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Gadgets Reviews Technology

Airvibes – Bluetooth Headphones Review

The Airwheel craze swept across the UK in 2015, with ridable technology becoming more popular than ever before. If you don’t think that riding along on a self-balancing unicycle makes you look flash enough on its own, then you need a pair of Airvibes! Airvibes are Bluetooth headphones designed for Airwheel users – although if you don’t have an Airwheel, they are still a pretty cool set of headphones to own.

No Wires

Airvibes plugged inAirvibes are Bluetooth headphones, meaning you can sync them with any Bluetooth compatible device, and ditch the awkward wires that run from your headphones to your phone. If you are a frequent (hi-tech) runner or cyclist you will know the problem I mean. Your smartphone is secured to your arm – as that way you can use a tracking app to keep a record of your run or cycle – and then you’ve got to run wires up your arm, under your cloths and up your neck in order to listen to your music. Airvibes only have one wire: the wire between the two earpieces. This makes connecting and disconnecting your headphones a much less stressful experience. I have been asked why they have the wire between the earpieces if they truly are wireless, to which I surmised that it would be really easy to loose one of your earpieces if they weren’t connected together.

Charge

So if these headphones don’t attach to your phone, then they must have a battery right, which probably has a pretty shoddy lifespan considering how small the earpieces are. Well Airvibes do run on battery power, yes, however the life span – considering they are both syncing via Bluetooth and playing music – is actually pretty impressive: around 5 hours. I’ve had my Airvibes over a week now, and use them regularly, however I’ve only charged them once; when I first opened the packet. Airwheel seem to be pretty good at making a little battery go a long way.

Airvibes headphone set
What you get in the Airvibes pack

Thankfully Airwheel realised that micro USB was the way to go in terms of charging, as pretty much every phone (Apple devices aside) sat-nav and digital camera you have ever owned connects and charges using this port. All your current chargers will therefore work with the Airvibes too; meaning it’s not a disaster if you lose the charging lead. That said I would expect the Airvibes to come with a means of charging, and a micro USB lead is included in the box, however it seems to be a growing trend that manufacturers expect you to own an abundant supply of USB wall-plugs, as like when I reviewed Samsung’s Wireless Charger, Airvibes don’t come with a wall-plug. Maybe we are expected to use our laptops USB ports as a means of powering devices. Or maybe because more goods are being sold globally, and the USB is a global port, whilst wall-plugs differ from country to country, it’s just easier for manufacturers to leave these out of product packages these days.

Ergonomics

I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well the Airvibes have been designed. They fit really rather well into your ears, without much effort, and a little rubber loop just above the earbud keep them from falling out.

Airwheel earpiece
The Airvibes control earpiece

The sound quality is what you’d expect from a standard set of headphones: good, but not exceptional. The rubber around the earbud does a surprisingly good job of soundproofing, blocking out enough background noise to mean you don’t need to have your music deafeningly loud to drown out what’s going on around you. If you are a frequent Airwheel rider, you’ll be pleased to know that this soundproofing does a good job of blocking out the annoying beeping noise the Airwheel makes when it gets near the speed limiter!

The Bluetooth works pretty well, if you’re staying in one place, you can walk away from your phone a little (assuming it’s not in your pocket) and you’ll still pick up a signal. When using Airvibes on an Airwheel, they work just as well. Occasionally I have noticed a slight drop out, especially when going fast, but it’s quite rare and only momentary.

Controls

Being Bluetooth, the headphones can not only play music from your device, but they can also be used to control your device too. The functions are relatively easy to learn, although a glance at the instruction manual would do you some good, as it may prevent you accidentally calling people in your address book, as I did when I first tried the Airvibes out! A built in microphone matched with the function buttons means that you can make and receive calls through the Airvibes; a useful add-on feature. Volume up and down, skip track, pause and play are the key functions available.

When out riding an Airwheel, I have found the buttons are all reasonably easy to use, all being accessible on the one earpiece. I have sometimes found it difficult to press the play/pause button, and this could do with being slightly raised, or recessed, just to make it that bit easier to find.

Airvibes Verdict

Airvibes are a decent little set of headphones. If you have been looking for a good pair of wireless headphones, I can highly recommend you try Airvibes. The sound quality is good, you can control your music and make phone calls on them with ease. They currently retail at around £30 GBP which I feel is a fair evaluation of what they are worth.

My Airvibes were from Airwheel.direct, the same place that I bought my Airwheel from. If you’d be interested in finding out more about Airvibes, or want to get yourself a set, head over to their website.

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Gadgets Reviews Smartphones

Impact Shield – S6 screen protector review

On Monday I reviewed Tech21’s case for the Galaxy S6. Even the best cases leave the screen vulnerable to scratches and dirt, so to fully protect your phone, you need a good screen protector. Today I’m going to review Tech21’s Impact Shield screen protector for the Galaxy S6. Our thanks to Mobile Fun who provided the protector for this review.

Tech21 Impact Shield Screen Protector

Protection
Having use the Impact Shield screen protector for several years now, I’ve got a pretty good knowledge of the protection it gives. Whilst the screen protector itself does pick up scratches (which do very slowly fade with time) Tech21’s screen protector does a fantastic job of protecting the phone’s screen.

Over the course of 2 years, I replaced my screen protector twice, because it just collected too many scratches, however every time I pealed it off, the phone screen itself was fine. This newer version offers the same protection, just for the S6. The video below is made by Tech21 – it’s a drop test of a ball-bearing from six foot.

Application

Screen protector application widgetTech21 have added a useful widget to the pack to help you apply the screen protector. This widget (very snugly) slots over your phone, helping you to line up the screen protector to exactly where it needs to be.

Before you apply the screen protector you need to remove any dust from the screen. The microfibre cloth that comes in the packet is pretty bad, and just seemed to spread dust, rather than remove it. I ended up using a glasses cloth to give the screen a proper clean.

