Garmin Vivoactive HR Review

Garmin Vivoactive HR Review

Like all my reviews, this is a down and dirty, no mumbo jumbo review using my real world experience.

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PROS:

Comfortable: This thing is comfortable. The material that the strap is made from is a polymer of some sort that has a soft and almost silky feel to it. It is easy to grip, yet doesn’t pull on my arm hair (which there is plenty of).IMG_20160609_124554712_HDR IMG_20160612_131516971It has a traditional hook and loop style clasp and the retainer loop has a “tooth” in it to hold the band. It’s lightweight and once you slip it on it’s pretty much forgotten about.

Battery: So it came out of the box with about 80% battery, throwing caution to the wind I didn’t even charge it, I just set it up and put it on. I verified that the HRM to always on, fiddled with the settings and let it do its thing.  It has had 4 days of active use,thus far. I used the GPS while I walked, the HRM is still going and the battery appears to have moved all of about 20%. Not too shabby. They claim it will get somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 days of battery life (based on usage of course).

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HRM: The HRM is the same unit as used in my Fenix3 HR and is as accurate as my other devices. To validate the HRM I wore the Vivo, my Mio Link, The Fenix3 HR and my Polar FT7 with chest strap.

IMG_20160612_115647733The Vivo read 57 as my Resting Heart Rate, the Mio & the polar both read it as 55, and the Fenix3 had it at 56 . As a control I hopped onto one of the machines at the gym and grabbed its HRM pads, it read 56 as my resting, off by a 1-2 BPM, but not bad. As I did my workout I looked and it was always within 2 BPM of any of the other devices.  In the picture it shows it as 41, this was taken at a different time and was accurate at the time.

Garmin Connect: if you’re a smartphone user, and face it if you’re reading this you probably are, you can install the Connect app to sync with the Vivo. it will allow you to see your dashboard of stats, add new “apps”, widgets, and watch faces. You can also do those things via your computer and the connect website. You can also add friends(called connections), set it to sync with other apps (such as Endomondo, Runkeeper) and devices like the Garmin Index Scale.

GPS accuracy: While the GPS does take a few seconds to get a lock it seems to be fairly accurate.  My phone clocked my walk today at 4.49 miles, the Vivo clocked it at 4.50. Considering the size of the device I can live with a slight delay in lock time as long as it keeps the lock and is accurate for my activities.

Operation: The Vivo is pretty straight forward to operate, two buttons and a touch screen. Most of the navigation is done using the touch screen, with the buttons being mainly for start stop activities. The left button is the power/Stop button, a long press will bring up a menu of options for locking, powering off, etc. IMG_20160612_115547046IMG_20160612_115540215The right button is used to start/stop activities. A single press brings up the activity menu and long press brings up the device’s main menu with setting and such. Even without looking at the manual most people will be able to figure out the device with little trouble.

Screen: The Vivo uses a full color transflective type display with a back light. What does this mean to you? It means the display is readable in direct sunlight and when it’s dark it has a sensor that tells it to turn on the back light so it can be read. This makes the battery life a lot easier to manage as compared to standard always lit lcd /led/oled displays. IMG_20160612_115637262IMG_20160612_115514990IMG_20160612_115631532IMG_20160612_115654752Unlike other devices the sensor for lighting up is motion based, flick your wrist, tap the screen, touch a button and it lights up.


Water resistance: this sucker is rated at water resistant to 5 ATM. Which while it sounds all cool and whatnot, it really just means you can sweat, wash, shower, & run in the rain with it. You can swim in the pool/lake/ocean with no issues, but diving to depth is a no no.

Music Controls: With a simple downward flick of your finger you’re at the music control screen. It can control your device’s default music player.
It has volume up and down, track forward and reverse, and of course play pause.IMG_20160612_131719889

Smartwatch capabilities: The Vivo is a “Smartwatch” which means it connects to your phone and can display alerts from mail, text, social media, and even incoming phone calls. This is a very handy feature, allowing you to keep your phone in your pocket/purse/backpack or where ever it is you keep your phone (as long as it is within 30 feet or so).IMG_20160609_125020625IMG_20160609_124846052

Size: I’m not going to lie, this thing isn’t the smallest thing out there, it’s nowhere near the largest either though. For the size of the device the weight is surprisingly light. However if you have dainty wrists, it’s going to look a bit out of place. The face area is 1 1/2″ wide and 2 1/4″ long. It is shown here next to my Fenix3 HR.IMG_20160609_123341510

 CONS:

GPS: That’s right, Even though I said it was a plus, it’s also a minus. The GPS takes its dear sweet time to lock, not surprising. Based on the size of the device the antenna is pretty small, and probably a bit weak. It took an average of 12 seconds seconds for it to lock, but once it did It never lost signal. My Fenix3 HR takes about 7 seconds on average to lock. While not a huge amount of time, it is something to note.

Proprietary USB connector: This is one of my biggest pet peeves. It means one more cable to keep track of. One more expense if I lose the original cable. I get it, you want a cool way to connect to your device, but you decide that for whatever reason you can’t use a universal cradle for all your devices. Bully for you, but I hate it. This thing is large enough that they could have put inductive charging in it. Drop it on a Qi based charging pad and walk away.
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Price: At $250 this thing is pretty pricey. I’m not saying it isn’t worth the cost, just that it’s pretty pricey. Though when compared to other devices with all the features it has, it is reasonable. As a note it is the same cost as the comparable FitBit Surge (see my review of that here: https://rowald.net/2015/03/12/fitbit-surge-lightning-review/)

Summary:

So looking at the Vivoactive HR as a whole, you can see the PROS, outweigh the CONS. It’s a solid little device with some nice features. It’s a definite step up from your typical glorified pedometer, that’s right Fitbit, I’m looking at you. The HRM is accurate, the GPS is a bit slow, but it’s accurate once it gets a lock. It’s comfortable, not terrible to look at, has downloadable apps,widgets, & watch faces, can do basic navigation and has a good battery life. If you can get past the price tag. I think most people will feel it’s a great workout/daily life device worth strapping on their wrists.

Aftershokz Trekz Titanium

Another bright Idea

As always this will be a down and dirty type of review. It will be based in real world terms, not fancy marketing hype. Ready or not, here we go.

 

Disclaimer: None, this equipment was not provided to me by the manufacturer, I obtained it myself.

Common background information: I work-out a lot, I sweat profusely and I have shorted out at least 4 dozen headsets in my pursuit of sweat-proof earphones/headsets to use while I run, lift, and bike. If you have read my previous reviews, you will remember that I reviewed other Aftershokz products last year. Well my friends, we find ourselves at another Aftershokz review. I am happy to say that I have found another great headset that I can recommend. Like their predecessors these are a bit different than standard headsets/earphones in that they are an open ear, bone conduction type of headset. That means they sit on your cheekbones and send sound to your inner ear, not like tradional heatsets that go in your ear. So without further rambling, I present the AfterShokz Trekz Titanium http://www.aftershokz.com/collections/wireless/products/trekz-titanium

If you are unfamiliar Aftershokz, read on and maybe find a new must have. Read my previous reviews of their products, or visit their website. If you’re a return Aftershokz fan, welcome back. When I first came across Aftershokz, I was looking for bone conductive headsets. I knew they were out there but hadn’t ever found any Bluetooth ones before. Anyone who knows me knows I HATE, and yes that is a strong word, but I absolutely hate wired headsets and earphones when I exercise. My gorilla arms tend to flail about and get tangled up in the wires and rip things off my noggin. I was happy to find that someone had stepped up and created a Bluetooth BCH and couldn’t wait to try them out.  I have never looked back and this headset is no exception to that rule.

Good:

Comfort: I cannot stress this point, enough, because they do not go in your ears, but rather sit on your cheek bones, they are extremely comfortable. I wore them for a total of about 10 hours the first day I had them, and just like the previous model, I almost forgot they were there, except for the constant rhythm I had in my head.

 

Fit: The Trekz fit like, most other wrap behind headsets, but because of the titanium wire-frame design they have a naturally snug feeling. If you’re worried about them falling off while you work-out, don’t. I know some of you out there are going to be like, “But I really workout hard/fast/violently/whatever…” Yeah I do too. I do 45-60 minutes of weight training followed by 60-90 minutes of trail/road running. In the course of my workout my head gets flung into many different positions, sometimes with a fair amount of force. Guess what, they stay in place just fine. They fit securely in front of your ears and have a silicone stabilizer wings (new to this model) that you can add if you have a smaller head. They have stayed in place so far for me, in excess of 10 hours of workout time so far. As a note Aftershokz has stated that they are coming out with a smaller version of these for children or those of you out there with smaller heads.  If you’re wondering, YES, they are glasses friendly .

