Sunday, April 26, 2015

Product review: Sabrent 4 Port Mini Portable USB Hub, the World's Smallest USB Hub


This a really tiny USB hub. Its size is 2.25" x 1" x 0.75". To see how well it performs I ran benchmarking utility on each port and the results were impressive.
The numbers are impressive! When I got it I thought I would use it for travel because of its size, but performance is so good that I am using it with my desktop.

Port 1:
average read rate 86.3 MB/s
average write rate 19.9 MB/s
average access time 1.10 msec
Port 2:
average read rate 85.5 MB/s
average write rate 20.0 MB/s
average access time 1.12 msec
Port 3:
average read rate 85.3 MB/s
average write rate 20.0 MB/s
average access time 1.13 msec
Port 4"
average read rate 99.9 MB/s
average write rate 20.0 MB/s
average access time 1.11 msec

My video include a view if this hub on 1/2" grid for size reference as well as benchmarking chart results for each port.

You can find this tiny USB port on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, April 24, 2015

Product review: Mactrem Q666 Portable Camera Magnesium Aluminium Tripod Monopod Q-666 Tripod With Ball Head


This is a nice tripod and has a lot of features that I really liked. Photography is one of my serious hobbies and I own a number of tripods. This tripod met four of my requirements for a tripod and fell short on one.

My requirements:

❌ Quick release legs. This tripod does not have quick release feet. Each collapsible leg is made out of 4 sections and is released by twist locking mechanism. Quick release legs is something I find extremely helpful - often to catch the desired short setting up tripod in a few seconds is the difference between getting or not getting my shot. For this reason I use this tripod in my home studio where speed of set up is never a factor. The twist lock mechanism is slow, but holds well.

✅ Ability to attach a quick release plate. This tripod include a quick release plate. The release plate is made out of metal and is sturdy with a heavy duty construction. Quick plate tightening mechanism can be tightened by hand with a loop that is built-into the screw (no need to use a penny like quick plates with a slot mechanism).

✅ Lightweight. This tripod weighs 3 pounds 5.6 oz (this weight include the tripod and the ball head). The ball head by itself weighs 13.6 oz. This tripod is heavy enough to withstand a gust of wind yet light enough to carry around without much trouble.

✅ Able to support a digital SLR with 300 zoom lens. This tripod handles my Canon DSR camera with 300 zoom lens without a problem. It is rated for weight up to 17.5 pounds.

✅ Flexible ball head or ability to mount any ball head. This tripod comes with a nice ball head and this tripod can accept any standard ball head. The panning and tilting is smooth.

The ballhead has three adjustment knobs.

♦ Pan knob is a small knob at the bottom.
♦ Ball knob is the medium sized knob. Using it I can position to ball to align with a 90-degree slot for vertical orientation.
♦ Tightness control this is the largest knob. It allows me to control how loose the ball movement is (i.e. how loose or tight the movement feels). When I want to make fine adjustments I tighten it, when I want to reposition I make it loose.

This tripod came with a couple of extras:

✅ Comes with a padded carrying case. Most of my tripod cases are just heavy duty nylon, this one actually has thin padding all around.

✅ It comes with a spare bag to store the ball head. Since I already have another ball head I find a storage bag useful to store the one I am not using.

Tripod's maximum height is 61". When it is collapsed its size is 13 3/4".

This tripod can be converted into a monopod using a provided hex key. The conversion is not fast as it requires working with a number of screws and washers. It is not something I would do on the road as it is easy to loose a washer or a screw. Some of the screws were extremely tight the first time I unscrewed them.

This is a nice sturdy tripod and a very reasonable price.

You can find this tripod and ball head on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Product review: Mactrem BK-03 Photography Camera Tripod Ball Head Ballhead+Quick Release Plate


This ball head fits a standard 1/4" screw. It weighs 13.6 oz. All parts are metal and fell like they would last a long time.

The panning and tilting is smooth. It has a bubble level to help with lining up my shots.

The ball head has three adjustment knobs.

♦ Pan knob is a small knob at the bottom.
♦ Ball knob is the medium sized knob. Using it I can position to ball to align with a 90-degree slot for vertical orientation.
♦ Tightness control this is the largest knob. It allows me to control how loose the ball movement is (i.e. how loose or tight the movement feels). When I want to make fine adjustments I tighten it, when I want to reposition I make it loose.

I have been using it for a couple of weeks now and have been pleased with it.

