and Android phones, it’s almost as straightforward as it sounds. The app is branded “Geekplay AR Gun” in the Google Play Store rather Bitmore but it’s not that hard to figure out and get it loaded. Mind you, it’s a big app at a little under 300MB.

The gun needs batteries and these aren’t supplied, so you’ll need to have 2x AAAs to hand but once inserted, you’re all set.

The AR Gun app takes care of the Bluetooth pairing within the app itself and the gun goes into pairing mode when the trigger is held down for a few seconds. Once paired, the app offers around a dozen games that are variations of AR and 3D worlds.Unsurprisingly, all involved shooting in some shape or form. A few of the games use the camera (AR) to show the room or space around you and superimpose planes, aliens and fish (not in the same game), whereas other games exist in their own world. Other than that the apps work in the same way: moving the gun moves your point of view or vehicle. Pulling the trigger shoots.

A few screenshots will give you the idea. Click on any of them for a bigger picture.

     

   

The graphics in most of the games are surprisingly good but the app seems to be a little bit of a work in progress. Two of the games didn’t work as they were under maintenance and there were a few features, such as a login screen, that seemed to be there for future developments. Some instructions wouldn’t go amiss too as I couldn’t work out what I was supposed to shoot in the aquarium game – sharks, lionfish, orcas, parrotfish? Who’s the baddy?

The AR Gun itself is a slightly odd mix of high and low-tech, being made from 3 mm sheets of wood, and while I like that the gun is wooden, the grip and the trigger could benefit from being rounded off to make it a little more comfortable to use.

But let’s not overthink this – it’s simply a fun toy. If shooting aliens is your thing, the AR Gun is priced under GB£20 and available direct from Bitmore or Urban Outfitters.

Thanks to Bitmore for supplying the AR Gun for review.


Adonit Pro 3 Precision Stylus Review



Geeks over a certain age will recall that smartphones and PDAs didn’t originally have finger touch interfaces and instead of using a digit to control the device, a stylus was used to tap and poke the buttons on the screen. Partly this was a limitation of the screen size – the original Palm Pilot 1000 only had 160 x 160 pixels – and the touchscreen technology, which was resistive and needed pressure to register a touch. The stylus was perfect for this kind of interface as the narrow point could accurately and forcefully tap an individual pixel. Today’s smartphones use a capacitive technology which senses electrostatic fields and the need for a pointy objected has faded in favour of fat fingers.

This doesn’t mean that the stylus has gone away but they certainly are a rarer. On my desk today is the Adonit Pro 3 precision stylus, which is the first quality capacitive stylus I’ve ever used. Yes, I’ve had a couple of those ones with the squidgy rubber tops, typically given away as freebies, but that’s like comparing a ballpoint with a fountain pen. The Pro 3 is a quality instrument. Let’s take a closer look.

The Adonit Pro 3 comes in a simple card box and the stylus itself is a dark grey cylinder with a chunky cut-out for the pocket clip. Adonit call it black, but it’s definitely dark grey, but for something brighter, the stylus is available in silver, dark blue and rose gold. The body is all metal (aluminium) and weighs in at 18g. It’s pen size at 126 mm long and 8 mm diameter. There’s a little light texturing on the barrel where fingers rest. It’s stylish in an industrial kind of way. I like it.

To protect the tip, there’s a stylus cap which is kept in place with magnets and when removed can be stored on the bottom of the pen. The cap can be a little wobbly but it never came off accidentally. Returning to the stylus, it’s a little different from styluses of the noughties. Instead of a point, there’s a pivoting small circular disk which flattens onto the surface of the tablet and smoothly glides over the glass.

The Adonit web site and apps are very Apple-centric and I’m going to guess that you’ll probably need an iPad to get the most out of the Pro 3. I used the Pro 3 on a selection of Android and Windows touchscreen devices with a spectrum of success which varied from device to device. For me, the Pro 3 was most successful on a Pixel C, with the tablet responding positively to the vast majority of taps and draws. On a Nexus 9, it wasn’t quite as responsive, with the tablet sometimes failing to pick up the first touch in drawing apps. It worked surprisingly well with a Windows 8.1 laptop.

