Category Archives: review

S-Charge 10,000 mAh Portable Power for Nintendo Switch Review



The Nintendo Switch is unique among the current generation of gaming devices, morphing between a console and a handheld. It’s a novel idea implemented well and a key factor in my choice to buy one for Christmas last year. For gaming on the go, the internal battery lasts a couple of hours which is usually enough for a commute, but for long journeys the Switch will need a recharge and this is where InDemand Design’s S-Charge comes in. Let’s take a look.

The S-Charge is a 10,000 mAh battery case for the Nintendo Switch that combines extra power with card storage and a multi-angle kick-stand. Originally, an Indiegogo project, the S-Charge is now available direct either from S-Charge or from Amazon for GB£65. This price includes the S-Charge itself, a carry case that takes a Switch with the S-Charge attached, a 45cm USB A to C cable and a screen protector.

The Switch slots into the S-Charge much like it slots into the standard TV dock, connecting into the lower USB C port. The Switch is retained in the S-Charge by a top hinge which rotates round and clicks into place, holding the the Switch securely while still giving access to the buttons and vents along the top edge of the console. The card slot’s not realistically available but it’s not much effort to flip the top up and switch the game card over.

Once connected up, pressing a small button on the left side powers up the S-Charge and there are four small white LEDs which show the battery level. Next to the button is a standard USB A port for charging other devices, such as phones or Bluetooth earbuds. Finally, there’s a USB C port for recharging the S-Charge via the supplied cable.

The long and adjustable kickstand on the S-Charge addresses one of the Switch’s other weak points, namely the flimsy, offset and single position built-in stand. The one on the S-Charge runs the full length of the unit and will click into about five different angles to get the Switch just right. Underneath the kickstand is space for two game cartridges.

Using the Switch with the S-Charge attached in handheld mode takes a little getting used for two reasons. One, the S-Charge weighs 325g and two, where do you put your fingers? A Switch with joycons attached tips the scales at 400g, so once the S-Charge is added, it’s 725g all in, which is hefty enough to hold. Depending on hand-size, fingers can either curl behind the joycons or lie along the the back of the S-Charge, but it’ll take a little getting used to. Obviously, neither of these are an issue if primarily using the Switch in tabletop mode.

The carbon fibre effect carry case is good too. It’ll take a Switch with both the S-Charge and joycons attached and there’s space for an extra six game cartridges. In the lid, there’s a zipped pocket to keep the charging cable and any other extras, like a screen cleaning cloth. The only thing I’d say about the case is that the zipped pocket has a metal pull on the zip itself. For the sake of the left hand joycon, I would have preferred a plastic one or at least a rubber coating.

The battery in the S-Charge is a beefy 10,000 mAh – that’s over twice the capacity of the Switch which Nintendo says is 4,310 mAh. How much extra gameplay depends entirely on the games being played with Zelda burning through the standard battery in less than three hours. Starting with the Switch and S-Charge at full capacity, Breath of the Wild play time could be extended to ten hours.

I used the S-Charge extensively over a couple of weeks and while I never managed to fit in a whole day of non-stop portable gaming, my experience was very much in-line with expectations. Taking the console round to another family’s home over Christmas, there was some serious Mario Kart for a couple of hours with only the loss of one white LED.

The S-Charge isn’t a pocket money purchase at GB£65, but you do get a multi-functional unit with a carry case and overall I think it’s a very good solution. Not only does it extend gaming-on-the-go to at least ten hours, the stand is much better, there’s cartridge storage and the S-Charge can recharge other devices too. It’s the perfect travelling companion for the Nintendo Switch.

There’s more on my YouTube video.

Thanks to InDemand Design for providing the S-Charge for review.


Jingle All The Way with a Bluetooth Bauble Speaker



Looking for the final decoration to finish off dressing your O Christmas Tree? Well take a look, or rather a listen, to the Accelerate Holiday Tunes bauble with Bluetooth speaker. Connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth and instead of a Silent Night you’ll be Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. The decoration comes in four different colours – Red, Gold, Green and Silver Bells.

The 200 mAh battery will Jingle Bells for about two hours before needing a charge via the supplied USB cable. There’s a microUSB charging port on the back and it takes a similar amount time recharge. You could go for a Sleigh Ride while you’re waiting.