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Sound Quality: If you’re looking for a headset that can be an audiophile’s wet dream, I’m going to ask you to kindly stop ready right here, as these are not the headphones you are looking for.  If, however you are looking for a headset that has great audio, phone capabilities, and decent battery life, I’m talking to you. I was surprised by the sound quality of the Trekz, even compared to the Bluez2/Bluez2S models which were very good. They do a great job of reproducing the sounds that you would normally have going into your ears. The bass was bassy but not overbearing, the mids and highs were there and represented well. If you have them cranked all the way up you can hear the music coming out of them from a distance, but if you set them down on a hard surface they will shake and rattle all over the place, letting you know it’s vibration that you are hearing. They have improved on the “Leak Slayer” feature, which helps cut down on audio leakage, which was an issue for the originals. As far as call quality I have made a few calls with them and people say they can hear me nice and clearly and I can hear them very well too. They have an additional microphone for noise reduction, and it appears to work as advertised.

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Packaging/Accessories: when most companies are trying to give you as little as possible when you buy their products, it’s refreshing to see one going a bit better. Like the Bluez 2, the Trekz are packaged well in a nice box. Inside that box is a semi-rigid carrying case, a charging cable, a warranty card, a quick start guide, a multi lingual instruction sheet and the ear plugs (for when you are say, on a plane or train, and can block out all noise). Unlike some of the other brands that give you throw away packaging and the headset, it’s nice to get the little extra touches with these.

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Controls: New to this model is a more simplified button set, consisting of just three buttons, down from four. They are: power on/volume up, volume down, and a multifunction button. The power and volume buttons are rubber coated/booted physical buttons. They work as intended and are easy to use. To answer a call you press the multifunction button on the left “ear” piece (when you are wearing them), this will pause any media you have running. To end the call you press the button again. To make a call a double press of the button gets you into the dialog for that. To play/pause your music you single press the multifunction button. Dead simple.

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Battery: They claim a 6 hour battery life. I was able to get almost 10 hours out of them the first day I had them. The first couple of hours were at about 80% volume, while the rest was at 50% or a little below. I’m not sure what volume they have their number spec’ed for but, as always, your mileage may vary.

Multipoint Connectivity: A welcome addition to this model, multi-point connectivity is finally here. Unfamiliar with the term? It means the headset can be paired to more than one device at a time. Previous models could only be paired to one, like your phone. If wanted to use it for your computer or tablet as well you had to go through the pairing process every time you switched devices.

Warranty: They come with a 2 year warranty, that covers defects in workmanship and sweat damage. As a side note, they truly stand behind their products. I destroyed 12 pairs of the original Bluez, about that many of the Bluez 2 headsets with my overactive sweat glands. They happily replaced them no questions, no qualms. They even interviewed me about my experience with their customer service. This is a company that I can say honestly, really cares about their customers. The customer service staff that I have worked with have all been great. Always courteous, always genuine, and always eager to help me get my issue resolved.

 

 

Neutral:

Sound Quality: I know I just said this was in the good column, but there is something I need to tell you about that is neither Good nor Bad when it come to the sound quality. Remember these are an Open Ear style headset. That means you can still hear outside sounds/noise when you use them. For me this is a good thing, I often run along roads and busy streets, and being able to hear approaching traffic is always good. Also being able to hear your breathing and your foot falls while running can aid in your training efforts. While I enjoy the solitude that my in ear headsets give me, the safety factor takes precedence when running outside. Being able to hear ambient noises can be a strange experience at first, but you’ll adjust quickly.

Price: The Trekz have a MSRP of $129.99 but I imagine that street price will vary a bit once they are publicly available. The price point is not too outrageous for a Bluetooth stereo headset of this quality, but I know not everyone can shell out this kind of moolah for a headset.  To date these are the highest quality Bone Conduction Headset I have had.

 

 

BAD:

Comfort: Again, I know I just said this was in the good column, just hear me out. I had no discomfort with the Bluez2 but the following goes out to anyone who is new to bone conduction headsets. You will likely have no discomfort while wearing/using them. You may notice a strange sensation when you take them off. After being on your head for a long time, you may notice a weird tingling sensation on your face (no doubt from being shook for an extended amount of time.) and you will likely notice a sense of relief when you take them off. Because they put pressure on your face, it apparently builds up after a while. I only noticed it after taking them off and only the first few times I wore them. These days I am so accustomed to them that I never have any discomfort or after effects.

USB Flap: In order to maintain the Water resistance/Sweat Proof-ness they have a small flap that covers the USB port. It’s made of plastic and is held in place with a welded joint. I would have rather seen a flap with a slightly more rubber-like consistency, as opposed to the plastic they are using but that is neither here nor there. It has been ok so far but we will see how it holds up. All of the previous models have been surprisingly resilient, so I expect no less of this model.

 

Conclusion:

Conclusion: The Aftershokz Trekz are a good buy, even if you have to pay full retail price. They have performed well for me so far and will be my daily driver (replacing the Bluez 2S model) for working out and running, assuming I don’t prove the sweat-proof claims inaccurate. If you are in the market for an open ear headset, (and you really should be if you exercise anywhere that situational awareness is a factor) give these a try. If the price point is outside your budget look at the previous models. The Bluez 2S or Bluez 2 are readily found for a fair amount less than these, while still providing the open ear benefits.

Ubiquiti EdgeRouter™ Lite Review

BunsenLike all my reviews, this is a down and dirty, no mumbo jumbo review using my real world experience.  Today we will be looking at the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter lite (ERLite-3).

If you’re not familiar with Ubiquiti, (http://ubnt.com) they are a manufacturer of wired and wireless networking gear built for commercial and industrial use. Anyone who knows me knows I won’t let a little thing like that keep me from using it at home. I have a Cisco modem, Open-mesh access points and now a Ubiquiti router.

Disclaimer: None, this equipment was not provided to me by the manufacturer, I obtained it myself.

Pros:

Design: The industrial design of the ERLite-3 is nice. It’s a simple metal box with 3 gigabit ports, a console port (for you CLI junkies) and a power port (on the back side.

Size: I won’t lie; this thing is small. Coming in at 3” x 5” x 9.5” and weighing in at less than 2 pounds, it’s much smaller than the ASA5505 that it replaced.

Configuration: Ubiquiti has a really nice user interface they call the EdgeOS. It’s easy to navigate, provides a tone of useful information about the device and what’s going across it and provides some wizards to help you get up and running quickly. I had the router up and running with the basics in less than 5 minutes.

Features: being a commercial device I would expect it to have lots of features and options. It does indeed have a nice selection of things to play with. You can configure static routes, it supports OSPF, RIP , and BGP. It has an integrated full featured firewall, NAT translation, can be used as a DHCP server, supports QoS, supports IPv6, does site to site ipsec and OpenVPN  VPN, L2TP/PPTP remote access vpn, can be configured using gui or CLI, and has a nice suite of monitoring and admin tools.

Layer 3: Yep this little guy is a layer three device (DUH) that can handle 1,000,000 pps with 64 byte packets and 3 Gbps with 512k or larger packet sizes. Not too shabby.

Price: I hate to use the word cheap, so let’s use inexpensive. The ERLite-3 has a MSRP of $100.00 I picked mine up on amazon for $92.

Neutral:

No wireless: I’m listing this because inevitably someone will ask “does it have built in wireless?” NO. This is a commercial class device where routers and wireless are generally separate device in the infrastructure.

POE: No this device doe not have POE, nor does it support POE pass through. I wouldn’t expect it to at this price point. Just putting it out there , because we all know someone would ask.

Cons:

Configuration: I know, I know… I have Configuration as a PRO, well there is one little niggle that made me also put it here. The wizards to help you set up the device are great, unless you want to use an IP address scheme different than the 192.168.1.0/24 that it come with as a default. The wizards will allow you to put in a different address scope, but then completely ignores it and sets up your network with the default scheme anyway. While not a huge deal it does mean that you will need to go make some manual changes to your DHCP scope, your interfaces and the like after you run the wizards. Obviously if you use the CLI and configure it that way you don’t have this issue, but let’s face it I’m a lazy mouse jockey.

Other:

Warranty: Ubiquiti provides a one (1) year warranty.

Summary:

Looking at the tally sheet, the PROs out number the CONs by a large margin. This is really a great piece of equipment, especially at a sub $100 price point. It is silent, inobtrusive, and so far reliable. I have also noticed a consistent increase in my over internet speed since switching over to this device. So If you’re looking for a great router and POE and built in wireless are not an issue for you, the ERLite-3 is a no brainer decision.

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Fitbit Surge: Lightning Review

Another bright IdeaLike all my reviews, this is a down and dirty, no mumbo jumbo review using my real world experience. I’m shaking things up and starting directly with the CONS.

