Author Archives: GEEK!

[Christmas 2015 Gift Ideas] Review: Tendak 2.7″ Car DVR Dashcam – first class footage for under £60!

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Rating: ★★★★½

PROS: 

  • Excellent footage quality at both 1080p and 720p with stunning 720p 60fps
  • Automatic recording and time-stamping makes day to day use seamless
  • Very small and light
  • Includes 16GB memory card out of the box

CONS:

  • No registration plate stamping
  • Built-in battery almost pointless
  • Fiddly controls

RRP £78, best price at time of writing £56.99 on Amazon

There’s been an increasing focus on in-vehicle video recording in recent years, partly thanks to a rise in the amount of fraudulent insurance claims (such as “crash-for-cash” set-ups) and partly due the increasing difficulty of proving innocence in a collision scenario.

In fact, dashcams – as they are so-called – aren’t anything new and have actually been on the market for a number of years though. However, as their quality has improved and prices have fallen, they are all of a sudden becoming an important accessory to have, with some insurance providers even offering discounts if you have one fitted.

I was keen to give the technology a go and got my hands on a Tendak model direct from Amazon. Complete with a 2.7″ on-board display, all power cables and a 16GB memory card, it comes with everything you need to get started.

Without even getting to the actual testing of the product, I was immediately surprised by the size and weight of the dashcam. It is much smaller than I was expecting it to be – and this is no bad thing at all – after all, the less distractions I have in my windscreen, the better. While small, it does have excellent build quality and feels like a product that was built to last. The buttons on the left hand side of the unit are sturdy but a little difficult to press, but this doesn’t really detract from the design of the product given how rarely you’ll use them once the dashcam is set up.

Speaking of which – set up was very easy indeed. I unboxed the product indoors, stuck it on charge for a while and then switched it on. Before you do anything else, it is essential to ensure the date and time is set correctly as you could be relying on that in a legal scenario. Using the on-screen menus with the left hand side buttons was admittedly rather fidly and did take some getting used to – but it just takes a little mastering. I went ahead and set mine in 720p 60fps mode – the device is fully capable of 1080p but I wanted the higher frame rate as I feel this could be important if I ever needed the footage to send to an insurance company. Once you’ve set up your basic settings like motion detection (you’ll want this on if you want the device to work automatically) and power saving mode (turn this on if you don’t want the display on all the time while you’re driving), you’re ready to mount the device in the car. You may also want to turn on or off the on-board microphone – I for one am not hugely fussed about my in-car conversations being recorded and turned this off!

Fitting the device in your vehicle should be fairly easy. The included windscreen mount works perfectly well and securely fits the dashcam its housing. The next step is wiring the device in – and depending on your vehicle you might find this frustrating. I myself have a Mk7 Ford Fiesta which, surprisingly enough, is actually used in the product demonstration photos. In my case, I could run the power cable along the top of the windscreen without it being visible, but would need to remove trim from the side of the car to hide cables completely. The supplied power cable has ample length and you shouldn’t run into any problems there. I was also pleased to see that the included 12v vehicle charging adapter also included a built in USB port for phone charging.

Once it’s fitted, you’re ready to go. The device will boot up automatically as soon as you feed it power, and will record almost instantaneously. It’ll then, depending on how you’ve configured it, will break footage down into segments. I chose 3 minute segments as I felt this would be enough to capture most scenes. It’ll keep recording until the motion stops as long as you’ve got motion detection on (which was unbelievably accurate – almost too accurate!). And that’s about in terms of getting it going.

One word of warning though – make sure your vehicle doesn’t feed power to its 12v socket all the time – for two reasons. First, you risk running your car battery flat if it is constantly feeding power to the dashcam. Second, you’ll overwrite all of your footage with potentially usage stationary footage if you haven’t got motion detection on. Thankfully, most vehicles these days have ignition-timed power sockets, but it’s fairly important that you do check before you buy.

Video footage from the dashcam was, in my view, outstanding. OK – let’s be fair – this is a fairly small camera – but for its size I feel it performed very well. Daylight footage, in particular, was very good with very decent frame rates and suitable definition. The wide angle lens also captured almost the entire viewing area of my windscreen, which was impressive. Night footage wasn’t as good, but still fairly acceptable – especially in well lit areas. It would capture a crash at night without much trouble – but you might have some trouble reading a registration place.