You can find this ball head on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, April 20, 2015

Product review: BOHM MATE Rechargeable Bluetooth Speaker with DuoLink


Let me start by saying that these speakers have a nice sound. They sound rich and they can handle base. I really like the surround sound effect I am able to get with them. They worked well streaming music from my phone via bluetooth. I liked the sound so much that I decided to hook them up wired to my den TV and this is where I ran into some limitations. I would describe setup with two speakers as quirky (see details below), but the main issue is that the duo link introduced sound delay by a second or so and everything looks and sounds like a dubbed movie where the lips are not synchronized with the words.

Duo link introduces a bit of complexity into set up. I hope my notes will add additional details to the manual and save someone time.

Power indicator light has several meanings:
(1) Solid red means the speaker is charging. You can charge and play at the same time.
(2) Slow flashing blue means the speaker is on and active.
(3) Fast red and blue means it is in pairing mode

The LED ring around the on/off button has several meanings.
(1) Blue ring means bluetooth mode
(2) Green ring means aux wired mode

You need to hold on/off button down for a few second to turn on and off.

Bluetooth connection

To connect the speakers to a mobile device I paired the first speaker. Speaker appeared in bluetooth as "Mate". The speaker was not detected by my older tablet that does not support Bluetooth 4.0, but no problem with the newer devices.

Once I connected and tested a single speaker I paired the two speakers together. First, I turned on the second speaker, then pressed "M" twice on the first speaker. The speaker power indicator starts blinking red and blue. The I pressed "M" twice on the second speaker. The manual is not clear whether you need to press twice at the same time or not, and initially I tried pressing both buttons at once but that did not work. Pressing first button twice and then the second button twice worked. The speakers have an audio indicator that it worked. This operation does not need to be repeated if the speakers turned off and then turned on, they continue to be linked.

For the mobile devices that have Bluetooth 4.0 the set up was fairly easy and the sound is excellent.

Aux connection

To set up the Aux connection with the TV took several attempts. It is possible that this was because I already had a bluetooth connection set up, I am not sure. Later I discovered that I can delete the bluetooth connection by pressing and holding Prev and Next buttons together for 2 seconds at the same time. Both speakers need to have this operation done to remove history from both speakers.

Connecting the first speaker was easy. I put an audio cable from TV into the AUX port of the first speaker, turn on the speaker, and hit "M" once to switch to AUX mode. It worked well, there were no delays.

Then I tried pairing the second speaker. First I repeated what worked for me in the Bluetooth mode: double press "M" on both speakers. This did not turn on the second speaker. Then I tried connecting two speakers with an audio cable using headphones connections on the first speaker and aux port on the second speaker. The instruction say that inserting cable into the headphone port turns off disables the first speaker but the speaker can be reactivated by holding "M" button on the first speaker for 5 seconds. This did not work for me right away. However, as I removed the audio cable both speakers became active.

So the final set up I have is the first speaker is connected by an audio cable to the TV and the two speakers are paired to each other via bluetooth. I have both speakers plugged into the power continuously as I wanted them to be permanently hooked up to the TV. I hear no interference when I am using the speakers while they are charging.

This set up was not easy, the sound is excellent, but there is a small delay so when people on TV speak their lips do not match the sound.

What can be better?
It would be better for watching TV if duo link did not introduce a slight delay.

Pairing dance could have been simpler. Maybe having more buttons rather than overloading one button to do so many things would have made things more straightforward.

Each speaker comes with a AC converter plug. Each plug has only one USB port and each plug covers up 2 slots. It would have made more sense if the AC plug that came with the speakers had two (or more) USB outlets. I am using a different AC converter as I did not want to give up 4 slots for 2 speakers.

Overall, my experiences average out at 4 stars - below expectations for TV and excellent for music on mobile devices. In attached video I show the sound of one, then both speakers. I have short snippets from bluetooth operation with my phone and then wired mode with my TV.

You can find these speakers on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Product review: Himal Folding Collapsible Ultralight Travel Hiking Trekking Pole


This is cleverly designed folding pole. It consists of 4 parts that snap together and a fifth part that telescopes. The folding mechanism works easy - easy to unfold and easy to fold as you see in the video.

The telescoping is somewhat limited and works best for tall people. I am 5'3" and at its shortest length is it a little higher than I like for a long hike especially uphill. The best height for pole is when you hand from elbow to the handle is parallel to the ground and for me on the shortest setting my hand is going slightly up.

However the design and strength of the pole is good. Being able to fold the hiking pole into a backward is so convenient! It also useful for travel, as these poles can fit into luggage.

The foam handle is comfortable and will not slip even when the hands are sweaty. The pole weighs 10.5 oz. The maximum height is 54", the shortest height is 44".

