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Friday, November 30, 2012

Product review: Seagate Backup Plus 2 TB USB 3.0 Desktop External Hard Drive STCA2000100



I am attaching a collage of 2 photos, where you can see the relative size of the drive. I put a pen into a picture for relative size reference.
In the photos you see this drive laying on its side on top of the netbook computer and fitting into a very small space.
The drive is 5" wide x 7" long x 2" tall.

There is no on/off switch on the drive. If for some reason you need to reboot it, you have to pull the plug. Since I have crammed into a tight place, I had to place the side the unit to the front so I can easily reach the USB plug (which are now facing to the left side) (see photo #1 left side). The drawback of this, that the green light that tells me that the unit is on is now facing the right side inside of the shelve and not visible from the front (see photo #2).

The drive has a fairly large brick, and had to be placed on the edge of the power strip otherwise it would have covered two outlets.
 
I use this drive as an additional drive for home-build DVR. My DVR is a netbook computer running Linux. In addition to using this drive as a DVR, I also use it for redundant back of some critical files. The netbook has a relatively small size internal drive and this external drive nicely supplements my storage needs. This Seagate drive came formated with NTFS format which is a format used by the Windows file system. This format is also supported by Linux so I could have used it as is. However NTFS file system by its nature causes disk fragmentation when you delete and add large files and since in my use of this drive as a DVR I will be constantly adding and deleting large file I reformatted the drive as a Linux ext4, a file system that does not cause fragmentation when you delete and add large files. The reformat took a fairly long time (several hours) but was successful.

Before reformatting the drive I ran bad disk test on the drive and it showed no bad disks.

The netbook computer does not support USB 3, so even though this drive is capable USB 3 I am using USB 2 connection. However, USB 2 is sufficient for recording and playing the video content. I tested the drive's USB 3 connection with my main computer, and it worked well.

I use rsync Linux command to do backups. I use HDHomerun network card and its commands via Linux scripts to schedule recordings and write to the disk. I use a media player to play the recordings. I don't use any of the Seagate software that came with the drive.


Despite the minor annoyances mentioned above, I am pleased with the drive and recommend it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Product review: VSonic GR07 MK2 Pro Dynamic Noise Isolation Earphones Earbuds

When I opened the package I was impressed with 26 earphone tips, 2 pouches (one soft, one hard) and around the ear wire guides in addition to the earphones. I attached a collage of 4 photos that I will be referencing in this review. The entire content of the package is shown in photos #1 and #2. On the negative side the booklet was entirely in Chinese, without any pictures, so when I needed help for placing ear wire guides I had none (image of instructions visible in photo #2). Amazon description includes a note that these headphones require burn in period of 200 hour for honoring returns. This return requirement was useful to know before evaluating the sound of the ear phones, and I have played them for close to 200 hours before doing the evaluation.


I had some positive and some negative experiences with these earphones, so I used them for over a month before writing this review.

The major positive, and it is a big one, is that the sound of these earphones is very good. Clear, crisp, clean with a lot of nuances at different levels. I am not hearing any imperfections or distortions.

The major negative is that I have not found the earphone to be comfortable. There are two aspects to this. The first, is that the earphones are shaped as a square (1/2 inch x 5/8 inch) and apparently my ears are slightly too small to fit them comfortably. Photo #2 shows earphones from two different angles. Even though the nozzle can be moved as a joystick I could not find a position where the corners of this square do not press on something in my ears. If I wear the earphones for over an hour my ears hurts a bit. The second issue is related to the wire guards. These earphones are different from other earphones I own is that in order to properly fit into the ear the wires have to come down from the top, being wrapped around the ears using wire guards. Sometimes wires pop out of the wire guards, and it takes a bit of fussing to put them on (especially because I try to place them with minimum amount of contact with the ears to minimize the pressure points that hurt). On the positive side, when I wore reading glasses they did not interfere with the wire guards.

The nozzles of the earphones can be moved as a joystick. They can be angled left, right or up and down to position the angle how they penetrates the ear canal. The sound isolation is quite good. 26 different tips practically guarantee that everyone will find a shape and size that fits them. The tight fit also keeps the ear phones in the ear when the head moves vigorously (tested not only during exercise but a fall garden cleanup that required a lot of shaking). The material of the tips also varies, from rubber to compressed foam filler (similar to earplugs) shroud inside a normal tip that is rounded. To replace a tip I use my finger nail to carefully peel the tip away from the nozzle and then remove. Then replacing it with a different tip by push the tip onto the nozzle. The earphones are flat, so you wear ear muffs or a hat over them without catching on the earphones.

The material the earphones wires are made of is very nice. They tangle a lot less that my other earphones. When I brush against the wires I hear no interference in the earphones. And in addition they have a slide which can be moved to adjust the size of the split.

GR07 VSonic wire lengths:
18 inches to split (with the slide all the way down)
33 inches from split to unit
total 51 inches
Plug: 3.5mm8 m 24K gold plated dual-channel plug
Cable: 1.3M max 82-core silver wire
Rated power: 10mW
Maximum Input power: 50mW

I really like the two pouches that came with the unit. The soft rectangular pouch has a snap-shut wire that keeps the case closed (photo #3). The round hard case has a nice zipped closure and two compartments (photo #4). Both pouches are big enough to fit not only the earphones but my Sansa mp3 player. I found this to be very handy as I don't have to worry about the keys scratching my mp3 player as I go for daily walks with my mp3 player.

