Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Product review: Cabinet Spice Organizer by Store N More

video

This organizer has a good idea, but it is not a good implementation of the good idea.

The idea is that it is a double spice rack, that swivels so you can get to both racks while it takes up the space for just one rack. However when I got my hands on it I ran into a few problems.

1. It is made out of cheap looking thin plastic. It does not look nice enough to be visible.
2. I was going to mount it hidden away in a pantry, but it is not possible to mount it on the wall. It has to be free standing. I would have founded wall mounted option useful.
3. Because it is made out of thin plastic it wobbles it does not operate smoothly.

The rack is 9.25" wide, 10.75" tall, 4" deep (both shelves).

This rack was a disappointment, it is a clever idea but in practice it just did not work well.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★☆☆☆

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Product review: Lepow® POKI 5000mAh External Battery Pack

video

♦ size: 5" x 2.5" x 0.625" (at the thickest part)
♦ weight: 4.95 oz
♦ number of ports: 1
♦ flashlight: no
♦ pass-through charging: no (i.e. the battery cannot charge a device while being charged itself)
♦ charging indicator: bright and easy to see
♦ extras: felt case
♦ cable: 5" mini USB charging cable
For Android devices it matters if a cable used to charge the device is a charging cable or a data cable. In a charging cables the two data connections are shorted together (rendering the cable useless for data transfer), but this fools devices to see the cable as an AC power connection and thus the battery accept a higher current for charging. The cable that came with battery performed very well with Android devices, it is a good charging cable.

The POKI 5000mAh external battery charger has one ports. It performed well using my own charging cable as well as the charging cable that came with this external battery. Even though the charging port is labelled as 2A port my iPad Mini did not perform at its optimal speed. I did get more than 1A on it, but only only slightly more according to my current meter.

To tell how various battery packs perform I measure their performance with a current monitor. The current monitor results are interesting for relative comparison with other external batteries. I test all my external batteries using the same charging cables, running the same apps while charging, and starting all tests at same charge level of the phone to account for non-linear charging. This allows me to compare different external batteries to each other keeping everything else constant.

Samsung Nexus phone:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
0.95A/5.12V
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this phone is 1.00A/5V)

iPad Mini tablet:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1.16A/5.08V (below optimal)
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this tablet is 1.70A/5V)

I like this external battery's performance with my phone, I like its shape, and its bright charging level indicator. I was less impressed with the performance for my iPad Mini.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Friday, December 26, 2014

Product review: Hynes Eagle Women Chic Leather Tote Handbag

video

I selected the brown bag. It is made out of brown faux leather and has a matching brown lining. I would describe this bag as an "errands" handbag. It is large, sturdy, and made out of vinyl with a finish that is feels fairly soft.

Its size is 21" wide, 11" top to bottom, 6" deep. The handles have 7" clearance between the top of the bag and the top of the handle loop. This opening is large enough to swing them over my shoulder and use the bag as a shoulder bag. For the bag with this large size it makes it very convenient to carry it this way.

It has one large compartment on the inside. It has one zipped pocked on the inside and two unzipped compartments on the inside. It has a magnet snap closure in the middle.

This is a practical handbag. It looks like an attractive work horse rather than a show piece. I like that it has handles that let me swing the bag over the shoulder. I use this bag for shopping. It is sturdy and easy to clean.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Product review: ChargerCity Multi-Use Handheld Pistol Grip 1/4-20 Tripod Camera Handle Mount

video

This mount double as pistol grip holder and as a small tripod. Its holder is universal - it holds my Nexus phone with extended battery which makes the phone twice as fat as a typical smart phone. For some phone holders it is a an issue, but the phone feels very secure in this holder. The grip opens up to 3.25".

The grip handle can be spread and turned into a tripod. Its height is not adjustable like in other small tripods, but it the angle of the camera is adjustable.

The camera holder is removable, and the screw is a stand 1/4 mounting screw so it can serve is a stand tripod/grip for a small camera as well.

The package also include a camera remote control and a SD memory card reader. I tested the remote with my Android Nexus phone and it works fine. I tried the remote with a built-in camera app as well as the Camera 360 app which is mentioned in the remote documentation. Both apps worked, however I was not impressed with Camera 360 app as after a few shots it crashed and I had to reboot the phone otherwise the camera did not work not only with Camera 360 app but any photo app. I uninstalled Camera 360 app and will not be using it. However, I do like the pistol grip and the remote.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Monday, December 22, 2014

Product review: EKOO E2 Mini Sports Camera

video

I am normally very good at figuring out how to make things work, however I was not able to make this camera work. I was able to charge it and saw the charging light turn on and turn off when the camera was fully charged. However that was the only signs of life I was able to solicit from this camera. I was not able to turn it on or record any video or photos.