Once all the dust is off, you remove one layer of the screen protector, stick it to the phone and then use the cardboard provided (also not very useful) to remove any bubbles, before removing the upper layer. Then you’re done; screen protector applied!

Clarity and Use

There is no noticeable difference in the quality of the display once the screen protector has been applied. Some screen protectors make the screen look fuzzy or distorted, however Tech21’s does not. I have noticed that when using the screen with the protector applied, there is slightly more friction between my figure and the phone, meaning it doesn’t glide as smoothly across as it would otherwise. You do get used to it however.

Price

The Impact Shield screen protector currently costs £25, which is to the higher end of the price spectrum.

Rating

The Impact Shield does its job well: protects the screen without compromising on clarity or usability. The level of protection it provides is great, but I’m not sure the regular user would really need it very often. The self-heal feature is good to have, but it doesn’t work quite as well as you might hope or expect.

Four StarUltimately taking into account the competition and Impact Shield’s relative price and protection, I’m going to rate it a generous 4 stars.

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Gadgets Reviews Smartphones

FlexShock protection for the Galaxy S6

Two years ago I reviewed Tech21’s Impact Mesh case for the Galaxy S4 Mini. Tech21 are now using a new material called FlexShock, so having recently started using a Galaxy S6, I thought it would be appropriate to review Tech21’s latest Evo Check case for Samsung’s Galaxy S6.

Tech21 Evo Check Case

Protection
The main reason I use a case is to protect my device. Primarily from knocks and drops, but also from scratches, dirt and dust. The size of the S6 means that depending upon what you’re wearing, it wont always fit snugly in your pocket. This inevitably means that every so often it will fall out, at which point I will usually scrabble and scramble to try and catch it, but if I’m unsuccessful, I need to know the phone will be safe.

The S6, with its Gorilla Glass and aluminium casing, seems to be pretty resilient by itself. It would appear you can use an S6 to crack walnuts open with no ill effects, and this drop test video demonstrates the S6 (Edge) is a pretty tough cookie. WARNING: for S6 owners, this is a heart-in-mouth kind of video!

So how much protection does Tech21’s case provide? Well the answer is quite a lot. The case has a slight lip on the front meaning that even if dropped face down on a flat surface, neither the screen nor the home button would touch the ground – the case would absorb the impact.

My main concern when I first looked at the S6 was that the rear camera protrudes, meaning that it would be the first thing to contact during an impact. The case has a slightly raised rim around the camera, meaning that the camera is now recessed by about 0.5mm – giving it some much needed protection.

Tech21 have ditched the D3O which they had previously been famous for using, in favour of FlexShock. This new material they claim does the same job as D3O – absorbing the impact – whilst it can be moulded into better shock absorbing shapes and it can be dyed different colours. FlexShock seems just as hardy as D3O – but with added flexibility and customisation.

Design

Galaxy S6 FlexShock caseI really like the metal and glass construct of the Galaxy S6, so for me it’s not about getting a snazzy case to conceal an ugly phone. The Evo Case is very minimalistic and whilst it does cover five sides of the phone (the top, both sides, the bottom and the back) it still gives the S6 a little room to showcase its looks. The beauty of FlexShock is that it can be styled in different colours. As such, I’ve gone for a smooth white, to match my white S6. It is obvious that I am using a case, and I have lost that plush glass feeling but as cases go, aesthetically the Evo Check does a pretty good job.

A good case has to give clean access to all the phone’s ports and sensors. The Evo Check case does this well, there is ample room around the speaker, power port, lower microphone and the headphone socket. On the top the infrared sensor and higher microphone are also able to operate without interference. The camera has plenty of room around it, as does the flash, and you can use the heart rate monitor without removing the phone from the case. You do have to remove the phone to get to the SIM-card socket, but who does that on a regular basis anyway?

White Tech21 S6 caseThe buttons (volume up/down and power) are covered, and to activate them you do need to press them firmly. I personally like this, as it gives the phone a quality feel and it prevents you from accidentally pressing them too. That said, (from watching endless YouTube reviews) I do know that some users would prefer the buttons to be uncovered, and dislike having to push them hard to get anything to happen.

Price

The Evo Check case is currently priced around £30, which is fairly mid-range (cheaper than many of Samsung’s own cases) considering (in terms of protection) it is a pretty high end product.

Rating

I’m a big fan of Tech21’s Evo Check case for the Galaxy S6. It covers the phone well, without obstructing any of the ports or sensors. It also looks great, even if it doesn’t feel as good as metal and glass.

Four and a Half StarThe protection it offers is hard to rival, especially amongst cases with a similar price tags, so I’m rating the Evo Case with FlexShock protection 4 and a half stars.

Our thanks to Mobile Fun – the mobile accessories experts – for providing the case for this review. If you want to find out more or buy one of your own, check out Tech21’s S6 case on their website.

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Gadgets Reviews Smartphones Technology

Smartphone battle: Galaxy S6 vs iPhone 6 Plus

Samsung’s Galaxy S5 smartphone didn’t have the wow factor that we’ve come to expect from new smartphone releases. It was by no means a flop – with retailers ordering more S5s than they did S4s in the 25 days after both phones launched – however it didn’t impress as much as it could have.

The iPhone 6 PlusNow Samsung is back with a shiny new Galaxy S6 – it’s new metal and glass construct means it literally is shiny! – and it has clearly gone out of its way to set a new standard with the S6. For the first time, Samsung have released a phone which in terms of aesthetic build quality, is very similar to that of an iPhone. Also like Apple’s phone’s, Samsung’s latest Galaxy model does not have a removable back, meaning users cannot change the battery or add additional storage.

This is the first time that Samsung and Apple – the two giants of the smartphone world – have made devices which in terms of design and build, are actually pretty similar. That gives us a golden opportunity to compare the two phones spec for spec to determine which is truly the best.

The Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge are practicably identical in terms of tech specs, so for the purpose of this review I’ll be using the S6. Apple’s comparatively priced and sized phone is the iPhone 6 Plus, so that’s what I’ll be comparing the S6 to today – the iPhone 6 Plus versus the Galaxy S6!

Camera

You’d struggle to find a smartphone released these days which doesn’t come with a pretty competent camera. It’s a staple feature that most people have come to expect as standard from a new phone.

Galaxy S6

The Galaxy S6 boasts a phenomenal new 16 mega pixel rear camera, and a 5 mega pixel front facing camera – great for selfies. Speaking of selfies, the S6 is super selfie friendly, as you can take a selfie in loads of ways – pressing the volume buttons, covering the rear facing heart rate monitor with your finger, tapping the screen, or pressing the capture button. The S6 can also film in 4K, which for those who don’t know, is four times better than standard, 1080p HD. The ability to capture up to 120 frames per second (only 60 in HD) is also a handy feature.

iPhone 6 Plus

The iPhone’s rear camera is only 8 MP and it’s front camera is just 1.2 MP. The iPhone supports face detection on both it’s front and rear camera’s – as does the S6. The iPhone 6 Plus can also video in sloooow mooootion (see what I did there?) at 60 frames per second in HD, but it trumps the S6 in terms of how slow-mo it can go – an amazing 240 frames per second.

Winner

Camera tests, such as this one, and this one, show that in terms of camera it’s really a no-brainer. The S6 wins hands down. It’s cameras are both able to shoot at higher quality and leave images looking sharper than those produced by the iPhone. So you can make good use of the camera, Samsung has sped the launch up to just over half a second. Double click the home button and within a second you could be taking shots or shooting video – way faster than the iPhone 6 Plus.

Speed

Now lets look at how fast each of the phones is.

Galaxy S6

Samsung Galaxy S6 smartphoneThe S6 has some very capable hardware behind it, with two physical processors (1.5 GHz and 2.1 GHz) each split into 4 logical preprocessors, the S6 packs a pretty hefty 8 core processor, which is supported by an impressive 3 GB of RAM. The S6 is running Android with Samsung’s (now significantly slimmed down) TouchWiz ‘Disney Layer’ integrated on top. This is much faster, and less bloated than the TouchWiz seen on the S5.

iPhone 6 Plus

The iPhone 6 Plus has slightly more modest hardware, with one dual core 1.4 GHz processor, supported by 1 GB of RAM. It’s packed with the latest Apple mobile operating system iOS 8.

Winner

In speed tests, the S6 obliterates the 6 Plus. Despite it’s inferior software, iOS 8 does a really good job of using the iPhone’s limited hardware to get the best performance out of the phone. Whilst it seldom wins speed tests, it’s usually not far behind the S6.

Battery

One of the most important feature’s of any phone is the battery life. There’s no point in having a flashy gadget if you can’t use it because it’s got a shocking battery life. Battery life doesn’t appear to be improving that much, or too rapidly either, and if I want a phone purely for battery life, I’d still use my old Nokia 3510i!

Galaxy S6
Samsung’s S6 has gone backwards in terms of battery life compared to it’s predecessor, the Galaxy S5. GSM Arena ranks the S5 the 16th best smartphone/tablet ever in terms of battery performance; comparatively the S6 with its 2,550 mAh battery ranks a pitiful 46th.

Something to consider regarding the battery of the S6 is that it can charge wirelessly and it supports fast charging and ships with a fast charger. It also supports wireless charging.

A classic Nokia 3510i
Better battery life than all smartphones!

iPhone 6 Plus

On the same GSM rankings the iPhone 6 Plus ranks much better, coming in at 25th position – way ahead of the standard iPhone 6 which ranked a shocking 90th! This is largely thanks to its much bigger 2,915 mAh battery.

Winner

You can talk for up to 20 hours on Samsung’s S6 before it runs out of juice, whilst with Apple’s 6 Plus you’d get an extra 4 hours of nattering. The Galaxy S6 comes in slightly better than the iPhone 6 Plus in terms of web browsing time and video playback however. Ultimately, despite the fact that it’s easier to charge the S6, the 6 Plus has a bigger battery and seems to last longer, so this one’s a win for the iPhone.

Size, capacity, screen and price

Finally I’ll explore a few of each phone’s other features.

Size

The iPhone 6 Plus has dimensions of 158.1×77.8×7.1 mm. The Galaxy S6 is slightly smaller in all dimensions, including depth, where it is 0.3mm thinner than the iPhone; its dimensions are 143.4×70.5×6.8 mm.

Samsung Galaxy S6 and Apple iPhone 6 Plus dimensionsCapacity

Samsung’s flagship phone comes in three sizes, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB. Apple’s alternative also comes in 3 sizes, a smaller 16GB, 64GB and a huge 128GB. As I mentioned earlier, neither has expandable memory.

Screen

The iPhone’s screen is 5.5 inches, which is bigger than the Galaxy’s 5.1 inch display. Despite the iPhone’s bigger screen, Samsung wins in terms of pixel density, sporting an impressive 576 PPI, compared to the Apple alternative which has only 401 PPI.

Price

On the day of publishing, the iPhone 6 Plus costed £699 GBP from Apple’s website. This is for a SIM-free, 64GB version with the device. The Galaxy S6 costs slightly less with a SIM-free, 64GB version of the phone costing £640 from Samsung’s website.

The Winner

It has a better camera, it’s faster, it’s smaller, it’s got a better screen and it’s cheaper – how could I not choose Samsung’s Galaxy S6 as the winner. Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus does have a better battery, and it is a very good phone, but it is 6 months older than it’s Samsung rival and despite inferior technology it still costs more. No wonder Samsung has regained the smartphone sales crown.

Samsung have really upped their game with the S6 and that will no doubt cause Apple to up theirs when they release their next phone (expected to be the Apple iPhone 6S) in a few months time.

