Posts Tagged ‘techspy’

We review the BT 500 Broadband Extender Kit – a hybrid PowerLine adapter kit which combines a traditional Ethernet Bridge and Wi-Fi access point.

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Introduction

Ethernet bridge PowerLine devices are some of the most simple networking devices there are. In a nutshell, they allow you to connect one Ethernet-cabled network device to another over your home ring main [read: mains sockets]. They are typically completely Plug-and-Play meaning there’s no configuration. It’s a convenient and relatively inexpensive means of networking your entire house:

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They are however, nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around for the best part of a decade, but the proliferation of Wi-Fi in everything from TVs to games consoles has meant that they’ve seen a decline in usefulness in most homes.

From a technical perspective, the ‘Ethernet Bridge’ type of PowerLine adapter should therefore be an absolute cakewalk to review.

The BT 500 Broadband Extender Kit though is a hybrid device which combines a traditional Ethernet Bridge and a Wi-Fi access point.

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Why might you need one?

Reason 1 – Wi-Fi problems

Like most people, I own a lot of Wi-Fi enabled devices. For the most part, they work well, but I do have issues with signal strength in my house. I live in a 1930s semi with solid internal walls and it means I get next to zero signal in the bedrooms from my router downstairs.

Reason 2 – Ethernet-only devices in remote locations

I already use a pair of 80Mb/s Netgear PowerLine adapters to provide a network connection for my Ethernet-only Foscam IP Camera. The camera can capture video at 720p but it struggles with my setup because the 80Mb/s quoted is a theoretical maximum that can never be achieved in the real world. Having tested it before starting this review, I can see that it tops out at 8Mb/s, just 10% of it’s advertised maximum. This is the reason I can only ever watch stuttering video at 10 frames per second from my camera.

REVIEW

Setup and test conditions / notes

The tests will be run exclusively from a laptop and not from a phone or tablet as this will allow for both Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections.

We will be using Virgin broadband, capable of 100Mb/s. The router is located downstairs in the living room.

The house was renovated a couple of years ago and was completely rewired including new sockets and consumer unit (fuse box). Bear in mind that PowerLine adapters transmit and receive data through the mains so their performance is entirely dependent on the quality of your home electrical wiring. Below are my results but your mileage will vary.

Speed tests

Firstly, I ran a speed test on both my existing LAN and Wi-Fi for benchmarking purposes.

This is the result of my laptop plugged directly into the router via Ethernet cable:

This is the result of my laptop connected to the router over Wi-Fi (in the same room):

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That’s the benchmarking out of the way, now let’s get on with testing these things!

I plugged the Broadband Extender into the mains socket closest to the router and connected them with the supplied Ethernet cable.

I then plugged the Mini Wi-Fi Home Hotspot into the furthest mains socket away from the router (the kids’ bedroom) and connected it to a laptop via Ethernet cable. I chose the furthest socket away because unlike normal Ethernet cabling, the length of mains cable that data must travel through makes a huge difference to the speed of the connection. Closer sockets will give better speeds.

This is the result of my laptop plugged into the Mini Wi-Fi Home Hotspot via Ethernet cable:


That’s pretty staggering and very close to the magical 100Mb/s !

This is the result of my laptop connected to the Mini Wi-Fi Home Hotspot via Wi-Fi (in the same room):


Pretty good too considering the Virgin Wi-Fi topped out at 56Mb/s. It’s certainly a lot better than not being able to use Wi-Fi at all upstairs!

Conclusion

All in all, a very good product from BT. I really didn’t think I’d be seeing nearly 100Mb/s over a PowerLine adapter any time soon, but it seems like we are nearly there.

If you have the need to connect an Ethernet-only device from one room to another or have Wi-Fi dead spots in your home, this is a great purchase, especially at £39.99 from Amazon.

TheTechSpy rating – 8/10

Hot in for review at The Tech Spy offices this week is the Yale Easy Fit SmartPhone Alarm.

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This is Yale’s top of the range wireless alarm and being part of their ‘Easy Fit’ range promises to be a breeze to install thanks to all components being pre-paired. So, let’s get on with it….

Unboxing

Included is the control panel, keypad, siren box, dummy box, 1x standard PIR room sensor, 1x camera PIR, 1x door contact, Ethernet cable and all fixings.

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Pre-installation

The first step was to plug the control panel into my router using the supplied Ethernet cable and power it on. Next, I downloaded the Yale app to my iPhone and once installed, I created myself an account.

I was then prompted to enter the control panel’s MAC address to register the alarm and the app immediately picked it up. So far, so painless.

Installation

The siren box was the first thing to go up, and it really was as simple as drilling four holes in the exterior wall, screwing it in and switching it on. If you’ve ever had a wireless alarm where the components need pairing before installing, you will know my relief that the siren box remained silent during install!