This camera arrived with no manual or instructions of any sort. I contacted the manufacturer and received a digital copy of the manual. According to the manual the camera should be fully charged before being turned on and is turned on by pressing the power button. According to the manual: "The blue LED will turn on for about 1 second before hardware starts to load. After about 3 seconds the yellow LED will turn on indicating the camera is ready for use." On my camera nothing happened after I pressed the power button.

The camera has no display. The camera has a small LED and all feedback from the camera is communicated by changing the color of this LED (yellow, blue, green, red) and the speed of flashing of the LED. The LED is small so outside in the bright light it is hard to see. This style of communication with the camera is very difficult.

Ekoo video camera is small, it is 2.25"L x 1.25"W x 0.625"H. It weighs 1.45 oz. This camera is not waterproof, the charging port and the SD port are totally open to the elements. For an outdoor camera it is a significant shortcoming.

The camera accepts a micro SD, which is not included in the package, you need to provide your own.

Since the camera did not work, I am not able to comment on the quality of photos and video it generates. However, even if it worked I listed several serious short comings in its design that put it below other sports cameras in my opinion.

Overall, I cannot recommend this camera.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★☆☆☆☆

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Product review: NorthONE Digital Tire Pressure Gauge

video

What I really like about this tire gauge is that it has a back light on the display and the light on the tire coupler. Even my presbyopic eyes can see it really well without glasses. And in an emergency I can check my tire pressure in complete darkness.

I compared the reading of this digital tire gauge with my old reliable mechanical tire pressure gauge and it showed accurate results. After it takes the reading the displays stays on for 30 seconds which is more than enough for me to see the reading, there is no need to hold any buttons for this to happen. One thing could have been better: it does not turn on automatically when you press the tire valve, you need to press a button to start it. After 30 seconds it automatically turns off to save the batteries.

Speaking of batteries, it runs on 1 CR2032 and 3 LR44 batteries. The batteries are included. The gauge can message pressure from 0.5 to 100 PSI in 0.5 PSI increments so it can be used for a large range of products. The readout provides pressure as PSI, Bar, Kpa, or kg/cm. Its operating range is from 23°F to 122°F.

The size of the gauge makes it comfortable to hold yet not too large to keep in the car's console. I really like it. I hope the video provides a good illustration for my review.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Product review: The Hoon Outdoor LED Solar Spotlight

video

The first night I put out this spot light it stayed on for 5 hours. However starting with a second night when it had to be recharged by the sun it does produce light for about 2 hours. The spot light is located in the area that gets sun just about all day, but I live in New England and it is fall so the sun so it is not the best conditions for the solar light. However, my other solar lights are doing better under the same conditions.

This is a photo sensitive spot light, which turns on when it is dark outside. The light is pretty bright at about 5 feet distance. I have it lighting a sign with the house number. However, if I put it across the walk it does not light the sign well enough (10-12 feet away). For curiosity I pointed it up at 25 foot flag pole we have and the light on the flag was very faint.

I like the design of the spotlight. I can adjust the angle of the solar panel and the angle of the spotlight independently. The light is waterproof, we had a few rain storms since I installed it and the light continued to function the next day. It has three settings low light, bright light, and off. The difference between bright and low setting is not big, so I am using it on low setting so it would last longer. But other than the first night I am not getting more than 2 hours light out of it.

The light has entire plastic construction (stake, pole, body). There is one metal screw that adjusts the angle of the solar panel. Plastics do not last a long time when they are exposed to the sun continuously. I have had a number of plastic solar lights and typically I get only 2 seasons out of them.

If you need a light for short period of time at short distance this is a reasonably priced spot light that will meet those needs. If you need to light a larger area or for a longer period of time this is not the right spot light.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Product review: 6 Watt B35 LOHAS® E12 LED Chandelier Light Bulbs--60W Incandescent Replacement

video

This bulb has the look and shape of an incandescent decorative bulb but it has a 6W LED filament. The rating says that it replaces a 60 watt incandescent. In attached video you side by side photos of the same light fixture with a 60 watt incandescent candle lights and visually the bulbs seem to generate similar amount of light. I think the LED light is a little bright but it could because it is made out of clear glass where as my original candle lights are frosted.

This bulb comes on instantly. The length of the bulb is 4" and the width is 1.38" (when measured at the widest part). One of the photos in the video has it next to an incandescent bulb and you can see that is slightly longer than 60W incandescent candle light, but it fit my fixture and looks good. The color of the light soft 3200 Kelvin and is quite similar to incandescent 60 watt bulb that I am using in my fixture.

This bulb has LEDs mounted in circle so the it produces light in all directions.

