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Thursday, March 2, 2017

ChatSim Review



One of the most challenging problems when traveling is keeping in touch with family, friends and colleagues. ChatSim claims to solve this problem. For a one-time annual fee, you can now keep in touch using some of the popular messaging apps. Let’s see if this is for real or just something that’s too good to be true.

What is it?

ChatSim is basically a pre-paid data roaming SIM card to use with your phone. It has a partnered with over 200 Telco operators and works in over 150 countries. You start out by purchasing their SIM card for US$15, plus $15 per year of unlimited chat (including Emoji) messaging. If you want to use it for data or use it for voice call and send photos they also have various plans at an additional cost. Once you get your SIM card, simply insert it into an unlocked phone, make sure data roaming is enabled and start using it.

Caveats (updated)

While you might think ChatSim is the final the solution to all your problems, there are some caveats that you need to be aware of. First of all, not all messaging apps are supported. It works with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Line, WeChat, BBM, Kakao, Telegram, Hike and QQI. Yes, that’s right. It does not support Viber and iMessage.  If you only use the latter then this might not be for you. While you can purchase additional plans so that you can use other apps, they can be a bit confusing. However, I did get an email from ChatSim giving me a sample of their plans. Here it is.

We can help you to understand price dedicated to exchanging multimedia contents with the additional plan.
Our recharges work in credits and we have 3 type of them:
2000 credits
5000 credits
10 000 credits
They are different only for the amount of credits; it depends on how much you want to exchange.

Example.
Country Japan:





With the minimum recharge of 2000 you can exchange untill maximum 200 photos, or 40 videos, or 80 minutes of voip calls. Amount depends on quality of contents and text messages exchanged. This is the idea of what you can do with credits in a specific country.
In Japan 1 MB is 50 credits

At the following link you can select country and amount of recharge and check what you can do with your credits

https://www.chatsim.com/plans

You also need to restrict some other apps from using data in the background by diving deep into the settings of your phone. If you use you phone either intentionally or not for other things that require data other than the supported apps, this could cause your account to be suspended. Therefore, it’s advisable to follow the setup instructions on the ChatSim website very carefully.

Verdict

I’ve been using ChatSim for over a month now. I’ve tried it in the US, Japan, Korea and the Philippines, and so far, it’s been working very well. I only got the unlimited messaging and did not buy additional plans. While I did find ChatSim's additional features plan a little confusing, you need to understand that different countries will have different pricing , that's just how roaming agreements work. So you really need to read it well. but at least it’s nice to know I have the option should I need it.

Another thing you need to consider is how you use the SIM card. Using a second phone dedicated for ChatSim would be most convenient. A dual-SIM phone will work too. That way, you don’t accidentally activate data roaming on your main SIM. It is also easier to disable apps from using data in the background on a separate phone. I’ve been using it with WhatsApp and Line without any problem. My Viber messages will have to wait till I get to a WiFi hotspot.

If you are a frequent traveler and don’t live in a Viber or iMessage world, then ChatSim is a godsend.

For more information visit ChatSim.com.

Update 03/24/2017

The nice folks at ChatSim were kind enough to send me a promo code.  Use promo code TECHAMUNA and it will give 250 FREE credits to the first 25 users. It has to be used during the "ACTIVATION" process



The Good

Price
It works!


The bad

Not all messaging apps are supported
Additional features plans depends on Zones (or countries) 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Asus Transformer Mini Review



A couple of years ago, I purchased an Acer W8 Windows tablet and it was a great purchase at the time. Then it was started to slow down and show it’s age. The 8-inch screen was also starting to feel small. That, or my eyesight must be starting to deteriorate. So I decided to get a new tablet. This time, I chose the Asus Transformer Mini. I was originally thinking of getting the Microsoft Surface 3 but alas, Microsoft decided to discontinue it. With the urgent need of a replacement that would suit my failing eyesight, I decided to get the Mini. Now let’s see if it was a wise decision.