CONS:

HRM: The HRM isn’t as accurate as my other devices. To validate the HRM I wore the Fitbit, my Mio Link and my Polar FT7 with chest strap. The Fitbit read 57 as my Resting Heart Rate, the Mio and the polar both read it as 51. As a control I hopped onto one of the machines at the gym and grabbed its HRM pads, it read 52 as my resting, off by a few BPM, but not bad. However the disparity widened during my run today. At the height of my run, the FB registered my BPM as 163. The Polar and the Mio both clocked in at 176. That’s 13 BPM and a pretty big difference.

GPS: The GPS takes its dear sweet time to lock, not surprising. Based on the size of the device the antenna is pretty small, and probably a bit weak. It took about 25 seconds for it to lock, but once it did It never lost signal.

Size: I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty big. If you have dainty wrists, it’s going to look out of place. The face area is 1 5/16″ wide and 2 1/4″ long.

Proprietary USB connector: This is one of my biggest pet peeves. It means one more cable to keep track of. One more expense if I lose the original cable. I get it, you want a cool way to connect to your device, but you don’t want a cradle, so you design so goofy little pin style connector that has a weird shape. Bully for you, but I hate it. This thing is large enough that they could have put inductive charging in it. Drop it on a Qi based charging pad and walk away.

Price: At $250 this thing is pretty pricey. I’m not saying it isn’t worth the cost, just that it’s in the same realm as devices from Garmin, and the like that have a lot of the same features, plus do mapping and cadence.

PROS:

Comfortable: This thing is comfortable. The material that the strap is made from is a polymer of some sort that has a soft and almost silky feel to it. It is easy to grip, yet doesn’t pull on my arm hair (which there is plenty of). It has a traditional hook and loop style clasp and the retainer loop has a “tooth” in it to hold the band. It’s lightweight and once you slip it on it’s pretty much forgotten about.

HRM: OK I can hear you now, “You just listed the HRM in the CONS”. I did, but keep reading Skipper. The HRM is optical. It has 2 pulsing lights that allow it’s sensor to measure your pulse rate on your wrist. No more uncomfortable chest straps (more for the ladies and us fat guys). Being a large guy and pretty hairy guy, I have always hated chest straps. The pull hair, the get pushed down by jiggling fleshy parts and they have trouble getting readings through my overly manly fur. Having the HRM be optical and on your wrist eliminates all that frustration.

Battery: So it came out of the box with 50% battery, throwing caution to the wind I didn’t even charge it, I just set it up and put it on. I turned the HRM to always on, fiddled with the settings and let it do its thing. I even left the cable for it at work. I wore it the rest of the day, all night, and still have it on this morning. It used the GPS while I ran, the HRM is still going and the battery appears to have moved all of about 10%. Not too shabby. They claim it will get 7-10 days of battery life (based on usage of course).

Fitbit Community: Being a fit bit it has all the accoutrements that any of their devices has, including the website, mobile app and fairly rabid fan base. People LOVE their Fitbits . The website shows your recent exercises, weight goals calories burned, calories consumed and water intake. It has areas to challenge your Fitbit friends, log your food intake and what have you. Their food database is nowhere near as expansive as MyFitnessPal, nor does it link with MFP. That is a shame but it is what it is.

GPS accuracy: While the GPS does take a while to get a lock it seems to be fairly accurate.  My phone clocked my run today at 5.36 miles, the Surge clocked it at 5.37. Considering the size of the device I can live with a longer lock time as long as it keeps the lock and is accurate for my runs.

Operation: The Surge is pretty straight forward to operate, three buttons and a touch screen. Most of your work is going to be done using the buttons, while navigation is done using the touch screen. Wake the device up, button. Choose an exercise, scree. Start/stop/pause buttons. View text messages, screen. You get the picture. Without looking at the user guide, it took me less than 2 minutes to have the navigation and operation of this thing down pat.

Screen: The Surge uses a transflective type display with a back light. What does this mean to you? It means the display is readable in direct sunlight and when it’s dark it has a sensor that tells it to turn on the back light so it can be read. This makes the battery life a lot easier to manage as compared to standard always lit lcd /led/olem displays.

Water resistance: this sucker is rated at water resistant to 5 ATM. Which while it sounds all cool and whatnot really just means you can sweat, wash, shower, & run in the rain with it. It is not designed for use as a swimming tracker (needs at least a 10ATM rating for that). You can probably splash around in a 4’ pool with no issues, but diving depth is a no no.

Summary:

So looking at the Surge as a whole, you can see the PROS, outweigh the CONS. It’s a solid little device with some nice features. It’s a definite step up from your typical glorified pedometer that the rest of the Fitbit family of gear is. The HRM is a bit inaccurate, but not terribly so. The GPS is a bit slow, but it’s accurate once it gets a lock. It’s comfortable, not terrible to look at and has a good battery life. If you can get past the price tag. I think most people will feel it’s a great workout/daily life device worth strapping on their wrists.

UPDATE: 7/6/2015

Well The surge is still working like a champ. Battery life with my mixed use (GPS 4 days a week for runs) is about 4-5 days per charge. It has survived my circuit shorting sweat and been in the shower pretty much every time I have. I can say that the Surge is Rob Approved.

UPDATE: 9/29/2015

The newest software update has made this device even better. Improved battery life, mile mark notifications, and general stability improvements. the last update I would like to see is the ability to get email notifications. If it had that it would be the complete package. I still say that the Surge is Rob Approved.

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AfterShokz Bluez 2 Review

As always this will be a down and dirty type of review. It will be based in real world terms, not fancy marketing hype. Ready or not, here we go.

 

Common background information: I workout a lot, I sweat profusely and I have shorted out at least two dozen headsets in my pursuit of sweat-proof earphones/headsets to use while I run, lift, and bike. If you have read my previous reviews, you will remember that I reviewed other Aftershockz products last year. Well my friends at Aftershokz have graciously provided me with a pair of their newest headset to torture. Iam happy to say that, I have found another great headset that I can recommend. Like their predecessor these are a bit different than standard headsets/earphones in that they are an open ear, bone conduction type of headset. That means they sit on your cheekbones and send sound to your inner ear, not like tradional heatsets that go in your ear. So without further rambling, I present the AfterShokz Bluez 2. http://www.aftershokz.com/collections/wireless/products/bluez-2

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If you are unfamiliar Aftershockz, I can say I’m not that surprised. Though I expect that to change any day now. When I first came across Aftershokz, I was looking for bone conductive headsets. I knew they were out there but hadn’t ever found any Bluetooth ones before. Anyone who knows me knows I HATE, and yes that is a strong word, but I absolutely hate wired headsets and earphones when I exercise. My gorilla arms tend to flail about and get tangled up in the wires and rip things off my noggin. I was happy to find that someone had stepped up and created a Bluetooth BCH and couldn’t wait to try them out.

Good:

Price: The Bluez 2 MSRP is $99 but I imagine that street price will vary a bit once they are publicly available. The price point is not too outrageous for a Bluetooth stereo headset of decent quality. It’s great when you take into consideration, that bone conductive sets are usually higher than this when wired.

Comfort: Like my review for the Decibullz (http://aosp.us/?p=799) and the original BLUEZ (http://aosp.us/?p=862) , I cannot stress this point, enough, because they do not go in your ears, but rather sit on your cheek bones, they are extremely comfortable. I wore them for about 8 hours the first day I had them, and just like the previous model, I almost forgot they were there, except for the constant rhythm I had in my head.

Fit: The Bluez 2 fit like, most other wrap behind headsets, but are most similar to the Motorola S10/S11 headsets, in the fit department. If you’re worried about them falling off while you workout, don’t. I know some of you out there are going to be like, “But I really workout hard/fast/violently/whatever…” Yeah I do too. I do 60-75 minutes of cross-fit style training followed by 60-90 minutes of trail/road running. In the course of my workout my head gets flung into many different positions, sometimes with a fair amount of force. Guess what, they stay in place just fine. They fit securely in front of your ears and have a band in the back that helps keep the tension on them. They have stayed in place so far for me, in excess of 8 hours of workout time so far. A small change from the original is that the tension strap is not adjustable. So far that has not been an issue because it fits snugly and has some stretch to it.

 

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Sound Quality: If you’re looking for a headset that can be an audiophile’s wet dream, I’m going to ask you to kindly move along, as these are not the headphones you are looking for (Jedi mind trick active).  OK are those guys gone? Good. OK, for the rest of you out there who are looking for a headset that has great audio, phone capabilities, and decent battery life, I’m talking to you. I was surprised by the sound quality of the Bluez 2, even compared to the originals which were good. I had tried bone conducting headsets a few years back and was, let’s just say, underwhelmed by them. The Bluez 2 do a great job of reproducing the sounds that you would normally have going into your ears. The bass was bassy but not overbearing, the mids and highs were there and represented well. If you have them cranked all the way up you can hear the music coming out of them from a distance, but if you set them down on a hard surface they will shake and rattle all over the place, letting you know it’s not sound but vibration that you are hearing. They have implemented a new feature called “Leak Slayer” which helps cut down on audio leakage, which was an issue for the originals. As far as call quality I have made a few calls with them and people say they can hear me nice and clearly and I can hear them very well too. The Bluez 2 have an additional microphone for noise reduction, and it appears to work as advertised So they actually do perform very well as a phone headset.