Avoiding a Blue Christmas is straightforward. Hold down the power button to put the bauble into pairing mode and look for HOLIDAY TUNES in the Bluetooth settings of your smartphone. Once paired up, any music played on the phone from Spotify, Amazon Music, iTunes, etc. will come out the Holiday Tunes bauble. It’s not worth Driving Home for Christmas just to hear the music but the sound quality’s better than you’d imagine. There’s a hanging loop for putting the bauble on the tree.

The Holiday Tunes bauble is available from Amazon.co.uk, priced at around GB£12-£15 (the price changes a little). You may find it cheaper in store too – try Home Bargains. It’s kitsch Christmas fun so even if it’s a White Christmas and It’s Cold Outside, you’ll have a Holly Jolly Christmas with your favourite tunes.

More in the YouTube video below. It really is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

Disclaimer: This was a personal purchase.


Kärcher 10 Year Window Vac Anniversary Edition Review



The clue is in the title….it’s been ten years since Kärcher introduced its first Window Vac for streak-free glass cleaning. Competing with sponge and squeegee for the perfect finish, the Window Vac sucks water from the smooth surface of the window, removing drips and drops, and leaving the glass dry. Sounds like a great a idea, but do windows need a vacuum cleaner? Let’s take a closer look.

The box for this anniversary edition is a marginal step up from the normal six sides of cardboard, with a magnetically closed gatefold showing the evolution of the product from the original in 2008 through to 2018. There’s been six editions of the Window Vac but all remain true to the original from ten years ago with steady incremental changes between each one. This year’s model promises extended battery life….

 

While this all looks lovely, disappointingly Kärcher haven’t really got their heads round the presentation of the contents of the box – inside everything is higgledy-piggledy. I appreciate that it’s low environmental impact but a bit more organisation would improve that first impression. This is a gadget that has a list price of GB£100 after all.

Setting this to one inside, inside the box is the Window Vac itself, in the usual black and yellow Kärcher combination. There are two wiper blades, one 280 mm and the other 170 mm. These clip in and out of the Window Vac to suit the size of the window being cleaned. To charge up the Vac, there’s a neat AC power adaptor too with a 120 cm cable. There’s a nifty spray bottle which comes with an attachment to take a microfibre cloth, which is actually really handy. Finally, there’s a set of paper manuals and guides, and a small sachet of cleaning concentrate for use with the spray bottle.

 

The Window Vac is not dissimilar to a handheld vacuum cleaner and it’s surprisingly lightweight – officially it’s 600 g. The two wiper blades clip in and out at the top, there’s a charging port at the bottom, wastewater bottle on the underside and the Vac is designed to sit on its end when not in use. There’s an push on/off button on the handle with an LED which goes solid green when on. The Max line on the water bottle lets you know when it’s time to pour the sucked-up water out by lift out the plug in the top of the bottle. It is possible to remove the top section of the Vac completely, which is handy when you accidentally suck up something a bit larger than usual, such as a leaf.

Looking at the power adaptor, it’s a relatively small unit, sticking out about 6 cm from the wall but with very little height or thickness – it won’t obstruct neighbouring sockets at all. The cable ends in a neat plug which slots into the bottom of the handle. A matching slot and groove stops the connector being put in the wrong way round. Charging from flat is slow, taking several hours – 185 minutes! I found the best approach was to be disciplined and fully charge the Window Vac before putting it away, meaning that vacuum was ready for the next cleaning session.

Before we get to the performance of the Window Vac, I have to give a big thumbs up to the spray bottle and cloth attachment. I don’t know if Kärcher came up with this idea but whoever did, it’s brilliant. Simply, it means that you can spray cleaning solution onto a window (or other surface) and then wipe the liquid over the window with the cloth using just one hand. There’s no squirting-putting-down-picking-up-wiping. It’s excellent and with the spray bottle in one hand and the Window Vac in the other, you’re a window cleaning machine!

So…what’s the Window Vac like in action? I tried it in four scenarios – windows, mirrors, roof windows (Velux) and a shower cubicle. For those who prefer video, here’s my review on YouTube.

For GNC readers, each scenario provided slightly different challenges and associated benefits, and the Kärcher acquitted itself well. For me, the overall big benefit was not the dry, clean and sparkling finish, but that there was no dripping water on the floor or hands getting cold and wet. It’s the package of spray bottle with cloth and Window Vac that is the winning combination. Let’s look in turn at each scenario. By the way, the Window Vac makes very little noise.