What lets the Pro 3 down is nothing to do with the Pro 3, but rather the lack of palm rejection on most Android and Windows apps. Simply, you can’t rest your hand on the tablet without disrupting the pen’s touch. As a result you have to hold your hand clear of the tablet screen. Apps on the iPad seem to have got this (more) sussed out.

Regardless, a clear benefit of the Pro 3 is the precision provided by the tip and the clear disk. It becomes possible to draw two lines with a millimetre between them. That’s simply impossible with a finger no matter how dainty your digits. A soft-tip stylus would be no better. I’m no artist but here’s a little doodle to show what’s possible.

If this looks like a nice stocking filler, the Adonit Pro 3 is currently GB£25.99 from Amazon.co.uk. US price is $29.99.

Thanks to Adonit for providing the Pro 3 for review.


Mynt Bluetooth Tracker Review



Going by a recent report in The Guardian people misplace their stuff all too frequently. Bluetooth trackers tap into our forgetfulness and it’s a big market with several popular brands, each with their own particular feature set. On review here we have Mynt tracker from Slightech, aiming for a stylish yet feature-rich device. Let’s take a look.

The Mynt comes in a small transparent box so that as the outer sleeve slips off, you can see the Mynt inside. Opening the box gives access to the tracker, instructions, a keyring and a spare battery (CR2020), which is a nice touch. The tracker itself is a little like a military dog tag, measuring 55 x 25 x 3 mm. That’s about 2 1/4″ x 1″ x 1/8″. The outer surfaces are brushed steel and there’s a black strip on the top surface for a button and a red LED. The battery compartment has a locking mechanism to stop the battery coming out accidentally, but battery holder is a bit flimsy. The design won a prestigious Red Dot Award in 2016 and IF Design Award in 2017.

Getting going with the Mynt involves downloading the software from the relevant app store. I was testing on Android so it’s a 55MB download from Google Play. First thing the app wants you to do is to setup an account – it’s the usual email and password affair. Once that’s done, the Mynt app takes you through adding the Mynt tracker to your account, with some helpful pictures.

Once connected, the app lets you choose a picture for the thing you are tracking, and you can adjust three settings for separation alerts. This is for when you want to keep an eye on something very important and expect to have it nearby all the time. In this instance, when the tracker goes out of Bluetooth range of the smartphone, the alarm goes off alerting you to the situation. The feature can be turned off too if you simply want to know where something is.

The alarm itself is a relatively strong tune: it’s not a blaring alarm but noticeable enough. It’s always difficult to quantify but you can hear the alarm from the Mynt tracker when it’s in a wallet inside a trouser pocket in room where there’s gentle conversation going on. You’re not going to hear it in a noisy bar.

The alarms can be triggered manually too. Pressing an on-screen button in the Mynt app will sound the alarm on the Mynt tracker and pressing the button in the middle of the tracker will do the reverse. Great for finding keys down the back of the sofa.

Of course if you’ve lost the tracker (or more accurately, the thing attached to the tracker), the Mynt app will show the last known position of the tracker on a map. Once you’re in range, the icon changes colour to show a connection and then you can trigger the alarm.

Overall, the tracking and separation features worked as expected but neither the app nor the tracker were the snappiest at responding. Sometimes, the alarm wouldn’t ring the first time, but hit the button or the icon again and it would. Having said that the Mynt genuinely helped me find a lost item. I though it was at home, but the Mynt tracker showed me that the missing thing was in work and I found it there. Good job.