Packaging/Accessories: when most companies are trying to give you as little as possible when you buy their products, it’s refreshing to see one going a bit better. The Bluez 2 are packaged well in a nice box. Inside that box is a soft carrying case, a charging cable, a warranty card, a quick start guide, a multi lingual instruction sheet and the tension band. Unlike some of the other brands that give you throw away packaging and the headset, it’s nice to get the carrying case included. That being said, I’ll never use it. I never used the rigid case that came with the Bluez.

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Controls: The power, volume, and multifunction buttons are rubber coated/booted physical buttons. They work as intended and are easy to use. To answer a call you press the multifunction button on the left “ear” piece (when you are wearing them), this will pause any media you have running. To end the call you press the button again. To make a call a double press of the button gets you into the dialog for that. To play/pause your music you single press the multifunction button. Dead simple.

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Battery: They claim a 6 hour battery life. I was able to get almost 8 hours out of them the first day I had them. The first couple of hours were at about 90% volume, while the rest was at 50% or a little below. I’m not sure what volume they have their number spec’ed for but, as always,  your mileage may vary.

Warranty: They come with a 2 year warranty, that covers defects in workmanship and sweat damage. As a side note, they truly stand behind their products. I destroyed 12 pairs of the originals with my overactive sweat glands. They happily replaced them no questions, no qualms. This is a company that I can say honestly really cares about their customers. The customer service staff that I have worked with have all been great. Always courteous, always genuine, and always eager to help me get my issue resolved.

 

 

Neutral:

Sound Quality: I know I just said this was in the good column, but there is something I need to tell you about that is neither Good nor Bad when it come to the sound quality. Remember these are an Open Ear style headset. That means you can still hear outside sounds/noise when you use them. For me this is a good thing, I often run along roads and busy streets, and being able to hear approaching traffic is always good. While I enjoy the solitude that my in ear headsets give me, the safety factor takes precedence when running outside. Being able to hear ambient noises can be a strange experience at first, but you’ll adjust quickly.

 

BAD:

Comfort: Again, I know I just said this was in the good column, just hear me out.I had no discomfort with the Bluez2 but the foillowing goes out to anyone who is new to bone conduction headsets. You will likely have no discomfort while wearing/using the Bluez2. You may notice a strange sensation when you take them off. After being on your head for a long time, you may notice a weird tingling sensation on your face (no doubt from being shook all day) and you will likely notice a sense of relief when you take them off. Because they put pressure on your face, it apparently build up after a while. Like I said I only noticed it after taking them off and only the first few times I wore them.

USB Flap: In order to maintain the Water resistance/Sweat Proof-ness they have a small flap that covers the usb port. It’s made of plastic and is held in place by a flimsy little, for lack of a better word, tether. I would have rather seen a rubber plug style door that is welded to the plastic than what they are using. It has been ok so far but we will see how it holds up. The original Bluez had the same type of connector and it was surprisingly resilient.

 

Conclusion:

Conclusion: No bones about it (see what I did there?), well excluding your cheek and inner ear bones (you do know you have bones in your ears right?), the Aftershokz Bluez 2 are a good buy. Even if you have to pay full retail price, but who does that. They have performed well for me so far and will most likely become my daily driver (replacing the original Bluez) for working out and running, assuming I don’t prove the sweat-proof claims inaccurate.

 

UPDATE 5/30/2014:

So, I have put these things through the wringer. Over 20 hours in the gym, and 200+ miles running in conditions ranging from light rain to high humidity and heat. They have had more sweat and moisture on them then should be legal and all the while they have performed great with nary a peep of complaint. These are by far one of the best headsets on the market today.  I can finally say that the Bluez 2 are Officially Rob Approved.

Stuff I carry with me most of the time, Or, What’s in Rob’s bag

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So I was asked the other day, by a fellow geek, “What are the things that you carry with you all the time”

My answer was pretty short on a daily basis it’s just my phone and my smartwatch, but I do have some pretty nifty gadgets for when I run/exercise/hike/whatever. So I decided to list the stuff that I have that I think is pretty darned nifty.

Phone: Current device, Samsung Note 3 32GB with a 64GB sd card

Smart Watch 1: Galaxy gear (original model) running Null ROM with both cores active

Smart Watch 2: Omate Truesmart (http://www.omate.com/) it’s a fully functional standalone android phone as well as a watch

Headset 1: Blue buds X by Jaybird (http://www.jaybirdsport.com/bluebuds-x-bluetooth-headphones/) These are my everyday earphones they are customized with Decibullz custom earmolds (http://www.decibullz.com/shop/custom-earphone-molds/)

Headset 2: Bluez 2 by Aftershokz (http://www.aftershokz.com/product/bluez-2/) these are my go to headphones for outdoor exercise and while at the gym. They are bone conduction headphgones so I can hear the outside world while hearing my music

Headset 3: Pump HD by Blueant (http://blueantpump.com/) These are my  going out in bad weather headphones as they are fully water proofed and can be washed under the tap.

Heart Rate Monitor 1: Scosche Rhythm (http://www.scosche.com/health-fitness/heart-rate-monitor) this is a Bluetooth HRM that uses optical tech to take readings. It straps to your arm rather than your chest, making it much more convenient to use.

Heart Rate Monitor 2: Scosche MyTrek  this is the older version of the Rhythm it’s my backup

Heart Rate Monitor 3: Polar FT4 with a rigid chest strap (http://www.polar.com/us-en/products/get_active/fitness_crosstraining/FT4) The soft straps that come most HRMs don’t work well for me.

External Battery 1: LK 3800mAh External Backup Power Bank Battery Case Cover For Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FNNTW94/ref=oh_details_o09_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) This is a battery/case that doubles the runtime of my phone.

External Battery 2: Intocircuit Power Castle PC26000 26000mAh External Battery Pack (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BB5VQCE/ref=oh_details_o09_s00_i01?ie=UTF8&psc=1) this gives me the power needed for long trips off the grid.

Solar Charger: Instapark 10w Solar Panel Portable Solar Charger with Built-in Dual USB Ports (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0071DP30G/ref=oh_details_o09_s01_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) Great for when the 2 external batteries die.

Home Charger: Roker 40W/ 4-Port USB Charging Station (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00HP0FOCM/ref=oh_details_o03_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1) this provides plenty of power and allows me to charge 4 devices at once.

Tablet 1: Dell Venue 8 Android Tablet (http://www.dell.com/us/p/dell-venue-8/pd) For when I want a larger screen for reading or what not.

Tablet 2: Dell Venue 8 pro Windows 8.1 pro tablet (http://www.dell.com/us/p/dell-venue-8-pro/pd?oc=fncwv8p02&model_id=dell-venue-8-pro) For when I want to use full fledged windows but have limited space.

Tablet 3: Apple iPad 2 64 GB this is really just my Pandora device, it sits on my desk most of the time streaming music. I’m more of an android guy. but It does get used when troubleshooting issues for other people.

So that pretty much sums up my current stuff. Soi now I ask? What’s in your bag?

 

 

Warriors Dashing, Mudders Toughing it out, and other things I’ve been up to lately

It’s been a while since I wrote anything of any substance, well intrepid readers don’t worry, you’ll find no real substance here. So, you can continue to breathe easy. This is a light post about things I have been up to as of late, nothing too heady, or heavy, just a nice easy jaunt down recent memory lane. Lace up your running shoes, grab your water bottle & let’s hit the road…

stolen from http://experimentinginhappiness.files.wordpress.com

As some of you may know I’m a bit of a workout guy. 4 days a week, 1.5 – 3.0 hours, about 1500 calories per workout, depending on what I’m doing. I have been on a maintenance course lately, just keeping my weight in check and getting more fit. I had ulterior motives though, while not insidious by any means, some people may think them a bit kooky.

I was training for the Warrior Dash (http://warriordash.com) and the Tough Mudder (http://toughmudder.com). If you are unfamiliar they are obstacle course runs. The first being a 5k run with 10+ obstacles to over come to get to the finish line. The second being a 12 mile course with 21+ obstacles standing between you and the finish line. When I tell most people that I do these for fun (and to help raise money for charities) they look at me funny and I know that they are mentally scratching their head and saying “This dude’s cheese must have slid right off his cracker.” while that assessment may or may not be accurate, the fact remains that I do enjoy the grueling punishment that these courses afford me. They push me to do better, run harder, get stronger and generally prove to myself that I am still alive.