You can find this trekking poles on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Product review: Cozyna Ceramic Burr Manual Coffee Grinder


This grinder does a really nice job on coffee beans, but it is not fast. I used a handful of coffee bean and grinding took about 4 minutes to get it to the consistency I wanted in my drip coffee maker. Grinding does not require a lot of force just time. I kept the grinder on the table rotating the handle while the bottom of it rested on the table.

When I handed this grinder to my husband he used a different technique. He held the grinder in the air and spun the handle very quickly. He was able to grind the coffee in about 1 minute. However, when he was about almost done the bottom of the grinder shook itself loose, flew off and the coffee spilled all over the floor. Ooops! If you are a fast spinner keep checking that the bottom is still tightly on.

I like my slow and steady approach better with the grinder bottom is resting on the table so it cannot shake itself loose.

This is a simple mechanical grinder. It works similar to a pepper mill. The grinder is 7" tall. The results are very good. The coffee was grinds were very fine, the coffee smelled and tasted excellent. Do I see it replacing my electric grinder for every day use? No. I think this grinder is best for camping trips when using an electric grinder is not an option.

You can find this coffee grinder on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Product review: iLepo Andriod Smart Watch Phone


My husband was an early adopter of smart watches, he got a Pebble smart watch when it first came out. Unlike Pebble watch which needs a phone to communicate with the world iLepo watch is a self-contained Android device and does not need to be paired with a phone to work.

It comes with a reasonable set of applications designed to look good on its small screen. I also downloaded a few of my favorite apps using Google Play. The apps responded quickly and the touch screen is very responsive. However, the keyboard is tiny and even though it is possible to type on it, it is fairly easy to make mistakes. The watch can be paired with various bluetooth devices using a built-in app called "wireless input devices". I was able to a pair a bluetooth keyboard and headphones without any problems. I include a short clip of pairing and using a bluetooth keyboard in my video.

The performance of various apps on the watch are good. I was able to browse, use Google maps, take photo and video, read mail, look at my calendar, set alarm, record sound, and yes, it also tells time. The quality of the sound is very good, the microphone is excellent. In my video you can hear a short segment of music recorded with the watch. It sounds great!

The screen resolution is excellent and it easy to see. By comparison with Pebble which uses e-Ink the screen contrast of this watch is much better and of course it has color where as Pebble is black and white.

The watch comes with 2 gig micro SD card already installed. It can be replaced with a larger card if needed. It also uses micro SIM cards. Both cards reside in a small compartment closed with tiny screws. The package includes a tiny screw driver needed to open the compartment that holds the battery and the micro cards.

Peeble can run 4 days on one charge because it uses eInk display which is very efficient. This watch needs to be charged daily. I timed the battery use in this watch:
Start ........... full
24 hours later....55%
48 hours later....empty

The battery app shows battery usage as follows:
wifi used 30%
cell phone 30%
display 30%
media 5%

The set up is pretty intuitive. The first thing I did is turn on WI FI. This is a two step process, first you need to turn it on, then click on WI FI again and then it will show you the available networks and allow you to log in.

The screen is touch sensitive so one would navigate the options just like the would on the phone. The botton button on the watch allows you to go back.

To charge the phone one needs to use a special charging station which has contact that line up with the contacts on the back of the phone. The charging station is charged by a micro USB cable. I would have preferred that the phone was either Qi enabled or charged directly with a micro USB cable. If the charging station is lost or gets broken the watch cannot be charged. If the watch had a standard charging cable would have made it easy to charge on the fly or in the car without worrying about losing the charging cradle.

This watch exceed my expectations based on the experience with Pebble. For a balanced review I also want to summarize the things that I found awkward

(1) As I mentioned earlier typing on a small keyboard without typos is difficult. Stylus helps. A bluetooth keyboard helps, but not always possible to use.
(2) Taking photos and video with the watch on my wrist is difficult (the hand gets in the way). I take the watch off if I need to take a photo. I think of it more like always having a camera to record an accident or capture some information, so taking the watch off when I need to take a photo seems like a reasonable compromise.
(3) The size of the watch on a woman's hand looks, well, large. Its face is 1.75" x 1.5", the band is 1" wide, and it weighs 3.15 oz. It does not feel uncomfortable, but it is bigger than a typical watch. I included an image of it on my wrist in the video for size reference.
(4) Tiny screws and tiny screwdriver are a bit hard to work with. The package includes a few spare screws (thank you!) as they are easy to lose.
(5) Having a separate charging station is a negative. One more thing to lose or leave behind. I would have preferred a direct Qi charging or micro USB port.

Overall, the watch works well and I like it more than Pebble.

You can find this smart watch on Amazon by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★★