Sadly, I can’t say good things about the Mynt’s remote control features. To summarise, the Mynt can be switched into a remote control mode where the button on the tracker can be used to activate and control apps. For example, it can be used as a camera shutter button or to control music – one press is play, two presses is next track, three presses is back a track. I couldn’t get this feature to work at all. To start with, it appeared that the Mynt had to reboot into remote control mode and once done, had to boot back into tracker mode. Even when in remote control mode, I couldn’t get the button to do anything.

While we’re discussing the bad points of the Mynt tracker, the next is a “two-in-one”. The standard of English in the app could be better as evidenced by “Your account has been logined at others”, which brings us neatly the second part. As this error suggests, you can’t be logged into the Mynt app on two different devices at the same time. Why not? Competing tracking devices don’t have a problem here. And overall, the app’s just a bit clunky and unresponsive in places – I was using the Android version.

Pricing is around GB£20 on Amazon.co.uk, depending on Mynt colour – there’s steel, gold, blue and black variants. US pricing is around $20 too, though there are discounts when buying more than one tracker.

Rounding up, I’m afraid that the Mynt is an also-ran in the Bluetooth tracker race. Yes, it works as expected (remote control excepting) and it looks great, but there are other trackers at a similar price with better apps and features. Look further.

Setup video below.

Thanks to Slightech for providing the Mynt tracker for review.


Brainwavz B200 Earphones Review



Headphones are packing in more and more features – Bluetooth connectivity, in-line remotes, microphones, even digital assistants like Alexa and Google. But sometimes you just want to strip it all back and focus on the sound. You want to listen to the music, not just hear it, and that’s what Brainwavz are serving up with the B200 earphones. Sitting in the mid-to-upper end of their audiophile B series, the B200s promise “a balanced and accurate sound signature, with little to no colouring in the mids and a slight focus on the upper mids sound…delivering an overall sound the artist would have intended when producing the song.” That’s a big promise so let’s hear if the B200 earphones deliver.

Based in Hong Kong, Brainwavz have been around since 2008 and have built a range that includes earphones, headphones, Bluetooth ‘phones and accessories including stands. Prices go from US$20 for basic earbuds to $180 for the top of the range B400 earphones

The B200s arrive in an understated black box with red-highlights. Opening it, inside is a zipped pill-shaped travel case, with matching red highlights. Unzipping reveals the earphones neatly wrapped in a velcro band, a shirt clip, and a selection of ear tips. There’s one set of red Comply memory foam tips, plus 10 silicone rubber tips in S, M, L (two pairs of each size in total). It’s a satisfactory package.

Unwrapping the earphones and looking closer, there’s a gold-plated 3.5mm audio jack with the cable coming out at about 30 degrees. The main cable feels like it’s braided and then covered in a soft-touch rubber. The cable then splits to the left and right ears with a cinch slider to keep the wires under control, and suit audiophiles, they’re of equal length. Unlike many earphones, the wires go up and over the back of the ear. The wires have a thin moulding on them to hold the over ear shape. The earphones themselves have almost a coffee-bean shape to them, with slightly curved facets. It’s all plastic, so aficionados of bare metal need look elsewhere. It’s all very understated.

The B200s are very comfortable to wear, even for extended periods. I’m not sure what makes them comfortable because the eartips look like every other eartip. It might be that the wire goes upwards over the ear rather than down. Who knows? There’s a little bit of a knack to getting the buds in and the wire looped over but helpfully L and R are stamped on the inside of the earphone. Sound isolation is good too with very little of the outside world leaking in.

Getting the heart of the matter, what are the B200s like to listen to? Frankly, they’re pretty good and give the listener a lovely balanced sound with excellent clarity and what I feel is just about the right level of bass. They’re particularly rewarding if you can get away from Spotify et al and listen to a uncompressed source – remember those CD things? I’ve been listening to John Legend’s Darkness and Light and it’s just glorious.  No question, Brainwavz deliver on their promise and who needs an inline control when it sounds this good? Less is more.

