Category Archives: review

Fitbit ChargeHR Review



On review here is Fitbit’s ChargeHR activity tracker, one of its most popular models which provides heart rate monitoring in addition to steps taken, calories burnt and eyes shut. Designed for “active fitness”, it’s aimed at those people who take control of their fitness level rather than simply walking 10,000 steps. That’s me then. On a good day. Let’s take a look.

You can watch the unboxing and setup video above, though what you don’t see is that I completely destroyed the box getting the tracker and accessories out because you’re supposed to open the bottom not the top. Doh! Fitbit, you need “Open other end” printed on the top. Inside the box is the Fitbit ChargeHR, a Bluetooth dongle, a charging cable and small instruction booklet that directs you to the Fitbit site for more information. The dongle is only required for syncing to a PC.

Fitbit Charge HR box

 

The ChargeHR is available in six colours; black, blue, teal, plum, tangerine and pink. As you’ll see from the pictures, I had the teal one, which was fine when I was exercising but I did feel a little self-conscious wearing it with a suit at work. Unlike the Alta and Flex range, Fitbit Charge HR stepsthere’s no switching round of bands, so buy a colour you’re comfortable with. The ChargeHR band comes in three sizes, small, large and extra large, though the XL size can only be bought through fitbit.com. Small is 13.7 cm–15.7 cm, large is 15.7 cm–19.3 cm and extra-large is19.3 cm–22.1 cm. Fitbit provide a handy sizing chart here. The ChargeHR has a proper watch-style buckle for the band, rather than the push through style of the Flex.

Getting started is easy. Charge the ChargeHR with the supplied cable, install the app on a smartphone or tablet, register if you aren’t already with Fitbit, follow the pairing instructions and job done. Now all you have to do is some exercise!

The ChargeHR is a extremely easy to use as there’s only one button which is situated on the left side of the unit. Pressing the button cycles through time, steps, heart rate, distance, calories, stories climbed and next alarm. For each statistics, there’s a little graphic followed by the number – footprints for steps, a heart for pulse and so on.

The main differentiator of the ChargeHR is the heart rate tracking. I don’t know much about the science but it appears to use a couple of greenish LEDs on the back of device to measure the pulse. The ChargeHR measures the pulse every second under normal circumstances, but when it detects exercise, it ups the data rate for real-time information so you can keep your pulse in the zone.

The charging port is visible on the back in the picture. Charging typically takes less than hour for a couple of days wear.

Fitbit Charge HR sensors

Clever as the ChargeHR is, it’s only once you start looking at the data generated that you really start to get benefit from the tracker. The Fitbit app can provide graphs and charts for most metrics. Here are a few showing steps, resting heart rate and sleep. I didn’t wear the ChargeHR every night, hence why there’s some missing data. Activity can be reviewed, giving heart rate zones – peak, cardio, fat burning – exercise duration and max heart rate. There’s lots of useful info.

Fitbit Steps Fitbit HR Fitbit Sleep

If you’re using a PC rather than a smartphone or tablet, Fitbit provide a web-based portal that provides similar information and analysis. For the really serious fitness fans, $50 per annum gets Premium privileges and extra analysis (which I didn’t investigate).

The ChargeHR does vibrating alarms too which is very handy if you need to get up without your bedside alarm waking your significant other. The alarm is set via the app and then sync’d to the tracker. I like this, though it’s not exclusive to the ChargeHR.

As expected in this day and age, there’s a social element too. You can add friends who also have Fitbits (of whatever variety) and see a leaderboard of steps taken each week. You can also earn badges for steps taken per day and lifetime achievements – I’ve a Nile badge for 6,649 lifetime kilometres.

I’ve had the ChargeHR for a couple of weeks now and I’ve been wearing it as much as I can. Sometimes I have to wear my Fitbit Zip on my belt when a teal bracelet wouldn’t be appropriate. Fortunately the Fitbit app (at least on Android) allows cross-syncing, so if you do 1,000 steps on one device and 1,000 on another, both will show 2,000 after a sync (or two). I like that feature as it lets me wear the Fitbit that suits my day.

