Fitbit Flex Review

Fitbit LogoOver the past year, I’ve noticed more and more people wearing activity tracking devices and here in Northern Ireland I tend to see Fitbits rather than anything else.  Fitbit has been advertising on TV lately too with “It’s All Fit” and I’m sure that there will be a good number of Zips, Flexes and Charges under the Christmas tree come 25th December. I’ve worn a Zip for nearly two years as part of my efforts to keep my weight down and on review today I have the next model up, the Fitbit Flex. Let’s take a look.

FItbit Flex Package

The Fitbit Flex comes in a neat transparent package that shows off the coloured wristband and opening the packaging reveals the fitness tracker itself, large and small wrist bands, a USB sync dongle and a USB charging dock.

Fitbit Flex Contents

The fitness tracker itself is the small black rectangular unit and it’s slipped inside a small pocket in the wristband to be worn both during the day and asleep at night. The wristbands are made of a soft plastic and are available in ten different colours with additional coloured bands on sale from Fitbit’s online store. The large size fitted me well and the smaller one will suit women and children. It’s not obvious in the pictures, but the Flex uses a push-through buckle to keep the band on. It’s a little tricky to get clicked in sometimes, but it keeps the wristband on and in the two weeks of testing I’ve not had any problems with the Flex falling off accidentally. The Flex is supposed to be water resistant to 10m (30ft) and while I didn’t go that deep, it did survive 1000m of surface swimming.

The tracker has a set of LEDs which show through the transparent plastic window on the wrist band. The user interface is simple with five round LEDs used to communicate with the owner and at a basic level, each dot represents a fifth of the way towards the daily target. For example, if the target is 10,000 steps, one LED is worth 2,000 steps. The picture below shows the tracker has measured 6,000 steps, give or take. Normally none of the lights are on but tap on the band at the tracker and the lights come on.

Fitbit Flex

The Flex has an internal rechargeable battery which lasts about 5 days between charges. To charge the Flex up, the tracker unit is taken out of the wristband and placed in the USB charging cradle which in turn is plugged into any available USB port. Charging is relatively quick, typically taking less than an hour.

Getting the activity data off the Flex is easy too, with syncing available between the Flex and both PCs and smartphones. Fitbit is agnostic with clients available for Windows, Macs, Android and iOS, though check compatibility to be sure as the phone or tablet has to support the Low Energy (LE) version of Bluetooth. Syncing with a desktop or laptop is a case of downloading and installing the app, sticking the USB dongle in and getting going. The dongle and Flex are pre-paired so there’s nothing to worry about there. Sync to a phone is similar – download the app from the relevant store and run it. The app will automatically search for the Flex and connect up. A Fitbit login is needed from fitbit.com and signing up for that is free. There’s a full lifestyle portal online which gives access to fitness stats from any web browser.

Personally I used my Flex almost exclusively with my Android phone (Nexus 4) and tablet (Nexus 9). The app shows daily activity, sleep patterns and can record exercise, weight, food and water if the information is added in conscientiously.

Flex Summary  Flex Summar

Different views of the data can be shown – on the left below is a weekly view. Contrary to indications, I didn’t spend Saturday lounging in front of the TV, but forgot to put the Flex on! The Flex can also track sleep patterns, though it can’t automatically detect sleep and needs the wearer to indicate the approximate time of going to bed and getting up.

Weekly Flex Summary  Flex Sleep Tracking

The Flex unit can vibrate too and vibration is used to give feedback to the wearer on attaining goals. It can be used as an alarm as well and although I wasn’t really keen on wearing the Flex in bed, the wake-up alarm worked well for me, prodding me to stir when I’d turned my other alarm off. I don’t normally wear a watch in bed so I did find wearing the Flex at night a little odd but that’s very much a personal feeling.

In the two weeks I used the Flex, I didn’t come across any other problems bar one time that the unit needed reset. I’m not sure what happened: I think I might have tried to sync with the Flex from both phone and the tablet at the same time but resetting the Flex was simple using the normal paperclip-in-reset-hole and no activity data was lost.

I came to this review as a Fitbit Zip wearer and to start with, I did think that the Flex was a little bit of a backward step as I couldn’t see the number of paces that I’d taken – the Zip shows this information on a small LCD screen.  However, over the course of the trial, I’ve got used to it and if I really want to know, I can do a quick sync with my phone to get the data. The Flex is much better than the Zip when it comes to wearing during activity and doesn’t get accidentally pulled off or left in the locker on trousers. The water resistance of the Flex is a bonus too. One downside is that the Flex doesn’t tell the time, so it can’t replace a wristwatch. For many people this isn’t an issue as they don’t wear a watch but for those who do, the Fitbit Charge is perhaps the answer.

The Fitbit Flex is priced at £79.99 RRP but can be found a little cheaper on-line.

