Thursday, July 30, 2015

Product review: Floor Robot Sweeping Robot Loomin A325


Who haven't dreamed of having a robot that does all the cleaning? I have. Loomin Robot is neat, does a nice job cleaning, but not perfect. It cleans fairly well but it was not able to handle all the challenges of my house.

Having a cleaning robot feels a bit like having a pet. Cute, does its own thing, sometimes does not behave perfectly. But you still like it. That's how I feel about my Loomin Robot.

Loomin Robot is 14" in diameter and 3" tall, which means if it cannot get into areas which are more narrow than 14". On auto-clean it meanders around the house in what seems like a random pattern (unless you select a mode where it does spot cleaning or edges). The first few times it cleaned I observed it very carefully. It got most of the dust but I did find some accessible to it areas which still had dusty spots after 1 hour progress check. Given enough time it does get those areas eventually. In a zig-zag mode it seems to cover more areas consistently. The edge mode is very good for getting dust from under the baseboards. Loomin Robot has long thin whiskers-like brushes (in addition to the regular brushes under the unit) that get things from corners very well. The spot cleaning mode works well for small areas. In the spot cleaning mode the cleaning stops as soon as it bumps into two obstacles.

The biggest problem I ran into is that I need to prep the house for the cleaning. It means I cannot just have Loomin Robot clean on a schedule (which it has a capability for) and forget it.

Why do I need to prep?

➀ I have hard wood floors with some area rugs. These area rugs have tussles (see video). Every single time Loomin went over the tussles it got trapped or the rug got trapped and dragged. I was able to easily disengage the brushes. However, I need to roll up my long runner and remove all small rugs (like the door mat) for Loomin Robot to clean without me needing to rescue it.

➁ I have a couple of leather chairs with metal bases. The metal bases are about 1 inch high. Loomin managed to climb into the metal base and clean within it (I was very impressed) but as it climbed in and out Loomin heavy metal body was hitting the floor and created small moonlike indentations on my oak floor. Unfortunately I did not notice them right away, so there are areas with small indentations around the base of my leather chairs.

Loomin comes with one virtual wall dome, which creates a 4 foot barrier which Loomin avoids, this way you can keep Loomin from entering certain rooms or keep it away from cleaning certain areas. I wish the package included several virtual walls. I could have used at least 3 of them: one to close off the room Loomin is cleaning and 2 to close off a corner I don't want Loomin to get into like the area with the leather chairs.

A couple of words about the virtual wall: It runs on two "C" batteries which are not included. The expected polarity of the batteries are specified on the cap. I have a house full of AA rechargeable batteries and I am happy to report that the virtual wall works fine with AA batteries in a "C" battery jacket. The virtual wall should be turned off when not in use otherwise it will use up the batteries quickly.

Loomin Robot is very easy to use. No assembly or set up is needed. All I had to do was hold down the charge button on remote and then turn on the unit. The remote immediately paired with the device. The remote allows me to turn the robot on and off as well as control its movements via a joystick like control. The remote runs on two AAA batteries which were not included. The home base re-charger plugs into the AC outlet with a pretty big adapter that takes up two slots. Loomin can do 2 hours of cleaning on one charge. If it can detect the charging station it will return to it on its own to recharge. It can locate the charging station from a few feet away, otherwise it continues to meander looking for it. Of course, if it is cleaning on another floor from the home base then it will just eventually stop.

The user manual included in the package is quite good, the instructions were clear and it has a lot of pictures.