Overall, these ear buds have excellent sound, wish they fit my ears more comfortably -- the combined rating is 4 stars.

I received VSonic GR07 Earphones Earbuds for testing from the manufacturer to write an honest and unbiased review. In this review I noted both positives and negatives of my experience and if you have any questions I have not covered in my review I am always happy to respond to comments.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Monday, November 26, 2012

Product review: Dolica SB-015RD / SB-015BK Sling Backpack for DSLR


I have been using Lowepro sling backpack bag for my photography for years, and did not think I would find a bag that I like better. However I found that I like Dolica sling bag better for the following reasons:

1. Dolica bag has much wider more heavily padded straps and thus I find it to be much more comfortable
2. Dolica has a stabilizing strap goes around your waist, in addition to the strap that goes across your chest. The Lowepro bag has both stabilization strap and the main support strap that go around your chest. I found Dolica system to be much more comfortable and give better support when I carry a heavy load. It feels more balanced on my back, while keeping all the convenience of being able to reach my gear by just swinging the bag around. I am able to change lenses, filters, batteries without having to sit down or put down my bag.

This bag has generously sized straps that would fit larger framed people comfortably: up to 45" waist strap, up to 64" chest strap.

The empty bag weight 1.5 pounds. It comes in two colors Red(SB-015RD) and Black (SB-015BK). External dimensions are 14" high, 6" wide, 10" long. Internal dimensions of each compartment are detailed below.

I am attaching a collage of 7 photos numbered 1 through 7 that I will be referencing in this review.

I am using the Canon SLR camera to demonstrate the relative size of various compartments of this camera bag. My primary lens is 17-85mm (4 inches). The second lens is 75-300mm (6 inches).

There are a total of 6 compartments in this bag.

COMPARTMENTS
* The main compartment is extremely well padded. Its orange liner makes it easier to see the content at the bottom of the compartment.
Photos #1 and #2 show how my camera with primary 17-85mm lens fits into the compartment with plenty of room to spare. This compartment has a neoprene sling which attaches to the Velcro on the sides of the compartment to keep the camera very secure even when you are hiking/jumping. Photo #3 shows the camera out of the bag for relative size.
The main compartment is 8.5 inches deep, 7" by 4" wide at the top of the compartment, 5" by 3.5" at the bottom of the compartment.

* The second large compartment is large enough to hold my 75-300mm lens. See photo #5. Photo #6 has the lens out of the bag next to the ruler for relative size (the lens is 6" long). The camera description says that this compartment is good for holding lenses up to 200mm, but as you see my 300mm fits and has room to spare. This compartment is padded but not as well as the main compartment. My 75-300mm has a padded case, but the lens in its padded lens case does not fit, and without its case it fits a bit loosely. So I would probably put a scarf in the compartment to create some additional padding/filler.
The lens compartment is 8 inches deep. It is triangular shaped with three sides measuring: 4" x 6" x 5.25".

The front of the camera has two narrow pockets (best seen in Photo #4)
* The first opens on the top and is 6.5 inches wide tapering to 4 inches, it can be opened about 1 inch wide.

* The second opens on the side and is 5.5 inches wide tapering to 4 inches, it has a pleat and can open to about 2 inches in the center.
These two pockets are ideal for filter, camera remote control, your sunglasses and so forth.

* The side of the bag has a long narrow compartment (7" by 3") with 2 mesh pockets (see photo #4) this pocket is ideal for memory cards and spare batteries.

* The bag strap has a triangular shaped pocket (6" x 5" x 3"). This pocket can be easily reached even when the bag it on your back, so I see putting lens cleaning solution in there so I can clean my lens without having to open the bag.

The front of the camera has strapping sewed to it which can be used to attach things to the camera bag with straps or rock clips (see photo #7). One strap is included, it is sized to attach a tripod to the camera bag. On the opposite side from the strap there is a square open pocket which is designed to hold the feet of the tripod. See Photo #7 where my Manfrotto tripod attached to the bag. Perhaps my tripod is too long, but I found carrying it on the camera bag unbalanced and uncomfortable. I don't think I will be using this feature.

The case has a nice heavy duty handle to carry it as a bag. The sling strap has another loop/grab handle. It can used to tuck away straps when you carry the bag by the handle on the main compartment.

I started out by comparing this bag to Lowepro bag. Does Lowepro bag have any features that this bag does not? To be fair, yes.
(1) I really like the waterproof cover that can be pulled out of the bottom of the Lowepro bag to cover the entire bag. This keeps the entire bag including all zippers dry so when I finally need to get into the bag there is no chance of any drops going in. Dolica is build out of waterproof material (I have not tested this yet), but the zippers are exposed to the rain.
(2) Lowepro bag has Velcro-based dividers that I can place into main compartment to create extra custom-sized compartments. I like using them to keep some odds and ends that are not often used out of the way.

However, the overall comfort of the Dolica bag made me move all my gear from Lowepro bag to Dolica bag.

I received Dolica Sling Backpack for testing from the manufacturer to write an honest and unbiased review and I described both pluses and minuses of my experience in this review. If you have any questions on features I covered I am always happy to answer comments.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Product review: Screen Cleaning MOBiLE CLOTH Nano and Classic / 1121NA 1121CL

This cleaning cloth worked so well that once I cleaned my tablet and my camera, I began walking around the house looking for more things to clean: computer screens, tvs, my scanner, my glasses... This cloth works really well! On Monday I am taking it to work - many more screens to clean!