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Gadgets Reviews Technology

Airwheel Q3 Review

Following my introduction to the Airwheel, I’m now going to review the Airwheel Q3. If your wondering what on Earth this Air-thingamajig is and would like a bit of background, please check out my previous post.

I have owned an Airwheel Q3 for nearly 6 weeks now. I’ve ridden it in many places both in the day and at night, and I’ve covered over 100 miles on it so far.

Black Airwheel Q3 sideview
A black Airwheel Q3 – Q3’s also come in white

As this is quite an extensive review, I have divided it into sections to make it easier to navigate. To jump to a particular section of the review, please click on a link below.

 

Learning and Riding

How quickly you become competent at riding an Airwheel really depends on how quickly you learn. Of all the standard Airwheel models, I’ve found the Q3 the easiest to learn. This is largely down the the fact that it has two tyres which offers additional balance.

It took me around 30 minutes before I could confidently ride around on a Q3, turning and going forwards. I’m still mastering going backwards!

I have know people step on and after a short ride with someone helping them keep their balance, they are stable, in control and able to Airwheel unassisted.

The key to riding any Airwheel is to stay relaxed and start simple. Ideally have someone or something to hold onto until you get going. The Q3 does come with a safety strap you can tie through the handle, which gives you something to hold onto and makes learning much easier. Once you get the hang of it, it is great fun!

When you first start learning your shins will most probably start to get a bit sore, as every time you fall off, they take the impact. Riding now doesn’t cause any discomfort, but until you get the hang of Airwheeling, be prepared for shin pain!

What Makes The Q3 Different?

Airwheel make four key ranges: the X Series, one wheel Airwheel’s; the Q Series, two wheel Airwheels; the S Series, a Segway style transporter; and the Airboard, a two wheel skateboard/Airwheel mash-up.

The range of different Airwheel models and their prices

Airwheel models across all the series have the same top speed of 18km per hour (just over 11mph) and the limiter kicks in at around 12km per hour (8.5mph) on all models too. All models also have the same advisory weight limit of 120kg (19 stone).

Q Series Airwheels (of which the Q3 is one) have stronger motors than most of the X Series models. They also all have two wheels as opposed to one, which helps with stability and balance, but does make (tighter) turning more challenging.

The Q3 differs from other Q Series models mainly on battery life. It’s 28 mile potential range dwarfs that of all other Airwheels; with the exception of the S3 transporter.

Practicality

Relief

The Airwheel Q3 is one of the most versatile of the Airwheel range. The instruction manual (which is very small and to the point) suggests that it can safely climb at angles of up to 15-18°, however I have ridden up slopes of well over 30° with no problem. Some of the less powerful models struggle with steeper inclines, but even large hills prove no problem for the Q3. Going uphill uses significantly more battery, however on the plus side, when going downhill, the unit uses little power and can even use the slope to partially recharge the battery!

Terrain
The Airwheel was clearly designed for flat, level, tarmacked surfaces, however it also performs surprisingly well on grass. For more experienced riders, it is also possible to ride on gravel and through muddy fields. More uneven surfaces do drain the battery faster, however you can still get a very healthy life from the Q3 on places like cycle paths and bridleways. I think pretty much anywhere you could manage to ride a bike, you can use a Q3.

Jumping Curbs

The Q3 handles bumping down small steps and curbs surprisingly well. I have also tried jumping up curbs with some success. Weighing around 13kg is is quite heavy to jump the unit off the ground using just your legs, however I can now jump up medium sized curbs with no problem – most of the time. I always use a dropped curb if I can – it’s less tiresome!

Legality

I’ve been quite interested in what the legalities surrounding the Airwheel are. In the UK it doesn’t yet have it’s own specific law – and it may never have.

I emailed Airwheel asking where I can legally ride my Q3 in the UK and they replied saying that it could be used on pavements but not on the road. Below is Airwheel’s reply.

“In terms of the legalities of use, The UK separates vehicles and forms of transport into certain classifications or categories.

Without going into too much depth this is all based on the number of statistics:
Weight, height, size, speed.

Fortunately for the AirWheel, it does not suffer the same fate as the Segway in falling into the Road Vehicle category.
This in turn means that it is treated similarly to a skateboard or a scooter. It can be used on pavements (not road use) or public areas.
But if course the key thing we emphasise is respectful and careful use.

Of course the nature of the product being so new, it doesn’t have specific legislation written about it but this is the official stance from the perspective of the law and police.”

I have asked a police officer their opinion, which was that they didn’t believe you could be handed an on the spot fine for using one, however if they saw you using on on public pavements – especially if they were busy – they would probably ask you to dismount it. I have never had any issues using mine, and I think the key is to respect other people, as ultimately I’m slightly more hazardous than if I were just walking.

Uses

I didn’t have any specific ideas as to what I would be use an Airwheel for before I purchased it. It was really just a cool gadget that had the potential to make short journeys faster and more interesting. I sometimes use it to get around campus at University amongst other short journeys. I have no trouble carrying things (so long as they are easy to hold) and I have even Airwheeled holding 25kg of potatoes for about quarter of a mile!

I have found that simply owning an Airwheel has got me out and about more often, as I will now find any old excuse to go out for a ride. Ultimately the primary reason I own a Q3 is fun.

As I mentioned earlier, Airwheels can be used to perform stunts and things like jumping up and down levels. You may think that it would be easier to perform stunts on the X Series models, which are smaller and lighter, however as gymnast Damien Walters and friends demonstrate, the Q3 also has a stunt alter ego!

Another potential use for the the Q3 is filming. The Q3 can provide a remarkably smooth ride and it is virtually silent, making it ideal for shooting footage. If you want a more in-depth review of using the Airwheel for filming, check out this review by Tom Antos.

The Airwheel Q3 could also be quite useful for commuters. If you have to walk some distance to work from your car, or the train/bus station etc., an Airwheel could become a useful time saver. When out and about a few weeks ago I was approached by someone interested in what I was riding, as they worked in exhibition centres, which involved a huge amount of walking. The Q3’s huge battery life would make it ideal for zipping between arenas.