Loomin Robot is definitely doing cleaning. I have been using it for 2 weeks now, each day I pick a room for the robot to clean and its dust pan gets filled up with dust every time. If Loomin has it that means it is not on the floor! I like it! Does it do a perfect job? No. In attached video I go over the area where Loomin Robot did spot cleaning with a swiffer cleaner and show the results. The swiffer did pick up some stuff left on the floor but visually it looked quite clean.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Product review: AUSDOM Dash Cam Recorder, All-in-One Automobile Car DVR


We own a couple of dash cams and this one does pretty well compared to the others:

1) video quality - decent during the day day and during the night. You can see the video it took during the day in the sun and at night. The colors are a little bit washed in the sun, and at night the oncoming lights are slightly overexposed in order to capture video in the dark. Both are acceptable for a car dash cam, although I would not use it to capture a special occasion as I would want the colors captured better.
2) This camera has an excellent suction cup mount, stayed on even on rough roads.
3) The dash cam uses stands micro USB cables, the package includes two cables long (47") and longer (138").
4) The cam has an LED display so I can tell that the cam is aimed correctly, the displays does turn off while I am driving and so far I have not found an option that would allow it to stay on permanently.

Ausdom cam records video, GPS, and audio. It has an auto turn on/auto turn off feature. It turns on as soon as it gets power so you don't have to remember to turn it on. It can be turned off manually if desired.

This video recorder has many options: video quality, recording in a loop or stopping when disk is full, recording all the time or only when motion is detected, and so forth. The camera records full HD 1080p video, the clarity of the video is very good.

In attached video I show video of the Ausdom cam as well as the video recorded by the cam.

The Ausdom package includes the camera, two mini USB cables, and cigarette lighter USB adapter.

The user interface is straightforward and even though the manual does not contain details for each button and each option, it contains a picture where each button's function is labelled. I found the manual sufficient to configure my video cam. All defaults were very reasonable.

Overall, I was impressed with the camera and the video it captured.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Product review: GHOST Aerial UAV Drone with Support GoPro camera - assembly instructions, first flight


I own several quad copters so I have some basis for comparison and Ghost is in a totally different class of copters from what I have tried before.  This is a real drone not just a toy.  It is a responsive and easy to control.  With the other drones I did not feel I ever had full control of the flight, and half of the time was spent running to where it fell/landed to do it again.  With Ghost there is a feeling of a full control, it does exactly what you tell it to do. I do not have to chase after it at all, I tell it to come back to me and it does.

The drone came with no documentation on how to complete the assembly.  The manual contained mostly legal disclaimers, not something that helped to get me started.  I had to figure out things on my own which was like putting together a zig saw puzzle.  Even though it was mostly assembled there were still things to do.  Some assembly points were tricky such as freeing and connecting camera cables and  assembling the gimble.  I hope my review and video will save you time.

1. The drones battery is 5400 mAh lithium battery and is recharged by a special charger enclosed in the package. The AC port on the charger is covered up with a black sticker so initially it was not obvious how to plug the charger into the AC.  You need to peel off the sticker on the side opposite from where the battery is plugged in.

There are two bundles of wires that need to be connected to charge the battery. The red and black wires and the white plug on the side. You need to select LIPO as battery type. The charger has options to charge at 1A, 2A, and 3A. All three are ok, the higher the number the faster the charging. The white plug needs to be plugged into the 3S port on the side.  When the light blinks red the battery is charging, when the battery blink green it is fully charged.

When you install the battery into the copter, push it with the leads first.

Note: The drone becomes harder to control when the battery is below 30%.  When I say "harder" I mean that the drone's response to gestures is slower.  I was able to fly the drone for 25 minute on one charge.

Ghost has 4 lights indicating its status. If the Ghost is flashing rapidly in red light it indicates low battery and the drone needs to be landed promptly.

2.  The drone is controlled by an Android app.  The app does not control the drone directly which is a very good thing because bluetooth can only communicate with devices that are fairly close and if it communicate with the drone directly it would limit at what distances the app can control the drone.  The app communicates with a controller box (G-box) that and the controller transmits radio signals to the drone.  I or my able assistant (you need two people to fly the copter and video record it) kept G-box in the pant pocket and had no connectivity issues.  Radio signals can travel a long distance so it can control the drone when it is far away.  Documented limit is 1000 meters.