Thanks to Fitbit for providing the Flex for review.

Archos Smart Home Review

Archos LogoThese days it’s either i-this or smart-that with new gadgets measuring and changing our personal environment. From Fitbit to Philips Hue, the internet of things is steadily growing and into this increasingly connected world, French firm Archos have stepped in. Their Smart Home tablet wirelessly connects sensors to a central hub that monitors and initiates actions based on conditions. Archos kindly lent me a Smart Home to raise the IQ of my house. Let’s take a look.

Archos Smart Home Box

In the box there’s the Smart Home tablet, plus six connected objects; two mini-cams, two movement tags and two weather tags. The tablet itself looks much like a digital photo frame but it’s actually a small 7″ device running Android 4.2.

Archos Smart Home Front View

Archos Smart Home Rear View

In the looks department, the Smart Home tablet fits the bill with styling that wouldn’t look out of place in a living room. It is all plastic, including the screen which seems to be acrylic rather than glass, but perhaps will better withstand being knocked. Some thought has been given to the design as the screen’s viewing angle appears to be have been adjusted slightly so that screen looks good when someone looks down at it, rather than straight on. There’s only about 2.5 GB of free memory on-board but there is a microSD card slot to boost the Smart Home’s capacity. Performance-wise, it’s no speed demon with a 1.2 GHz ARM processor, but as most of the time the Smart Home just sits there receiving data, it’s a not a big deal. A camera and a thermometer are built into the tablet too and these can be used to take pictures and measure the temperatureas well as the connected objects.

The connected objects are shown below with the mini-cam, weather tag and movement tag from left to right. All have sticky pads which allow adhesion to flat surfaces round the house. The mini-cam ball is held in the foot by magnets and it means the ball can oriented in almost any direction. The weather tag measures temperature and humidity, and the movement tag can measure both motion and door opening / closing.

Archos Smart Home Sensors

Getting setup is easy and straightforward. Running the Archos Smart Home software initially asks for the different rooms where devices are located.

Smart Home Rooms

Once the rooms are setup, the connected objects can be added into the relevant room. The objects use Bluetooth rather than Zigbee and pairing is simply a case of holding down a button on the connected object for 5 seconds. It worked flawlessly. The pairing screen shows all the objects available, not only the ones in the box.

Accessories

Once all setup, the Smart Home tablet presents a view with the room and all the objects in the room.

Hall

In the Hall, I had two mini-cams, a weather tag and a movement tag. Tapping on any device in the app then gives more data or information – here’s the weather tag showing data over the past week for both temperature and humidity.

Temperature and Humidity

Great but how do we get from monitoring the weather to doing something smart? Archos have the answer by building simple “if this, do that” programs. For example, if temperature falls below two degrees Celsius, email to me “It might be slippy.” Or more usefully, if the door opens, take a picture and send an email – like this.

Program

Sure enough, when the front door is opened, I get an email (my personal email is address is obscured by the black box).

Mail

 

The mini-cam also takes a picture (or a short video) but they won’t show a live feed, presumably because Bluetooth can’t transfer the data very quickly. You’ll notice one of the slight problems….the Smart Home doesn’t really take pictures fast enough as in many of the photos the person who opened the door has already moved out of shot. These are all real life photos, nothing was staged. A mini-cam positioned further down the hall generally did better at getting people entering the property.

Minicam Pictures

Out of the box, there’s a fairly limited range of actions such as send email, turn on plug and so on, but Smart Home can use the Tasker app to do more. Tasker supports a wide range of actions, including starting other apps, which makes it quite a powerful solution. However, even this simple email-me-on-the-front-door-opening is useful when wanting to know if someone has arrived home safely (or a thief has broken into your house!)

Other nifty features are that the Smart Home can be accessed from other tablets or smartphones. After a straightforward authorisation process, the system can be viewed from other devices both inside and outside the house. Here’s what it looks like on my smartphone.

Smartphone View

Overall, the Smart Home worked well, mostly sitting on the table doing its job. I did find that I mostly used my ordinary tablet (a Nexus 7)  to work with the Smart Home rather than picking up the unit itself. I set the Smart Home tablet up as a digital photo frame using the standard Android Daydream screensaver to fit into the room.

There were a couple of problems, the first being the range and penetration of Bluetooth. I live in a modest house with brick walls which meant that the weather tag at the rear of the property couldn’t be picked up if the Smart Home tablet was in the front room. Secondly, battery life – the mini-cams seemed get through a set of batteries in about a fortnight and each one took three CR2450 button cells. The movement and weather tags weren’t quite so bad – perhaps a month and only one battery. As an aside there’s no way of muting the low battery warnings that appear in orange on the screen. A connected object could be disconnected but that deleted the historical date at the same time.

