Sunday, January 31, 2016

Product review: Vinsic 20000mAh Smart Dual USB Port Slim Power Bank, External Battery Charger

When I shop for external batteries I always seek out those that have smart charging chip. This means it can charger any device at its optimal charge - Apple devices require 2A, most Android devices require 1A (note that the new Nexus phones do rapid charging at 2.4A when the phone battery is low).

To test if in fact this claim is supported I used a current meter and a resistor with 2A and 1A settings. As advertised both ports were able to deliver the rate advertised by the resister. 0.96A/5.13V delivered with 1A resistor, and 1.85A/5.06V delivered on 2A resistor (it is normal to see some loss due to inefficiencies such as heat loss). Attached are images showing the tests.

The battery has a large capacity (20,000mAh) and is fairly large: 6 3/8" x 3 1/4" x 1". It weighs 1 pound and 0.3 oz. It has two ports. Another feature I like is the digital display showing how much capacity the battery has remaining. The display comes on automatically when I charge, or I can see it at any time by pressing an icon next the display. This is external battery does not allow charge through (i.e. it cannot charge while being charged). I have been using this battery for just over 2 weeks as I write this review. It holds the charge quite well (very little loss when disconnected) and the rating to appears to be accurate.

I received this power bank for evaluation and review. It is a good one!

YOu can find "Vinsic 20000mAh Power Bank" on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Product review: Ambient Weather WS-8600 Weather Station

We have been using weather stations for many years, for the last year we have been using Oregon Scientific weather station. Oregon Scientific is a pretty well known brand, so I thought it would be useful to compare Ambient and Oregon Scientific.

The most noticeable difference is the display. Oregon scientific has a black and white LED display, it runs on batteries and the display gets dimmer as the batteries get weak. Ambient weather station home base unit runs plugged into AC. It has a bright digital display with a large choice of colors: red, green, blue, yellow and each color has different shades (for example, blue is dark blue or cyan). The visibility of the display is terrific, however if you are keeping the weather station in the bedroom it does generate quite a bit of light in the room. I came up with a solution for this by making it a "night hood" (you can see in my video) it is a square piece of felt which with glued edges that I put on it during the night. I remove it every morning and keept it under the weather station as a dolly.

The display has a lot of information, the display is easy to see, and most significantly the temperature is accurate as I used several different thermometers and the old weather station to cross-check the results.

The weather station is 4 1/8" tall, 5.5" wide, 2.25" front to back. The base is heavy, so the weather station is well balanced.

The setting of all functions was very easy. Each function has a dedicated button on the back. I thought the set up was easier than Oregon Scientific.

The outdoor unit runs on two AA batteries (which are not included). The location of the outdoor unit is critical to the accuracy.

(1) The outdoor unit should be in the shade
(2) The outdoor unit should be somewhat protected from the rain
(3) Should be placed on the surface that does not get warm (for example glass or metal are bad choices, wood is a good choice)

I have been placing my weather station sensors under the deck. This is close enough to the main unit to provide strong signal and meets all of the recommendations listed above. I would estimate the distance between the two units to be 20 feet. The signal has to go through one wall.

I received Ambient weather station with the request for testing and review, as well as the request to provide feedback on the manual. I thought the manual was very good overall, very detailed. I provided some minor feedback on clarifying some diagrams and the seller makes the latest version of the manual available on line.

You can find "Ambient Weather Station" on Amazon via this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Product review: Clinique Even Better Clinical Dark Spot Corrector

If you are looking for a product to remove dark spot (sun spots) this product does not help. It is pleasant in texture and odor free. It is absorbed well and does not leave the skin shiny as some other preparations. The skin is left softer after the application. However, it has no effect on dark spots. After using the serum for several months I saw a dermatologist and asked her if there is any chance that this serum will work. She said no. She said freezing the skin where the spots are however is very effective. I went ahead and did it. Several weeks later my spots were totally gone, there is not even a faint mark where they were. It cost me $25 per spot (insurance does not cover it since it is cosmetic). For a week it looked like I had a couple of pimples until the skin totally healed. If any spots appear again I would do the freezing again. I can't tell where the old spots used to be.

You can find "Clinique Dark Spot Corrector" on Amazon

Ali Julia review ★☆☆☆☆

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Product review: 5ive® Dual Quick Charge 2.0 USB 36W 2 Ports Car Charger Adapter - in use with Nexus 6p

My review is for 5ive car charger in use with Type C to USB charging cable and Nexus 6p smartphone. 5ive charger forms a nice tight fit with car charger, it does not gets dislodged on bumpy roads.