G-box also needs to be charged. When G-box is charging the LEDs flash in sequence, when it is fully charged the LEDs on the left flash while the LEDs on the right are solid and steady.

3. Installing the gimbal mount is a little tricky as you need to figure out how to push rubber ball dampeners to connect two parts of the gimbal.  You can see the technique we used in the video, the basic idea is squeeze and push... you need to do it 8 times and it gets easier as you get a feel for it.

4. The wires that attach to the camera are tucked away in the body cavity of the copter.  To get the wires out you need to CUT a tie wrap. The tie wrap is very tight and this is a tricky procedure. The tie wrap holds the wires to a tiny hook that is attached with double sticky tape. We managed to pull off the hook with needle nose pliers and then cut the tie wrap when the bundle of wires was outside the body cavity. Once the wires are loose you need to connect two sets of wires.  It is key to line up connectors so that red wire goes to red wire, black wire goes to black, blue wire goes to blue, white wire goes to white.  Red connector is easier because you can only insert it one way, black connector goes in either direction so take extra care to check wire alignment.

5. The camera holder is made specifically for GoPro.  It is not very flexible accommodating other small cameras.  I don't have a GoPro, but I have several small cameras similar to GoPro. One of them is a few milimiters wider than GoPro and I was able to attach it by slightly angling it. It is not ideal, I wish the mount was adjustable to be more versatile.

6. Documentation refers to downloading an app from the company web site. Safe computing rules - only download Apps from trusted web sites (for Android apps Google Play and Amazon App store).  If an app has no violations the company will make it available in Google play store, if the app did not pass Google checks you don't want it on your phone.  And yes, if you search for "eHang Ghost" you will find the app needed to control this drone.  My video include images of the app looks like in the Google store.

7. Under settings we used this configuration: no protector (even though we are using guard protectors), Gimbal, 3-bladed.

8. Before each flight Ghost compass needs to be calibrated.  This is done by performing figure 8 movement as indicated on the app's screen. You need to make sure that the goes is oriented as shown on the image on the screen. When the calibration is done the text turns green.  How to tell which side of the drone is forward? The head of the drone has "Ghost" text on it.

9.  To fly the drone it should acquire at least 6 satellites.

10.  I like the app that controls the drone.  It  has an intuitive interface and does everything I want.  The main difficulty?  Seeing the screen of the phone in the sun. Of course, this a problem with the phone rather than the drone.

11. The bottom of the screen has 6 icons:
- unlock
- takeoff
- return
- land
- follow
- hover

To start the flight you need to hit "Unlock" and "Takeoff".  In case of emergency hitting "Hover" makes the copter stop moving and hover.  The drone responds to each command precisely.  It begins responding slower as the battery gets close to 30% and we don't fly it on low battery to avoid losing control.  When the drone does a take off it lifts and hovers at 10 meters height.  Return button makes the drone fly back and hover at 10 meters above take off point.

12. The white dotted line in the app shows the flight path taken by Ghosts and a blue line shows directional heading.  The voice prompt announces the battery level, this is very useful to know when to stop flying before the battery gets too low.  We were able to fly the drone for 25 minutes on a single charge before getting close to 30% and noticing slower response to commands.

13. The drone does not have obstacle avoidance built-in. It is up to me, the pilot, to make sure it does not run into trees and other obstacles. Hitting Hover button helps to stop forward progress and gives me time to figure out what to do next.

14. There are several manual controls that can be used only in Hover mode. Micro control (a circle looking control on the bottom right) it allows manual control over the direction of the drone (but not its height).  The front of the Ghost is indicated by red lights, and the rear by blue lights. In the sun, however, the small LED lights are hard to see.  Another way to control the direction is "Yaw" slide bar.  The height can be controlled by the "Elevation" slide bar.

15. "Follow" mode is really fun and it works really well. It is like having a pet bird flying about 10 meters above and slightly behind.