Taking a quick look at the tech specs…
Drivers : Dual Balanced Armature
Rated Impedance : 30 Ω
Frequency Range : 12 Hz ~ 22 kHz
Sensitivity : 110 dB at 1 mW
Cable : 1.3 m Y-Cord, Over the ear, OFC Copper
Plug : 3.5 mm, Gold plated

Wrapping up, the Brainwavz B200 earphones sound great and will complement almost any music genre. They’re very understated – no-one’s going to be recognised the brand from across the street. tThe B200s were announced for the UK market back in June, but since then Brainwavz have updated the B200 model to version two which includes detachable audio cables and a transparent body. As a result, the pictures of the B200 earphones on the Brainwavz website look different to the ones shown here but I’m sure they sound just as good. The B200s v2 are priced at GB£90 / US$120 and if you get in quick you’ll find a few Christmas discount codes. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Video review below.

Thanks to Brainwavz for supplying the B200 earphones for review.


Azulle Byte 3 Mini PC Review – Windows 10 Pro – Review



This is the second mini PC I have reviewed from Azulle. The Azulle Byte 3 Mini PC running Windows 10 Pro is the absolute perfect media PC that will play 4k Video at 60 frames per second. One thing to keep in mind with these Mini PC’s they will do everything a regular desktop or laptop can do.  The only real limitations are that you’re not running a high-end processor and by default, you do not get much storage with this device. I added a 256gb SSD drive that I installed in the devices available mount as it comes with 32gb of onboard storage which you will eat up pretty quick depending on what your install.

The desktop is standard Windows 10 interface with all the features you come to expect. My choice to use this as a media center made integration real easy. I mapped the NAS device that has all our music and videos that we have stored. I also installed Netflix and a number of other media apps. Testing the device with 4k videos was flawless which really impressed me. The box comes with all the major connections and I chose to use a Bluetooth wireless keyboard with an integrated mouse to control it. Azulle delivers it with an I.R remote as well.

So far as specs go it has a Quad-Core Intel Apollo Lake N3450 Chipset with 4gb of LPDDR3 ram. There is an 8gb option on their website. It comes with 32gb of storage and has an M2 / SATA Slot. Like I mentioned earlier it will doe 4k at 60fps. There is aSD card slot that will accept at 256gb SD card, 1x USB Type-C Port, 3x USB 3.0 Ports, 1x USB 2.0 Port, 1x VGA, 1x HDMI Port, 1GB Ethernet Port, Audio Output Jack, Dual Band 2.4/5.0GHZ Wifi, Bluetooth 4.0.

The footprint of the Byte 3 Mini Pc is tiny and will even attach to the VESA mount using an optional purchased adapter. The physical dimensions are 5.6 in x 4 in x 1.5 in.

We have used the previous Mini Pc from Azulle a great deal. But this upgrade is significant and the performance increase is really noticeable. Priced at $199 you really cannot go wrong for a media center PC. But the application really does not stop there it could be used in a conference room for Video conferencing, used to power digital signage or even used as a file server through an attached array. With low power consumption and all the features, you’re used to in Windows 10 Pro you really cannot go wrong. This product has my highest recommendation.

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Smartomi U8 ERA Running Headphones Sport Wireless Earphones Review



The folks at Smartomi sent me their U8 ERA Running Headphones Sport Wireless Earphones to review.  This review is well overdue but I have for many years have a history of having wireless earphones fail on me. So when I told the folks at Smartomi that I was going to wear them to the gym for a month I think they were a little surprised.  First and foremost after a month of sweat, abuse of being in my gym bag, being charged in the sun and everything else I could throw at these earphones they are still working just like the day I took them out of the box.

Even more incredible is that they have lasted longer than earphones that cost as much as 6 times as much from a well-known manufacturer. Priced at an incredible $25 I would have never believed it if I had I not wore them to the gym for 20+ workouts. Not only that I was able to get 8 hours of play time on them between charge with the volume cranked to about 80%. Another big surprise to me was that the sound out of them while will never match my studio headphones was incredibly good. But because these earphones actually stay in my ears while I am working out without having to mess with them they get another thumbs up.