Nexus 6p uses rapid charging when the battery is low. I used Nexus 6p with the battery level of 18% to do the tests of both ports. The phone showed that it was using rapid charging and drawing 2620 mA on one port and 2630 mA on another port. In the span of 5 minutes the phone got charged from 18% to 26%.

During a 30 minutes drive while Nexus 6p was used for navigation the battery level went up by 23% percent (from 28% to 51%). A dash cam was plugged into the second port of the charger. Excellent results!

I received this charger from 5ive for testing and review. Bottom line: excellent performance on both ports.

You can find "5ive Dual Quick Charger" on Amazon via this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

About the cable I am using:

I am using one of those type-C cables that are not USB 3.1 compliant. What is non-compliant cable? Benson Leung has a series of excellent reviews of Type C cables. Benson works for Google's Pixel group and has pointed out that many type-C cables violate the USB 3.1 specification that states that the termination resistor that advertises the maximum available current has been set incorrectly at 10K which advertises 3A of current, the correct value should be 22K which advertises 1.5A of current. These cables may not safe to use with all devices (such as the Chromebook Pixel and the Apple Macbook that draw more current than a phone). However with a quality charger that is rated for higher current like 5ive car charger and Nexus 6p (which does not draw more than 3A of current) these non-compliant cables will charge faster than a USB 3.1 compliant cable. I don't want to say that it's safe for all combinations of devices, but I have been using them with quality chargers with Nexus 6p on regular basis because both the charger and the phone are self-limiting.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Product review: Z-Edge Car DVR Dash Cam

Through the years we owned a few dash cams which gives me a chance to compare Zedge with other car dvrs. Zedge video quality is pretty decent, the colors seem to be a little washed out, but the clarity is good during the day and during the night. The suction cup worked well even on very cold days (it never let go and fell off). The user interface however was not as intuitive as other dash cams. It has a menu driven interface which I like, but the navigation though the menus were not as intuitive or easy to remember.

' This camera comes with a 32G Class 10 micro sd card, and will work with 64g gig card.

' I had no technical issues of any kind. All files were readable. The camera writes out video frequently, by default it saves a file every 1 minute. The size of each segment in my video was about 125.9MB. Writing small files improves overall reliability. It is much better than writing one large file at the end of the trip.

' The dash cam uses stands micro USB cables, the package includes a charging cable and a cable with car port charger.

' Audio is recorded clearly, the default setting is to record with the microphone turned on. It can be turned off with one button push on the side.

' Motion activation mode/parking mode is very sensitive. I hear the camera turning on and off without any particular reason. I am not sure what is activating it. As a result there is a lot of uninteresting files saved in 'event' mode. On the positive side it records even with the car not running.

Overall, I thought this dash cam falls in the middle of the pack. The video is reasonable although not the best, user interface is menu driven and logical but navigation through menus is not as simple as other dash cams.

I received this camera for testing and review. Getting a free unit does not effect what I say. The review is based purely how the dash cam worked in my experience based on my experience with a variety of different car dash cams. So far after two weeks of use the dash cam had no issues. I will post an update if it dies prematurely as I saw some people reported problems after more extended use than the 2 weeks I had with it so far.

You can find Z-Edge dash cam by following this link to Amazon.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Product review: SENTRY Call Blocker Blocking, Black list and White list

I have been using CPR call blocker for almost exactly a year. Sentry call blocker is easier to use and has features that do not exist CPR. In this review I will compare the features of these two call blockers and explain why I like Sentry better.

Sentry blocker can operate in two modes. In in-line mode the blocker is connected to the line and the phone is plugged into the blocker. In parallel mode both the blocker and the phone plug into the wall with a splitter. I could not use in-line mode because my phone no longer displayed the caller id. In parallel mode my phone displays the caller id. In both modes the blocker itself only displays the numbers, it cannot display the caller id.

How does this compare with CPR? When I used in-line mode with CPR blocker I also lost the caller id info. I have been using CPR blocker in parallel mode. However, to block calls with CPR I also had to have a spare phone attached in line with the blocker. I needed to use the phone to enter commands on the key pad, for example to block the last number called I needed to enter #*2#. Sentry blocker makes blocking easier - all I have to do is locate the number in the call log and press "reject" button for 3 seconds.

The documentation suggests that before you start using the Sentry blocker you create a white list. This is a list of phone numbers for your friends and family that will never be blocked. This list can be created manually by entering each number in the blocker (this is a fairly tedious process as Sentry blocker does not have a keypad and you need to hit a sequence of up/down and reject buttons for each number in every phone number you want to enter). Alternatively you can have this person call your phone, and then find his/her number in the call log and press "accept" button for 3 seconds. There is a third way to add a person to the white list, this is done by the caller when they press '0' on their end (more about this feature under "CHALLENGING THE CALLER").