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With every wireless alarm I’ve installed in the past, the siren has gone off at some point while I’ve been 20ft up a ladder. Let’s just say that it’s not a pleasant experience and I dread it each time. Granted, that may have been me not pairing the siren correctly or triggering the tamper switch accidentally, but either way. I had no such problems this time.

The PIRs, door contact and keypad all have ‘knockout holes’ for screwing to the wall, but these need to be drilled rather than punched through. It’s simple enough however and took 5 minutes.

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The keypad was mounted by the front door and the door contact was easily mounted on the UPVC  patio door using the supplied adhesive pads.

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The standard room PIR was easily affixed to the corner of the living room wall with just a couple of rawlplugs and screws, as was the Camera PIR in the kitchen.

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And that’s it!

Testing

On opening the app (I am using the iOS version), you will prompted to login to your Yale account. Unfortunately this isn’t a one-time occurrence – you will be prompted to login every time you open the app unless it has recently been suspended to the App Switcher.

The app will however keep the username and password fields populated with the last successful credentials, which makes this a little less frustrating, but only if you’ve ticked the ‘Remember me’ box.

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Hopefully with a software update, the app will skip this login page entirely and just use last configuration settings to take you directly to the main page. For now though, it’s just another page that needs to be loaded and clicked through before you can remotely arm or disarm the alarm.

Once logged in, the next step is to check that all of the accessories (devices) can be communicated with successfully.

Here you can see the 5 devices that ship with the alarm as standard:

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You may notice that the Status column appears blank for every device. This is a little confusing at first, but blank means ‘Good’. If a device was offline, you would see a yellow exclamation mark in this column. I’ve tested this by taking devices well out of range and also by removing the batteries. A green tick would be more informative than a blank cell and this is something I will suggest to Yale.

The Walk Test

The Walk Test is an essential part of the install process that verifies the sensors actually pick up movement (or a contact break in the case of the door sensors). This involves pressing the Walk Test button at the bottom of the device page and then, quite literally, walking around the house. The PIRs should pick up any movement and an audible chirp should be heard from the control panel.

The door contact and normal PIR worked as expected, but I couldn’t get the camera PIR to pick up any movement as I walked around.

Try as I might, I could never get the camera PIR to pick me up. Biting the bullet, and going against every urge I had, I eventually succumbed to calling Yale’s support line. I explained the problem and they ran me through some tests, including re-pairing the device to the control panel, but to no avail. They promised to send me a replacement PIR which duly arrived a couple of days later for me to pair with the alarm and try again.

Even with the new PIR, it just would not pick me up on the Walk Test so I called Yale again. Their support representative informed me that the PIRs ‘sleep’ for 90 seconds after the last detected movement in order to conserve battery power and would therefore need a short period of time before registering any movements on the Walk Test. I tried this too, but even after 4-5 minutes of waiting out of sight, the camera PIR still wouldn’t register any movement.

They advised that for a proper test I should arm the system and then try to enter the building through the area monitored by the camera PIR.

Success! An immediate trigger of the alarm! Testing of the other area covered by the normal PIR also worked along with the door contact. So it transpires that the alarm is actually in full working order but the instructions regarding the Walk Test could do with updating. The camera PIR isn’t configured to trigger a Walk Test event – possibly due to the fact that there is much more hardware inside and still running off AA batteries –  but it does work normally when the system is armed.

I also received a photo taken by the camera PIR during this ‘break-in’ which is stored on Yale’s server and accessible in the app:

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Yale will keep a list of the last 100 images for you, which is more than enough and these can be passed to the Police in the event of real burglary. It should be noted the the camera PIR is assisted by a flash rather than any form of IR-assisted imagery.

The alarm supports up to 20 zones which can be individually assigned home/away/burglar/entry modes depending on what the normal method of access to your property is.

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Let’s be honest though, the real reason for this alarm though is the remote arm/disarm. The amount of times that I’ve forgotten to arm my alarm long after I’ve left the house unattended for the weekend is staggering and I’ve been left contemplating turning around to go back or begging a family member to pop around to arm it. Well, forget those days, the future is here. It really is as simple as this screenshot would suggest:

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Hit Arm to arm, Disarm to disarm, what could be easier?

Conclusion

A solid, modern, smartphone enabled alarm. 8/10

Pros

Once installed, rock solid.

Responsive and helpful customer service.

Cons

Confusing installation instructions.

App doesn’t auto-login.

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As we know, Apple make products beautifully simple that just work.

It doesn’t matter how many times Android, Microsoft or any of its competitors point out Apple’s weaknesses, you still just feel better with an iPhone in hand or a MacBook Air on your lap, even if isn’t the fastest on the market at the time.