This cloth comes in two sizes 9"x9" square and 4"x4" square.

I am attaching a collage of 4 photos numbered 1 through 4 under the customer photos that I will be referencing in this review.

Photo #1 shows 9"x9" cloth next to a ruler, it actually measures 9.5 inches
Photo #2 shows a close up of the cloth's material. The material is very soft made with a special pattern with large "nubs". These nubs work very effectively in removing smudges, finger prints and dirt from smooth services without wetting. The cloth can be used wet or dry. I only used it wet on one of the TVs which had some splatter dried onto the screen. The slightly damp cloth removed that splatter very effectively.
Photo #3 shows the screen of my tablet before the cleaning, you can see finger prints especially on the dark part of the screen.
Photo #4 shows the screen after one swipe with the mobile cloth - no finger prints.

I received Mobile Cloth for testing from the manufacturer to write an honest and unbiased review. I usually try to cover pluses and minuses of each product I review, but in this case I could not think of any minuses. If you have any questions about this cloth I I am always happy to answer comments.

You can find "MOBiLE CLOTH Nano - 1 Pack - 1121NA" on Amazon via this link


You can find "MOBiLE CLOTH Classic - 1 Pack - 1121CL" on Amazon via this link.


You can find "MOBiLE CLOTH Classic - 5 pack - 5521CL" on Amazon via this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★





Thursday, November 22, 2012

Product review: Ultimate Geodes Science Kit by Discover with Dr. Cool

Unlike Entomology-based bug kit which was a hit, the Geodes kit was a bit frustrating. 12 year old kids could not open any of the geodes with either of the two methods described in the booklet, and I was able to open just a couple.

I am attaching a collage of two photos that I will be referring to in this review.


Photo #1 shows the entire content of the kit next to the ruler so you can see the relative size of the geodes. The kit includes 15 geodes and eye protection glasses. The kit requires you use your own tools: a hammer and a chisel.

The guide gave us two methods for cracking the geodes: the chisel method and the sock method.

Method 1: Before cracking the geodes the instruction said to score the geodes so they would break along that line. We did not have a chisel and use a big screw and a screw driver to score the stone. Perhaps the lack of the proper chisel explains the difficulty in cracking the geodes. After scoring the geodes we tried tapping them with a screwdriver positioned on the scoring line. Kids could not open any, I was able to crack just a couple. Photo #2 shows the opened geode with white crystals on the inside.

Method 2: Putting a geode into a sock (to prevent small pieces flying around) and hitting it with hammer with more force than method #1. This method did not open any geodes.

My profession I am a scientist. I give credit to doing well in sciences to my parents who played math and science games with me since I was very very young. When I received an offer to test two science kits from Dr. Cool I jumped on that chance. Geodes kit was my first choice, and I was really looking forward to it as I have a fondness for rocks and wanted to share it with the kids. I really thought I would love this kit. However this kit left us somewhat frustrated. We plan to try again with more muscle power present. I wish the kit included a chisel as this is not a common tool like a hammer, and it might have made a difference if we had it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Product Review: Burt's Bees Intense Hydration Night Cream

I have been using Burt's Bees night cream every night for 30 days. I lightly massage it into my skin (face and neck) and it is quickly absorbed. I like how it feels on my skin, I like the light scent, and I like the results. My skin feels softer than before and I see a small reduction in appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Burt's Bees night cream is infused with Clary Sage. Clary Sage plant thrives in the harsh environments because it has ability to trap and retain moisture. This plant is the inspiration behind the Burt's Bee hydration line.

The night cream has a pleasant light clean scent. The description says it is a natural scent of Clary Sage. It does not smell like a herb sage I am familiar with, it reminds me more of a clover scent. I don't like strong scents and I did not find Burt's Bees' heavy or overpowering, it is light "background" scent. The scent of the night cream is lighter than the scent of a Burt's Bees day cream.
 
I like the packaging of Burt's Bees' night cream. It comes in a wide tub that is easy to access and control how much cream you want to puton your face (see attached photo).

Ingredients: aqua (water, eau), olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, glycerin, ricinus communis (castor) seed oil, tapioca starch, parfum (fragrance), propanediol, salvia sclarea (clary) extract, lactobacillus, astrocaryum tucuma seed butter, garcinia indica seed butter, trichilia emetica seed butter, cera alba (beeswax, cire d'abeille), simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, candelilla/jojoba/rice bran poIygIyceryl-3 esters, jojoba esters, hydrolyzed jojoba esters, chondrus crispus (carrageenan), polymnia sonchifolia root juice, alpha-glucan oligosaccharide, maltodextrin, zea mays (corn) starch, sucrose, tocopherol, xanthan gum, glycine soja (soybean) oil, glyceryl stearate, cetearyl alcohol, sodium stearoyl lactylate, sodium PCA, zinc PCA, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, phenoxyethanol, amyl cinnamal, eugenol, hydroxycitronellal, linalool "natural fragrance

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Product review: H&R Block At Home 2012 Deluxe + State (TaxCut 2012)

I've used H&R Block's tax software (formerly called TaxCut) every year since 1995. Several times when I saw a promotional deal I purchased both TaxCut and TurboTax to compare. I found that TurboTax did not do anything better than TaxCut while costing consistently more. In addition, I like the option of being able to file 5 free Federal e-files as I do taxes for other relatives who are less computer savvy.