Overall, I feel Fitbit have slightly stolen my thunder here, as the ChargeHR is being phased out and replaced by the Charge 2, but this could be an opportunity to get an excellent tracker for less money. Although officially priced at a penny under GB£120, it’s widely available for £89.99, even in shops such as PC World. The Charge 2 is currently £129.99, so there’s an effective saving of £40.

Thanks to Fitbit for supplying the ChargeHR for review.


Amazon Kindle (2016) Review



Amazon Kindle LogoEbooks and ereaders have come a long way since I first purchased novels from Peanut Press to read on my Palm III. Neither Peanut Press or Palm are in existence today – the former eventually disappeared into Barnes and Noble, and the latter was wasted by HP – but nearly two decades on, ebooks are part of everyday life, largely thanks to Amazon and the Kindle. On review here is Amazon‘s latest iteration of its entry level Kindle. Released back in June, this is the 8th generation of ereader but brings the much-missed white finish back to the family…and that’s what we have on review here. Let’s take a look.

 

The Kindle comes in Amazon’s easy-to-open packaging. In the box there’s only the Kindle and a USB-to-microUSB cable plus a few bits of paper. Taking the Kindle out of the clear plastic wrapper, it remains true to the form-factor. At 115 mm wide, 160 mm tall and only a smidge over 9 mm deep, there’s enough of a border round the 6″ screen to hold the ereader between thumb and forefinger. The case is a matt plastic with curved edges along with a microSD socket, power button and LED along the bottom edge. There’s some printing on the back and an embossed Amazon logo too. The matt finish helps with holding the Kindle as it’s not slippy at all.

Amazon Kindle with Box

Powering up the device, the Kindle takes the owner through the setup procedure, including connecting to wifi. The Kindle is usually preconfigured to the owner out-of-the-box so after running through a few pages of what’s on offer, his or her library will be on show on the home screen along with some “you might also likes”. There’s 4 GB of internal storage to keep books on the device which for an ereader is plenty of space.

The previous generation of Kindle introduced the touchscreen to the entry level model so there are no buttons to turn pages or go to the home screen. Tapping on a book or icon will open the selected thing but once in a book, the page is divided into three and tapping in the different areas generates different actions. Right side, next page; left side, previous page; top, menu options. The areas aren’t equal and the next page takes up around four-fifths of the page, from the bottom right. Generally the touching the screen works fine, but the back area on the left could do with being a little bigger – as man with fat fingers I did find that I needed to be fairly precise otherwise the book moved forward a page rather than back. It’s pity there’s not an option to adjust where the dividing line is on the page as I would prefer the split to more 50:50.

Amazon Kindle 2016

The eInk screen is the main differentiator between the entry level model and the next one up, the Paperwhite. To start with, the eInk screen is 167 ppi which is about half the 300 ppi of the Paperwhite, and more significantly, this Kindle is not backlit, so there’s no reading while the light’s out. As with all other ereaders, reading in sunlight is glare-free with the eInk screen. Page turns are nippy and the screen refreshes cleanly. As the screen is now a touchscreen, entering text is much easier with a tappable on-screen keyboard displayed whenever needed.

For the visually impaired, the Kindle supports VoiceView which will read books to the owner via a Bluetooth headset as there’s no headphone jack. It’s a bit convoluted to setup involving the power button and two fingers on the screen, which I understand might be easier for some who has a vision problem, but how hard would it have been to have an additional menu option for Bluetooth pairing? VoiceView is purely text-to-speech and won’t play music or audiobooks. Bah!

The Kindle software provides a number of “value-adds” over a paper book, including bookmarking and search features. Amazon’s X-Ray provides more information on the book, plot and people, and GoodReads book recommendations are prominent. Inevitably, social media now features with sharing to Facebook and Twitter.

Battery life is “weeks” and certainly in my use, it took a good deal of page-turning to bring the battery down. Not sure you’d get a whole week’s worth of holiday reading out of a single charge but if you’re bringing a charger for your mobile phone, it’s probably not a problem (unless you have an Apple iPhone).