16. Return mode is great! With the other drones we spent half of the time running to pick them up where they landed/fell. Ghost comes back on command.  It comes back on a straight line from where it is to where its original take off point.  If there is a tree on the way it will hit it, so the human pilot has to put the drone into a safe position to execute a return.

17. The drone landings are soft.  Since the camera is the first thing near the ground (after the landing gear) I was a bit worried about it, but so far the worry has been unfounded.

18. What happens if the battery runs out of power? What happens if GPS signal is lost?  What happens of it loses contact with the phone but still has GPS signal?
In the first two cases the Ghost will land automatically.  This is the best it can do in these two situation however if you are flying over water or some location which you cannot reach it could be bad.  If it has GPS but cannot communicate with the app for 5 seconds it will automatically return to the take off point. Very good!

19. Is there anything that I would like to be different? Yes...
- Ghost does not have an on/off button. If you want to stop you need to disconnect the battery.  This puts unnecessary stress on the door (which does not close really well) and the battery connector (relatively delicate wire and connector).
- With our old drones we would recharge them in the car so we can have many flights on the same day.  Ghost drone requires a special charger with AC plug.  To allow recharging in the car we purchased a car plug with AC outlet. It would be nice if that was part of the package.
- As mentioned earlier, the drone came with out documentation.  The package contained a one page flyer with warning which I found more confusing than helpful.
The warning flyer says to assemble propellers and remove propeller guards for some models.   Other parts of the warning flyer said to remove landing gear if you are using propeller guards.  I am flying the drone with propeller guards, landing gear, and a gimbel with a camera. The drone responds well.  Overall, the documentation enclosed in the package definitely needs to be improved.

Bottom line:  Ghost is incredibly responsive and well designed. Perfect? No. But very good and a lot of fun.

Update October 25, 2015

Interesting article on requirements for hobbyist drone owner to register with the Department of Transportation and the FAA. 

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, July 24, 2015

Product review: 3-Piece Duvet Cover /1 Comforter Cover by Nestl Bedding


The duvet set is made out of 100% microfiber. The material feels similar to sateen because it has a certain silkiness to it. It has a dense weave and feels softer than 100% cotton sheets which feel "crispy".

I selected Camel color which turned out to be a beautiful rich umber yellow color. I am very pleased with it. One thing about this duvet is that the end with the buttons has a nice generous overlap, this really helps to keep the quilts inside the duvet cover neatly. The pillow cases have a envelope closure in the back.

The duvet and pillow cases come out of the dryer totally wrinkle free. The pillow cases feel nice against my face.

♦ Duvet cover is 90"x90".
♦ 2 Pillowcases are 20" x 26".

Most seams are single stitched but neatly finished, no hanging threads.

The duvet cover and pillow cases did not shrink after washing, they are color fast (I washed them with a color catcher to be sure), and they came out wrinkle free out of the dryer.

Care recommendation from Nestl: Machine wash in cold water. Do not iron or dry clean.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Product review: Prime Pro | Mega Mini Spy Camera Pen


This is a pretty neat spy camera. In attached video you can see and hear snippets of my evening out with the pen in my pocket. The video the pen takes pretty good quality but since you can't tell exactly where you are pointing the framing is difficult. The video has quite a bit of shake because it is taken while the person is walking or moving. In addition for the ladies the pockets are often on the part of the chest that is not flat so the camera lens will be pointing a bit up rather than straight ahead. In my video I got a lot of ceiling shots. Carrying this pen in the purse might be another option that will work in some situations better than a shirt pocket. Attached video contains the video taken with camera in my shirt pocket, I did not hold the pen in my hand so this is a realistic example of what the video would look like if I wanted to take video in a covert manner.

After I fully charged the camera, I was able to take video for 40 minutes. It is a little difficult to tell if the camera working or not. I could tell it was recording because it got slightly warm. When it stopped recording it got cool so I knew it stopped recording. When I got home I found two video files with a total recording time of 39 minutes. It is also hard to tell when it is fully charged or how long it take for it to get fully charged. When I charge it the indicator light is red, but it continued glow red even overnight when I think it was already fully charged.