♦ 2 oz
♦ 4" long overall
♦ 3.5" above the socket
♦ not dimmable

This light produced omnidirectional light so it lights better than I expected and looks pretty similar to the good ol' incandescent.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Product review: Eparé Egg Cracker/Topper Set

video

There are lots of different ways to top an egg this gadget adds another option. This little device drops a guillotine on the egg to crack and behead the shell in a perfect circle. It takes a little practice to develop the perfect touch. As you see in video sometimes the egg shells is removed perfectly and lifted by the topper, and sometimes it scores the shell and leaves it on the egg and it is necessary to remove it separately using a knife.

The instruction recommend not to wash the egg topper in the dish washer. The manual also contains a warning that the edges are sharp and to take caution while washing the egg topper not to cut your fingers. I wash the egg topper with a small brush that can get inside of the topper.

The set include two egg holders, two egg spoons, and one topper. The entire set is made out stainless steel. The only down side to egg holders being metal that if you like your boiled eggs hot, the holders get hot as well. My ceramic egg holders don't have the same issue. But the matching holders look good in the beheading ceremony! It is a nice set and a perfect gift for an egg lover who has everything.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, December 12, 2014

Product review: Axgio PowerSlot L6U Desktop Wall USB Charger

video

♦ size: 2.5"W x 2.5"L x 3.25"H
♦ weight: 6.45 oz
♦ number of ports: 6

This wall charger does not work well in a wall outlet. It is bulky and heavy and it fell out of the wall outlet on several occasions. It is better used on an extension strip so that the charger can be plugged in with the prongs down.

This charger is designed for input AC100-240V and can work in US as well as internationally. It comes with a removable US plug. It would have been really nice if it had multiple plugs so an American buyer could use this plug while travelling.

This charger has 6 ports. Two of the ports are labelled as 1A outlets, the remaining 4 outlets are paired together and provide shared 2.4A between each 2 outlets in the pair. What does all this labelling mean in practice? To answer this question I used a current monitor abd checked how much power each port on this charger provides to my devices. I use a Android Phone for each optimal charge is 1A / 5V, and iPad Mini for which the optimal charge is 1.70A / 5V. I test all my chargers this way using the same charging cables, running the same apps while charging, and starting all tests at same charge level of the phone to account for non-linear charging. This allows me to compare the performance of different chargers to each other keeping everything else constant.

I tested each device on each port one device at a time, as well as with several devices charging at the same time, especially using those shared power ports. I am including detailed results below. For those who are interested in a quick summary I found this charged worked with both devices but charged both at slightly below optimal rate.

Samsung Nexus phone:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Port 1: 1.02A / 5.14V (excellent)
Port 2: 0.92A / 5.14V
Port 3: 0.89A / 5.14V (below optimal)
Port 4: 0.94A / 5.14V
Port 5: 0.94A / 5.14V
Port 6: 0.88A / 5.14V (below optimal)

(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this phone is 1.00A/5V)

iPad Mini tablet:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Port 1: 1.23A / 5.13V (ok)
Port 2: 1.26A / 5.14V (ok)
Port 3: 0.92A / 5.14V (below optimal)
Port 4: 1.15A / 5.13V
Port 5: 1.12A / 5.14V
Port 6: 0.93A / 5.14V (below optimal)
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this tablet is 1.70A/5V)

Test on 2.4A shared ports (port 3 and port 4)
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Nexus phone (port 5): 0.81A / 5.14V (slightly less when it was charged alone)
iPad Mini (port 4): 1.22A / 5.13V (slightly more than when charged alone)

I've done quite a bit of testing for this charger. The charger works and was able to charge multiple devices at once. However it is not among the fasterst chargers on the market, and it is not a "smart" charger that provides an optimal charge for any device on any port. The design is bulky and does not work well as a wall charger because it does not stay in the outlet. If the package included a set of international plugs I would have given me a reason to prefer it to some other charger which is not designed to work internationally. As it stands now it is okay, it works but has some short comings.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Product review: YOOBAO 31W 4-Port Desktop USB Charger

video

This unassuming looking charger works very well. It charged 4 mobile devices (2 tablets and 2 phones) at full AC rate and remains cool while doing it.

♦ The charger size: 4.875" x 3.25" x 1.125"
♦ The charger weight: 6.75 oz
♦ The AC cord length: 56"

I measured the chargers performance when it was charging 4 devices at the same time as well as one at a time. I used both an Apple device and an Android device and saw that both worked at very good rate. The Android devices work at optimal rate on all 4 ports and iPad Mini worked at at optimal rate on the two 2A ports and below optimal on the two 1A ports (this is expected, as Apple devices need more than 1A to charge at full rate). I am including the detailed current monitor readings below for those who like to see the technical details.