I participated in the 2012 Wisconsin Warrior Dash on 8/18. I used it as my primer for the Tough Mudder that I ran on 9/8. It was great. I finished in just over 31 minutes. 36th in my age bracket (out of 600+ runners) and 253rd over all (out of 6510 runners). I also raised over $350 for ST. Jude’s Hospital. The course was great and I was in an early heat so as to avoid the hot mid-day sun. I had set my go to finish in 40 minutes, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found out that I was well below that time. I’m not one for Timed races, as I care more about completing the course than competing on it. which leads us nicely to the next run.

Crossing the finish at the warrior dash

The Tough Mudder, I ran this in the first heat on 9/8. 12 miles of varying terrain littered with many obstacles. Unlike the Dash, this is non timed course that focus more on camaraderie than on time. As fate would have it my cousin, who was supposed to run it with me, was forbidden to do so by his physician. I was a team of one, or so I thought. About 1 mile in I met up with a 34 year old Fireman from Milwaukee named Kevin. His teammate was out as well, due to elbow that got broken in a MMA match. He asked if I wanted to team up and I was happy to do so. He had run the Mudder the year before and was glad to find someone to run it with.

Being 7 years younger than me, a fireman, and a previous runner in the Mudder, meant that I would have to keep up with him, as his pace would no doubt be faster than mine (you do remember me saying I like to be challenged, right?). Well his normal pace was a bit faster than my normal pace, but I stepped it up and kept up with him (except on a couple of hills where he slowed to wait for me.) We ran at about 6.5 mph for the first 5 miles where we happened to meet up with a third guy, and I knew this one. Tom is a guy from my gym whom I have talked to a few times. Here I am just plodding along at about mile 5 when I turn and see him just jogging along as if it’s no big deal; I started talking to him and he gladly joined our twosome. Now a threesome we were like a team, 3 different guys, with different strengths to compliment each other. It turns out the Tom was supposed to be in the 9 am heat, but like me he decided to go early, to beat the heat.

So picture the scene if you can, 2 guys that are younger and in better shape then yours truly, trudging along the mud laden, obstacle filled course with about 7 miles to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in OK shape, I run, I lift, & I bike, but these guys are not former fat guys with loads of spare skin flopping around, I looked a bit out of place next to them, but never the less here we were, 3 guys, out to beat this course. As it turned out I was kind of built for this type of thing. I’m tall, fairly strong, and can run for decent amounts of distance without really slowing down. I could grab the tops of the tall walls with just a slight jump, I was tall enough to hop over the smaller barriers with ease, and limber enough to go under the others with little difficulty.

I surprised not only myself but my teammates by being the pace setter at about mile 9. Both Kevin and Tom started to get worn out at that point and I had to take point and keep them motivated. That was easy, seeing the old man of the group plodding along at the same pace he had from the get go, does wonders to get younger guys going.

I was in my zone, the place I go when I exercise, be it biking, hiking, or running. I get into a mental state where I have a sort of tunnel vision, all I see is my end point and I focus on that. I was there; running through smoke and fire; the zone; Climbing up an incline and jumping off a 27 foot tall platform into water; the zone; running up a steep hill, then dropping down a sheer dirt cliff; the zone; running through the muddy forest area, and dodging barbed wire; the zone; swimming through water and getting shocked by up to 10000 v of electricity yep, the zone. At one point Kevin turned to Tom and said, “this guy is like a machine, he just keeps right on going without stopping”. It’s funny the guys I go hiking with have said the same thing. It’s the zone and it is my secret weapon to conquering the course.

Even though the Tough Mudder isn’t timed, I started my HRM when I crossed the starting line and stopped it when I crossed through the “Electroshock Therapy” obstacle. Yeah you read that right 2 obstacle both involving water and electricity. The first one was called the Electric Eel, where you crawl and swim through water with live wires danging down so that you cannot avoid them. ZAP! ZAP! ZAP! I got one to the forehead in the eel that made everything go black for a second. You want motivation, getting shocked will motivate you to move your arse faster. The second electric obstacle is the very last one on the course, no crawling this time, you’re running through an archway laden with over 1000 wires. Random wires have a live charge and will zap the unlucky. I got 3 zaps running through; more motivation. In total I clocked in at 01:58:02 from start to finish. Not too shabby for a guy who less than 2 years ago only ran to kitchen to get a snack.

So Rob, having run the Dash and the Mudder what are you going to do now? I’m going to Disney Land!
Well not really. I went to Kentucky, for a few days of hiking in the Red River Gorge Geological Area of the Daniel Boone National Forest. I hiked a lot, I took a lot of pictures, and generally relaxed for 4 days in one of the most scenic places I have been. Want to see my pictures? There are over 300 of them, most of trees and rocks and other nature stuff…

Suspension Bride over the Red River

If you ever get the chance go to the Red River Gorge and the Natural Bridge Parks in Kentucky. I was once again awed by the beauty and power of the world around me. Nothing can make you feel small quite like seeing the enormity of the world we live in up close.

Now I have had to return to the real world, where there are project, deadlines, and problems to be fixed. It’s amazing how much can pile up in a 6 day absence from work. I have servers to repair, new switches to put in place and a 24TB Equalogic ISCSI SAN to implement as well finishing up the office remodel that I am overseeing. I keep the memory of my recent obstacle course in my head along with the pictures of my visit to KY. Filed away to remind me that there are better things waiting for us, just beyond the doors and walls of home and office.

I have about a year to get ready for the next Tough Mudder, Spartan Beast, or maybe the Zombie Run. Who knows what lies around the next corner, just waiting for me, you, hell all of us, to grab hold of and run with. Adventure waits for us, and will always be there when we are ready for it.

Rob

Update If anyone would like to see me get zapped in the Electroshock Therapy obstacle at the end of the 2012 ToughMudder, here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MqJneBi_kk&feature=youtu.be

Chimps hands, tiny keyboards, and the end of the world as you know it

So in case you hadn’t picked up on this already I’m a tech guy. I like to play with gadgets, thing-a-mabobs, and doohickeys of all shapes, sizes, and creeds. I like to dip my technological toes in many different waters. Until recently though I had shied away from Apple products, not because of a hatred for them, as some people may believe, but mainly because of price. I have always (and still do) think that Apple products are over priced for what they are. I cannot deny that Apple makes beautiful products. They have some of the best industrial design I have ever seen, but the look of a device has always played second fiddle in my book, however I digress so let me get back on track. I recently found myself in possession of not 1 but 2 Apple products. For Christmas my boss gave my a shiny new 64GB iPhone 4s for Verizon, and then later that same week told me to order myself a pimped out Macbook Pro laptop. So who am I to argue; the boss wants me to have a an iPhone (because he has one and needs someone to help him out on occasion) and a Mac laptop to support the pool of users here who have those as their main PC; yes the Mac is a PC because PC stands for Personal Computer. To that end, this article will be about my experience thus far with both of these devices. I will try to keep it brief and do a simple Pro vs Con type of review of both. Ready for it? Good Here we go.

The iPhone 4s:

This is a gorgeous piece of industrial design, suitable for display in a gallery or museum. It is a solid little brick of a phone with good heft and hand feel. It has a simple look and clean lines that the minimalist in me finds appealing. The display is glossy and a and the face and back are composed entirely of glass, but you should know all this stuff, so I’ll get into my pros and cons lists.

Pros:

  1. Design: the clean industrial look and feel are nice, though the single button bugs me, but that said it works.
  2. Rear Camera: The 8Mp camera is fast, nearly lag free shutter, and takes great pictures. It does well as a camcorder taking HD video as well
  3. Physical switch for vibrate: Call me old fashioned, I like a physical switch for switching between noisy and shush modes on my phone
  4. Battery life: I use my phone pretty heavily, work email, personal email, games, surfing, tweeting etc. after about a week of subpar battery life it settled itself and now I can get 12 or so hours out of it.
  5. App Grouping: Folders on the main screen are nice, they allow me to organize my crap into neat little pockets of relatedness, yes I said relatedness.
  6. iMessage: I liked BBM when I had a Blackberry, I like iMessage to communicate with my friends overseas who have iPhones. No silly international costs to send a text.
  7. Email setup: it is dead easy to setup all your email accounts on this device, including Microsoft Exchange.

So that’s my list of things I like about the iPhone 4s, naturally I have to have a list of things I do not like so here it is.