If you encounter issues with display, such as not seeing selection boxes, check your screen resolution. Both Windows and Mac minimum requirement for the screen resolution is 1024 x 768 pixels or higher. At a lower resolution H&R Block software will have problem with display such as not properly displaying selection boxes. Screen resolution can be changed on your control panel by change PC's display settings.

I just finished a preliminary tax return and below are my observations. Note: the forms are not final until January 10, 2013.

1. H&R Block starts the interview process with an annoying up-sell pitch, recommending an upgrade from Deluxe to Premium even when it is not necessary.
It would have better if they waited until the financial information is entered and offered the Premium version only to those for whom it might make sense.

What is the difference between Premium and Deluxe? The Premium version offers advanced tools for self-employed and rental property owners: cost basis of home sales, dividents, gifts, and inheritance assets. It has advanced schedule C guidance to maximize deductions for self-employment income. And finally it has guidance for rental property income and expenses. The rest of the Premium package is the same as Deluxe.

Note that the Deluxe package has support for self-employed income as well as stock sale cost basis calculations. This year I had to do both, and I found the guidance to be sufficient to complete the forms.

2. As of 11/19/2012 videos for tax law changes were not available yet (the prompt said coming soon).

3. Minor pet peeve: Help is not context sensitive. For example, when you click on "learn more" about a particular topic the general help window opens but it does not show help topics for the specific topic that you were working on. Instead you need to search and know which words to use locate the relevant topics.

4. Good news: DeductionPro 2012 is now integrated into H&R Block, you no longer need to go to H&R web site.

5. H&R Block provides you some guidance for completing Form 1116 (foreign tax credit, for example from mutual funds). However, you need to keep switching between whole-form view to enter data and then back to interview to read the instructions. Even though the form where you can enter data is visible at the same time as instructions you cannot enter data into it until you switch into whole-form view. This is cumbersome, but at least there is some guidance for this form.

6. Copy and Paste from Interview screens is not possible. Sometimes I wish to do it for some issue as a reminder to myself. My solution is to do PrintScreen (holding ctl key, shift key, and PrintScreen key at the same time). This generates an image of the screen, which I paste into paint or photo editing software which I can print or save for later.

7. I don't use the default location for the tax returns due to how I set up my backup software. The H&R Block software does not initially remember this new location on the second start of the application, it told me I have no returns. I needed to pick the return manually from the File menu, as it did remember recently used files. The third time I started the software, it finally knew the location of the tax return file.

8. I use large font option on my monitor display and in the past had display issues (some things were displayed on top of each other). This year all forms displayed properly with this option. Nice!

9. I purchased H&R Block Deluxe plus State. This version entitles you to 5 free federal state e-files. There is no free e-file for the state return. If you want to e-file you will need to pay a fee of $19.95 to e-file each state return. This charge can be avoided by printing the forms and mailing them in via post office.
SPECIAL NOTE for NY state residents: NY state residents can e-file state returns for free.

10. The price on this package changes day to day. I found a nice tools that shows history of Amazon prices. If you enter "price history alert" in Google it will come up at the top, it has the word camel in the name. I find this tool very helpful. I just looked up that the price last year fluctuate between $20 and the list price of $44.99. During the tax preparation season it hit the $20 mark on three different dates. You can set up an alert tool to email you when your desired price has been reached.

11. For folks trying to download State Forms -- they are not yet available. Last year state forms became available on January 16.

If you go to the Software Update Center on H&R website you will see a section called State Updates. Under there you there is a link called "Forms Available". If you click on that, it will show a table that shows availability of forms for each State.

When the state forms will become available they can be downloaded by selecting the State Tab and then clicking on the button labeled "Buy" (a little scary since we already paid for it) but then "buy" will turn into "update" and the forms will be downloaded to your computer.

A note for those who use the digital download rather than the boxed edition
------------------------------------------------------------------------------
This year I am using a boxed edition of the software. Last year I used a digital download and run into a glitch a solution to which I want to include again for those who might run into the same issue this year.

After I installed the software and started it for the first time it prompted me to enter a key-code. The prompt said that I should have received in the email after purchasing the software, however the email I received from Amazon did not contained a key-code. I had to call Amazon support and they told me that this information can be found following these steps
1) Log into Amazon
2) Select Your Account at the top right of the page
3) Select Games and Software downloads which is towards the bottom of the long page you see when you log in
4) Then under H&R software entry you will see the key-code that you need to enter to unlock the software

I have been a H&R Block/TaxCut user for many years. The interview process is helpful in reminding you things you might have forgotten. 2012 H&R Block package addressed a couple of my old pet peeves (for example, integration with DeductionPro). So I am quite pleased with it and recommend it!

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Movie DVD review: Going for gold, 1948 Olympics, BBC

"Going for gold" takes place in at 1948 Olympics in London and is a story of one of the three gold medals won by the British.  Six weeks before the games the British sculling was burning with the desire to win a gold medal and did not think any of the current teams could do it. They put together a new team of two men who from different worlds - a boat builder's son Bert Bushnell and Oxford educated Richard Burnell. They had different approaching to sculling strategy and life which they had to overcome to win a gold a medal. 

