Category Archives: review

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.


Kärcher FC5 Hard Floor Cleaner Review



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unboxing and in action videos below.

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


Flic-ked into Action



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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to Shortcut Labs for providing the Flic for review.