As an Amazon product, the Kindle is designed to encourage purchases from the Amazon store so getting ebooks from other sources onto your Kindle can be tricky. If you want to borrow ebooks from your local library, check compatibility as I think Overdrive only supports Kindle books in the USA.

The 2016 and 8th generation of Kindle continues Amazon’s gradual refinement of the ereader. With the touchscreen introduced last time, there’s no big headline change over the previous model other than being neater and lighter, though the inclusion of Bluetooth perhaps hints at future features. And there’s a white version. At a penny under GB£60 with “Special Offers” and £70 without ads, the 2016 Kindle is an easy buy that’s unlikely to disappoint.

Thanks to Amazon for the loan of the Kindle.


Choetech 33W USB-C Car Charger Review



Choetech LogoGenerally USB car chargers fall into the dull but essential class of gadgets and with today’s power-hungry smartphones, they’re more essential than ever.  The market’s in a state of transition too, with new USB-C and various fast charging technologies vying for supremacy. On review here is Choetech’s 33W USB-C Car Charger (TC0002), which is a little misleading as the charger not only has USB-C, there’s a USB-A port too which supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0. Let’s take a look.

Choetech Car Charger Box

The packaging is minimal with the TC0002 held in a plain cardboard box with the branding on a card slip cover. Inside the box there are only three things; the charger, some instructions and a help sheet. The charger is much as you’d expect with a short barrel for the 12V power socket which them morphs gently into a slightly rectangular face with the two USB ports. The design is pleasing and there’s a small blue LED located between the ports which lights up to show that there’s power. When inserted into the power socket, the charger protrudes by about two  centimetre, perhaps a little less – see the picture below of the charger installed in my car (yes, my car’s a little dusty).

Choetech Car Charger Install

The USB-C socket will supply 5V at 3A, and the USB-A sockets supports the Quick Charge voltages of 5V, 9V and 12V with output currents of (up to) 2.4A, 2.0A and 1.5A respectively. Obviously you need a QC supporting smartphone or tablet to take advantage of the higher charging rates and everything else will use their standard 5V rating.

Choetech Car Charger

I plugged in a range of different devices from a OnePlus 2 to Samsung S6 (which is only QC2) and Nexus tablets. All charged at what I would characterise as their fastest rate and it didn’t seem to matter to the charging whether there was one device or two plugged in.

In summary, the Choetech 33W car charger is the ideal car charger for those who need both USB-A and USB-C charging. The neat and unobtrusive design will fit neatly in most cars, I imagine, and the blue light is handy for locating the sockets in the dark. Currently on Amazon.co.uk for GB£10.99, it’s competitively priced too.

There’s an unboxing video below, but annoyingly there’s a pulsing background noise. Sorry.

Thanks to Choetech for supplying the charger for review.


Samsung Galaxy S7 active Review



s7activeThe Samsung Galaxy S7 active review unit from AT&T is by far the best model of the Samsung S7 family. If you lead an active lifestyle, this phones shell is designed from the ground up to take a beating. We where specifically asked by the AT&T team to be rough with the phone which is a little odd.  With great hesitation we dropped it from chest height to a concrete floor. The rugged shell and shatter resistant screen took the fall with nary an issue.

The phone comes in three designs. I had the camo design, and everyone that played with it kept looking at the skin and asking where I got the cover. When I told them it is designed that way everyone’s comment was like wow smart.

Just holding this phone you can tell that Samsung built this for folks that are either rough on phones, work construction etc. You will not need a secondary case with this phone. I also prefer the physical buttons on it, as I could easily navigate the phone while not having to look at the screen.  Everything you have heard about the Samsung S7 series is included as far as the technology of this phone.

For the sportsman you do not have to worry about this getting wet in fact if your waders get flooded out the phone can survive being submerged in water of up to 5 feet for 30 minutes with the IP68 rating. I let my son go boogie boarding with this in his key pouch and the phone worked like a champ.