I enjoy watching sports and the premise of the movie sounded interesting to me. I found the movie to be Okay (not bad, but not something I would watch again). I did not find it as compelling as Chariots of Fire which has a similar story line. The conflicts were simple, predicable in both content and resolution. I never felt fully connected and vested in the characters. On the positive side I enjoy watching Olympics and knowing that it is based on a true story made this story interesting.

The DVD comes with the feature film as well as 1948 Olympics Trivia Game, which I really enjoyed even though it ranked me as "Rubbish". It was quite educational and the ranking trully reflected my lack of knowledge of Olympic history of that period.  The movie runs approximately 90 minutes and has optional English subtitles.

I received a review copy of the DVD to write an honest and unbiased review and this review reflects both both pluses and minuses of my experience watching this movie.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Friday, November 16, 2012

Product review: SiliconDust HDHomeRun HDHR-T1-US Single Networked High Definition Digital Television (used with Fedora Linux)

I have been using this card for over a year and I am very pleased with it. I use this network card to build home-made DVR. It records digital content broadcast in the clear I received on my cable.

This card is controlled by a netbook computer running Linux (Fedora). I wrote some scripts that allow me to schedule the programs I am interested in (daily, weekly, once), and then view the content via media player. My scripts put recordings into folders uniquely named after the programs I am interested in, and give them unique names based on the program name and time it was recorded. When I am ready to watch my recordings I switch my TV to HDMI input connected to the netbook computer and use my TV as a computer screen to navigate the folder of the show I am interested in watching, and then start it is a media player.

This gives me a very cost efficient DVR set up.

Some restrictions to keep in mind:
(1) This box does not have a slot for CableCards so it cannot record encrypted digital cable channels
(2) You can record only one thing at a time
(3) While the show is recording you cannot watch the file being created (but you can watch a previously recorded show, of course, since it is already written to disk).

A collage of three photos under customer photos:
Photo #1: HDHomeRun view from the top
Photo #2: the back of the HDHomeRun
Photo #3: bottom (silver) netbook computer hooked up to HDHomeRun, top (black) 2T external drive for storage

I bought this card to replace to my VCR for time shifting the shows I watch - i.e. something I can use without paying a monthly subscription - and this works perfectly.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Product review: PowerGen 6000 mAh external power pack in use with Nexus 7 Tab, Galaxy Nexus Phone, Galaxy 7.7 Tab, Sansa Clip+ MP3

I tested I 6000mAh PowerGen external battery pack with Nexus 7 Tablet, Samsung Galaxy 7.7 Tablet, and Samsung Galaxy Nexus cell phone, and SanDisk Sansa Clip+ player.
I received 6000mAh external battery pack for testing from the manufacturer to write an honest and unbiased review and you will find both pluses and minuses of my experience in this review.

I am attaching a collage of 2 photos labeled with number 1 & 2 under customer photos that I will be referencing in this review.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the package is that brick looks slick and well made. Its dimensions are 4.15" length x 1.83" width x 0.88" thickness. A photo of the unit is included in both photos I posted.

The box contained two USB cords 7" and 27" and adapters to fit different devices (Nokia 2mm round, Playstation Portable 4mm round, mini USB, two micro USB). Photo #1 shows the entire content including all adapters. The adapters are a weak point of the design, they feel a bit flimsy and it is easy to loose all the small pieces. The minimum configuration for my devices is two connectors: one that goes into the AC plug to charge the external battery and the second (mini USB) that goes into the devices for charging.

A big button on top of the unit turns the unit on and off (hold it for a few second to turn off). The blue lights on the sides of the button indicate the level of power in the battery: 4 lights indicate full charge, 3 lights indicate 75% and so forth.  The power pack also has an LED light, which generates a pretty good bright light and can be used a flashlight.

The 6000mAh PowerGen has one USB outlets: 0.6 Amp and 2 Amp. I tested my four electronic devices using both my own USB cable as well as the manufacture cable+adapter.  In the documentation booklet PowerGen states that PowerGen cables provide better performance for non-Apple devices on the 2Amp (Apple port) and I wanted to see the difference between
the cables.  In addition I tested charging two devices using both outlets at the same time.

The provided adapters fit Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, Nexus 7 tablet and Sansa Clip MP3 (as they take regular USB-to-micro USB cable) but none of the provided adapters fit Galaxy Samsung 7.7 Tablet.

I used Battery App by Elvison to determine how each device recognized the charging source. 'AC' status means the charging is at full charging rate. 'USB' status indicates charging at a lower charging rate. 'Discharging' status means that the charging rate is below the power that the device is consuming so it slows down the discharge rate but does not re-charge.

The key findings:
================
(1) The power pack worked well with Nexus devices,but did not work at all with Samsung Galaxy 7.7 tablet.  The documentation states that it does not work unless you have a tablet USB adapter.  But even with this adapter the Battery App showed that the tablet was 'discharging'.
(2) Using PowerGen cables vs generic cables made a postive difference for the phone but not for the tablet (note that I used a generic charging cable, not a data cable)

Difference between a power cable and a data cable:
Charging cables short the two data connections together (rendering them useless for data transfer), but this fools devices to see them as an AC power connection, and thus accept the higher current of the charging source.  Both my generic cable and PowerGen cables used in my tests are charging cables.

Description of my tests:
I tested each devices charging them for 10 minutes using PowerGen cable and using my own charging cable.

The table below summarizes my findings.