I have also thought that Airwheels would be quite good for personal trainers. Most people jog at a pace of around 6-7mph, so if you wanted to ride alongside someone and give them encouragement, an Airwheel would be a good option!

These uses are by no means exhaustive, if you have an idea of what you would like to use an Airwheel but are not sure if it you can, feel free to get in touch!

Laziness or Exercise?

I have been asked whether Airwheeling is a lazy alternative to walking. I don’t believe it is. I think sometimes it is good to walk, but a lot of the time Airwheeling is faster and more convenient.

Airwheel Q3 piggyback

I don’t buy the argument that standing on an Airwheel and letting it whiz you from A to B is lazy for two reasons.

Firstly you don’t stand on an Airwheel, you balance – balancing being a skill involving muscles all over your body. As a reasonably experienced rider it doesn’t take much effort for me to balance, but I’m still not standing – and I do have the occasional wobble!

Secondly it doesn’t whiz you around, you have to move your body to get it to move and turn. Furthermore on some of the longer journeys I’ve undertaken on my Airwheel (I’m thinking 45 minutes plus) I have really felt my calves and core working. In fact one of the reasons I purchased an Airwheel was to help me improve my core stability and balance!

The book hasn’t disappear because of the Kindle and similarly people won’t stop walking because of Airwheels.

Modifications

Airwheel Q3 pedals with grip tape
Top: Standard pedals
Middle: Gaffer taped
Bottom: Grip taped

I have made a few modifications to the Q3. After slightly scuffing the unit on my first test run, I added some foam to the casing and the underside of the pedals. I’ve now taped over the foam with black gaffer tape (originally grey, but it stood out a bit too much!) to add a further layer of protection.

I don’t really need this extra protection anymore, however it is good to know that if I do fall off, I’m not going to scuff the casing. The Airwheel itself seems to be pretty indestructible, so the tape and foam is purely to prevent scuffs and scratches on the casing.

I’ve also added some grip tape (the same stuff you use on skateboards) to the top of the pedals. To stop the foam that I had stuck to the underside of the pedals from coming off, I had gaffer taped over the pedals which meant I lost some grip. The normal pedals are okay, but with the additional grip tape it makes riding much easier – maybe something for Airwheel to add to future models.

Common Feedback

Like it or not, when riding an Airwheel you do attract some attention. Almost everyone is very polite and kind and I’ve yet to have anyone get angry at me for using my Q3. Here is some of the most common feedback I get.

Lady riding an Airwheel Q3Wow! What is that?

Can I have a go?

Is it difficult to ride?

How much did it cost?

How fast can it go?

Did you make that?” – usually from children, I find this one quite funny, I should reply “I wish!

Can you do any tricks on it?

Did you get it second hand?” – I assume because of the amount of gaffer tape I’ve plastered over the bodywork

Niggles

Beeping

The Airwheel Q3 isn’t perfect and it could be improved in many ways. The thing which annoys me the most is the beeping. When the unit falls over 45° it beeps – this is usually to let you know you’ve fallen off, just in case you needed telling – and won’t stop until you turn it off.

It also beeps when you go over 8mph to let you know that you are getting close to the 11/12mph limit. At this stage it will also slowly start to tip you backwards, to prevent you from leaning forwards (thus accelerating) more. This beeping means that on long journeys you have a trade off: restrict your travel speed to 8mph, or travel faster with beeping all the way!

I personally feel the limiter is set too low and would like to see it raised to around 9.5/10mph – much closer to the 11/12mph limit.

Weight

At 13kg the Airwheel Q3 weighs about the same as four newborn babies – or 13 kilogram bags of sugar. This does make it a little impractical to carry. Airwheel do make a rucksack which can house the Q3, which does make it relatively easy to transport. The rucksack appears to have been designed to carry smaller models, as fitting the Q3 inside is a squeeze and does leave some of the straps straining under the weight. My conclusion is, if you can, ride it!

Noise

Considering how technologically advanced the Airwheel Q3 is, it makes surprisingly little noise. Between 1 and 2mph it is virtually silent, it is loudest between 3 and 5mph, but once you accelerate past this, is quietens down again; until you hit the beeping limiter at just over 8mph.

It’s only very recently that noise has become a niggle for me, I was out with someone who was walking and realised that in trying to keep to their pace, the Airwheel made more noise than it did than were I going faster or slower. Unless you are listening out for it, it won’t bother you. Expecting such a clever device to be completely silent might be asking a bit too much!

Instructions

The instructions are reasonably simple and appear to have been translated – not always very well – but they are readable. It would have been good to have a bigger manual with more tips and instructions; for such a technical device, clarity and in-depth information would have been appreciated. I’ve found the after-care support from Airwheel Direct has filled in any knowledge gaps that I’ve come across, however I can appreciate some people may like a more substantial manual to read through first.

Price

For the majority of people price is usually the ultimate crunch point. If you have a fantastic machine but nobody can afford it, then you aren’t going to sell any; which is one of the reasons the Segway never quite took off. In the UK an entry level Segway currently costs in excess of £5,500, which is just a few hundred pounds off the cost of a DACIA Sandero. Five seater car or Segway? For many people a Segway is just too costly.

Airwheel Q3 parkSo how much does an Airwheel cost? Here in the UK, the cheapest Airwheel costs just over £500 – equivalent to around $750 USD. That’s for a one wheeler X3 which has a range of about 4-6 miles. If you want to purchase a Q3 (pretty much the top of the range) you need to fork out around £800. So you could purchase about 7 Airwheel Q3’s for the same price as the cheapest model of Segway.

Were the Q3 priced around £400 I wouldn’t hesitate recommending it to anyone. The fact that it costs £800 does however makes the decision a little more difficult. Ultimately I’m pleased with my purchase and whilst I would have rather paid £400 I do think the Q3 is worth what it cost me. I use it so often, it is so practical and it makes everyday tasks like nipping down to the shops (for 25kg of potatoes!) so much more fun. I wouldn’t be without it.