Take a look at the sample footage I took to get an idea of how it performs.

Getting the footage from the camera is easy-as-can-be. Simply remove the microSD card, place it in a card reader or SD card adapter, and then copy and paste the video files you need. G-sensor detected “crash” footage is shown in the EVENT folder, while normal video footage is stored in the VIDEO folder.

The only major niggle to me was the battery. It has a rechargeable battery built in that’ll function for about 30 minutes. I get why it’s there – most likely for backup power, but it seems fairly unnecessary to me. Not exactly a massive blow, just a bit of a disappointment in that area.

Overall, I was genuinely very impressed with this dashcam. It produces excellent footage, fits neatly in your vehicle, and doesn’t cost a fortune. At around £50, this could pay for itself easily in the event of an accident.

Better still, some UK insurers now offer discounts for having a dashcam fitted. Swiftcover offers a straight 10% off for any vehicle that has a working dashcam fitted, while AXA Car Insurance offers up to 10% off for a vehicle with a working dashcam. With this in mind, your dashcam may even pay for itself!

Buy now from Amazon UK

[Christmas 2015 Gift Ideas] Review: 1byone Portable Briefcase Turntable

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Rating: ★★★★

PROS:

  • Very well built, nice design
  • Inexpensive
  • Has line in and headphone connectivity
  • 3 speed playback (33/45/78)

CONS:

  • Built in speakers lack clarity
  • Can’t be powered by batteries

RRP £99.99, best price at time of writing £65.99 on Amazon

So here’s one that’s a little more of a personal interest – maybe not so high tech by today’s standards – but still a very interesting product! These days vinyls are very much a blast from the past – but surprisingly they seem to be gaining quite a cult following, particularly from students and young adults. Nowadays you can get hold of portable turntables that include built in speakers and other capabilities, and I was handed one to try!

There’s no doubt about it – this really looks the part. The turntable looks sturdy in its nicely built case with a well finished denim lining. Build quality is very decent, with exception to a small amount of movement in the actual turntable controls.

To the right of the turntable case you have a set of inputs and outputs together with a volume control. You can plug in the turntable to an external amplifier with an RCA cable or plug it straight into any set of speakers with the 3.5mm output. The turntable also comes with a 3.5mm line in for connecting an MP3 player.

Under the lid, together with the turntable itself, you’ll find a 3 speed control as well as an auto-stop setting to prevent the turntable spinning once playback has completed.

Playing a vinyl through the portable turntable is as easy as you’d expect. Simply place the record on the turntable, set the appropriate playback speed, align the needle accordingly, and turn the turntable on with the volume control to the right of the player.

The onboard speakers for the turntable are a little quiet and weak in my view. The output is perfectly audible, but to get the best from any record I think you need to have the turntable hooked up to an external amplifier. Thankfully, this is very easy to do with an RCA cable. Playback to an external output is much more impressive and allows for a deeper listening experience.

I feel that die-hard vinyl fans might be somewhat disappointed by the weaker built in speakers. However, if you’ve got a good quality external speaker handy then this is a very convenient way of being able to play vinyls (without having to drag a huge 1970’s style sound system around!).

I was really impressed with how light the turntable is – it’s incredibly easy to take with you out and about and with the sturdy carry handle it won’t suffer from regular travels.

It did slightly disappoint me that the turntable can’t be battery operated. The turntable comes with a suitable DC power adapter to power from the mains, but given the low amount of energy that the turntable needs to operate it would have been nice to have seen a battery powered model.

Overall, this is a very impressive attempt at a portable turntable. It’s not perfect – I’d love to have heard slightly better audio quality and the addition of a battery pack would have made it more portable – but it’s certainly enough to keep your vinyls playable at university or if you spend a long time away from home. This could be a great gift for anyone with a personal vinyl collection.

Buy now from Amazon

D-Link DIR-868L review – still a high performance 802.11ac router in 2015?

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Rating: ★★★★½

PROS:

  • Still blazingly fast even by today’s wireless-AC standards – up to 40MB/s transfer speeds at close range over 802.11ac
  • New router firmware drastically improved since original router release
  • Excellent value for money

CONS:

  • Can be confusing to set up as a standalone wireless access point
  • Lack of some more advanced features like VPN support and Time Machine Backups

RRP: £139.99, best price at time of writing £81.99 on Amazon 

In late 2013, D-Link announced, in my opinion, what was their first decent set of wireless-AC routers to hit the market. The D-Link DIR-868L arrived to the party as the high end model at the time – boasting six internal antennas and the newly introduced with the standard “beamforming” technology that allowed wireless signals to in theory be concentrated between the wireless router and connected clients.