Nexus 7 Tablet (photo #1)
--------------
generic cable .... AC source .... 1% charge in 10 minutes
Powergen cable ... AC source .... 1% charge in 10 minutes

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone (photo #2)
--------------------------
generic cable .... AC source .... 3% charge in 10 minutes
Powergen cable ... AC source .... 4% charge in 10 minutes

Samsung Galaxy Tablet 7.7 (photo #3)
--------------------------
generic cable .... discharging
PowerGen cable -- no adapter, cannot be used

SanDisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 Player
------------------------------
generic cable ...... works
PowerGen cable ..... works

The MP3 player recognized the charger on both outlet, however it behaved differently than charging from the charger it came with.
When I charge Sansa MP3 with a standard AC charger, the MP3 player goes into charging mode, displaying the charging animated icon. When it was plugged into the PowerGen external battery it continued to play the content. I listen to books on my MP3 player so this caused me to move forward in my book and I had to manually reset my position by a few chapters to get back to where I was when I started charging. The positive side of this, is that is possible to continue listening while MP3 is recharging. This is very handy for Sansa MP3 player since it has built-in battery that cannot be swapped for a charged one. I used to have to stop listening to have it recharged and now I can continue to listen while it re-charges. I was very happy to have this feature during hurricane Sandy when I lost power and my books on MP3 player were my only source of entertainment.

To summarize:

I liked:
---------
1. Good behavior with Nexus devices.
2. Solution for MP3 player with built-in battery
3. Looks sleek, feels solid, is compact

I did not like:
--------------
1. Does not work for Galaxy Tablet 7.7 (with my own adapter, no PowerGen adapter)
2. The multiple piece connectors are flimsy and easy to loose. I prefer a one piece charging cable I bought as a replacement.
3. Labels and documentation are hard to read: 2A and 0.6A labels are white on white and are hard to read.

Overall, I am pleased with this unit and recommend it with the exception of Galaxy Tablet.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, November 12, 2012

Product Review: Powergen 9000mAh external power pack in use with Review for use with Nexus 7 Tab, Galaxy Nexus Phone, Galaxy 7.7 Tab, Sansa Clip+ MP3

I tested I 9000mAh PowerGen external battery pack with Nexus 7 Tablet, Samsung Galaxy 7.7 Tablet, and Samsung Galaxy Nexus cell phone, and SanDisk Sansa Clip+ player.
I received 9000mAh external battery pack for testing from the manufacturer to write an honest and unbiased review and you will find both pluses and minuses of my experience in this review.

I am attaching a collage of 3 photos labeled with number 1 through 3 under customer photos that I will be referencing in this review.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the package is that brick looks slick and well made. Its dimensions are 2.75" width x 4.5" by 0.88" thick (slightly larger than a deck of cards). It weighs 7.1 oz by itself (without charging cable). A photo of the unit is included in all three photos I posted.

The box contained two USB cords 7" and 27" and adapters to fit different devices (Nokia 2mm round, Playstation Portable 4mm round, mini USB, two micro USB). The adapters are a weak point of the design, they feel a bit flimsy and it is easy to loose all the small pieces. The minimum configuration for my devices is two connectors: one that goes into the AC plug to charge the external battery and the second (mini USB) that goes into the devices for charging.

The blue lights on top of the battery pack indicate the level of power in the battery: 4 lights indicate full charge, 3 lights indicate 75% and so forth. To turn on the device you need to press the button on the side of the unit. To turn off the device you need to press and hold the button for a few seconds (this is not documented, I found it by experimenting).
The power pack also has an LED light, which generates a pretty good bright light and can be used a flashlight.

The 9000mAh PowerGen has two USB outlets: 0.6 Amp and 2 Amp. I tested my four electronic devices using both my own USB cable as well as the manufacture cable+adapter.  In the documentation booklet PowerGen states that PowerGen cables provide better performance for non-Apple devices on the 2Amp (Apple port) and I wanted to see the difference between
the cables.  In addition I tested charging two devices using both outlets at the same time.

The provided adapters fit Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, Nexus 7 tablet and Sansa Clip MP3 (as they take regular USB-to-micro USB cable) but none of the provided adapters fit Galaxy Samsung 7.7 Tablet.

I used Battery App by Elvison to determine how each device recognized the charging source. 'AC' status means the charging is at full charging rate. 'USB' status indicates charging at a lower charging rate. 'Discharging' status means that the charging rate is below the power that the device is consuming so it slows down the discharge rate but does not re-charge.

The key findings:
================
(1) 2 Amp outlet is aimed at Apple devices but worked fine with Nexus devices, and did not work at all with Samsung Galaxy 7.7 tablet.
(2) 0.6Amp outlet worked for all Android devices, including Samsung Galaxy 7.7 tablet
(3) Using PowerGen cables vs generic cables made a postive difference for the phone but not for the tablet (note that I used a generic charging cable, not a data cable)

Difference between a power cable and a data cable:
Charging cables short the two data connections together (rendering them useless for data transfer), but this fools devices to see them as an AC power connection, and thus accept the higher current of the charging source.  Both my generic cable and PowerGen cables used in my tests are charging cables.

Description of my tests:
I tested each devices charging them for 10 minutes with the following permutations:
   --- on 2A port and on 0.6A port
   --- using PowerGen cable and using my own charging cable
   --- charging two devices at the same time


The table below summarizes my findings.