CPR does not have a concept of a white list.

There is no way to manually enter the numbers into the black list. Since I have been using CPR for a year I have list of particular annoying marketeers who has called my number many many many times. Since I know they will continue to call I would have taken the time to enter their numbers in the block list but this is not possible and I will have to block them again when they call.

CPR does allow me to manually populate the block list.
Sentry does have a way to show how many times a particular number called.

Deleting numbers from the lists is easy. All you have to do is press either Black list or White list button, scroll to the number you want to delete, and press DELETE key twice quickly.

CPR works in a similar way.

This is my favorite feature of the blocker. In this mode the callers who not listed in either the white or the black list are challenged (see my video to hear what the challenge says). The caller has an option to press 0 which adds them to the white list and the phone rings. This feature totally takes care of robo calls, the phone does not ring. I would have preferred that the person could not add him or herself to the white list, I would have just liked the call to go through. I would have like to be the only one that can add names to the white list. The way it works now, I would need to scan the white list periodically and make sure some telemarketing caller did not add themselves to my white list.

Update: today a human telemarketer hit zero and added himself to my white list. To move him to the black list I found this new number in the white list and held "reject" button for three seconds. The number got removed from the white list and added to the black list.

People on the white list do not get a challenge. People on the black list do not get a challenge.

You can select if the voice that answers is male or female. The choice is shown in the top right corner as A (female voice) or B (male voice).

CPR does not have the challenge feature. CPR has only one list, the black list. Either the caller is cut off or the phone rings.

The phone can operate in "BLOCK NO CID" mode. The block mode automatically blocks callers that do not have a caller id. To add this option press and hold "reject" button. To remove this option press and hold "reject" button until "BLCK NO CID" disappears.

BASIC mode will let though unlisted numbers, while still blocking black listed numbers. Unlisted numbers could be something like automated doctor appointment reminders.

Sentry automatically sets the current time when the blocker is connected to the phone line.

I had a friend call me and we experimented with blocking numbers as well as numbers on the white list. Blocked callers hear nothing, they are just disconnected. The callers on the white list get connected normally. The callers who are not on either one of these lists get a challenged and are asked to press zero if they are not marketing solicitations.

The total number of the two lists is 1500 numbers. The system divides this capacity between two lists automatically as needed.

I switched to Sentry after one year of using CPR. However it had a couple of features that I will miss. What can CPR do that Sentry does not?
- Using CPR I could pre-populate the black list
- CPR shows me the count of how many times a specific blocked number called. I get a satisfaction seeing a high count number of blocked calls and if Sentry's black list could be pre-populated I would have known which numbers to enter in the black list.

Like many people I hate marketing calls. There is a great mental benefit to being able to do something about these annoying calls. Now when I get a marking call I am not annoyed, I think "Gotcha!" and block it.

This call blocking device is provided by Sentry for testing and review.

You can find "SENTRY call blocker" on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Friday, January 22, 2016

Product review: Wegreeco Bamboo Reusable Sanitary Pads

Let me start by saying that Amazon stock photo shows the pad clipped the wrong way. The gray part goes towards the body. The pads come without instructions, so I looked at stock photo to see how it meant to be clipped. I first used it with the colorful part towards the body and was extremely unhappy because it felt cold, wet, and did not seem to do the job at all. I was about to write a 1 star review and was in process of doing a video to demonstrate that it absorbs liquid very slowly I saw that it does not absorb any water at all. It is waterproof! When I flipped it it was working much better - it absorbed the liquid and the colorful part was working as a protective barrier.

Once I clipped them on correctly (the opposite way from Amazon photos) the pads work quite well: they are absorbent, they latch on tightly, and I do not feel the snap as I sit. I ordered the large size. The large pads are 10 7/8" and 3" wide. With the wings spread it is 7 1/8" wide, from snap to snap it is 6.5".

I tested the pads for colorfastness and they are colorfast. After washing them in the washing machine they did not shrink and came out wrinkle free. I carry a ziplock bag to store the used ones if I am not home. If you overload them they get quite wet and unpleasant (they feel more wet than the disposable kind at that stage).

This listing include 5 pads. At the time when I am writing this review this works out to just under $6 per pad, and feels a little too pricey. I would liked it to be a six pack, as I typically need 3 a day and they take a day to dry.