Cons:

  1. Screen Size: sure it looks pretty with it’s high res specs and all but it’s easy to make things look good with the size of the screen is tiny. I HATE, yes I said hate how small the screen is. I understand all the discussions about scaling apps to use bigger screens and all that hoohah but this is 2012, a 3.5″ screen is pathetic for a smart phone.
  2. Keyboard: on Android I used an awesome keyboard called Swiftkey X. I could use any number of keyboards that suited my liking or needs on Android, on the iPhone I get one, that’s it, no choice in the matter. I get one tiny little keyboard that I cannot type on. It takes me at least 2x as long to type out messages on the iPhone because I have chimp hands, and everyone knows chimps have big arse thumbs. I find myself mashing 2-4 keys at any given time, and while the autocorrect feature on the iPhone is good, it cannot compete with my gigantor thumbs.
  3. iTunes requirement: Oh I can hear you already, “You don’t need iTunes anymore” Bullshit. When I had an Android phone I could plug it in to my PC and copy or remove files from it like any other USB drive. Not so with the iPhone. You want to add music to it? You need iTunes. Add pictures or video to it? yep iTunes. Sideload an app to it? Yeah forget about it unless you jailbreak it. Total Bullshit.
  4. Home screen folders: Yep I said I liked em up above but guess what, I dislike the fact that you can only put 9 items in them. That is crap. Apparently there should never be more than 9 apps that that I should ever need in any given category.
  5. Non-removable battery: Sure it get’s good battery life, but I still want the option to replace it my damned self. If I ever need to replace the battery I have to ship this damned thing off to some undisclosed location and have someone else do that, again I call BS. Give me the option to replace it myself without voiding my warranty.
  6. Non-replaceable launcher: Again this is a niggle that relates to having had Android. If I didn’t like the stock app launcher, I could replace it with any number of 3rd party options.
  7. Lack of Profiles: On Android I had different profiles setup for my sounds depending on my circumstances. Outdoors? Everything cranked to 100%. In the office? everything at 30%. In a meeting? Hello vibrate only. On the iPhone? you get either sounds on or vibrate that’s it.
  8. One hardware button: Again this is a niggle that carries over from Android. I liked having multiple buttons to perform single or dual functions as opposed to a single button that serves multiple purposes. I liked having a back button, a home button, a context menu button and a dedicated search button. iOS needs to copy that from Android ICS and ditch the one physical button for the onscreen ones.

OK I have listed my likes and grievances for the iPhone 4s. Now let’s move on to the Macbook pro.

To give you a little context here are the specs for my MBP:

  • Quad core 2.5GHz i7 processor
  • 8GB RAM
  • 512GB SSD
  • 17″ 1080p matte screen
  • AMD/ATI Radeon 6770m video
  • Dual boot OS X Lion and Win7 Ultimate

I know that there are different camps when it comes to the way to run Windows on a Mac. Some people like running it as a virtual machine and others like the Bootcamp option. I am the latter, not the former. Running Windows in a virtual machine is fine for most things, but I intend to use this machine as my one and only machine. That means I will be doing some gaming on it under Windows, so a virtual machine is out because I want true hardware acceleration for that. If all you are going to do under windows is run productivity apps for work, then yes a VM is the way to do it.

So here we are I have a spiffy MBP boot-camped and loaded up Windows 7, which will be what I use it for mainly. I can hear the groans and lamentations of the Apple fans out there. Sorry but I don’t care for the OS X interface, or the fact that most of my programs don’t have a Mac version. I live in a mainly Windows world, I work in a mainly Windows world.  With that in mind I will present my Pros and Cons lists and will designate which are for Windows or OS X explicitly.

Pros:

  1. Design: Again Apple has their design down pat. the Macbook Pro is a spectacle to behold. Clean lines, impeccable grooming, great profile.
  2. Weight: My MBP weighs in at 6.6 pounds not bad for a 17″ behemoth of a machine. it is about 1 pound lighter than my HP Envy 17, which is nice.
  3. Matte screen: I wish more manufacturers would give this option. Sure I had to choose to have a matte screen but none the less I had the option. Having a glossy screen is great if there are no outside light sources that can muck up your viewing. In my world there are errant light sources everywhere. Having a matte screen helps to negate their effect on my viewing experience
  4. Keyboard: The chiclet style keyboard has decent travel and makes a nice reassuring click when your press on the keys. Seeing as the MBP is a unibody device the keys come up through the body and the keyboard has a solid feel to it.
  5. Unibody frame: The solid aluminum body of the MBP gives it a great rigid feel that adds to the solid feel of the device. It flexes very little and I can carry it while holding only a corner of the device while the display is open and not worry about it bending or feeling like it will break.
  6. Magsafe Power plug: This is something all notebook makers should adopt. I have tripped over my fair share of power cords and damaged either the adapter, the laptop or both in the process. This has to be one of the greatest innovations for a laptop ever.
  7. Battery life – OS X: Because it switches between the dedicated & embedded graphics adapters automagically you can get good battery life out of this 17″ monster under OS X. It’s no where near the 7+ hours apple claims, but I have gotten 5 hours out of it, which is decent.
  8. Trackpad: I admit, I thought I would hate the trackpad and it’s lack of buttons, but I don’t. It works well and once you get used to using multiple fingers for the right click and such it is a decent feature. I like it equally as well in Windows as I do in OS X.

Now for my list of

Cons:

  1. Non-removable battery: Yep, I hate that I cannot replace it myself. if I run out of juice away from an outlet I’m hosed. This has to be the dumbest feature ever in a laptop device.
  2. Battery life – Windows: Because Apple doesn’t want Windows to perform as well as OS X on their hardware They hide the embedded graphics adapter from Windows. This means all you get to use is the dedicated card, which sucks the battery life to about 3 hours under windows. C’mon Apple, lighten up and let us switch between the two.
  3. No Delete Key – Windows: Oh sure there is a key labled Delete on the keyboard, but it is the backspace key, not the actual delete key. and through their bootcamp trickery you can use it to logon to the machine under windows but if I’m editing text I like to use the delete key to remove items that precede others.
  4. No hard drive activity light: Call me old school, but I like to know when my drive is being accessed, sometimes I like to look to see if my drive being accessed is teh reason for a bottleneck in performance. Not easy to do if there is no indicator for drive activity.
  5. That Big, Obnoxious Lighted Apple on the cover: I hate illuminated logos on the cover of my laptop. I have the same beef with my HP Envy. Put your logo on the device, sure that’s cool, but don’t have it lit up like a damned bat signal. Give me a way to turn that blazing eyesore off.
  6. Brushed Aluminum body: Yep the same thing that gives the MBP a solid feel is also a pain in the ass. It scratches too easily and gets marred up. It looks pretty at first but you have to treat it with kid gloves, unless you want to get a cover for it. Mine will get marred and scratched, much top the chagrin of Apple fanboys everywhere.
  7. No USB 3: I bought this MBP in December, USB 3 has been out fro a while now, heck I have it on my Envy which is over 18 months old. Sad Apple, just plain sad.
  8. No Bluray: Again my Envy has this but Apple has deemed it unworthy. Give me the option to make that choice.
  9. No AD2P Profile: I use Bluetooth headsets for many of my audio requirements on a PC (Again Person Computer, and yes a Mac is a PC) but the MBP Bluetooth adapter seemingly has an aversion to AD2P profiles for my BT headset. Under both OS X and Windows my trusty Backbeat headset will not work properly. I works as a fully functional headset with my Envy, but not the MBP.

So that’s my take on the Macbook Pro.

What have we learned here today? Well you learned that despite what people my say I do not hate Apple products, though I have my own list of issues with them.  The iPhone is not the be all end all that the hype machines would have you believe but it by no means a phone that should overlooked in your quest for a device you like. It is a solid device and for a great number of people it would be a perfect fit. Is it the ultimate in devices?  In my opinion, no. It has it’s pluses and it’s minuses; overall I’d say it’s a mediocre device. and while it may be perfectly fine for a large number of people it is not for me. In fact I will be getting a new phone when my contract comes due in March.

We also learned that I like the Macbook Pro. It is a decent machine. It performs well as a Windows rig. In fact After doing some bechmarking (cinebench and geek desk) it actually performs better as a Windows rig then it does as an OS X rig. It scored lower than my 18 month old Envy 17 but not by much. Given that I can run both OS X and Windows on it without some convoluted hacking solution  it is a great device for my need to support both operating systems. There are are some oversights that I would like to see corrected but I know that won’t be so I will have to suck it up and cope.  I still think it the MBP was overpriced for what it is, but the fact that I can use it to support all my users makes the premium something I can overlook. Like I said earlier OS X is not my cup of tea, but I can see it’s appeal. It’s simplistic feel and cheery vibe is great for a whole demographic of non-techy people out there. Overall I’d give the Macbook pro an B+/A-. It’s a decent all around machine.

There you have it.

Rob

Samsung Droid Charge: A real life review

I’m going to do a down and dirty review of the Samsung Droid Charge. In real world terms much like I did for the Motorola Xoom. So here we go.

I have had my Droid Charge for a 3.5 months now and I can finally give it a review, as it has been field tested. As with any review the bias will be my own, based on how I use the device, your mileage may vary. This will be a simple good vs. bad list.