Nexus 7 Tablet (photo #1)
--------------
2Amp outlet ..... generic cable .... AC source .... 2% charge in 10 minutes
2Amp outlet ..... Powergen cable ... AC source .... 2% charge in 10 minutes
.06Amp outlet ... generic cable .... AC source .... 2% charge in 10 minutes
.06Amp outlet ... Powegen cable .... AC source .... 2% charge in 10 minutes

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone (photo #2)
--------------------------
2Amp outlet ..... generic cable .... AC source .... 3% charge in 10 minutes
2Amp outlet ..... Powergen cable ... AC source .... 5% charge in 10 minutes
.06Amp outlet ... generic cable .... AC source .... 4% charge in 10 minutes
.06Amp outlet ... Powegen cable .... AC source .... 4% charge in 10 minutes

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone and Nexus 7 Tablet together
--------------------------
2Amp outlet ..... Powergen cable ... AC source .... 3% charge in 10 minutes
.06Amp outlet ... Powegen cable .... AC source .... 3% charge in 10 minutes


Samsung Galaxy Tablet 7.7 (photo #3)
--------------------------
2Amp outlet ..... generic cable .... discharging .... 1% discharge in 10 minutes
.06Amp outlet ... generic cable .... AC source ...... 1% charge in 10 minutes
PowerGen cable -- no adapter, Powergen cable cannot be used

SanDisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 Player
------------------------------
0.6 AMP outlet ... works
2 AMP outlet ..... works


The MP3 player recognized the charger on both outlet, however it behaved differently than charging from the charger it came with.
When I charge Sansa MP3 with a standard AC charger, the MP3 player goes into charging mode, displaying the charging animated icon. When it was plugged into the PowerGen external battery it continued to play the content. I listen to books on my MP3 player so this caused me to move forward in my book and I had to manually reset my position by a few chapters to get back to where I was when I started charging. The positive side of this, is that is possible to continue listening while MP3 is recharging. This is very handy for Sansa MP3 player since it has built-in battery that cannot be swapped for a charged one. I used to have to stop listening to have it recharged and now I can continue to listen while it re-charges. I was very happy to have this feature during hurricane Sandy when I lost power and my books on MP3 player were my only source of entertainment.

To summarize:

I liked:
---------
1. Good behavior with Nexus devices.
2. Galaxy tablet consistently works at AC rate on 0.6 AMP outlet (best behavior of the four PowerGen external batteries that I have tested)
3. Solution for MP3 player with built-in battery
4. Looks sleek, feels solid, is compact


I did not like:
--------------
1. The multiple piece connectors are flimsy and easy to loose. I prefer a one piece charging cable I bought as a replacement.
2. Labels and documentation are hard to read: 2A and 0.6A labels are white on white and are hard to read. The documentation is in microscopic font.

Overall, I am pleased with this unit and recommend it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Product review: 100 Soft Sleeves / Penny Sleeve for Baseball Cards and ACEO, by Ultra Pro

High quality plastic transparent sleeves for baseball card sized content. These are individual sleeves not pages with multiple sleeves on each page. The sleeves come in a zip-lock bag which is handy for storing empty sleeves. The bags are soft with a little bit of stiffness.

Each sleeve is sized 2 5/8 X 3 5/8, so any 2.5" x 3.5" mini art fits nicely with a little room to spare. I am attaching a photo with a sleeve out of the package next to the ruler for reference.

I am an artist that sells my own art work, some of my pieces are artist trade cards (ACEO) which are the size of the baseball card. I sell them packaged in these sleeves and they look very professional. The sleeves protect the art from elements and finger prints. So these nice sleeves are not just for baseball cards!

I am pleased with the quality of these sleeves and the price at 2.6 cents per sleeve is very reasonable. I would buy them again.


You can find these sleeves on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Product review: Burt's Bees Intense Hydration Cream Cleanser

I like wearing make-up but dislike the process of removing it.  Burt's Bees' cream cleanser actually makes the process of removing make-up pleasant.  I wet the face, then apply the cleaner cream to my face with my finger tips. I lightly massage it into my skin and then wipe my face with a warm wash cloth.  My skin feels soft and clean. Also the skin feels softer than normal.


The cleanser  has a pleasant light clean scent.  The description says it is a natural scent of Clary Sage.  It does not smell like a herb sage I am familiar with, it reminds me more of a clover scent. I don't like strong scents and I did not find Burt's Bees' heavy or overpowering, it is light "background" scent.
 

I like the packaging of Burt's Bees' cream cleanser. It comes in a tube with a large cap so you store the tube upside down standing on the cap (photo #1). The gravity keeps the cream at the opening and it is easy to get out even when there is just a little bit left.  I also was impressed that the new tube came sealed with foil, so you are guaranteed to have fresh and wet cream when you open it. (photo #2)

I received a free tube of Burt's Bees cream cleanser for providing an honest and unbiased review.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Product review: Burt's Bees' Intense Hydration Treatment Mask



Last night I used the Burt's Bees' Intense Hydration Treatment Mask for the first time.  I applied after a long hot shower to my face and neck.  The intense hydration treatment mask goes on as a cream and stayed wet and pliable for the 10 minutes I left it on.  The cream has a light pleasant scent - reminds me of a clover smell.  After 10 minutes most of cream was absorbed and what was left I removed with a warm washcloth.

My skin felt very nice.  In the morning when I looked in the mirror the tiny wrinkles around my eyes were practically invisible.  The skin looked smooth and taught.  The skin felt softer than normal.  It was a nice treat after a hot shower and gave me really nice results.