Bizarrely, the other problem was how I felt about spying on my family, which is not anything to do with the Archos Smart Home, so I’ll save that for another post. I can see the Smart Home working for families with children that come home when the parents are still at work and the email notifications would give any parent a measure of comfort that their son or daughter is home safe.

The Smart Home costs GB£199 from Archos’ online store. Other additional connected objects are “coming soon”, including an HD weatherproof camera and a siren tag. In summary, the Smart Home is a well integrated system that has room for expansion with more types of connected objects but watch out for the limitations of Bluetooth range and battery life.

Thanks to Archos for the loan of the Smart Home.

 

ReSound LiNX Hearing Aid at The Gadget Show

Danish firm ReSound launched their iPhone-connected hearing aid, LiNX, at the Gadget Show. The world’s first “Made for iPhone” hearing aid uses both the technology and usability features of the Apple iPhone to bring hearing aids to a generation of users who expect more from their technology than the current generation of aids.

The hearing aid itself is discrete and fits neatly over the ear and pairs with the iPhone much like any other Bluetooth headset.

ReSound LiNXReSound LiNX In-Ear

Once this is done, the benefits of having a smartphone-connected hearing aid become apparent. Starting with the obvious, phone calls can be re-directed from the phone to hearing aid, again just like a Bluetooth headset. Similarly, audio from music and video apps will play through the hearing aid, giving the wearing a much better experience than they’re used to.

Moving on, an iPhone (or iPad) app lets the amplification level be adjusted from the iPhone without fiddling around the ear. Who thinks anything of anyone using their smartphone in a public place now? The frequency response can be adjusted too, suiting both the wearer and the environment that they find themselves in, whether at in the quiet at home or a noisy restaurant. Background noise can be filtered out and speech enhanced.

ReSound LiNX

This is where it starts to get really clever. By using GPS and geo-fencing to locate the user, previously saved settings can be automatically selected based on location. For example, if the wearer frequently goes to a local bar, the GPS location and hearing aid settings are saved so that the next time the wearer goes to the bar, the settings are reused.

ReSound LiNX app

David from GN ReSound takes me through the features of the ReSound LiNX in more detail. After the interview I had an “ears-on” trial of the LiNX and it was impressive with a well-designed app. I’m not hearing-impaired so can’t comment on the audio enhancing features, but I could hear the effects of the different frequency responses.

Payleven Mobile Payments at The Gadget Show

Payleven Chip and PINOne of the common problems facing start-ups and small businesses are the costs associated with taking credit card payments. The transaction costs can be high for small turnovers and point-of-sale machines are expensive with a monthly rental fee. To counter this problem, Payleven offers a low-cost mobile payment solution for European businesses using a Chip’n’PIN card reader that uses Bluetooth to communicate with both Apple, Android and Amazon smartphones and tablets. The Chip’n’PIN unit costs only GB£60 (ex-VAT) with a transaction charge of 2.75%. Payleven have partnered with GoTab to offer a complete solution for around £250 including a tablet and the card reader.

The approach is similar to US-based Square, but as Chip’n’PIN is only beginning to be required across the pond, Square’s reader unit is a simpler card-swipe device that plugs straight into the smartphone. Having a full Chip’n’PIN card reader in Europe is a necessity but the independent unit makes the transaction look much more professional anyway.

Simon from Payleven tells me about their solution and takes me through some of the features.

Livescribe 3 Smart Pen

Livescribe 3

Writing is one of humankind’s greatest inventions and it’s no surprise that despite the arrival of typewriters, keyboards, mice and voice recognition, most people just write stuff down in notebooks or on bits of paper. That doesn’t easily transfer into a digital record but Livescribe reckon that they have a solution to this problem with their digital pens. Todd takes notes with Brian Kemp.

Livescribe have a long history in this space, and their latest digital pen, the Livescribe 3, continues the tradition. Using specially printed notebooks, a tiny camera installed in the pen tracks the path of the pen across the page, converting the motion into handwriting that is then transferred to a nearby Apple iPad or iPhone using Bluetooth. Once the writing is in the iPad app, you can then starting doing clever things, such as adding contacts to your address book or dialling phone numbers. An Android version is expected later in the year.

The Livescribe 3 is available now for $150 with notebooks retailing at around $25 for a pack of 4. The price of paper products varies depending on size and style.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Kanex Multi-Sync Keyboard

kanexlogo
Todd chats with Tracy from Kanex at CES Digital Experience about their new Multi-Sync Keyboard for Apple devices.

Although touch is great way of interacting with tablets and smartphones, it really doesn’t replace a keyboard when it comes to large amounts of text entry. In response, many manufacturers have come out with add-on keyboards that typically connect to the tablet via Bluetooth. These are generally useful devices but usually it’s one keyboard-one device and often there’s already a keyboard on the desk for the PC, so the desk simply gets more cluttered.