The camera has no controls, it operates by detecting motion. The only thing you can control is setting the date to the current date, and this is done by createing a text file which contains the current date. A sample copy of this text file is present on the micro SD card. Just edit it with any text editor and modify sample time to current time. Save the file. The name of the file us userconfig.txt.

This pen camera looks very similar to a normal pen and it even writes well. It has a very short ink canister because most of its body is the battery and the camera.

The camera lens is right above the clip. The clip has a nice mechanism which closes the lens when you don't want it to take pictures. Very thoughtful!

The charging port and the port for Micro SD are revealed when you take off the cap.

The status indicator is a small light on the opposite side from the camera lens. If you are carrying the pen with the camera out then the light is facing you so you know what the camera is doing. To start recording you need to do a short press on the button on top of the pen. Another short press turns it off. A long press while it is on puts into motion activation mode. Note that the instruction refer to the color of the light is amber, but to me it looks like light green light. Do not remove the micro sd card until the pen stops saving the file which is indicated by status light being off.

The camera produces either jpg photos (1280x1024) or AVI videos (1280x720). The camera is 8 mega pixels. It can take TF card up to 32G.

Finally, if something goes wrong it is nice to have an escape hatch. There is a reset to manufacturer's setting pin hole on the camera. I was able to reset the camera by pushing it with the back end of a needle.

Overall, a very good combination of stealth and video.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, July 20, 2015

Product review: Sheet Stays - Set of 2 Criss Cross Fitted Sheet Fasteners


Whether you like these straps or not depends on whether it is easy for you to lift the entire mattress to run the straps from one corner of the sheet to another corner of the sheet in a criss-cross manner. If you can do it, the straps hold well and provide a good tight hold. However, I found it very difficult and it took two people to do it. It is not something I see myself doing every time I change the sheets. I should note that I do use sheet straps all the time but the one that only need lifting each corner one a time and hold the sheet at each corner.

After the first week of using the straps in a cross-cross manner. I tried strapping them side to side, so I have to lift only half of the mattress. I managed to do that by myself however it was harder than doing corners and did not provide a tighter hold than doing the corners. Going criss-cross provided a better result than side to side straps. So it boils down to if you can lift the mattress every time you need to remove or put the sheet on.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Product review: Setaluna Premier Soft & Silky 100% Satina Bed Sheet Set


The bed sheet set is made ot of 100% Satina microfiber. The material feels similar to sateen because it has a certain silkiness to it. It has a dense weave and feels softer than 100% cotton sheets which feel "crispy". Satina is thicker than other microfiber sheets I have tried.

I selected Camel color which turned out to be a beautiful rich umber yellow color. I am very pleased with it. The sheets come out of the dryer totally wrinkle free. The pillow cases felt nice against my face. The sheet is cut very generously and a bit more slippery than cotton. This combination does not keep the sheet taught on our mattress like the cotton sheets. It does not cause discomfort but it requires more tucking and straightening if I want it to look good. For reference, the fitted sheet pockets are 13" inches and our mattress is 10". I am guessing that if the mattress is thicker there will be less bunching on the top. For my sheets I need to use sheet gators which keep the sheet from slipping. It is a little more work, but the results are very good.

♦ Fitted Sheet is 80"x60". It has 13" pocket and elastic around all 4 edges.
♦ Flat Sheet is 102"x90".
♦ 2 Pillowcases are 20" x 30". Each has three embroidered stripes on one edge of one side.

Most seams are singly stitched, the corners on the fitted sheet are double stitched. This will help them to to last longer.

The sheets/pillow cases did not shrink after washing, they are color fast (I washed them with a color catcher to be sure), and they came out wrinkle free out of the dryer.