I like the packaging of Burt's Bees' Treatment Mask. It comes in a tube with a large cap so you store the tube upside down standing on the cap (photo #1). The gravity keeps the cream at the opening and it is easy to get out even when there is just a little bit left.  I also was impressed that the new tube came sealed with foil, so you are guaranteed to have fresh and wet cream when you open it. (photo #2)

I received a free tube of Burt's Bees treatment mask for providing an honest and unbiased review.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★



Sunday, November 4, 2012

Product review: PowerGen Dual USB 3.1A 15w Travel Wall Charger with Swivel plug (Android, Apple)

I tested PowerGen Dual Port 15W / 3.1A USB Wall Charger with Nexus 7 Tablet, Samsung Galaxy 7.7 Tablet, and Samsung Galaxy Nexus cell phone, and SanDisk Sansa Clip+ player.
I received PowerGen wall charger for testing from the manufacturer to write an honest and unbiased review and you will find both pluses and minuses of my experience in this review.

I am attaching two collages with 8 photos (each collage has 4) labeled with numbers 1 through 8 under customer photos that I will be referencing in this review.

The first thing I noticed that the charger has re-tractable prongs which is very handy for travel. Photo #1-1 shows the black plug with prongs retracted, and the white plug with progs extended.

Photos #1-3 and #1-4 show this plug on a power strip. This is where the only negative thing I have to say about this plug comes in. The position of the prongs is such that this plug takes up two and a half slots. As you see not only does each plug cover two outlets, I also could put two of these plugs next to each even on the short side. The prongs are not polorized as you can see on photo #1-1. The plug itself is very slim, if the prongs could have been oriented differently, the plug would only take 1 slot.

The plug has two ports labeled "A" and "NA" which stands for Apple and Non-Apple devices. I own all Android devices but I tested both ports to see their behavior with my devices. The charger comes without a USB cord, so tested it with the USB cords that came with my devices.

I used Battery App by Elvison to determine how each device recognized the charging source. 'AC' status means the charging is at full charging rate. 'USB' status indicates charging at a lower charging rate. 'Discharging' status means that the charging rate is below the power that the device is consuming so it slows down the discharge rate but does not re-charge.

The key findings:
  •  Excellent results on both ports for Nexus Phone and Nexus 7 Tablet
  •  Samsung Galaxy 7.7 can be charged on NA port
  •  Better results than 10w PowerGen wall charger




The table below summarizes my findings:

Nexus 7 Tablet (photo #2-2, note the port is labeled "A" is closer to the edge of the plug and the port labeled "NA" is the one that is further away from the edge of the plug)
--------------
A port -- AC
NA port -- AC

Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone
--------------------------
A port -- AC
NA port -- AC

Samsung Galaxy Tablet 7.7
--------------------------
A port -- discharging when screen is on, charged slowly with screen off
NA port -- AC

SanDisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 Player
------------------------------
A port -- charged at AC rate
NA port -- charged at AC rate

Charging times for Samsung Galaxy Tablet 7.7
-------------------------------------------------
NA: from 90% to 100% ---> 33 minutes
A: from 90% to 100% -> 1h 37 min charged when screen was off despite saying discharging (powering the screen was enough to turn from slow charge to discharge)
Samsung plug that came with the 7.7 Tablet: from 90% to 100% ---> 1 hour

Charging times for Nexus Tablet
-------------------------------------------------
NA: from 94% to 99% ---> 17 minutes
A: from 94% to99% ---> 19 minutes

The behavior of both Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus plugged in at the same time was the same as when they were plugged in individually. This means if you can charge them both together at the same time. If you need to charge Samsung Galaxy tablet and one of the Nexus devices you would need to put the Galaxy tab on the NA port.

The MP3 player worked in both ports. I was able to charge and listen to the MP3 player at the same time.

To summarize:

I liked:
---------
1. Excellent behavior on both ports even when you have two Android devices
2. Samsung tablet 7.7 charged twice as fast as with the plug that it came with
2. Solution for MP3 player with built-in battery
3. Can charge two devices

I did not like:
--------------
1. Position of the prongs that makes the plug 2+ slots on the strip

Overall, This plug has given me the best performance of any dual plug I have tried. I recommend it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Update: I recently noticed that the seller upgraded the charger but kept the same ASIN number (so that the old ratings and the number of total sales remain with the product). So some early reviews, like this one, are talking about a totally different product.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Product review: Griot's Garage 11102 Car Wash

I love to baby my car. I used a lot of Griot's garage products and like them. So when I found myself running low on Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash I decided to buy this Griots's Garage Car Wash. I am attaching a photo of the bottle I received in this order next to the ruler - the 16 oz bottle is 6 inches tall.


Griot's Garage Car Wash generated good suds and worked well. However, it did not work any better than Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash or several other car wash concentrates I used in the past. I did not spend any less time on washing, I still needed to clay ( paint clay review , glass clay review) my car to remove small imperfections. The main difference which may matter to someone that Griot's Garage is totally orderless, where as other car washes I used have a scent.

On the negative side Griot's Garage Car Wash is rather pricey. At the price of $9.99 this works out to 56 cents per oz. Meguiar's Gold Class Car Wash that I bought at a local retailer was $4.43 for 72 oz., 10 cents per oz. Overall, I satisfied my curiosity and will not be buying it again.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★☆