All of the tech specs can be found on the AT&T website. But let me give this phone my highest recommendation. It is the first time in a very long while that I will regret having to ship one back.


Accell USB 3.0 Full Function Docking Station Review



accellThe Accell USB 3.0 Full Function Docking Station is a compact but fully featured docking station option supporting DisplayLink.  When I say compact I really mean it. The docking station fits on my palm of my hand.  Supporting operating systems Windows 7 through 10.  With any docking station it is about the hookups.  This dock is perfect for the small business owner or even college student that is on the go and wants a clean desktop area.

Inputs:
1x USB 3.0 Type B plug
2x DC Power

Outputs:
2x USB 3.0
1x USB 3.0 with BC adaptable power charging
1x HDMI Port 1.3
1x Display Port 1.2
Gigabit Ethernet
Combo Audio (Headphone/Microphone)

Maximum Video resolutions:
Single Display Port 3840×2160/30hz
Single HDMI Port 2560×1440/50hz
Dual Display (DP) 2048×1152/60hz / (HDMI) 2048×1152/60hz

So if you are hooking up a dual monitors pay attention to the resolution limitations and refresh rates. Single monitor hookups should be no issue for most users. Using this dock with my Dell XPS 13 I had no issues, and everything synchronized quickly and the HD video via HDMI was great. Priced @ $159 the folks at Accell have brought a reasonably priced USB 3.0 Full Function Docking Station


Polaroid Remote Controlled Panorama EyeBall Head Review



polaroidThe Polaroid Remote Controlled Panorama EyeBall Head could not be a cooler accessory. Designed to stand on it’s own or attach to a tripod. You can mount your GoPro, Digital Camera or Mobile Phone to it with the provided accessories.

Designed to pan right or left, swivel 75 degrees or advance 5 degrees every 10 seconds you can capture panoramic images perfectly. The best part you can link your device to it via bluetooth, and then using the provided remote control you can snap images to capture the perfect selfie or family picture.

The Eyeball head fits in the palm of your hand, and can be easily stashed in a backpack pocket.  You charge the device with a standard micro usb cable. With 3 hours of active use per charge take it anywhere you go. The Polaroid Panorama Eyeball Head costs $49.99 through Amazon.


XY Find It Review



xy-find-itThe XY Find it Bluetooth item Finder was a product that simply was made for me. I swear my car keys have legs and walk off and hide themselves in the couch crack, under the bed etc. It seems like the keys are anyplace but the hook on the wall where they belong. Because of the busy lives we live and the amount of stuff we are touting around it is real easy to leave things behind.

The folks at The Findable Company have made it simple to find any lost item that has one of their  XY Find it tags attached. By downloading their iOS or Android app you sync your purchased tag to your app and then you can have the tag beep or buzz when you need to find the item. Or you can enable the Keepnear feature which causes an alert if you have left the item behind.  You can even see your gears last location on a Map. The device is detectable up to 150ft away, and from my test I was able to easily detect it up to that distance.

I even placed a tag inside a computer bag pocket among other gear, and the Keepnear feature worked flawlessly.  This is great for students that are going to college to add a layer of easy to implement security to their valuables. Each XY Find It tag is $25.00 the XY Find it website has multi packs available as well at very reduced pricing.


RAVPower 22000mAh External Battery Pack Review



ravpowerThe RAVPower 22000mAh external battery pack is simply a power monster.  I am on the go daily with a mobile phone, tablet, laptop and even a MiFi.  No mater where I go I see folks fighting over power plugs. Those days are over with this external battery pack charge 3 devices at once with a combined max of 5.8 amps or a max of 2.4 amps each.. With plenty of power in the battery to do numerous rounds of charging.

I keep this battery pack in my car, it always has 3-4 days of power to charge up devices that are running low. @ $39.95 you cannot beat the price on this 22000mAh capacity external battery pack from RAVPower.