Care recommendation from Setaluna: Machine wash in cold water. Do not iron or dry clean.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Product review: FAVOLCANO 20000mAh High Capacity Ultra-thin Dual USB Port External Battery


A lot of capacity comes in a fairly compact package, this battery is 6" x 3" x 3/8" and is 20000mAh. It has two USB outlets and one (fairly dim) flashlight.

I tested each USB port with current monitor with an Android phone and iPad Mini tablet. The battery charged iPadMini as well as the best power banks I have tested on 2A port. On 1A port did not provide optimal results because Apple products require more than 1A, but it provided a typical charge for a 1A port. For Android phone results were not as good. It underperformed on both ports, charging at USB rate on 2A port and below optimal on 1A port. I started running these tests when my Android devices had HoneyComb operating system. The charging rate is controlled by protocols between the devices and the battery. When they can't negotiate they get the default non-optimal rate. I was able to observe the improvements in Android OS as they adapted to handle Apple protocol on 2A ports. Before 4.21 I could only get fast charging on 1A ports, and would get bad performance on 2.1A port on my Android devices. After upgrade to Jelly Bean 4.21 I saw the same performance on 2A and 1A ports as it is controlled by the device negotiating the protocol with the charger. Now my Android devices typically charge similar in speed on both ports. So these results surprised me. This battery us using a protocol that Android is not able to handle well. If you are interested in the specific numbers, my video includes screen shots of the results.

Based on my test this power bank is better suited for Apple devices. It works with Android but not as well as with other power banks.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Product review: ORICO Mini Size 2 Outlet Surge Protector with 4 USB Charger


The Orico charging station combines two AC outlets and four USB ports. This charging station has a 54" cord and its size is 6.5" x 2.5" x 1.5". The AC outlets are spaced in such a way that I can put a battery charger and a regular plug next to each other (but not two battery chargers side by side).

I tested each USB outlet with current monitor with an Android phone and iPad Mini tablet. Both performed as well as any other charger, however the strip got pretty warm when I get both the phone and the tablet charging at the same time. If you are interested in the test results I am including the readings in my video.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Product review: AVANTEK In-Car Universal Wireless FM Transmitter Radio Adapter Car Kit


I have been using FM transmitters in my car for many years as I like listening to audio books in my car. I have used several FM transmitters in the past and this one falls in the middle of the pack.

First thing you need to know that this transmitter is not bluetooth enabled. You can use either with an audio cable to connect to the phone or MP3 player or by streaming audio from a USB memory stick. So this transmitter is ideal for MP3 players that are not bluetooth enabled and my favorite method USB stick, but I don't see it being particularly useful with a phone that is bluetooth enabled.

As you see in the video it works the memory stick well. The sound is as good as your car speakers, of course. The main job of the transmitter is to stay in contact with an empty FM station for a clear sound, and this transmitter allows you to select any station you want - no limited number of pre-sets as some of the other FM transmitters I encountered.

To find vacant FM stations in my area I used a web site "radio-locator (dot) com/cgi-bin/vacant" where you can enter your zip code and get a list of stations to try.

Once the station is selected Aventek remembers it even when I unplug the transmitter and then plug it back in.

Since I listen to audio book having a bookmark capability (i.e. ability to return to exactly where I left of last time) is key. My favorite FM transmitter by Satechi has a bookmark capability, Aventek does not. This feature is most useful to audio book listening, for music it is not all that significant.

Aventek fits my cigarette firmly. It does not move even when I go over bumps. However its neck is pretty short and it is a little awkward to reach in my car as the car port is very close to the floor. Satechi has a remote control so I don't have to bend down and touch the unit, Aventek does not have a remote.

At the time I am writing this review Satechi transmitter is twice as expensive as the Aventek. So for the music lover who does not need bluetooth the feature difference is not significant, if you need bluetooth or you listen to audio books that the bookmarking feature might be worth the extra money.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Friday, July 10, 2015

Product review: Gembonics Portable Charger 6000mAh - External Battery Power Bank


This is a very compact external battery for its size. It has one port and based on my current monitor readings it is a 1 Amp port. My Android phone draw a current somewhat below average, and iPad Mini draws a current typical for 1 Amp port (which is below optimal for Apple devices that need a 2A port to charge at the optimal rate). For those who are interested attached images captures the results of each test.