Few products manage to capture the simplicity of design and still remain fully functional like Apple. But over the last few years, we have started to see some crowdfunded projects which follow the same line as this tech giant to great effect.

Premium One is a modular designed dock which can not only hold your Apple Watch, but the creators have also thought of those people who have the whole Apple Family of devices.

Made from aircraft grade aluminium, the dock looks like it could have been made by Apple themselves. Coming in 3 CNC precision drilled models, they look cool and hide all cables from sight as they charge the devices.

Premium One – Takes one Apple Watch – The watch is charged via the same MagSafe charger employed by Apple.

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Premium One W2 – Takes one Apple Watch and one iPhone

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Premium One W3 – takes one Apple Watch, either one iPhone 6 or 6 plus or any 5 series model, and in addition your iPad Mini or Air/Air 2.

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What we love about this product is not only the design and simplicity, but its modular design, and how it can be expanded in future. Once again it looks like something Apple would sell on its shelves in the Apple Store so would look more than at home providing charge on your bedside table.

Coming in black, silver and a bi-colour mahogany this product looks great. Starting at $55 for the W1, $89 for W2 and then finally $129 for the W3, we think this has been well priced comparing it to others in the market place.

Already fully pledged on Kickstarter, head on over and get yourself one before it goes!

Our smartphones have come a long way when it comes to audio, but the problem is the thinner they become the less likely the audio quality will improve.

Take the iPhone for example, no one can argue that it is a superb phone and the audio output is pretty good, but it could be much better. Without a massive advancement in technology, this isn’t happening anytime soon.

Shure, the audio specialists, make some of the best earphones in the business, but even they think that plugging the Shure 535’s into the iPhone really doesn’t show off their potential. Try it, plug-in your best headphones into your iPhone and listen to a track, then listen to the same track with the same headphones on your computer with a dedicated sound card and you will very quickly hear the difference.

The only solution is a portable amp which magnifies the audio signal to amplify the sound. Otherwise without this, the louder you make the music the more distorted it will become. These portable amps need to be powered and are normally expensive and bulky and are aimed at the audiophile.

The guys over at UAMP want to change this with a Kickstarter campaign.

“We wanted to capture that premium sound you get from hi-end audio equipment and make it available on every device, without the complications, terrible interfaces, or exorbitant costs. Uamp provides the same hi-fi sound for a fraction of the price and size of standard amplifiers. The Uamp unit measures 43 x 43 x 9mm and weighs just 26 grams – we’ve crammed all the electronics of a hi-end amp into one tiny device. Its nano design means it can easily fit into the smallest of pockets, allowing you to carry it with you anywhere – walking, jogging and cycling, or travelling on the bus, train and plane. Combined with its ten hour battery life, Uamp is truly a portable device.”

The difference here is not only its size and ability to be recharged by USB, but also its price. With postage to the UK, this will cost you about £40 which for anyone who has spent £250+ on headphones it’s a small price to pay. UAMP have kept this simple and stylish, with little LED’s and a slick design. You simply plug-in your iPhone and then your headphones on the other side and away you go.

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With a 10 hour rechargeable battery and adjustable EQ levels, working with every device no matter the makers, this really is an amp for the budding audiophile. Priced at about £45 all in on this campaign, it really is worth a punt, especially if the manufacturer delivers as much as they promise.

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UAMP

As you can imagine TheTechSpy not only sees a lot of gadgetry pass in front of its eyes but also gets to play and review some of these products.

Of course, you get to see some of these wonderful devices appear on our blog, but not all devices we see cut the mustard when it comes to something we are passionate to talk about.

One of these products is the portable battery. It seems like everyone and his friend is queuing up to offer their take on portable power. We see such a variety of different types and quite frankly are bored of testing these products which basically are all the same and have now real definition to make them stand out from the crowd.

Most of the batteries sent to us lay here in TechSpy Towers looking very sorry for themselves as we really see no point of bringing these to your attention…..until now!

From the minute we started dealing with Zendure, I have to say the service has been impeccable. This aside, when we received the products you immediately see the difference between this and every other battery we have come across. The packaging has been thought about which quite often gets left when it comes to crowd funded products, so it shows an element of professionalism right from the start as the company displays no characteristics of a start-up.

Zendure kindly sent us not one, but two batteries to take a look at and we instantly fell in love. Firstly we were sent the Gridder One, which is an 8000mAh portable battery which is water, dust and shock proof. Straight from the off you can see with the design of the product and its packaging it is being aimed at the outdoor type with its IP65 rating. Like all of the batteries the company produces, they allow you to charge your device while the battery itself is being charged which is very useful indeed.