 


Sengled Pulse Solo Review



Sengled LogoLast year I reviewed the Sengled Pulse, a pair of Bluetooth-controlled LED lights with built-in speakers. The Pulse pair sounded surprisingly good but were somewhat indiscreet, being big and bright red. For those wanting something a bit more subtle, Sengled have developed the Pulse Solo, a smaller single LED bulb in white and silver that still provides stereo sound. Let’s take a look and see if the new Solo still delivers big impact from a small space.

I was recently on holiday in Mallorca and used the trip to test out the Solo. Never one to pass up a few gratuitous body shots, here’s the Solo soaking up the sun by the pool.

Sengled Pulse Solo

Sengled Pulse Solo

With a standard E27 screw fitting (B22 bayonet available too), installation is simple and the smaller bulb size makes it much easier to find suitable lamps. The dimensions are 72 mm x 142 mm, weighing in at 340 g, which is hefty enough for a light bulb. In terms of lighting, the bulb is more of a spotlight than anything else, though it’s not tightly focussed. As a result the Solo casts good light if the lamp is high up or intended to be directional, but I wouldn’t use the Solo in a side or table lamp. The brightness is rated at a maximum of 550 lumens which is slightly less than the 600 of the original Pulse lamps but is comparable with other LED smart bulbs, such as Philips Hue.

The LED light is on the warm side of white at 2700K – that’s extra warm white according to some commentators. Here’s the Solo powered up in one of Ikea’s finest illustrating the light colour and distribution.

Sengled Pulse Solo in Lamp

Once screwed in and powered up, the Solo is available for Bluetooth pairing in the normal way. I paired successful with a couple of devices, including a OnePlus 2 smartphone and Nexus 9. Once paired, the Pulse Solo works as a Bluetooth speaker without any further intervention. For greater control of the volume and brightness, there’s the Sengled Pulse app available for both Apple and Android devices. The app appears to connect to the Solo via a second Bluetooth device but the app handles that pairing by itself.

Sengled Pulse Sengled Pulse Sengled Pulse

The app’s changed a little since the last time and it’s now possible to control both the brightness of the lamp and the volume of the speaker from the same screen. Overall, this is an improvement but there’s no visual feedback on the volume level. You do end up with two volume controls, though, one for the Solo through the app and one for the mobile device itself.

As with the bigger Pulse, the Solo’s speakers are “JBL by Harman” and Sengled have managed to squeeze a pair of 1″ 3W speakers into the Solo. Obviously these aren’t going to be hifi quality as the stereo separation is neglible, bass is limited and they struggle with the treble (“esses” suffer) at maximum volume. However, it’s easy to focus on the negatives when the Solo is actually very listenable and fills a small room at full blast. It’s also quite fun when people can’t work out where the music is coming from.

To summarise, the Sengled Pulse Solo is a smaller less obtrusive solution than the larger red Pulse, but the reduction in size is at the expense of audio quality. Aside from my foreign travels, I found the Solo was a tidy solution to desk clutter too, as I could put the Solo into my work lamp, providing both warm light and musical entertainment without cables everywhere

In the end, I think that people who like high quality sound for listening will find the Solo wanting and should perhaps considered the larger Pulse, but for many people who want a little casual backgound music, the Solo will work out fine. The Pulse Solo can be bought direct from Sengled for €59.90 though the bayonet version (B22) is available for only GB£27.93 on Amazon.co.uk.

Thanks to Sengled for the review Pulse Solo.


Archos F24 Power Feature Phone Review



Archos LogoToday’s tablet-style smartphones are almost totally ubiquitous but the form factor isn’t without problems. Even basic models are expensive, the large touchscreens are easily damaged and batteries have relatively small capacities requiring regular recharges. These aren’t big limitations for suit-wearing knowledge workers but for people who spend more time outdoors, a more rugged, longer-lived and cheaper phone can be a better choice. On review here is the Archos F24 Power, a candy bar feature phone that costs less than GB£30. Let’s take a look.

Archos F24 Front

Although not immediately obvious from the picture above, the F24 is a chunky phone nearly 2 cm thick. Officially it measures 129 x 53 x 19 mm and weighs in at just under 100 g. The upper surface is filled with a 2.4″ 240 x 320 pixel screen and a keypad which wouldn’t be out of place on a old skool Nokia. And that’s a good thing, as long-forgotten key presses to, say, unlock the phone, work just fine.