The size of the battery is 3 7/8" x 1 7/8" x 7/8" and it weighs 4.9 oz.

My favorite use for it is with my MP3 player that has a built-in battery which no longer holds a charge well. I keep always plugged into the external pack, this way I never need to worry about the battery running out.

This battery really has the best size to capacity ration among all external packs I own.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Product review: Dbmier A4 LED Ultra-Thin Light Tracer


I have been using Artograph light tracer for years for doing quilting and embroidery design transfers. Dbmier light trace is similar but much thinner, so it is a lot easier to use because my hand is in a much more comfortable position. Dbmier thickness is exactly the same as the thickness of the pencil (about 1/4").

The tracer has three modes of brightness. The light is bright without being blinding to look at. The surface of the box does not get hot, so you can work with it for a long time.

Note that the light is not totally even, there are slight variation lighter and darker areas which might be an issue for some application, but works perfectly fine for my purposes.

The size of the lighted service is 12.75" x 9", but it does not limit me to that size artwork. It is easy to transfer larger drawing by doing them in sections. I just shift both the source drawing and the drawing I am making, since it is so easy to see through both of them to re-align them once I moved to the next section.

What could be better?

The left and top of the box have measurements in centimeters. I would have found it helpful to have measurements on all 4 sides to help me align the drawing perfectly plum. I would have liked to see both centimeters and inches not just centimeters.

I am not sure what caused the slight uneven lighting, if it can be made even the lightbox would be usable for other application such as photography.

I have loved using a lightbox for years and the thinnest of this lightbox is a nice improvement over my old lightbox. The old lightbox got demoted to the basement storage!

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, July 6, 2015

Product review: ECALOO Kitchen Tool Stainless Steel Shovel-shaped Food Grater


This attractive looking shredder did not work as well as I hoped. First issue I had with it that a short handle made it inconvenient to hold. Its short stature also made it a bit hard to find a dish that would well supporting it to provide stability during shredding. Finally, this shredder has a solid back and metal teeth on the front. This made it harder to work then a traditional thread where shreds can fall through.

I tried zesting an orange, shredding an apple and a cinnamon stick. All were hard to do. I had very little results to show for quite a bit of work. It doesn't work nearly as well as a zesting tool. It produces very fine particles which mostly stick to the tool and it's hard to get them off into the batter. I don't see using this shredder on a regular basis.

I received this shredder with a request for a brutally honest review. And here it is.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★☆☆☆

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Product review: MoJuiceTM 10200mAh Portable Charger


This is a cool looking external battery with two ports. Both ports can take a regular USB cord, but one of them is designed to work with a built-in charging cord with a micro USB connector. It has a nice form factor - large capacity while the size is not so large. I like batteries with built-in cable for having in my purse as an emergency power for my phone so I don't have to worry about forgetting to bring a charging cord (been there done that) or having to bring a cord that gets in the way. However the built-in cable of this external battery did not perform as well as my own charging cable. For this battery it was a choice between the convenience of the built-in cable and speed of charging which I often seek when I find my phone out of juice on the road. Capacity and convenience won over. So at home I use it with my own cable, but on the road the built-in cable works better for me.

Size: 2 5/8" x 5 1/4" x 5/8"
Weight: 7.5 oz
Length of built-in cable: 4.25"
Capacity: 10,200 mAh

To see how well different external batteries charge my mobile devices I use a Nexus phone and an iPadMini to test each of them. The current drawn on each port depends on each device using the charger. The port rated with a maximum capacity of 2A does not always deliver 2A, what is actually delivered is controlled by the device based on many factors such running apps, level of charge, and so forth. I always use the same two devices and I do my tests with the devices charged to the same level, running the same applications and using the same cables to keep everything the same. This allows me to do a relative comparison of various chargers and identify the ones that do not perform well. Note that these tests are not testing for the maximum current each device can draw on each port. I don't own devices that can max out the output to do the test.