The Gridder One feels like a rugged product and even has little doors to protect the USB sockets within which do not feel like they are going to break at the first instance. The device has small LED’s on its side to show how much charge is remaining and to go with the rugged design, its LED can be turned on to perform SOS signals when you are in some real trouble.

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The second battery in Zendure’s arsenal is the A2, which is the smallest of the range. Made with a ABS/PC composite for its reinforced shell the company demoed the device’s durability by driving a car over it and it withstood the pressure.

The A2 is a 6000mAh battery and looks like one of those cool Samsonite cases that you see at airports. Again, I could bore you with more talk of the effort put into the packaging, but I think this particular product speaks for itself. The battery has the ability to output 5v 2.1A which is enough to charge your iPad at a very reasonable speed.

The size and feel of this product is what makes it so desirable. You can charge this while it is charging your device via the USB socket and also turn the charging on and off by the button at the top of the battery.

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I have extensively tested both batteries and both seem to perform alike. the 2.1A allows you to charge an iPhone 5s from 60% to 100% in just over 40mins which in real life testing is probably the best we have seen.

The testament to this product is with all the devices that we have seen over 2013-2014, the A2 is the first I personally have wanted to own and use on a day to day basis. Its the one that I would have gone out and spent my hard earned cash on and not looked back. This battery takes pride of place in my bag I take to work and even sits happily in my suit jacket pocket.

This company is one to watch, get your orders in for Fathers Day as they are selling for around $60.

 

 

Have you ever lost anything? Then taken an absolute age to find it, only to wish that you had some kind of device that would find lost things (OK, that last bit might only be me).

Well, I think I can safely say that we have all been there, and like with other inventions, from this annoyance a solution has been found. Now these guys don’t claim to be the first to do this, but what they do claim is to be the first in the world to make each iFind tag to need no battery at all.

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This is a significant change, as the only thing more annoying than having to charge each individual tag from time to time is when you actually need to find the item you have lost, it has no power!

It connects to your device (either Android or iOS) via bluetooth and has a range of about 60m in open spaces. This should allow you to find items in any normal house.

In order to sync the tag with your phone, you simply put the free app into pair mode and bring the blank tag close to it. This will allow you to pair the devices and also name the tag. If you have a few, this will mean you can call up individual tags to find them instead of walking round your house like a madman going from tag to tag trying to find one in particular.

They do come in a range of colours to suit all needs and I could name so many different situations this device would be good for, but I am sure you have already done that yourself.

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The applications are massive and they even give the suggestion of using this to trace pets around the house or garden. You can pick these up from Kickstarter right HERE for $16 if you are lucky, but the twin pledge seems like good value at $30.

We think this is a superb product and once again keeps your phone at the centre of your life.

It is amazing the things you can do on a tablet nowadays. The games you can play and the uses are endless. From talking to your friend half way across the world for free to editing a hi-res photo with professional detail while on the sofa listening to music. It makes me think of what did we actually do when we were younger? How did we survive? How did our parents keep us entertained?!

As a parent myself, it worries me that my child uses the iPad far too much and sometimes we all rely on it far too often. I have even seen my son walk up to a digital photo frame and swipe to the right to see the next picture, but left feeling slightly confused as it doesn’t work.

The question is, are children nowadays too reliant on modern technology and is the imagination that I think we had, going to be lost to a processor? This question can only be answered as time goes by and we see what happens to the next generation.

All is not lost though…A company called Tangible Play (made up of old Google staff) have released Osmo, a new crowd funded app for kids that encourages ‘real world’ play. It allows the user to pick up things and build using their hands, thanks to a mirror attachment which turns the iPad’s camera to view the surface where your child is playing.

Recently I have looked around the App Store and failed to find anything that is different or breaks boundaries, but this app is very different and we should stand up and take notice.

All of the games to be used with this kit are optimised for ages 6-12 but each game has a varying range of difficulty. Take Newton, it’s a physics game, which uses the same concept as “Cut The Rope” where players can use any object, from lines on a piece of paper to a toy or even their own hands to control the stuff on screen. All you really need is a piece of paper and a pen to get started.

Tangram, is a game where puzzle pieces in the real world must be matched to the shapes on screen. The kit comes with an iPad stand and mirror connector and promotes your child’s creativity as suddenly the brain is thinking in many dimensions!

I do not only love this as a educational toy for my kids, but also as a concept in itself. It is not often you get something that comes along that breaks the mold and creates a whole new genre of games….this might just be that thing.

Available now on the Osmo Website for $49. This is a steal considering what you get and of course this will double once pre-orders have been fulfilled. The company is concentrating on developing the apps, but will eventually open this up to developers to create their own games….so watch this space.

Check out the Osmo video