Benchmarks from Trusted Reviews, CNET and others all said that the router delivered very impressive transfer speeds over both wireless-N and wireless-AC.

Two years on and the router is still live and in production according to D-Link. However, it has fallen in price considerably since its original release and had various updates and revisions. The question is, two years on – is this still a fantastic router with an even better price tag? Let’s find out.

Setting up the router looks fairly easy but you do have to think a little carefully. For me, I was replacing an old but trustworthy Airport Express which was getting an ethernet feed in from my router downstairs. Now my Airport was smart enough to realise that if I connected the ethernet connection to it’s WAN port, it still could detect there was another LAN in place and gave me the choice of whether I set up a new LAN or use the existing one from the router downstairs. As my NAS is plugged in upstairs and I wanted to share that across the house, I definitely wanted to use the existing LAN. That was all very easy and automated with the Airport.

It’s not quite so simple with the DIR-868L. If you plug your ethernet feed into the WAN port, it will forcefully create a new WAN even if you manually give it commands not to and there seems to be very little way of getting around it, aside from connecting your ethernet feed to a LAN port instead. This is fine and dandy, but the router then won’t believe it is connected to the internet. Swings and roundabouts. I’m yet to find a way around this issue yet, but it’s a minor concern as the router does otherwise function normally once you cross that bridge.

Once you’re up and running, it’s very easy to get connected and start reaping the benefits. When you connect to the router for the first time, it prompts you to configure your own wireless network SSIDs and passphrases if you wish, as well as a custom router admin password. The router of course also supports WPS for easy connection. Great to see router manufacturers are prompting users to set their own passwords rather than leaving the defaults in place.

Performance from the router is still, even by todays standards, very impressive. In my benchmarks (WD MyCloud large file transfer over wireless-AC), I was getting around 38MB/s transfer speeds constantly at around 1m range. At 4m range, this was still around 28MB/s and at 10m range with two brick walls in-between I could achieve around 12MB/s transfer speeds (which is still around 96Mbps). According to CNET, one of the best performing routers of 2015 is the Linksys WRT1900ACS, and they reported that at around 67MB/s transfer speeds at 4m. That’s fantastic – but you’ve got to bear in mind its price tag is approximately £230 on Amazon – almost three times the price!

So can the D-Link DIR-868L still win from a value point of view? In my view, yes – without a doubt. At around £80 it offers what are still considered very high benchmarks and if you’re looking to move your home onto a wireless-AC network, this could be a fantastic starting point. It’s also worth noting that since the original reviews were written back in late 2013, D-Link have given the router’s interface a complete makeover from it’s very dated looking original admin panel – the new interface is much more effective. In addition, you’ve got features such as remote management, USB 3.0 device sharing/streaming support through a built in multimedia server and four Gigabit LAN ports for high speed device connections. For the more technically minded, it is also supported by DD-WRT – great if you wish to push the router to the max and gain even more functionality.

Overall, for the price, it’s a fantastic device with a unique design and very high performance. If you’re looking to move to wireless-AC on a budget, this is a big contender.

Buy now from Amazon 

Buy now from eBay UK

Review: 1byone Battery Case for iPhone 6 and 6s

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Rating: ★★★★½

PROS: 

  • Adds at least an entire extra charge to your iPhone
  • Acts as a durable case for your phone
  • Two bumper colours included in the box
  • Includes audio cable so headphones can still be used

CONS:

  • Adds a little weight to your phone
  • Case charges with microUSB – could be seen as a minor downside to some

RRP £32.99, best price at time of writing £25.99 on Amazon

This particular product was an interesting one for me. I, for the most part (and we do have our disagreements occasionally!), love my iPhone 6 and use it extensively in my day-to-day life. And there’s no doubt about it – it’s a fantastic phone with huge amounts to offer – without even mentioning the new iPhone 6s that has countless additional new features (some of which I think are great, others a tad gimmicky). However, nothing can escape the fact that battery life on most high-end smartphones is still nothing to shout about.