➨ Test results
======================
--------------------------
✔ Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone (the only device charging)
--------------------------
Port 1: 1.03A/5.07V
Port 2: 1.03A/5.06V
Port 3: 1.03A/5.07V
Port 4: 1.02A/5.07V

--------------------------
✔ Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone (with 3 other devices charging)
--------------------------
1.03A/5.05V
--------------------------
✔ iPad Mini (the only device charging)
--------------------------
Port 1: 0.93A/5.08V
Port 2: 0.92A/5.08V
Port 3: 1.32A/5.08V
Port 4: 1.34A/5.09V

--------------------------
✔ iPad Mini (with 3 other devices charging)
--------------------------
1.32A/5.08V
--------------------------

To summarize this charger did well charging my 4 devices at the same time. It perform at optimal rate for Android devices on all ports. It worked well on 2A ports with iPad Mini.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, December 8, 2014

Product review: Yubi Power Desktop Power Charging Station - 2 USB Ports and 3 AC Outlets

video

This charging station has a 47" inch AC cable, 2 USB ports, and 3 grounded AC ports. The station has a retractable tray stand for the phone. The tray is a bit sticky at first, so it takes a little force to open it for the first few times. The tray is on the opposite side from the AC outlets. I include the video of opening it in my video. The charging station size is 4.625" wide x 3" tall and 3.375" front to back when the tray is extended, and 2.75" front to back with the tray retracted.

Two AC outlet are positions close to each and accept regular size plugs, one is spaced out enough to accept a large plug. However a battery charger such as SONY Eneloop does not fit because there is no enough room to extend beyond the outlet.

I measured the performance of the 4 USB ports. I used both an Apple device and an Adroid device. I tested each device when it was the only one charging on each of the ports, as both of them charging at the same time. Both devices worked, the performance for my iPad Mini was very good, but the performs for my Android phone was below optimal. I am including the detailed current monitor readings below for those who like to see the technical details.

➨ Test results
======================
--------------------------
✔ Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone (the only device charging)
--------------------------
Port 1: 0.89A / 4.95V
Port 2: 0.87A / 4.95V

--------------------------
✔ iPad Mini (the only device charging)
--------------------------
Port 1: 1.43A / 4.95V
Port 2: 1.42A / 4.90V

--------------------------
✔ iPad Mini and Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone at the same time
--------------------------
Nexus phone - Port 4: 0.79A / 4.95V
iPad Mini - Port 3: 1.59A / 4.95V
--------------------------
Nexus phone - Port 3: 0.76A / 4.95V
iPad Mini - Port 4: 0.95A / 4.95V
--------------------------

To summarize I like that the charging stations combines USB and AC ports without an additional charger. However, USB ports on this charging station did not perform as well as the other chargers for more Android phone. If you have Apple devices this is a no brainer good charger. If you have an Android devices it is not as clear cut. The decision here is between the convenience of having a charging station and relatively slower speed of charging. I am using this charger to charge the speakers attached to my TV rather than to charge my phone and I always can use a couple of extra AC outlets near the TV. Because the phone holder is retractable it does not take up any room when it is not used.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Product review: Samergy Bladeless Fan - 14 Inch

video

I love this fan! It blow air evenly (not in puffs like a regular fan) and the noise it makes is uniform not changeable like a fan with blades.

The air comes from a circular tube mounted on a pedestal that houses the motor. The "bladeless" name is a bit of the misnomer. There are no visible blades but the fan does have blades hidden inside of the base. There is a small internal fan that pulls air into the base and the motor pushes it into oval and through the slits of the oval. When the air escapes from the slits in the oval the air behind the oval is pulled through the oval as well and this increases the amount of air that the fan pushes forward. This fan works on this basic law of physics, the fluid dynamics. Pretty cool!

The fan is 22" tall, and the oval is 14.5" top to bottom. The fan comes with a remote control which allows me to turn it on and off, increase and decrease the air flow, make oscilate side to side, and turn on LEDs at the bottom of the base. I captured all these options in the attached video.

The fan is not silent the the noise is white nose because it is very regular. I am light sleeper and find it less noticeable than the noise of a regular fan with blade which generates noise that is less steady.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Product review: Yubi Power Power Strip Surge 4 port USB/4.8A and Dual Plug100-240V

video


This power strip has a 5 foot AC cable, 4 USB ports, and 2 ungrounded AC ports.

AC outlet positions in a way that they will accept two large plugs, but not two battery chargers (such as SONY Eneloop).

I measured the performance of 4 USB ports. I used both an Apple device and an Android device. I tested each device when it was the only one charging on each of the ports, as well as it was one of 4 devices charging at the same time. Both devices worked, but the performance was a bit disappointing for my Android devices on all 4 ports (AC rate but significantly below optimal), and good for Apple devices on two ports, and below optimal on two other ports. I am including the detailed current monitor readings below for those who like to see the technical details.