Something to bear in mind is that whilst £800 may seem like a lot, it is less than what a £34 mobile phone contract would cost you over the course of two years. Maybe there’s an idea for Airwheel, offer 24 month finance plans!

When I got in touch with Airwheel Direct (who I purchased my Airwheel from) letting them know that I was going to write a review, they gave me an exclusive Airwheel discount code for 5% off all models; simply enter TB5 at their checkout. They also offer Airwheel experience rides – something it’s worth doing if you are thinking of buying one.

Replacements

After so many miles, just like a bike, you will need to replace the tyres and inter tubes on the Q3. Having two tyres makes it slightly more expensive in that respect, as when the tires do wear out, you have double the cost – and a higher chance of getting a puncture in the meantime.

The cost of replacing both tyres and inner tubes on the Q3 is an eye watering £160 – double that of X Series models. That said,most Airwheel retailers, like the guys at Airwheel Direct offer discounts to existing Airwheel customers on tyres and inner tubes.

Luckily I’ve not had to replace my tyres yet, however in order to do so you need to take the entire unit apart – unscrewing the bolts on each side until the unit splits in two. It describes how to replace a tyre in the instruction manual, so I’m sure it’s not too difficult, however I’m still not looking forward to having to change mine!

Summary

The Good The Bad
  • Battery capacity
  • Range
  • Motor power
  • Tyre longevity
  • Level of noise
  • Speed
  • Works well on most terrains
  • Reasonably easy to learn
  • Cost – initial outlay and replacement tyres
  • Weight
  • Beeping!
  • Instructions
  • Speed limiter set low
Verdict

Ultimately the Airwheel Q3 is a fantastic product. Its powerful motor and strong battery mean you can travel far on a variety of terrains. New riders can learn to ride the Q3 without much practice and it offers convenience and challenges for advanced riders too. If you want to get somewhere fast, the constant (speed limiter) beeping can be very annoying! The cost of the Q3 is its main drawback, you have to be sure that you would use it, before you buy one.

Cost: £800 GBP inc. VAT (approx)
Rating: Four Star

I’ll end on a neat little summary that one of my friends came up with. The Airwheel Q3: miles of smiles!

UPDATE: Having owned my Airwheel Q3 for nearly a year now, I’m still very satisfied with my purchase. I still ride it several times a week and it has been useful on so many occasions. Having ridden many of the other Airwheel models – including the hoverboard style Airboard – The Airwheel Q3 is still my favourite model. I feel it’s the most practical of all the Airwheel models, and were I writing the review today, I would rate the Airwheel Q3 4.5 stars.

Categories
Gadgets Reviews Technology

Airwheel – a self-balancing unicycle

Hands up, who’s ever heard of an Airwheel? Okay a few of you at the back… oh no you’re just scratching your heads.

Okay, take a look at this.

A woman riding an Airwheel down a busy street

A traditional unicycle
What most people think of when you talk about unicycles

I am of course referring to the ‘gadget’ not the lady who is standing upon it.

That device (or ‘gadget’ as I just referred to it) is called an Airwheel. That’s how I describe mine to people now. Self-balancing motorised unicycle was a bit of a mouthful and it often gave people who hadn’t seen one the wrong idea as to what I was riding – I’m not training to join a circus!

To be precise, the lady in the above picture is standing (well, strictly speaking she is balancing) on an Airwheel X5; a 10kg model with a 500 watt motor and a 14 inch tyre. Airwheel being the brand, X5 the model.

I’ve recently bought myself an Airwheel and as a technology blogger I feel it’s my duty to put it through it’s paces, and then write a review on my findings. That’s not this post though, the review is coming out next Monday. Today my plan is to break you in gently to the Airwheel concept and technology.

Airwheel Brand

As I’ve already mentioned, Airwheel is the brand and there are many different models of Airwheel. They mainly make devices like the one in the picture above (right at the top, not the one of the traditional unicycle!) but they also make a Segway style rover and a skateboard type transporter – called the Airboard.

The model I have bought is a two wheel Airwheel Q3 – also known as the Mars Rover. Strictly speaking having two wheels means it’s not a unicycle – so it’s a bicycle, or a ducycle, but there isn’t any cycling involved so… I don’t really know what it is!

How Does An Airwheel Work?

Airwheel Q3
The model I own – the Airwheel Q3

You may be wondering, what is the technology behind the Airwheel? Well it’s actually reasonably simple.

The computer chip (which is tucked away safe from water and dust in a compartment inside the unit) uses information it gets from its sensors to keep the device level by moving the wheel(s). If the user puts pressure on the unit in a forwards direction (by leaning forwards and pushing their toes towards the floor) the device moves forwards. To slow down they then push down with their heals, which reduces the speed and can even enable you to reverse!

Here is how Andy from Airwheel Direct describes the technology:

“A computer control board constantly monitors the state of the Airwheel and it’s position relative to the ground, it uses this information to control the brushless hub motor and keep the unit upright. Leaning forwards on the foot plates begins to tilt the Airwheel and therefore makes the wheel rotate to keep it underneath your feet, the result being forward motion. Turning is achieved much like a bicycle by leaning left or right. The more you lean, the tighter the turn will be.”

Are They Versatile?

In one word: very! You can travel forwards and backwards on them at up to around 11/12mph. Once you get the hang of it you can travel over grass, gravel and mud, turn in very tight spaces and jump up and down steps and curbs! Want proof? Here is a (bit of a daft) video of me, pushing my Q3 to its limits.

You may be shouting “don’t break it!” at your screen, but don’t worry, it’s pretty durable. I’ve fallen off mine whilst testing the limits several times – no broken bones, yet! – and it still works; like new. As you may have been able to pick up from that video, I’ve covered mine in foam and then Gaffer taped it on. The only reason I have done this is to protect the casing. When I first took it out I fell off once or twice and as the unit fell over it scuffed itself a little. The foam now takes the impact instead – although I seldom fall off nowadays.