These pads were provided for testing and review as part of a new product introduction. Getting a free product does not prevent me from pointing out flaws. I included both positives and negatives of my experience and I hope the tip on how to use them will save someone having my initial bad experience.

You can find "Wegreeco Reusable Sanitary Pads" on Amazon via this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Product review: Aris A Velvet Burnout Waterfall Kimono

This is a very pretty jacket. The waterfall shape is flattering to any figure. It looks beautiful and very dressy. This jacket is a mostly sheer burnout velvet. The sheer part has white, pink, and blue colors, and the velvet is black.

The jacket is well made. You can see its construction in attached photos. The craftsmanship of the piece is very good - neat seams and no loose threads. The body of the jacket is cut generously, but the arms are a little snug. I can wear this jacket over a blouse, but not a sweater.

The actual material is 70% rayon and 30% silk. The jacket has no buttons, so it is quite forgiving in fitting a variety of sizes: it works well whether the fit is a little large or a little small, it still works fine because it drapes in folds in the front. It has a flowing look and it moves in the air as I walk.

You can find "Aris A Velvet Burnout Waterfall Kimono" on Amazon via this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Monday, January 18, 2016

Product review: ZOMEI Camera Tripod Carbon Fiber Tripod Monopod with Ball Head

ZOMEI Q666C is a nice tripod and scores well on my list of requirement for a tripod. This tripod met four of my requirements for a tripod and fell short on one (but not badly).

My requirements:

* Quick release plate. This tripod include a quick release plate. The release plate is made out of metal and is sturdy with a heavy duty construction. Quick plate tightening mechanism can be tightened by a coin. It holds well.

* Lightweight. This tripod weighs 3 pounds 6.7 oz (this weight include the tripod and the ball head). This tripod is heavy enough to withstand a gust of wind yet light enough to carry around without much trouble.

* Quick release legs. This tripod does NOT have legs with quick release locks. Each collapsible leg is made out of 4 sections and is released by twist locking mechanism. Zomei twist locks do not take a lot of turns and they feels well made.

* Ability to support my Canon rebel digital SLR with 300 zoom lens. This tripod handles my Canon DSR camera with 300 zoom lens without a problem. It is rated to support 30 pounds, way more than I will ever need.

* Flexible ball head or ability to mount any ball head. This tripod comes with a nice ball head and can accept any other standard ball head. The panning and tilting is smooth. The ballhead has three adjustment knobs.

' Pan knob is a small knob at the bottom.
' Ball knob is the medium sized knob. Using it I can position to ball to align with a 90-degree slot for vertical orientation.
' Small knob at the top controls the quick release plate.

This tripod came with a couple of extras:
' The package includes a carrying case.
' Also included us a bag to store the ball head. Since I already have another ball head I find a storage bag useful to store the one I am not using.

Tripod's maximum height is 65", minimum height is 18.6".

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

This is a nice sturdy tripod that is not too heavy!

You can find "ZOMEI Camera Tripod" on Amazon via this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Product review: OFIYOU Electric Fly Swatter

I have used an old fashioned rubber fly swatter and I thought this one will be just as easy to use, but turns out it is not so. The old style swatter has a smaller flexible surface and it is easier to generate high speed to squash the insect. This swatter is the size of a tennis racket and is made out of a harder material (plastic) so it takes more effort to generate high speed to make contact with an insect. To generate the shock the insect has to make contact with two metal wires to close a circuit. It is not enough to hit the insect you have to hit it right. This swatter has multiple layers of metal mesh which helps, but still there were times when I would make contact and the insect would fly away because it did not close to circuit which is necessary to generate an electric shock.

When I was fast and had good aim it worked. If I hit straight down towards the floor I could see the victim's body and could clean up. If I whacked side to side.... I knocked the body somewhere out of sight. I was not able to find the corpse or be sure the insect did not recover and fly away.

The swatter comes with all documentation entirely in Chinese. The labels on the switches are in Chinese (the label on the handle say "on/off"). The swatter is rechargeable and has an American electric plug. The label said 220V (it is made in China and aimed at different electrical system) but modern appliances are able to properly adapt to the different voltages and I was able safely to recharge the swatter's battery.

This is not a toy: touching the mesh with fingers will cause a mild electrical shock (not fatal but painful). Swinging the plastic "racket" could damage the furniture or whatever else you might hit in pursuit of the insect. The racket is made of hard plastic, it is not flexible.

I was provided a sample swatter for testing and review. Before I tried it I was hoping to use it on hornets, but because the kill rate is not 100% I don't think I will try it on insect that can fight back.