➨ Test results
======================
--------------------------
✔ Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone (the only device charging)
--------------------------
Port 1: 0.78A / 5.07V
Port 2: 0.74A / 5.06V
Port 3: 0.71A / 5.07V
Port 4: 0.70A / 5.07V

--------------------------
✔ Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone (with 3 other devices charging)
--------------------------
0.66A/5.08V
--------------------------
✔ iPad Mini (the only device charging)
--------------------------
Port 1: 1.36A / 5.08V
Port 2: 1.32A / 5.08V
Port 3: 0.92A / 5.08V
Port 4: 0.92A / 5.09V

--------------------------
✔ iPad Mini (with 3 other devices charging)
--------------------------
1.39A/5.08V
--------------------------

To summarize I like strips that combine USB and AC ports without an additional charger. However, USB ports on this strip did not perform as well as other chargers for my Android phone, it charged but below the optimal rate. On the other hand this power strip did very well on 2A ports with iPad Mini.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Product review: Hoont Plug-in Electronic Total Pest Eliminator

video

Between 1985 and 1997 FTC brought a law suit against six companies making false and unsubstantiated claims about the effectiveness of ultrasonic devices in controlling rodent and insect infestations. In 2001 FTC sent warning to more than 60 manufacturers stating that their claims are not supported by scientific evidence.

FCC commission document states that ultrasonic pest control devices cause radio frequency interference to television reception in the 20-470 MHz range.

The instructional booklet or packaging do not state what the level of ultrasonic sound the Hoonts device produces. It only states that it is safe for pets. I contacted the manufacturer 2 weeks ago but did not receive this information thus far.

UPDATE 11/14/14: The day after this review was published I received an update from the manufacturer. "The unit works on 35-45KHZ with up to 130dB." He also stated that "Ants might be deterred not by ultrasonic waves, but by electromagnetic waves use the wiring of the house."

I was able to test two things:

1) Does the device emit anything?
I own a sound meter which measures sound decibel levels (it is not a sound analyzer so it does not Hz). I was able to measure that if I turn on the device I can see that decibel level change, so at least I was able to measure that Hoonts device produces ultrasound waves.

2) Do the pests react to it?
I am interested in getting rid of ants which I occasionally see trotting around in my basement. Outside, in my rock garden, I have a small ant colony. I decided to test if my local ant colony will react to the device. In this test I did not expect to get rid the ants, I just wanted to see if they had any reaction. If they did not like the sound, I expected them to change their normal speed and path. I plugged the pest repeller into an extension cord and took it outside to point at the ant colony. The ants had absolutely no reaction. They continued walking slowly at the speed and in he same direction.

I was puzzled that my ants did not react to the device and did a bit of research on insects and ultra sound. I found that some insects use ultra sound as part of their mating behavior. So it is possible that my worker ants just don't have receptors for ultra sound and the device will only work on the queen and her drones during the mating period.

There is a great range of opinions on whether ultrasound repellers work. One needs to read the reports carefully to screen out biased opinions. Pest Control companies often say it does not work and a pest control company provides better results. Studies sponsored by ultrasonic repeller manufacturers state they are effective. Studies from universities which appear to have less bias report mixed results. They show that some pests are effected for a period of time but then return. They also report different results from different products, which is also not surprising since they maybe producing different frequencies.

Here are some references from people which appear not to have a bias one way or the other because they are doing university studies and the last is from a retired entomologist.
1. Askham, Leonard R. "Ultrasonic and Subsonic Pest Control Devices." Washington State University.
2. "Electronic Mosquito Repellents Don't Work, Say Researchers." ScienceDaily
3. Ogg, Barb. "Considering Ultrasonic Pest Control Devices? Save Your Money." University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
4. DeAngelis, Jack. "Electronic/Ultrasonic Pest Repellers." LivingWithBugs.

So what's the bottom line? Based on unbiased experiments this device might work for some pests but only temporarily. The same is echoed in the FTC statement. FTC complaints alleges that any reaction by rodents to ultrasound would be temporary at best because rodents become accustomed to ultrasound and will return to their nesting or feeding areas even in the presence of an ultrasonic device.

I received this repeller from Hoonts for an honest review, be it positive or negative.
You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★☆☆☆☆

Monday, December 1, 2014

Product review: Block Financial H&R Block Tax Software 14 Deluxe + State (TaxCut 2014)



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 H&R Block and TurboTax to compare. I found that both programs satisfied my needs but TaxCut costs consistently less. I have been buying the Deluxe version of H&R Block, before purchasing I check to see if my needs are covered by the feature set of Deluxe version. The main thing I check if the mutual funds sales and cost basis calculations are included (Schedule D) and the form for Foreign Tax Credit from mutual funds is present (Form 1116). H&R Block Deluxe version includes these forms but to get this functionality in TurboTax you need to buy the Premium version of the software.

