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Friday, October 6, 2017

Xiaomi Xiao Fang IP Camera Review



With a lot of bad things happening in the world today, it may be prudent to invest in a CCTV security system for your home. While that idea may sound expensive, Xiaomi might just have the solution for you. Xiaomi has been on the market for quite some time now and proving to be quite a rebel, offering quality products at affordable prices. Mostly known for their phones, they also make laptops, routers, TVs, wearables and IP cameras and more. In fact, this is their third IP camera.

Xiao Fang might sound funny, but it means “small square” when translated from Chinese (at least that’s what I’ve been told). The design is quite literally, a small square. I have an existing IP camera, the Compro TN50W, which I also reviewed here. But it’s starting to show its age so. Taking advantage of a flash sale on Lazada.com, I decided to take a chance on this Xiaomi camera. Let’s see once again if I made the right decision.

Design and hardware

True to its name, the small square design is unique compared to other IP cameras. This design allows it to have a square and flat stable base, which allows for more mobility in different positions. The magnetic base provides additional mounting options.





The camera has 1080P HD F2.0 lens with a nice and wide 110-degree field of view. Together with an infrared light provides a clear image day or night. It also has other features like two-way audio calling, video recording via a micro SD card, Smoke alarm detection, and WiFi. All of which can be controlled by the Mi Home App.

Another bonus is the fact that it powers over micro USB, which means you can use a Powerbank and place the camera in different locations even far away from a power outlet.


Mi Home App and Setup

First of all, let me say that this was probably the easiest IP camera I have setup ever. It took less than 5 minutes from the time I found the installation tutorial on YouTube. With that said, all the instructions are in Chinese. Luckily, there are lots of video tutorials that are easy to follow.
Once connected, everything is controlled via the Mi Home App, which is available for both Android and iOS. Again, the app is in Chinese, but once you set it up, there are English menus. The app is pretty straightforward, and you can control voice calls, video quality, recording settings, etc. The smoke alarm detector doesn’t actually have a smoke sensor but what it does is it uses the microphone to pick-up the sound from your smoke alarm.





Verdict

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with this “small square” camera. For Php999 (US$20), it’s quite hard to beat! It’s cheap, reliable, and video quality is pretty decent. The lack of English instructions is a small price to pay for an affordable home security camera system.

The good

Price
Size
Micro USB power
Easy setup

The bad

Chinese instruction
No local support or warranty

Monday, September 4, 2017

Review of SmartGo Pokefi Global Roaming Pocket WiFi



If you travel a lot for business or for pleasure, staying connected is a necessity. While most telecom companies offer international data roaming, it’s usually a fixed amount and can be quite expensive after a few days of use. I have always wanted a reasonably priced and simple roaming data plan with a fixed amount that I could use when and where I want. If you’re like me, I may have found the answer in Pokefi. Check the review right here.

The idea

The name may sound funny but this just might be the traveler’s new best friend. What most travelers really need when they get to a foreign country is to be able to check email and maybe book an Uber to a hotel. Additionally, they may need Google Maps or Waze for directions, and use various messaging apps to keep in touch with people back home. These don’t require much data. But most telecom carriers will charge per megabyte or a fixed amount of unlimited data for a hefty penny. The reality is that if you need to do a lot of heavy data use, you might do so at your hotel or a place with a decent WiFi connection. This is where Pokefi comes in. It will give you 5GB of data that doesn’t expire. This means that you could use it for a year (or more) in different countries if you’re a light user. And if you run out, the reload rates are quite reasonable. They also have a 5-day unlimited pass option.





Cost

The Pokefi pocket WiFi device costs US$169 on their website (http://www.mypokefi.com) which includes 5GB of data. However, I was able to purchase mine on Philippines Airlines on-board duty-free for US$127. To top up or reload, you can use Paypal or credit card with the following rates:


US$15 - 5 day pass unlimited data
US$6 – 1 day pass unlimited data
US$15 – 5GB of data, 2 years expiry
US$6 – 1GB of data, 10 years expiry

Verdict

I’ve been using Pokefi for almost a month and so far it has always worked in the three countries I have tested. They support over 60 countries so check their website before buying. There were some signal issues but once I got out of the hotel or building, I was able to get a steady connection.

Unfortunately, the unit itself is very basic with only a power on/off switch and a signal indicator. I do wish it has an LCD screen to show more information. They have a web browser-based app to show more information such as data usage, signal strength, and battery level.



I was always able to get through a regular day of use with about 20-30% battery remaining. Their website claims a 12-hour battery life. I haven’t used up my 5GB of data yet so I can’t say how easy the reload process is. Since I only use messaging and Google maps, I plan to stretch the included 5GB for a long as I can.

The Good

Price, including Top-up or reload
Battery life
Coverage in over 60 countries
Connect up to 8 devices

The Bad

Weak indoor signal
No LCD information screen
Limited coverage in the Middle East

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Apple iPad Review (5th Gen 2017)




A few weeks ago, Apple announced their new iPad line which includes the current iPad mini 4 that now only comes in 128GB and the new iPad. That’s right, its now just called iPad -- not Air, Air 3 or anything else. What’s even more surprising is that it’s even cheaper than the iPad Air 2 and Mini 4. The price was so good that I ended up buying one on impulse.  Let’s see if the new iPad is really worth buying or something that’s too good to be true.

Specs:

9.7 inch Retina Display 264ppi
A9 64bit CPU
32 or 128GB Storage
2GB RAM
Touch ID
8 MP rear and 1.2MP front camera
WIFI and LTE models
Twin Speakers

32GB US$329 (Php 16500) 
128GB US$429 (Php 21500)



Design and Performance:

At first glance, the new iPad looks like the iPad Air 2 when in fact based on the spec sheet, it's actually the same size as the Air 1. The difference is just a few millimeters that you really need to put them side by side to tell the difference. It is also a bit heavier than the Air 2 but again, only by a few grams. I guess these are aspects where Apple had to cut some corners in order to sell it at a lower price point. 








Another apparent and glaring (pun intended) aspect where they had to scale back is the screen. It doesn’t use an anti-reflective coating and laminated display as the older iPads. What does that mean? Well, in a nutshell the screen is more prone to glare specially outdoors or under direct light and also you’ll notice a very small black space or gap between the edges of the LCD screen and the glass screen. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. If no one points this out, it’s pretty hard to notice. 


Small gap between the LCD and the glass



Also, Apple says that the screen is brighter than previous models so it cranks up the brightness to compensate for the lack of anti-reflective coating (at the expense of battery life). Again, it does seem to work as I had no problems viewing the screen outdoors.

So those are the negatives. On the plus side, the new iPad has a faster A9 chip which is about 1.6X faster than the old A8, faster graphics processor and 2GB of RAM. And I have to say that there is noticeable difference in performance from the older iPad models.



Conclusion

Apple may have gone a one step back, two steps forward with the new iPad. It may even feel like they are using left over components from older models. But with the improved performance and great price point, its good enough to overlook some of the negatives, which in reality aren’t really that big of a deal. Apple might just have a winner on their hands. I can see students and businesses buying tons of these. The price is so competitive that if you have an older iPad or Android tablet this might be a great time for an upgrade.

The Good:

Price
Performance

The Bad:

Design and screen quality (compared to iPad Air 2)
Previous generation touch ID sensor



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)