I will be honest I really did not have great expectations on these earphones but they really exceeded my expectations in a big way. For workouts and or running at an affordable price you can pick up a couple of pairs of these to give to your kids as well.


Q-Hub Type-C PD Hub – Power Trend – Review



Power Trend sent me their Q-Hub Type-C PD Hub to review. Over the past year, I have purchased no less than 4 hubs for both my Macbooks and for a Dell PC that have USB-C as their primary interface. I will be honest some of the hubs look really slick but I have broken no less than two of them for poor USB-C connector design at the computer. The hub from Power Trend does not, and will not have that problem as the cable you connect to the computer is very robust.

One of the tests that I do on all hubs of this type is to see how well the HDMI port works. This has been a bit of an issue on other hubs, and we found on both PC and Mac that the monitor synced up within 5 seconds of plugging the hub in. What I really like about this hub is that you can connect your standard or third-party charger to the hub, to power pc and then allow you to hook up and additional USB-C device. Or it can be used to run two USB-C and two USB 3.0 along with an 4k external monitor.

The performance of this hub meets all of the specifications they lay out on their website with a price of $75 on Amazon you cannot go wrong with this hub. The build quality is just superior to all other hubs I have used to date.


Kodak Photo Printer Mini Review



The team at Kodak sent over the Kodak Photo Printer Mini to review. I want to talk a little bit about the build quality of this printer. Frankly, as a geek, I was totally intrigued on how the all-in-one-cartridge worked. The print cartridge which holds 20-50 credit card sized prints is an engineering marvel at how they have been able to package this (see image below) not to mention the app and phone integration.  Overall I was very impressed with integration and print quality while it prints relative small prints it’s perfect for quickly sharing prints and scrapbook projects and the like. Need an ID photo it looks like the perfect printer for that as well.

The first thing you do is download the free app from the Apple App Store or Google Play. Once the App is installed you turn on the printer and within 30 seconds you can connect to it via NFC or via Wifi. Once you have done so you simply select an image from your photo library, edit and crop, and print. The printing process was the second big surprise it prints in 4 stages. A single picture takes about 60 seconds to print to go through the 3 color stages and then the applying of a final coat.

I must admit I was pretty impressed with the print quality, and with the final coating at the end of the print, you can be assured the color is locked in for a lifetime. I grabbed a selfie I had posted to Facebook a few days ago from my iPhone and printed that. Overall from unboxing to printing was less than 5 minutes. The printer has its own internal battery that can be recharged via a USB Cable.  Priced at $69 you really cannot go wrong with 30 print cartridges going for $22 with several purchase options this is the perfect mini printer to use at a moments notice. A little smaller than the iPhone 8+ it will easily travel in a computer bag.


Kodak Printomatic Review



The folks at Kodak sent over the Kodak Printomatic Instant Print Camera for me to review. The instant this arrived my 21-year-old who is simply crazy about old school Polaroid cameras was hovering around me when I set this up. The camera prints to 2×3 Zink Paper and also saves pictures to a 32gb Micro-SD card.

I shot both black and white and color photos with it. The printed pictures had nice consistent color and the black and white photos were reminiscent of an age gone by. While the pictures did look better in daylight shooting the 5-megapixel sensor does a nice job for the size of the picture being printed. You can peel the back of the photo and have a stick surface to stick the photo to something as well. The camera retails at $69.00 with a 50 pack of 2×3 inch Premium ZINK Photo Paper retailing for around $23 on Amazon. It contains an internal battery that can be charged with a USB Cable.

This would make a fun gift for a teenager and a quick and easy way to point and shoot and then share a picture with a friend while retaining the original image on the micro SD card which can then be used with the Koday Photo Printer Mini.

At this price point, it’s a fun product that can be used at parties or used as a way to help aspiring photographers frame their shots. My daughter is happy to be able to have a device that she can actually buy photo paper for.


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.