Mirrors are easily cleaned with the Window Vac. Typically not really dirty anyway, but quick squirt with glass cleaner and then run over the mirror with the Vac. Gets the liquid off the mirror faster than kitchen towel and less rubbing.

Standard windows. Big benefit over using a squeegee is that the water goes into the Kärcher Vac rather than over your hands and you do get a really good streak-free finish. Obviously it doesn’t clean round the edges of the window frames to get rid of spider webs, so I found the best approach was to go round the window frames with the bucket and sponge first, and then do the window with the Window Vac. In terms of battery life, I cleaned three glass doors and eight windows without any trouble. The specs say 35 minutes, 105 m² or 35 windows.

Roof windows are where the Window Vac really shines. The big problem with Veluxes and similar is that while the window rotates to allow cleaning from the inside, all the muck, dirty and water falls into the room. Normally cleaning is a big hassle with dust sheets but with the Vac, the grubby water gets vacuumed up without hitting the floor. This is a big win for me.

Shower cubicle. Technically the Kärcher worked fine, sucking up the water on the shower cubicle walls and glass door but the value was limited – you’re not worried about water on the floor or streak-free tiles and the Vac needs to be to hand. Squeegee wins in this scenario.

There is one final scenario that didn’t make into the video and only became apparent after recent storms. The Kärcher Window Vac is really good for clearing rainwater off garden trampolines. It sucks up the surface water quickly so that the trampoline can be towelled dry and it’s back to bouncing for the children. Result!

Overall, I’m quite pleased with Kärcher 10 Year Window Vac Anniversary Edition. It makes cleaning windows much easier and is great for roof windows. I have to say that it’s not something I would have thought of buying and it’s not an impulse buy with a list price of £99. However, you can easily find it reduced and it’s currently only £49.99 at several online retailers, including Kärcher, which makes it much more reasonable.

Disclosure: I paid the current sale price for the Window Vac as part of The Insiders UK Kärcher campaign.


Delete Old Text Messages with R-Bot SMS Cleaner



Messaging is one of the killer apps for mobile devices and has followed the industry from first mobile phones through to the smartphones of today. It began with SMS, became notorious with Blackberry, integrated with social media and then became a battleground with law enforcement as end-to-end encryption kept conversations private.

Even with all these developments, SMS texting remains a popular choice as it simply works. Once you have someone’s mobile number, you can send them a text. There’s no need to check if they’re on WhatsApp, FB Messenger, Telegram, Signal, BBM…

I receive a handful of texts each day with the usual range of personal, work and spam messages. Some get deleted, some don’t, but by the end of the year, there’s probably over 1000 messages cluttering up the inbox. Texts don’t take up much space so there’s no imperative to have a clear out but eventually it has to be done.

Surprisingly, the standard Android SMS app Messages doesn’t have any management features at all and it’s not possible to delete messages in bulk. I want to be able to delete all messages more than two years old or, say, set a limit of 2000 messages. No can do, and it’s not a feature that I found in any other of the SMS clients that I downloaded.

Fortunately, I did find R-Bot SMS Cleaner which does delete old text messages. Hurrah!!!

To be clear SMS Cleaner isn’t a messaging app and all it does is find and delete old messages, but it does the one task pretty well. It has two modes, one called “Recommended” which deletes text messages older than a few months or weeks, and “Custom” which allows a more granular selection. With Custom, it’s possible to look for messages with keywords, specific contacts or in a chosen date range.

    

The “View” button shows the messages found by the search for double-checking before deletion. Once ready, deleting needs R-Bot to switch in as the default SMS app, which it politely requests, and then switches out when done. It’s a very well-behaved app. Adverts are displayed occasionally but there doesn’t seem to be a paid-for “pro”, which I would prefer.

The only “bug” I found is that there is an option in “Recommended” to exclude texts from contacts, the idea being that it’s an easy way to get rid of spam messages which typically come from unknown numbers. Normally, it works well, but it did get confused by international dialling codes. If a number was prefixed by, say, +1, +44, +353, SMS Cleaner wasn’t able to recognise that as belonging to a known contact. Just watch out for that.

Overall, R-Bot SMS Cleaner is a handy app for keeping the SMS inbox under control. Try it out or if you’ve a better suggestion, let me know in the comments below.


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.