So what can you do about this? Imagine the typical scenario – you’re out and about in the countryside for a weekend or you’ve made your way to a music festival. And half way through your trip your phone battery hits critical. We’ve all been there. Well, there’s really two choices if you haven’t got any form of mains power. Either, you can buy a power bank such as this one (I own a similar model by the same brand), or you can buy a bespoke design battery case for your phone.

And that’s exactly what this is. It works just like any other power bank you might have come across. You simply slide the phone into the case, making sure the lightning port is lined up correctly and pop either of the two included bumpers over the top. On the back, you have a simple power button together with a 4-LED charge indicator. Simply press and hold the rear power button until you iPhone starts charging and that’s all you need to do. You can tap the power button whenever the device is switched on to see the current battery status. When you’re done, you simply press and hold the power button once again and the battery case switches off.

So how well does this one work? Fairly well indeed. It charged my iPhone nice and quickly, and because this device is MFI certified, you can be sure that you won’t get any compatibility issues or charging errors on your phone. I comfortably got an entire phone charge out of the case with a little juice to spare, so for those extended trips where you could use the backup power, this is a must have.

Would I keep it permanently attached to my phone? Probably not. You can by all means do that if you want to – you simply charge the battery case with the included cable and then use that to charge your phone. But I probably wouldn’t. It’s a little too big to keep on my phone all the time, and I would probably keep other cases on the phone when I didn’t need the extra capacity.

However, for its intended purpose, it does a fantastic job and it’ll definitely be a vital tool for when I do go on my travels. It’s ideal for people who enjoy camping, long treks, visiting rural countryside or really anything that keeps you away from the mains for a while. Even those tedious long haul economy flights without a power socket.

Overall, I’m delighted with the device and it certainly will end up permanently in my travel backpack. It’s not the cheapest portable charger on the market at around £30, but the benefit of being able to leave it attached to your phone without cables dangling all over the place certainly outweighs any increased expense.

Buy now from Amazon

Review: 1byone magnetic windscreen phone mount

Rating: ★★★★★

PROS: 

  • Excellent design
  • Good value for money
  • Available in 3 different types to suit all cars and drivers

RRP £12.99, best price at time of writing £5.99 on Amazon

I tell you one thing that really gets on my nerves is the cheap, “universal”, Chinese windscreen phone mounts that you can get for your phone. They rattle, they fall apart after a couple of dozen uses, they are bulky and they are a nightmare to set up perfectly.

So you can imagine how happy I was when 1byone gave me one of their newly designed magnetic windscreen phone mounts to try. They actually come in three different flavours – one for the windscreen, car vent and – interestingly enough – the CD drive for your car.

I opted for the windscreen mount as that tends to work best for my particular car (Mk7 Ford Fiesta). This windscreen mount is different to many others that are available on the market as rather than actually holding your phone with a grip of some sort, a magnetic force is used to keep your phone in place.

Inside the box you get the mount itself, a very thin rectangular magnet and an extra circular thicker magnet.

It works like this – first of all you stick the mount in your car as you normally would. Then, you can either

  • place the thin rectangular magnet inside your phone case – between the phone and the case
  • or place the circular magnet to the back of your phone or case with pre-applied adhesive.

I chose to use the small rectangular magnet which fits snugly inside the official iPhone 6 leather case. You wouldn’t even know it was there – the phone barely appears any thicker than it was.

Once you’ve got your magnet fitted you simply place your phone in front of the mount and, of course, it’ll be magnetically stuck to the mount.

The solution works brilliantly for a number of reasons. First of all, it looks really neat and tidy. Looking at it from the right angle (from the drivers seat) it almost looks like the phone is floating in mid-air!

Second – it DOESN’T RATTLE! I know I tend to be melodramatic about these kinds of things but without doubt this is the first phone mount that doesn’t rattle at all while I’m driving. It’s probably one thing that’ll annoy some people more than others but for me having things rattling in the car drives me mad!

Finally, with it being magnetic, it’s really easy to mount and dismount. Rather than having to find  a small button on the side of the mount to release the phone, now you simply just pull the amount away firmly. And then to put it back, just place it in front of the mount again. Easy!

In this particular case I really can’t find anything to complain about. It’s a simple yet very smart idea that works perfectly in the car.

Overall, this is a fantastic phone mount that will definitely have a permanent place in my car. At just £5.99 (at the time of writing), it’s barely any more expensive than a conventional phone mount, almost making it a no brainer!

Buy now from Amazon