Specs

10.1 “ 1280x800 screen
Intel Atom X5 Z8350 1.44 Ghz processor
4GB RAM and 128GB eMMC storage with Micro SD expansion
1 USB, 1 Micro USB and 1 micro HDMI
Fingerprint Sensor
Front 2MP camera
Weight 800g
Comes with detachable Keyboard and Stylus
11 Hrs battery life

Model T102HA
US$ 399 on Amazon

Design and usability

First of all, let’s lay it all out there. The design of the Mini is exactly like the Microsoft Surface, except smaller. Everything from the kickstand to the keyboard cover is the same. Of course, the Surface is more expensive so Asus had to cut cost by making it smaller and use a slower Atom processor. To be fair, the all-metal build of the Mini feels very sturdy and gives it a more premium look. Another place where Asus had to cut cost is in the screen. You only get an HD and not a full HD screen. On the upside, they make up for it with the quality. It is very bright and with good viewing angles and on a 10-inch screen, it doesn’t really bother me all that much. One place where they do better is that Asus includes the Keyboard and Stylus while Microsoft will charge you and arm and a leg for those.

The Mini is very light and I was actually quite surprised when I picked it up for the first time. Using it with one hand for extended periods is no effort at all. I also do like that they included a full USB and a micro HDMI port. The micro USB port is also great which means I can just use a standard phone charger so I don’t have to carry an extra one.










Performance

Like I mentioned, Asus had to cut some corners and one of those was using a low power Atom X5 processor. I wish they had used an M3 or even an X7 but I’m sure the people who will buy this aren’t power users anyway. I’ve been using this for a week now and so far, no hiccups. Browsing, watching movies, YouTube and MS Word were no problems at all. The 4GB of RAM helps a lot with multitasking but I’m quite sure that playing demanding games will be almost impossible on this machine.
I have to mention that the keyboard is quite small so I don’t think you’ll be writing your next best selling novel on this thing. I am however able to write this review with no problems. Another bonus is that the included stylus is quite good for drawing with only the only drawback is that it needs a hard-to-find “AAAA” battery. Lastly, the included fingerprint sensor is very responsive and useful. Unfortunately, it came at the expense of a rear-facing camera which would have been very useful for taking photos of documents and such.

Verdict

I have to say that I took a leap of faith when I got this. Since this was a newly released product, I was never able to see it and there weren’t that many reviews online at that time. Several things surprised me with the Asus Transformer Mini. It’s lightweight, the screen is very bright, the fingerprint sensor works instantly and lastly, the battery life is very good. Knowing the limitations of the Mini this could be very useful for a student or for someone that needs a light travel sized 2-in-1 laptop/tablet. If you need more power I would suggest getting the Transformer 3 or Pro or even the Surface 4 Pro. You also get a free copy of Microsoft Office which is a great bonus on this little versatile machine.

The Good

Light weight
Bright Screen
Fingerprint scanner
Build quality
Keyboard and Stylus are included
Free copy of Microsoft Office mobile

The Bad

Small keyboard

No rear camera

Monday, November 28, 2016

Trivoly Smart Watch Review



Smartwatches are fantastic. They give us a taste of the Dick Tracy future we always dreamed about. However, there seems to be something missing about high tech wearables. If you’re a person who appreciates the engineering and craftsmanship involved in making classic mechanical watches in the league of Rolex, Omega, IWC (just to name a few,) then you would know what I’m talking about. I looked back at my then LG G Watch R and realized that this thing had no soul, no heritage and no long-term value. Even a cheap mechanical Seiko watch had more charm and value than a smartwatch. It was then that I made the decision to free myself from the shackles of a high tech wearable. Don’t get me wrong, I still think smartwaches are great, but perhaps for specific uses. I could still see myself wearing one when I go to the gym or out for a run. But for everyday use, I was going back old school. After resurrecting my old mechanical watches, I realized that I sort of missed being able to get notifications on my watch. So after searching high and low, I found a solution called Trivoly on Kickstarter. The idea seemed like the best of both worlds. Their slogan is, “turns any watch into a smartwatch”.  I decided to back the project and after a few months of waiting, I finally have my Trivoly. Let’s see if this unique little gadget lives up to its promise.