The screen and keypad don’t explain the phone’s bulk but the 4,000 mAh battery does. Not only does the battery give the F24 Power its size and weight, it gives phone a ridiculously long battery life: standby time is nearly two months when loaded with a single SIM. The big battery powers the F24’s other interesting features; a twin LED torch and a USB charging port. The phone itself charges via a microUSB port, but the adjoining full size USB port can charge whatever other gadgetry is running low on juice, although the output current is only 700 mA.

Archos F24 Charging Port

At the other end of the phone is the torch. It’s a pair of LEDs that can be turned on and off by holding down the central pad button for a couple of seconds when on the home screen. The torch isn’t blindingly bright but it’s good enough to find your way on a dark night or find dropped house keys.

Archos F24 Torch

Archos F24 screenPopping the back off and removing the battery shows slots for two standard (mini) SIMs and a microSD card (up to 32 GB). I only used one of the two SIM slots during the review but there’s the option here to have work and personal SIMs, to maximise coverage with SIMs from different vendors or for a foreign SIM when travelling.

The F24’s installed apps are fairly limited in comparison to today’s app-oriented world but they do the job – Phonebook, Call History, Organizer, Multimedia, Messages, File Manager, Profiles, Recharge Mode, Camera, Services, App Zone and Settings. These broadly work as expected, though Services is a primitive web browser and the App Zone has three games plus links to the mobile versions of Google, Facebook and Twitter. Interestingly, there is a call recorder too. Organizer is a bit of mixed bag, with a combinations of apps (calculator) mixed in with settings (Bluetooth). Multimedia covers images, music (mp3), FM radio and video.

The rear camera takes 2 MP (1600 x 1200) and the camera app has a surprising number of options and the picture quality is fine in good light – the colour reproduction isn’t bad at all. Obviously this is not comparable to anything from the latest multi-megapixel smartphones but for comparison here are a couple of untouched photos – click through for the full size images.

Archos F24 Photo       Archos F24 Picture 1

To its credit, Archos tries to make configuring F24 for data as easy as possible with a large array of presets for European telecoms providers. It’s a good idea but fails as there’s too many similar names. For example, there are two called “3”, but one is Danish and the other Italian. I ended up having to enter the network data settings manually. Although the phone has Bluetooth, it doesn’t have WiFi, and any web surfing, such as it is, has to be done using the 2G mobile data network (and consequently, I don’t think it will work with 3 in the UK as they’re 3G only. Check before buying.)

Archos F24 RearDisappointingly, Messages is only for SMS messaging. There’s no email, POP3 or otherwise, which I think would have been a useful addition to the F24 Power. At a pinch, you might be able to use the web browser with an email service. I didn’t try.

Archos have made moving round the phone’s options as easy as possible, with a choice of navigation methods either by the rocker pad or by number key. For example, pressing 3 will select the third item on the screen. The four way rocker can be configured for four shortcuts and out-of-the-box, it’s linked to Camera, Profiles, Music player and write SMS message. While talking about “the box”, the F24 Power comes with a charger, USB cable and headphones.

In use as a phone, the F24 worked fine. Call quality was acceptable with both parties audible, though there’s no noise cancellation or anything fancy like that. Not much more that I can say here other than there’s no problem.

Overall, the F24 Power is good value at less than GB£30 and if you are the kind of person who needs a phone for calls and texts with a seriously long battery life, then the F24 Power worth a long look. It would also be ideal as an emergency backup phone, perhaps left in the car or taken hiking when away from power for several days. The LED torch, USB charger and FM radio are all handy for those little emergencies. Just remember that the F24 Power is a feature phone that would have been well spec’d ten years ago, cf Nokia 6300, so adjust expectations as appropriate.

The F24 Power is currently available from Sainsbury’s for only £20 in the UK. Thanks to Archos for the loan of the F24 Power.