✔ INSTALLATION
~~~~~~~~~~~~~
♦ I had no problems with my install. However last year I helped a friend resolve an install problem on a Windows 8 PC. I am including what we did in case this helps someone else. Normally the automatic install runs a file called "tcauto.exe". This file in turn calls another program located under "installers" directory which actually does the work. We were able to by-pass the error my executing the exe program in the installers directory directly "HRBlock_Deluxe+Efile+State_2014_CD.exe" (it is the only file in that directory).

♦ 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.

♦ If you are using a digital download you will need a key-code to install the software after you dowload it. The key-code can be located two ways.
Option 1: After my download finished the install started automatically offering me a choice of two links "View Keys" and "Install".
Option 2: You can locate it in your Amazon account:
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

♦ Does H&R allow to install the software on two PCs?
I found the answer on H&R Block web site FAQ under the topic "Installing Software on Another Computer"
I quote the FAQ answer below:
"There are just a few steps necessary to re-install the H&R Block At Home program from the CD you received in the mail. Follow the steps below to re-install the program or install it on a second computer.
Insert the H&R Block At Home CD into your computer.
Click the Need to Re-install? link on the menu bar at the bottom of the screen.
The Frequently Asked Questions page will open to the first FAQ titled, "Can I install the software on a second computer?"
Enter your activation code and last 4 digits of the credit card you used to purchase the program initially and click Activate.
You can find your activation code in your purchase confirmation e-mail.
Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation."

✔ WHAT IS INCLUDED
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I purchased H&R Block Deluxe plus State. This version entitles me to 5 free federal e-files. It allows me to print and mail as many returns as I want, there is no limit on printing.

One state software is included in the package but the package does NOT include free e-file for the state return (see one exception below). If you want to e-file your state return you will need to pay a fee of $19.95 to e-file each state return. Alternatively, you can print all the forms and mail them using US post office. If you need to file taxes for an additional state, each additional state is $39.95 plus $19.95 e-file fee.

Note: NY state residents can e-file state returns for free.

✔ GENERAL
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I just finished my preliminary tax return and below are my observations. Note: the forms are not final until mid January of 2015.

♦ Pet Peeve: 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. In my opinion, they should wait until the person enters this year's data and suggest the upgrade only if there is something about the return that can benefit from the Premium version. That would have been useful.

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, dividends, 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. Last year I had to do both and I found the guidance in Deluxe package was sufficient to complete the forms.

♦ 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 key words to use locate the relevant topics.

♦ H&R Block provides you some guidance for completing Form 1116 (foreign tax credit, for example foreign tax paid by 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.

♦ DeductionPro (which helps you put value on your charitable donations) is integrated into H&R Block software running on your local PC. You no longer need to enter this information on H&R web site. I prefer having this information locally on my PC for better security. The change from web site to local PC was introduced last year and I was happy to see that this change is here to stay.

♦ Pet Peeve: 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.

♦ I usually purchase tax software as early as possible to help me with end year tax planning. However, if timing is not important to you be aware that the price on this package changes often and you can catch some great discounts. I use a nice tool that shows history of Amazon prices. If you enter "Amazon price history alert" in Google it will come up at the top, my favorite has the word camel in the name. You can set up the tool to send you an alert when you desired price drop is reached. During the last tax year season the price fluctuated between $20 and the list price of $44.99, and was on the gold deal special a couple of times.

♦ For folks trying to download State Forms. The state forms are not available as of 11/30/2014. You have an option of entering email where you will be notified as soon as the form for your state becomes available. Alternatively, you can go to H&R website, hover (do not click) "Download Software" on the top banner and select "State Editions". Currently it says "Please check back in mid January 2015".

When the state forms will become available they can be downloaded by selecting the State Tab and then clicking on the button labelled "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.

♦ At the end of the interview process there is a check step (which you can run at any time, but the interview ends with this check). This step flags problems (e.g. missing information) and potential audit alerts (e.g. unusual deductions) with red flags, and reminders (e.g. things you marked tentative) with yellow flags.

♦ Sometimes I want to return to some section of my return. The best way to jump to any section directly without navigating through other pages is to use "take me to" button which is displayed at the top of every page, on the same line as H&R Block banner.

♦ Does H&R has the ability to import TurboTax data from previous years?
Yes. TurboTax files have a .tax extension. Use the Browse button within H&R Block application to navigate to the folder you need and it will import the data from TT return.

I have been a H&R Block/TaxCut user for many years. I keep coming back because it works well for the tax forms I need to do and it is less expensive than TurboTax. If you have a question I have not covered leave a comment and I will do my best to answer it.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★★


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Product review: OQUEENZ Women's Cotton Sanding Long-Sleeve

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I wanted a loose shirt to wear over a sweater. I got the shirt label XXL, which was supposed to be US XL. I expected it to be loose and turns out and I can't even button it at the chest level. I measured it under arms and it is 37.75". This does not match the manufacture size chart for XL. The shirt is also too tight at the upper sleeves area.

Based ont he shirt I have if the label says XXL it is equivalent to the low end of L (not XL) to match the size in manufacturer's size chart. I hope this helps someone not to be disappointed. You need to order two sizes up minimally.

The shirt itself is nice looking and the cotton material has an attractive thin herringbone design. If only it fit...

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.



Ali Julia review ★☆☆☆☆

Friday, November 28, 2014

Product review: Polaroid POLC3 Cube HD Digital Video Action Camera

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Update: I am downgrading the rating from 5 to 4 stars. Recently I tried to set up CUBE to record continuously overwriting the old files. There is a setting which is supposed to enable this feature. It does not work. When the camera runs out of space it stops recording.  It records less than 1 day of video, how many hours depends whether the video is shot at night or during the day as night time videos are smaller.

 Original review:

I own a couple of small cameras and I am impressed with Polaroid cube. It stands up well to competition.

First and foremost the quality of the video and the photos is very good. It also has a sensitive microphone and captured the sound well. Second, it is intuitive to use. This camera has no display so an intuitive interface makes a big difference.

This camera has a unique magnetic mount. The magnet is quite strong. I put the camera on the roof of our car. At first I drove in the parking lot to build up confidence that the camera is not going to fly off as we drove and then we drove in downtown Boston which included hitting a couple of huge pot holes. I was worried that the camera would be gone by the time we arrived because the pot holes really jarred the car. When we arrived to our destination the camera was still there. We were impressed!

Attached video contains:
(1) Setup of the Polaroid camera
(2) Day time video taken by the Polaroid camera (mounted on the dash of the car)
(3) Low light night time video taken by the Polaroid camera (mounted on the roof of the car)
(4) The first 2 clips were taken on a grey day and at night, so the final clip is during a sunny day with a bright sky

SETUP
~~~~~
You can use the camera as is without running the configuration software. The configuration software allows you to change 5 settings.