Kanex’s solution the Multi-Sync Keyboard which allows 3 Bluetooth and 1 USB connection to be maintained at any one time – Mac, iPhone and iPad. The user can then switch between connections, entering text into just one device at a time but being able to connect to up to 4 devices. Brilliant! Currently, it’s only available for Apple devices, but future versions should support PCs.

On-sale now for US$69.95 at www.kanexlive.com.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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BeeWi Combat Toys

BeeWi LogoTodd and Don have some fun with Tobias Schoeler from French wireless specialists, BeeWi, and on show at CES are Bluetooth battle robots. Controlled from a smartphone app, the robots can fight against themselves or other BeeWi remote controlled toys including helicopters. Very cool and lots of fun.

The robots will be available in the first half of 2014 priced at US$35 and will be supported on Android, iOS and Windows Phone devices. More information and more toys at www.bee-wi.com.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor, and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Korus Portable Wireless Speakers

Korus LogoTodd and Don interview Nortek‘s Rob Halligan about the new wireless speaker system called Korus, which instead of using wifi or Bluetooth, uses SKAA, a wireless hi-fi audio standard that won CES Innovation awards in 2010 and 2011. The benefit of SKAA is low latency and greater range, but the downside is that it’s not built-in to any smartphone, tablet or media player. This is solved via a dongle, the Korus Baton, a SKAA transceiver which comes in USB, Apple Lightning and Apple 30 pin variants. Plug it in to the PC, Mac or Apple device and you are good to go. An Android version is expected later in the year.

Using SKAA rather than wifi or Bluetooth also means that there’s no faffing around with SSIDs or pairing with PINs; it’s simply a case of pressing a button on the wireless speaker and the speaker locks onto the nearest Baton. Press the button again and it moves onto the next.

Korus currently have two speaker units for sale, the V400 and V600, priced at a penny shy of US$350 and $450 respectively on the Korus shop at www.korussound.com.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Motorola Moto X Comes to the UK

Motorola M LogoAs widely rumoured, the Motorola Moto X is coming to the UK and the rest of Europe. The specs and features seem as per the US version – touchless control for Google Now, Active Display, Connect extension for Chrome and twist to start camera. KitKat will be on the Moto X out of the box and as expected, it looks like Motorola’s touch on the OS has been relatively light, with the addition of apps such as Migrate and Assist which were seen previously in the Moto G.

Specwise, it’s Motorola’s X8 Mobile Computing System which includes a software optimised Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (1.7GHz Dual-Core Krait CPU, quad-core Adreno 320 GPU), a natural language processor and a contextual computing processor. RAM is 2 GB (excellent!) with 16 GB and 32 GB storage versions available. To sweeten the deal, there’s two years of 50 GB storage free on Google Drive.

All the latest wireless technology is included with Bluetooth 4.0 LE + EDR, wifi 802.11a/g/b/n/ac and LTE bands 800/1800/2600MHz (B20/B3/B7). Of course it has 2G and 3G as well. 10 MP rear camera and 2 MP HD front camera.

Motorola Moto X

There’s no information in the press release regarding the customisations that are available in the US, only that there will be a black version and a white version. Update: Motorola have confirmed that Moto Maker will not be available at launch but they are exploring options.

The Moto X will be available in black from 1st February from Phones 4u, Carphone Warehouse, O2, Amazon and Techdata.  The white Moto X will be an exclusive for Phones 4u for the first three months.  Prices vary but start from GB£25 per month on contract or £380 SIM free and off-contract. As with the Moto G, that’s a pretty good price for a 4G SIM-free smartphone.

Kwikset adds Remote Unlocking to Kevo at CES

Kwikset KevoThe Kwikset Kevo is a deadbolt lock that uses Bluetooth communication as well as a physical key to lock and unlock doors. Currently it only works with Apple iPhones but it looks really cool. You walk up to the door, touch the Kevo lock, the lock checks your eKey on your phone and the door opens. There’s a whole host of clever features based around eKeys which can be transferred to people you trust and owners can receive notifications of when the lock is opened. The glossy video below shows the main features of the Kevo.

The Kevo has been available for a few months and at CES, Kwikset are responding to customer feedback with new enhancements to the Kevo lock system. The Kevo Bluetooth Gateway will be available in the summer and the unit will allow owners to remotely lock and unlock Kevo using their smartphone, say when a relative visits from out of town or a neighbour unexpectedly needs to feed pets.

Kwikset is quickly expanding the value Kevo delivers to current and future owners through a series of Kevo technology advancements, beginning with remote functionality, based on the desires of today’s consumer” said Keith Brandon, director, residential access solutions. “Kevo continues to be the breakthrough smart lock technology on the market, gaining recognition from the CES Innovation Awards, among many others.

As you might expect, the Kevo locks don’t come cheap at around US$220 but it looks like a neat solution and once Kwikset (a) get it working on Android and (b) produce a UK version, I might well be interested.