That’s it for this article. I will be doing a full review of my experience of the Airwheel Q3 next week and will be deciding is it any good, and if so, is it worth what it costs.

In the meantime, if you are interested in finding out more about Airwheel and the different models, check out Airwheel Direct. I’ve been given an exclusive discount code for Technology Bloggers, if you enter TB5 at the checkout it will get you 5% off all models.

Categories
Apps Reviews Smartphones

The cost of sending a Samsung emoji

A few months ago, my Galaxy S4 Mini (click this link to go to my series about it) updated to Android KitKat – from Jelly Bean. KitKat was released in 2013, but because Samsung like to fiddle with Android before they roll it out to users – or as I now like to say, apply their Disney layer – kudos to David – it takes a while for their handsets to get the updates.

Apart from a few minor interface changes – some good and some not so good – I didn’t really notice much of a difference with the KitKat upgrade. Some of my icons changed colour, my screen mirroring functionality seemed to stop working and GPS got renamed Location. There were a few other changes but at this moment they escape me.

Oh and how could I forget, that annoying emoji/emoticon button! KitKat added a terribly annoying button to my keyboard, a smiling face, which whenever you accidentally click on it, becomes the default extras button; that’s the lovely little button next to the space key that gives you the option of voice typing, pasting, visiting settings, and now also adding an emoji.

Samsung emoji keyboard
The emoji on my Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini keyboard

Now I’m not against emoji, some of them are pretty cool… 🙂

…what I am against is Samsung emoji. The super-duper Samsung upgrade to KitKat may have enabled me to send emoji – yay! – but it came at a cost: MMS. If I want to send an emoji, Samsung very kindly converts my text message (an SMS) into an MMS.

This isn’t a problem if you get a large number of MMS messages included in your contract, but most people (at least here in the UK) don’t. I’m not someone who does either, so when I tried to send a message (no bigger than one standard text message) with an emoji in it, I got charged 33 pence by my provider and worst of all the recipient was unable to receive MMS messages, so they didn’t even get to see my 33p text!

The BBC and Money Saving Expert are just two sites that have recently been warning consumers of the hidden costs linked to emoji usage.

Cue Textra.

Textra SMS

iPhone owners don’t suffer the same fate as I did, because Apple’s default messaging application doesn’t treat emotion icons as images. They may take up more than one character, but you can use them in SMS messages. Not wanting to be outdone, I went on the hunt for a better SMS app.

First I tried Google Hangouts. I have never got along very well with Hangouts, but when I started using it for text messages, I didn’t find it quite so bad. I could send emoji as text messages, and I could type as many characters I liked and it would just send multiple SMS messages; Samsung’s default messaging app converts messages larger than three texts into MMS messages too.

After a week or so, Hangouts’ lack of features and general design started to get on my nerves, so I was out on the hunt again for another alternative. After reviewing a handful of very viable alternatives, I decided to give Textra SMS a try.

Textra SMS quick reply
When you get a new text, Textra SMS enables you to reply quickly, without opening the full app.

To put it simple, Textra is fantastic. You can do pretty much everything you can with Samsung’s standard messaging app, and more. You can customise the look and feel, you can send as may characters as you like without it converting into an MMS, and you can send emoji!

One of the awesome features that got me hooked on Textra is the message preview. Say you are browsing the web and you get a text. Texra has the option of a notification which appears at the top of your screen; the notification is basically a message preview. If you ignore it, it disappears after a few seconds, but if you click on it and it opens a small version of the app over the top of whatever you were doing previously. You can type a reply and then as soon as you click send, it disappears and you are back to what you were doing.

If you are looking for an alternative texting app for Android, I would definitely recommend Textra.

Categories
Apps Reviews

Possession App Review

Watching a soccer match is exciting enough on its own. Imaging taking that experience and making it more engaging by being able to keep your own stats on the game while you watch. You don’t need pencil and paper. Nope, there is an easier and more technology-driven way to do it, keep it, and share it.

Possessions, by John Shackleford, is a neat little app that allows you to keep score and more of each game you attend or watch on TV. You could be watching a game at a youth soccer match, or you could be watching the English Premier League. Either way, this app that works on both iPad and on iPhones will be at the ready, allowing you to tap away game scores, shots and corners without blinking an eye. The app has a bit of a price tag, costing $10.99, but it packs a punch in valuable data, whether you use it to strategize for your child’s team, or you map trends for your favorite team as it treads its way towards the World Cup.

Possession screenshot

Once you download the app, you’ll see how easy it is to use. The main screen features a timer that can be “assigned” to each team as possession of the ball passes between them. This is done with just tapping either Home or Away. The timer will time the game in general and will keep individual possession times for each team as you indicate the switch when the ball changes “hands.” The main screen also shows the number of Goals, Shots and Corners for each team as well as a clear graphic that indicates the percentage of possession time for each team. This is essentially a bar colored in two shades, each increasing or decreasing in width to represent possession time by each team, and is also flanked by a percentage on each end.

Starting stat collection requires you to press New Game and then swipe the Timer ON. Before turning on the timer, it is wise to move over to the Report page so you can enter each team’s name, their gender if you wish, their age and then select whether or not you wish final stat reports to be emailed. On the subject of emailing, you can specify email recipients on the Mail page. This makes sharing much easier and allows others on the team, like the coach and fellow parents to see the stats. If players are older kids, they may want to get in on the action as well.

The easiest way to use this app is to set up the static information on the Report page first, and then move over to the Game screen, or main page. Next, start the timer and select the team in possession. Now, you might want to quickly move over to the Stats page so you can easily tap on Corners and Shots as they happen. Soccer moves fast, so you need the screen up and ready, or you may miss a moment.