Specs

Trivoly 2

• Full fitnes tracker: optical heart rate sensor,
pedometer, stairs, sleep, sports (works with
Strava, Google Fit, Apple Health and more)
• Messages, notifications, calls, alerts
• Control your smartphone from your wrist:
Camera, Spotify, iTunes, SONOS
• Works with any watch
• Sleek, ergonomic design
• Hypo allergenic: certified skin friendly
• Water resistant
• Up to 4 days battery life
• USB-charger

Trivoly 1 EUR 99
Trivoly 2 EUR 129

Design and use

The concept of the Trivoly is quite ingenious. Just stick this tiny disk behind your watch and it will basically turn it in to a smartwatch. While you obviously can’t read messages on it, at least you could get a vibrating alert every time you get a call or notification. The Trivoly has two versions. One that only gives notifications and the other version has some fitness tracking features like a heart rate sensor and step counting.
As with any Kickstarter project, there are risks involved. The first snag was the delay of about 4 months from the promised delivery date. The second was the negative feedback and comments I was seeing from the first batch of users. When it finally arrived, I was really excited to use it. Unfortunately, it seemed like the negative comments I saw were true. First of all, it’s not as thin as I had hoped. It makes your watch to sit too high on your wrist. It’s also a bit uncomfortable to wear and it leaves a mark on your wrist. Secondly, the build quality is pretty bad. It feels like it was made in a rush with no regard to fit and finish. It would be a sacrilege to put this under a Rolex. Lastly, the Trivoly Android App itself is quite terrible. It only supports a handful of third party apps. There’s no support for Viber, native Samsung text messaging app and alarms.










Verdict

While it may seem that Trivoly is a disaster, it’s not really that bad. To be fair, it does work as advertised. I was able to get call notifications, Whatsapp, Gmail and I was even able to control Spotify on it. Unfortunately, my stock messaging app for Samsung won’t work (you have to install a third party message app which I don’t want to do), no alarms which is probably one of the best features of a smartwatch and no Viber support. The heart rate and step counter are not accurate. In fact, the heartrate monitor would fail half the time. On the bright side, most of these issues are fixable if they update their app. What is not fixable is the build quality. I posted some photos to see what I mean. In the end, the Trivoly seems more like a prototype than a finished product. The makers of Trivoly truly have a bright and innovative concept. If they don’t straighten up their act, I sure hope someone else does.

The Good

Great idea
It works

The Bad

Build Quality
No Viber support
App needs improvement
Heartrate sensor does not always work

Xiaomi Mi Band 2 Review



Are you looking for a basic fitness tracker but don’t want to spend a lot of money? The Xiaomi’s Mi Band 2 may just be the answer. You’ll get a basic fitness band with some smartwatch features, all for a very reasonable price. As you can tell from the name, this is the second generation of fitness trackers from Xiaomi. The first distinction is the OLED screen which is a huge improvement from the 3 dots of the previous model. I had ditched my Pebble and LG G Watch R and went back to mechanical watches. Yet, I still wanted the functionality of smartwatches without breaking the bank. Let’s see if the Xiaomi Mi Band 2 could fulfill just what I’m looking for.

Specs

.42 inch OLED Display
Shows Sleep, Steps, Heartrate, Time and Battery
Incoming call and notification alert
IP67 Water Resistance
70 mAh battery with up to 20 days standby
iOS and Android compatible
Between Php 1,400-1,800 on Lazada.com

Design and Features

Almost all fitness trackers look and feel the same. I mean you can’t really do much with a band that you put on your wrist. Just like phones, they may all look similar but there are still some design choices that make them stand out from the others. Xiaomi decided to improve on the 1st gen by including an OLED screen. This is a huge improvement from the 3 dots one would get in the previous model. At least now you can see your steps, heart rate, time and battery without the need to open the app. The band itself is light, fits well, and comfortable to use all day. One of the bonus features is the ability to get notifications from your phone. While it won’t display your message, at least it will vibrate and tell you if it’s a call or an app notification. I really wish they did include the option to display the message. The Xiaomi App is actually pretty good but a bit basic. It does show you all the important stuff like steps taken, calories burned, sleep data, history, notification settings and ability to set alarms which I really like. It does not have the ability to track different types of activities like weightlifting, cycling, swimming, etc. I compared step and heart rate tracking with a treadmill and my Galaxy S7 and it wasn’t far off.
One feature that could place the Xiaomi Mi Band at a competitive level along with more popular brands is the battery life. It is rated at 20 days. So far, I’ve actually been getting more than that. While Fitbit and other brands can only manage 7 days, by experience, the Xiaomi needs to be charged only once a month.







Verdict

Fitbit, Garmin and Misfit may have the market share when it comes to wearables but they should start getting worried when the likes of Xiaomi are making good wearables at a fraction of the price. While it may not be as good as a Fitbit yet, it’s pretty close. The huge price difference plus the excellent battery life justifies its existence.

The Good

Price
Battery life
Call and App notifications

The Bad


Limited activity tracking