Good:

The Screen: The Charge has a beautiful screen. it’s a 4.5″ Super AMOLED work of art. It has great viewing angles and produces eye popping color. The blacks are dark, rich, and best of all  BLACK. Not a washed out grey like most screens portray and call black. Videos have that vivid detail that high end flat panels boast about.

The Cameras: The Charge has 2 cameras. First there is an 8MP rear facing shooter that takes great pictures. It works well in lower light situations, much better than my Droid X ever could. Like most multifunction devices it has a bevy of shooting modes and filters so you can get your sepia fix. It has a macro mode, a standard mode and a “beauty” mode, for portraits and such. The stand out feature for me, however, is the panoramic mode. I can hear you now “My <insert device name here> does panoramic pictures”. Yep so did my Droid X but no where as intuitively as the Droid Charge does. It uses the gyroscope and the accelerometer to know where you should be for each of the 8 parts of the panoramic picture. It puts guides in and will not take the next shot useless you are right on the money, in terms of location. The result are breathtaking pictures that capture a huge field of focus. The front facing camera is no slouch either. while nowhere near the resolution of the rear camera, it works well for self portraits, video chats and stuff like that. It also works really well in lower light environments. The camcorder feature will do up to  720p class video and does a great job with it. It records decent audio and will zoom as much as 4x with interpolation. It won’t replace a real camcorder with that tiny little CMOS sensor but it will sure be a plausible replacement for that talent show or parade you happen to find yourself stuck at.

The Memory: The Charge comes with a 32GB card installed. I’ll let that sink in a moment. That’s right it comes with 32GB of space on board when you pull it out of the box. Great for storing copious amounts of data. Sure it’s only a class 2 card but it beats a sharp stick in the eye. The device itself has 1GB of memory on board for the OS and storage of key elements, everything else is stuck on your SD card.  Not an entirely bad way to do it, it works well enough for me.

Connectivity: The Charge is a LTE enabled device. that means if you are in a LTE area, you get high speed data access. it does pretty well at dishing it up too. I regularly get 13+Mbit speeds on it in my area; not too shabby for a phone. It does well as a 3G device and will revert to 1x as required too. You’ll get better battery life using 3G than LTE but more about that that later. The Charge has hotspot capabilities and will host up to 5 external devices via wifi and dole out bandwidth to all of them, if you’re willing to pay for the service. The wifi radio is sufficient but nothing to make you jump up and down. It maintains connections even when you have no bars. I’m not sure if the logic for reporting the signal strength is off or what but it never seems to have a full signal, even if i am within 5′ of the AP.

Voice Quality: I have had no complaints for voice quality with this device. People say they can hear me just fine, and the sound quality is excellent. I can say the same about when I receive calls. The phone produces excellent depth of voice and makes it seem like you are standing right next to the person when talking to them. Being a VZW device, coverage is excellent and there are very few areas where you can’t get reception.

Feel: Over all the phone has good hand feel. It’s a large device with some weight to it so it feels like a real phone. The plastic bezel and battery cover make it feel a bit cheaper, but it by no means feels like a kids toy. The touch interface is responsive, although it requires a bit more force to select items than my other touch screen devices have. That’s not a bad thing in my opinion, it makes it a bit more tactile, which is something most people miss on a touch only device.

BAD:

Battery life: There is a reason that the call this device the Charge and it’s not because it will go forever on one. Don’t get me wrong it’s not terrible, but it sure isn’t great. It comes stock with a 1600mah battery, which gives me just enough juice to make it to lunch time on a fairly busy day. If you turn the brightness down, and lock it into 3g only mode and make sure you have wifi on any time your someplace that you can get it, you can squeeze a couple of more hours out of it, but it in now way compares to the Droid X it replaces. I could go 12-13 hours on the standard battery with the X, and 18 or more on the slim extended one. I can make it 16 or so with the extended battery for the Charge but it more than doubles the weight of the device and adds a huge hump on it’s backside. Normally that wouldn’t be a big deal but you can’t use any cases, or mounts for it with the big battery in.

GPS: It works OK, but damn does it take its sweet time getting locked into a signal. It can take upwards of 40 seconds to get a lock. once it gets a lock it works like it should but if I’m standing in the wide open with a plain view of the entire sky it should not take almost a minute before I can use the GPS.

Button Placement: The volume rocker is placed directly across from the power button. While you may not think this is a big deal, just try using the power button. You’ll hit the volume keys every time unless you really put forth an effort to not touch them. It wouldn’t really matter but the volume keys are used to get into diagnostic modes such as recovery, so it you hit the power button and inadvertently grab the volume key too, you can cause yourself some headaches.

NO LED indicator: This boggled me at first. I wouldn’t know if I had something waiting for my attention because outside of the first indication (a sound prompt) you couldn’t tell if you had a message, missed call, email etc. because there is no little flashing LED to alert you. This means you have to either power on the screen (which only happens via pressing the power button by the way) or employ a third party utility such as NoLED to let you know. It seems like a minor thing but believe me it’s a major oversight in my opinion; besides having that little LED could save battery life, because you wouldn’t have to power up the big screen to know if you had a waiting item to be reviewed.

LAG: That’s right this phone suffers from lag. Not all the time mind you but a good bit of the time. I’m not sure if it’s due to the file system that Samsung chose to use or if it’s due to the single core processor or a combination of the two factors. Granted you can fix it with some hackery and some OS leaks that are readily available on the web but shouldn’t they just make it so it works quickly all the time?

Conclusion:

Over all I can say I would recommend the Samsung Droid Charge with a couple of caveats.

Don’t expect this device to be the be all end all. it’s a mid-class device. It can’t hang with the Bionics, or the SGII crowd. It’s a solid device in it’s own right but it’s now high end super phone.

Don’t expect to have awesome battery life out of the gate. It’s a LTE device with an awesome screen. Expect that to drain some juice from the under powered battery that comes with the device.

If you can live with those 2 items I’d say buy this sucker. If you’re into taking video and pictures, like watching videos or listening to music, this is a solid choice. If your looking for a mid-class all in one device that has a few trade offs for some really good options, this may be your device.

I feel the “GOODS” outweigh the “BADS” for this device and if I had to assign it a numerical value I’d give it a solid 8.5 out of 10. There you have it I have officially stated my position on this device, and That as they say is that.

Rob

A tech guy who is talking less and less about tech or How I’m trying to get back to things I did in college

Hey Look It’s Me

Yeah you read that right, As of late I have found myself thinking less and less about tech items. Now don’t get me wrong, I still like electronic toys. I have multiple DishNetwork receivers, 2 Logitech Revues, a Meraki cloud controlled wireless access point, a Xoom tablet, and Android phone and a bevy of other items that I use on a regular basis. I like my toys, and I like computers and networking but I  like not using them as much these days too. Unless I am playing a game or having to VPN into work to fix things, I rarely pick up my laptop anymore. If I need to surf the web I tend to use my tablet or my Google TV unit and that’s just peachy.  I have a smartphone because work pays for it, if they didn’t I would probably go back to a dumbphone.

Where the biggest fundamental shift has been is in the tech prognostication arena. I used to keep abreast of everything that was being discussed, thought about, tested, manufactured, and what have you. I used to be the go to guy for what the next big trend in IT was going to be for many people, but in the last few years I have noticed that I have, by and large, become less interested in the “what’s next”. I’m not sure if I’m burned out, jaded, tired, or just genuinely disinterested but the “tech future” area of my brain is getting smaller and smaller. It may be because I have made a few changes in my life, including more physical activity, and eating better.

I find that instead of  thinking about technology as much I am instead thinking about outdoor adventures; things like hiking, camping and as of late The Tough Mudder 2012 that I am going to attempt. I find that I think about places I could go for these activities instead of thinking about things that would keep me inside. Mind you my wife wouldn’t believe any of this, because of all the tech related items that float around our house, due to me being a beta tester for a few different companies, but I swear its true.

For years I would go to bed and have blissfully dreamless sleep. close my eyes and fade to black. I would awake refreshed but it would literally be as if I just closed my eyes. Time was instantly passed with no sense of time gone. In the last 6 months or so I have noticed that I remember dreaming. I rarely retain what I was dreaming about for more than few seconds but it’s a start. When I was a kid I would have very vivid and often times lucid dreaming sessions. I am hoping that those days return. I cannot say with certainty what is causing the shift in my neural activity but I honestly think it has more to do with my physical activity levels these days.

So it appears, from my perspective, that the increase in physical activity/fitness has made my brain stop thinking/caring as much about tech and in turn made me think more about more physical activity and creative things again. Sure the change has been slight in the grand scale of things but a change is a change none the less. I have recently began to think about writing poetry and short stories again. I have even toyed with the notion of trying to get back into doing art again. I could be completely off base here, it may have absolutely nothing to do with the lifestyle change. It may be caused by changes that come with getting older. Who knows, certainly not me, but I’m going to ride this out and see where it takes me.  So if you happen to follow me on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter you may notice less and less tech talk then again you may not. Only time will tell.