You can find this " Electric Fly Swatter" on Amazon via this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★☆☆

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Product review: Startreasureland 925 Sterling Silver Pendant Necklace 10mm White Freshwater Cultured Pearl (Jewelry)

This pendent has a very pretty design with a pearl surrounded by wavy halo crystals. The metal is sterling silver (has a stamp) and the the stone is a freshwater cultured white pearl. I measured the pear with my digital caliper and its size is 0.364 inches. The circle is 9/16" across. Both the pendant and the chain look delicate. The chain is 18" long, the chains look similar to liquid silver design.

I received a sample necklace for evaluation and review as part of new product introduction. Getting a free product does not effect what I say, I leave critical reviews when the product deserve it, but this is not one of them. I thought this pendant was even more attractive in person than in the photo.

You can find "Startreasureland Silver Pendant Necklace" on Amazon via this link

Ali Julia review ★★★★★

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Product review: Cozy Products CT Cozy Toes Carpeted Foot Warming Heater for Under Desks

My feet get really cold in the winter and I purchased this heated mat as one more option to keep my feet warm. I like it! In about 4 minutes after turning on the carpet I can feel it through my slippers. It does not feel hot to touch yet there is enough heat to keep my feet warm. I like it better than Mastex electric booties which really get hot and I cannot keep them on for too long.

The color of the mat is gray. The stock photo looked a little greenish to me but I was happy to see it has no green in it at all. The mat is 17.5" x 17.5". It is okay to use on top of the carpet and on top of wood. It does not get hot enough to damage either surface. When I was shopping for a heated mat I considered another mat but it could only be used on concrete or tile floor as it gets warmer and over time can discolor other surfaces.
I have been using this mat for 2.5 months. It is placed on top of a silk area rug and I see no changes in the rug.

I am quite pleased overall. Would I like to see any changes? Yes. I wish it was available in more colors so I can match it to my carpet better. I would like it to have a light to indicate that pad is on as a reminder for me to turn off at night or when I am not using it to save electricity. Despite these two minor things my feet are definitely happy.

You can find "Cozy Carpeted Foot Warming Heater" on Amazon by following this link.

Ali Julia review ★★★★☆

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Product review: USB 3.1 Type C Cable Tenswall - USB 3.1 spec compliant cable

Tenswall type-C cable is a thick braided cable - it feels and looks well made. It is 40 inches long and easily plugged into a phone with a silicone skin on.
I originally thought it was a 3.1 complaint cable, but in-depth tests by Benson Leung show that it is not.

What is 3.1 compliant cable? USB 3.1 spec specifies that the termination resistor that advertises the maximum available current should be set at 22K which advertises 1.5A of current. Benson Leung has a series of excellent reviews of Type C cables. Benson works for Google's Pixel group and has pointed out that many type-C cables violate the USB 3.1 specification that states that the termination resistor that advertises the maximum available current has been set incorrectly at 10K which advertises 3A of current rather than the correct value of 22K which advertises 1.5A of current. The non-compliant cable could be harmful to devices that are not limited to 2.5A-2.6A such as the ones that Benson evaluated in his reviews. I had an interesting discussion with Benson about my observations of turning this bug into a feature for rapid charging with Nexus 6p, and in general he does not approve of non-compliant cables and said that at minimum people should label them to be sure they are not used as general purposes type-C cables for all devices. I have been using these non-compliant cable with my Nexus 6p with no ill effects with 2.4A car chargers but as they say "use at your own risk". If you do plug in the car charger side of the cable first and the phone second as Benson reported differences based on the order what side of the cable is plugged in first.

All test were done keeping all conditions the same: same level of charge for the phone, same apps running, keeping the screen on so I can see the results.

1) Using a car charger on a port rated 2.5A
Nexus 6p battery is at 39%, at this level it will use rapid charging if possible (i.e. up to 2.5A)
** Tenswall Type C to Type A cable (non 3.1 compliant) -- 1.3A
** Another Type C to Taype A cable (non 3.1 compliant) -- 2.5A

2) Using a wall charger on a port rated 2.4A
Nexus 6p battery is at 37%, at this level it will use rapid charging if possible (i.e. Nexus 6p is cable of drawing up to 2.5A, the port is cable of providing up to 2.4A)
** Tenswall cable ------ 1.27A

Attached are images from my tests that show the results with both cables.

I received this cable from Tenswall for testing and review.  It did not perform as well as other non-compliant cables.

YOu can find this "USB 3.1 Type C Cable" on Amazon via this link

Ali Julia review ★★