♦ Whether the camera overwrites old files when it runs out of space (the default is no)
♦ Whether you want to see a time stamp (the default is no)
♦ The volume of the buzzer (the default is good if there is no noise around, if you are using a camera as action camera it might be too low)
♦ Light frequency (50 Hz or 60 Hz). Default is 60 Hz
♦ The date/time (default was in July 2014)

If you want to run the software you will need to attach the camera to a computer (Windows or Apple).

1. Format the memory card. If the memory card has some old stuff on it the camera will not load its software on it.
2. Power off and power on the camera and connect
3. The camera will load configuration software and will create directories for storing videos and photos.
The micro SD card will contain
At the tom level it will create DCIM directory and sub-folders 100PHOTO and 100VIDEO. Photos are stored in jpg format and videos in mov format.
At the top level Polaroid setup files PolaroidCube.app.zip for Apple operating system and PolaroidCube.exe for Windows operating system. After you run the software it will add two more files Settings.txt and Time.txt which will contain the setting you configured.

OPERATION
~~~~~~~~~
There is one button on top of the camera that controls everything
♦ To turn on the camera press the button for 3 seconds (green light turns on)
♦ To take a photo press once (red light turns on briefly as it saves the photo)
♦ To start video recording press twice (red light starts blinking as it records)
♦ To turn of video recording press once (red light stops blinking)
♦ To turn off press to the button for 3 seconds (the light goes off)

In the back of the camera there is a water resistant cap which covers. The cap is opened by turning a coin in a slot. At first I thought "Shoot, I am going to loose this cap". But then I realized that it has a magnet and can be attached to the magnetic mount of this camera while the camera is opened. Cool!
♦ A slot for micro SD card. It supports up to 32GB capacity. Class card 10 and above is recommended (will work with Class 6 and above).
♦ Micro USB connection to charge the camera or to connect it to the computer
♦ A switch which allows you to switch between 720p and 1080p resolution

OUTPUT FORMAT / SOUND
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The video output is generated in .mov format (QuickTime/Apple) so for those who want to use Windows Media Player an extra step is needed to convert the files. The video can be converted either to .WMV or .mp4. Without the conversion there will be no sound when the video is played on the Windows PC. In my video I converted the .mov format into .mp4 and as you can hear in the clips I included the camera is quite sensitive to sound. Yeah, Boston drivers honk a lot!

GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
♦ This camera is very small. It is 1.25" cube.
♦ The lens on the camera is a wide angle (124 degrees)
♦ The battery is sealed in the unit and I don't see a way to replace it if I ever need it. At some point this will become a problem. When the camera goes down to 10% charge it beeps a warning. I am getting apaproximately 1.5 hours of continuous recording from it with the fresh battery.
♦ The camera can record while it is plugged in. This is handy if you want to have it permanently recording. The camera has an option to cycle, so it can overwrite old videos when it runs out of space.
♦ The camera has a magnetic mount (there is no 1/4 mounting screw). The magnet is pretty strong and hangs on well to anything metal. I was able to drive 35 miles an hour with the camera mounted on the roof of the car.
♦ The camera does not come with any other mounts, but the documentation states there will be additional mounting option available in the future. From the pictures it looks like they will attach to the camera magnet and provide grippers and suction cups.
♦ The camera comes without a micro SD card, you need to supply your own.
♦ The camera charges with a regular micro USB cable. It works in all my chargers include a car charger.
♦ The camera comes with a short data cable (rather than a charging cable). This cable allows you to transfer files from the camera to the computer. If you decide to use your own longer cable (which I am doing) make sure you are using a data cable not a charging cable (those often come with external power banks). In a charging cables the two data connections are shorted together (rendering the cable useless for data transfer), but this fools devices to see the cable as an AC power connection and thus the battery accept a higher current for charging. For moving data from the camera to the PC you need a data cable.