I am including the details of the tests below for those who like to see the technical details.

★ Test Results:

✔ Samsung Galaxy Nexus Phone
AC charging rate ----- 3% change in charge in 10 minutes (built-in cable)
(for comparison best rate from built-in cable is 7%)

current monitor: ~~~~~ 0.79A and 4.99V (built-in cable)

current monitor: ~~~~~ 0.94A and 5.02V (my own cable)
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this phone is 1.00A/5V)

✔ iPadMini
current monitor: ~~~~~ 1.32A and 5.02V
(for comparison the best charging monitor result for this tablet is 1.70A/5V)

★ Summary
This is not the fastest external battery I have tested, but I like that it has a built-in cable and its size to capacity ratio.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Product review: Parall Ultra-Slim Wireless Charger Portable Charging Pad


I have been using Qi chargers with Nexus 5 for over a year. I love the technology, it is convenient and does not stress the micro USB connector by constantly needing to connect and disconnect it. I own several Qi chargers and through experience found several features that make some Qi Chargers work better in day to day use than others.

➀ Speed of charging

Some charger charge my phone faster than others. Speed is always important to me. I compared charging Nexus 5 with Parall Qi Charger to the same test run with the other chargers and found that it was one of the fastest. It charge the phone 7% in 10 minutes. I run the test at the same charge level, running the same apps, and keeping everything the same for an "apples to apples" comparison.

I also measured the charge rate with a current monitor. The current monitor showed ? A, which was again among the best.
current monitor: ~~~~~ 1.21A and 5.05V (Excellent)

➁ The size of the sweet spot
This is an area where the charger did not perform as well as the others. It has a very small sweet spot. I show this in the video for a better illustration of what I mean. I show both the phone on the charger and the current monitor which shows the rate at which the phone is charging. When it is perfectly aligned it draws an optimal charge. If the phone is moved a little bit the charging drops from an optimal rate to lower rate, and when it is moved a little more it draw no current and then the charger turns off. So if you accidentally brush against the phone and it moves it may stop charging. This is particularly important if you have small kids or pets who may touch things.

➂ How well the phone stays on the Qi charger

The phone can be easily knocked off the sweet spot of the charger unintentionally. The charges that handle those unintentional bumps best are the ones that have non-slippery finish. Parall has a very shiny and slick surface. It looks very nice but not ideal for creating friction. In addition the size of the charger is smaller than Nexus 5 which it slightly harder to align it perfectly.

My trick for charging on the go: When I need to charge the phone on the go (i.e. when it cannot lay flat) I double wrap a rubber band around the phone and the charger. This keeps the phone on a sweet spot charging in a pocket/purse. I like it better than having a micro USB connector which can be damaged if the phone/battery are jarred. The rubber band trick works very well with this Qi Charger because it is square and thin.

➃ How easy it is to see that the phone is charging

I like being able to see a visual indicator that the phone is charging. If the phones stops charging I like having a quick way of telling this without having to look at the phone charging status. Nexus 5 is 5.43" x 2.72" x .34" in size, Parall charger is 4.875" x 2.25" x 0.25" so Parall is smaller than Nexus 5. The indicator lights are faily large but can be seen only if I look under the phone.

➄ Is the battery using standard cables

I like the chargers that use a standard micro USB cable, so I don't need to worry about losing a special cable. Parall uses the standard micro USB cable. Excellent!

Bottom line? I thought it was good. Its thinness and shape makes the battery work well with my rubber band trick and that is very important to me for charging on the go. The charging is speedy. The small sweet spot is smaller than I like and requires extra attention to make sure the phone is aligned well.

You can find it on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