The only thing that I found to be a bit tricky in using this app is the need to switch between the Game and Stats screens. It would be easier to use if you had controls to switch possession and update shots, goals and corners, all on one page. Yet, overcoming this one issue, Possession can make data collection on games much easier and produce a wealth of knowledge for your team for seasons to come.

Categories
Reviews Series Technology

Alternative Food Provisioning Networks

As a continuation of my food series, I would like to take a look at alternative food provisioning networks, via a review of Italian anthropologist Cristina Grasseni’s new book ‘Beyond Alternative Food Networks’. The book describes strategies used by groups to avoid interaction with the industrialized food mechanism, much of which I have debated in the other posts in the series.

Beyond Alternative Food Networks
Beyond Alternative Food Networks

Grasseni’s book gives an account of the inner workings of Italy’s solidarity purchase groups. These groups are informal collections of families, working together to procure food and other products from mainly local producers in order to reclaim sovereignty over their purchasing.

The model is extremely innovative, both in terms of its positive health and social benefits and financial implications. Groups make agreements with local farmers to buy their produce in return for guarantees regarding production processes (organic, tax paid, worker’s rights etc). The producer benefits because they can sell their produce directly to the consumer, and so is not held hostage by distributors and retailers. The consumer gains because they know who has produced their product, how, where and under which conditions. Group members can buy hygiene and baby products, detergents and a range of household goods through the network, offering a source of income to specialist socially and environmentally friendly producers.

Although this system might sound like a Utopian fringe, Grasseni points out that the groups spend about 80 million Euro a year in Italy alone (about $110 million), in effect moving this sum from the regular economy into this more direct exchange. The number of groups is in rapid expansion and has led to the creation of networks of groups, national conferences and organizations and even the creation of ‘districts of solidarity economies’.

The book argues that this alternative economics structure is trust based, with all parties within the transaction knowing and directly relating with the others. Several organizations work entirely within the structure providing goods only for the groups. The following examples of the dairy and the shoemaker really show the potential of the model.

In 2009 a local dairy farmer converted to organic production in order to supply these groups. This involved downsizing and specialization, but several years later the farm found itself in financial difficulty. Members of the groups ran an email campaign and in about a month raised 150 000 Euro (more than $200 000) to bail the dairy out. The money was passed on, the dairy survived and now produces milk and cheese for the very same groups that saved it. With the banks no longer involved, the farmer can sell the produce at retail prices directly to the groups and make enough money to live and repay the initial bailout loan.

The story of the shoemaker is similar. After being forced into downsizing the shoemaker was left with capability but little market. He withdrew from the mainstream economy and now provides made to measure shoes through the network. There is a traveling catalog, so once found you can choose a style and size and order your new shoes that then arrive through the post. They are also sold through a network of non profit organizations that have relationships with the groups.

This book certainly leads the reader into a new way of thinking about food production. The cover contains a quote from Peter Utting, Deputy Director of the united Nations Research Institute for Social Development. He states that “Grasseni provides fascinating insights into how alternative approaches to food provisioning can transform social and economic relationships in ways that bode well for contemporary global challenges of sustainability, social justice and rebuilding human relations built on trust”.

If you would like to learn more about these alternative approaches, take a look at the following links:

Rete Gas is the Italian national GAS network.

The Food Alergy and Anaphylaxis Network has a dedicated page.

The Grassroots Innovation website also has plenty of information.

Beyond Alternative Food Networks by Cristina Grasseni is published by Bloomsbury and available through Amazon via the link above.

I would like to add that although this review is not paid, I do know the author very well. I am also a GAS member.

Categories
Gadgets Reviews Series Smartphones

Concluding a series on the S4 Mini

This is the conclusion article in a series reviewing the Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.

Here we are at the end of another series. This was my most inconsistent series, which I should have ended in October, but here I am in January 2014 finishing it off!

In the first article I introduced my new purchase and started the series. I am still (very) glad I chose Android over Apple and a Samsung Galaxy over other rivals. I really like the (in the words of David) Disney layer Samsung add, having compared it to various other Android devices, not running the Samsung version of the OS.

D3O case for the S4 MiniWhilst I do like the S4 Mini, is hasn’t been an easy ride. Before I got my D3O case and Tech21 screen protector, I dropped my phone. The screen hit something and it bounced to the floor. This completely ruined the screen. I took it in for repair and £100 later I had my phone back.

Note to self: always get a really good case, as the cost of that is way less than the cost of a repair. Oh and try not to drop your phone.

A few weeks later my battery started playing up. It wouldn’t hold charge and depleted very quickly. I wasn’t sure if this was related to the earlier drop or not, but I took it back to the shop I bought it from and they said that as it was still within warranty (Samsung give a two year warranty) they would take a look and repair it for me. A few days later I got my phone back (again) and since then nothing has gone wrong.

I recently dropped it again (by accident) outside. It landed on the pavement and bounced to the ground. Luckily the D3O did its work and my phone is still perfectly fine.

Anker S4 Mini Screen ProtectorIn terms of screen protectors I would say the Anker one was much better than the Muvit alternative, however since that post I have purchased a Tech21 Impactology screen protector and I would rate this the best yet. It cost £20 which is five times the cost of the Anker one and I don’t think it is really that much better. Clarity, responsiveness and adhesion are pretty much the same, it’s only the level of protection that I think is probably a little better. Check out this video for more.

My final article reviewed the RoadWarrior car holder for my S4 Mini. Depending upon the car it can be awkward to place, and I am worried it might damage my phone (if I am not really careful when inserting/removing it) but the FM transmitter and spare USB port are great features that I value.

Overall I enjoy using my S4 Mini. It is a good little phone with great capabilities. The battery life could be improved and the OS could be made a little sleeker/easier to use in some places, but on the whole it is a very good handset to buy; it’s more affordable than it’s bigger brother – the S4 – whilst offering a similar experience, from a more conveniently sized device.

Four and a Half StarI think the S4 Mini is worthy of a 4.5 star rating. 🙂