I like this camera! Nice quality video/picture and easy to use interface make it stand above the other small cameras I have.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Product review: DBK 23000mAh Multi-voltage 2USB Portable Charger External Battery Pack Power Bank

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♦ size: 4.75" x 7.25" x 0.75"
♦ weight: 20.90 oz
♦ number of ports: 2
♦ flashlight: no
♦ pass-through charging: YES (i.e. the battery can charge while being charged itself)
♦ cable: 10.5" mini USB charging cable. Also included are 10 AC connectors for laptops as well as an AC cable to recharge the battery.
For Android devices it matters if a cable used to charge the device is a charging cable or a data cable. In a charging cables the two data connections are shorted together (rendering the cable useless for data transfer), but this fools devices to see the cable as an AC power connection and thus the battery accept a higher current for charging.

The DBK 23000mAh external battery charger has two ports. It has an excellent performance for my Android devices on both ports. My current monitor shows that the left USB port is 2A and the right USB port is 1A port. I got excellent performance for my iPad mini on the right port (2A) and below average performance on the left port (not surprising, since Apple devices need more than 1A for optimal performance).

To tell how various battery packs perform I measure their performance with a current monitor. The current monitor results are interesting for relative comparison with other external batteries. I test all my external batteries using the same charging cables, running the same apps while charging, and starting all tests at same charge level of the phone to account for non-linear charging. This allows me to compare different external batteries to each other keeping everything else constant.

Samsung Nexus phone:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1A port: 0.98A/5.10V (Excellent!) -> my own charging cable
2A port: 0.98A/5.10V (Excellent!) -> my own charging cable
1A port: 0.98A/5.10V (Excellent!) -> cable enclosed in the package
2A port: 0.94A/5.10V (Excellent!) -> cable enclosed in the package
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this phone is 1.00A/5V)

iPad Mini tablet:
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
1A port: 0.92A/5.09V (below optimal)
2A port: 1.62A/5.10V (Excellent!)
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this tablet is 1.70A/5V)

I like this external battery's performance and its huge capacity.

You can find it by following this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, November 24, 2014

Product review: FlePow 18650 2600mAh 3.7V Rechargeable Li-ion Batteries and Universal Smart Li-ion Battery Charger

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FlePow charger can charge one or two 18650 batteries at a time. It also works for 18500, 14500, 14430, 10440, 16340, 22650 batteries. I use 18650 in several motion sensitive lights as well as flashlights. Some of them run on a single 18650 battery, so the fact that can handle recharging single batteries as well as two at a time is very useful for me. Foxnova capacity tester showed capacity of these batteries to be 2827 mAh at 3.89V.

FlePow charger is 5.125"L x 2.25"W x 1"H. The AC cord is 40". The charger becomes only slightly warm during charging (normal), while the batteries themselves remain totally cool. The charger has a bright charging status indicator. Green LED light indicates full charge, and red LED light indicates charging is in progress. This charger does not have a discharge option that is available on some chargers.

Geeky sidebar: A few times in the past I have been asked about the internal resistance of the batteries I reviewed. I recently put together instrumentation that allows me to calculate internal resistance. I tested this battery under load of 6.6Ω(Ohm) and calculated the internal resistance by dividing the voltage drop (0.16V) by the current through the load (0.608A). The internal resistance is 0.263Ω.

The description states that the batteries achieve their full charge capacity after 4-5 recharge cycles. I used a different charger to do 4 extra discharge cycles and so far the batteries hold the charge very well. The light has been on using one of these batteries for several week without any signs of dimming. These batteries appear to be just a little larger (1 mm or so) than my original batteries that came in my light. The batteries do fit, but they are harder to put in, I need more force to push them in.

Overall, I like the charger and despite the tight fit the batteries work well.


You can find it on Amazon by following this link.


Ali Julia review ★★★★☆