Rob

Motorola Xoom: My thoughts and review on the device

So I have had my Motorola Xoom for a while now and decided to share my thoughts on it thus far. As with any review the bias will be my own, based on how I use the device, your mileage may vary. This will be a simple good vs. bad list.

Good:

Battery life: Battery life on the Xoom is amazing. I’m not a true “power user” but I do use my device a lot. It gets put through the paces. I received my Xoom on Friday 2/25 @ 11am; it arrived with 85% charge on the battery. I used it for several hours on end, then several times throughout the rest of the day until about 10pm. Installing apps, synching Email, and contacts, playing a couple of games (including downloading all the data files for dungeon defenders HD). When I plugged the beast in the for the night (about 10-10:30) it still had 40% battery left. I used it as my primary computing device on Saturday, composing emails, tweeting, facebooking, RDPing to my server, viewing office documents, etc. I unplugged it at 5:45am and used it all day (again until about 10pm) and when I plugged it in that evening it still had about 30%battery life.  To me that is amazing.

Charge time: It takes roughly 1.5 hours to go from 30% to 100% for charging times on the included charging adapter. Not too shabby considering the run time you can get out of the battery.

Screen size: 10ish inches to me, is the perfect size for a tablet device. I find that 7” screens are a bit too small for true usefulness as a business device. The screen resolution is 1280×800 which surprisingly is easy on the eyes. I am able to open office docs and view them with ease. The included Quick Office HD makes for easy reading and editing of documents, and on a 10” screen so much more effective than on the 4.3” screen on my phone.

Connectivity: Being an early adopter, I have the 3G version of the Xoom, I opted to buy a 1GB prepaid data plan just to play with it. It turns out the Xoom is pretty darned intelligent about when to use the 3G. I added my Google account to the Xoom, and since I use the restore feature for my Droid X it restored all my Wi-Fi connectivity information to the Xoom. Yep that’s right I didn’t have to re-enter any of my Hotspot info, thanks to good ole Google. The Xoom defaults to Wi-Fi when you are in range of a remembered hotspot. You read that right, it defaults to Wi-Fi when it can use a in range hot spot. That is awesome. So it automatically saves your 3G data for the last resort connection, that is great. The Wi-Fi radio is dual band as well picking up both my 2.4 and my 5 Ghz hotspots with ease.

Performance: performance is great, as you would expect. The tegra processor is a beast, and Honeycomb is designed to exploit multi core processors. This makes for a smooth, lag free experience. Nothing more really needs to be said about it, other than : you will not be disappointed by the processor in this device.

Overall Size/Weight: The Xoom is almost the same size and weight of the iPad, which makes it a winner in terms of size. It has a relatively small bezel area and plenty of screen real estate. The weight of 1.1 pounds gives it a good feel, without being overly burdensome. The device has a great study feel to it, with very little flex. It appears to have the same gorilla glass that the Droid X has, which is a plus. I could carry this with me all day long and barely notice it among my other notepads, and paperwork.

Portability: The size and weight of the Xoom lend it to be ultra portable. It feels like carrying a notepad. You know those old school things with paper and sheets… Yeah it’s a bit heavier than a traditional notepad, but not by much. It would slide into a briefcase, backpack, or purse with no effort at all. That being said, being ultraportable does not mean flimsy. This device is solid.  “Gorilla” Glass on the front & a metal casing make it very rigid. It has a decent amount of heft (1.5 pounds approximately) which also makes it feel very solid and sturdy when you’re holding it.

RAM: 1GB, more memory is always better than less, and the Xoom has plenty of RAM to spare, 1GB of memory in a device like this gives it the ability to handle multiple open applications/files with ease. I installed a memory manager just to see how much memory I had available at any given moment, and it turns out that with everything open that I use I still had about 300MB of memory available at any given time.

Video performance: Videos play smoothly, and look great on the Xoom. I saw no lag or stuttering while watching HD video. I watched both local and streaming video on the Xoom and both types looked great. This device is not lacking on the video performance area at all.

Unlockable: The Bootloader is unlockable, now if you’re an average user this means nothing to you, but if you’re a tinkering type, this is awesome news. It means you can get custom ROMS and root access with relative ease. Just know that unlocking the bootloader will instantly void your warranty. So be sure you want to do it.

Bad:

No SMS: Yep no SMS capabilities. Which was a bummer for me, I would have loved to have had the ability to text from this device. I’m not sure if it’s because the phone functions are not present in Honeycomb, or some other restriction that is in place, but hopefully some resourceful developers will get this remedied.

No Gvoice: You can’t install it from the market, and if you restore it from a backup it will just force close over and over, so no Gvoice for SMS either, again hopefully this will be a problem that is fixable in the near future, though as a work around you can always access the web version which works just fine from the Xoom.

Glossy screen: Yeah Glossy screens are overrated. I would have preferred to have a matte screen on this puppy or at the very least a less glossy screen. Glossy screens look pretty but cause lots of glare in a lot of different lighting conditions. The color saturation is great on the Xoom, but having to adjust the device to various angles to avoid glare can be a pain in the behind. Fortunately the device is small enough that this issue isn’t a complete tragedy.

Price: one word: OUCH. Yeah I paid full price so as not to have a contract, and it’s a steep price indeed. With taxes, delivery, a one month prepaid data plan and a couple of accessories (screen protectors, and the portfolio case) the total out the door for me was $900. Which I would never had paid, if it wasn’t a work expense. We are looking at getting a few of these for trade shows and presentations on the go, so the device for me is a legitimate piece of research. I think if the off contract price was about $600 this device would sell like hotcakes, because it is an awesome piece of equipment. The WiFi only version has been officially announced at $599 If you don’t need 3g/4g connectivity, that is your winner.

No Charging via USB: Yeah you read that right, the USB port does not allow you to charge the device, instead you have to use the proprietary charging port, which means yet another wall wart, and car adapter, this is a failure on Motorola’s part in my opinion. I get it, the beast needs more power than a USB port provides, how about the ability to trickle charge it via the USB port, sure it may take me 8-10 hours instead of 2 to fully charge it, but you know, I’d like to have the option at least.  Having to have yet another set of chargers is not a good thing for mobile professionals.

No SD card access (yet): As of right now thje micro SD card slot is not usable. I know it’s just a matter of time before it is useable, and having 32GB of onboard storage should be enough for a while, but I feel like the device is somewhat neutered by the fact that I can’t access the SD slot yet. I know it will be accessible in the future (it says so on the SD card dummy in the device) but this should have been addressed before releasing it in my opinion.

No Flash (yet): Like the SD card this is a fail in my opinion. Again, I know it’s coming soon, but it should have been included at launch. While it’s not a huge deal, it’s a pain in the butt, seeing as lots of sites employee flash.

So over all I can say I would recommend the Xoom. I feel the “goods” outweigh the “bads”. The device could be a great companion device to have at the office, on the road or at home. Will it completely replace your computer? Not likely, unless you are a really light user, will it be better than a laptop on a plane, or even on the couch, it sure could be. I used it as my primary surfing device over the last weekend and it worked great. I can say that if all your activities are encompassed by checking email, surfing the web, and social network updates, this device could be your daily driver. If I had to assign a numerical value on a scale of 10,  I’d give it a 8.75. When the SD Slot and Flash Issues get resolved it will be above a 9.

Illinois: Land of the myopically visioned.

Short post.

Today the Moron that is the governor of our once great state (Illinois) signed a bill into law. What’s wrong with that?  Well this bill (HB 3659) directly affects a lot of people I know, and would not hesitate to call my friends. It  will force a friend to move a business that has been nothing but beneficial to the area in which I live both in terms of jobs and community support. Fatwallet (www.fatwallet.com) is owned by a friend of mine, employs several of my friends, and former coworkers. This new law affects the way that fatwallet does business with some of it’s largest clients. HB 3659 forces out- of-state retailers to collect Illinois state sales tax for Internet sales, based on the premise that affiliate marketers create nexus in Illinois. Recently, Illinois has emerged as a hotbed for technology businesses and is now considered the single largest state for the Affiliate Marketing Industry. That is until today. Governor Quinn, proving that he is shortsighted signed HB2659 into law and effective slammed the door on the emerging market that was a bright spot in the otherwise dismal job market for our area. Bravo, dumb ass, bravo. Things like this make me wonder why I continue to live in this state.

 

My friend April, elaborates on the subject with more eloquence than i do, read her blog…  http://akunzelman.blogspot.com/2011/03/thanks-illinois-for-your.html?spref=tw