29/07/2015

Huawei E5776s-32 MiFi and Cellhire SIM

MiFi devices have been available for some time and Huawei seem to be the market leader. They act as a local WiFi hotspot and allow other devices to connect to them and they connect to the Internet over a GSM/GPRS/3G or 4G network.

Initially MiFi units were quite simplistic, but they now have quite a lot of functionality built-in and can be configured through a web interface.

Huawei's new E5776s-32 supports a 4G connection and 2.4 Ghz at B,G and N. It has a funky monochrome LCD screen and takes a TS9 connector for an external antenna allowing for extra radio sensitivity. The manual with the device claims the following:

  • offers up to 6 hours of working time and up to 300 hours of standby
  • supports 10 WiFi clients
  • provides up to 150 Mbps 4G LTE and 43.2 Mbps 3G download
  • supports 2.4 GHz and 5GHz WiFi 802.11b/g/n
  • features menu-style LCD UI with support for multiple languages

In testing, the device didn't support WiFi over 5GHz, but maybe this will come later with a firmware update. The unit is configured through a web page access through a browser on a connected device.

The 4G connection is a class Cat 4 giving the unit a maximum throughput of 150Mbps on the mobile radio interface along with 150Mbps/s for the N wireless so should allow for decent bandwidth through the unit. The settings are easy to configure withou too much baffling information and so it should only take 5 mins to get up and running.

It's customary to test units in an urban environment where 4G is well established but there is also a lot of Wi-Fi around, much of which is free. In order to do a more useful test, the MiFi was taken to Wales. The unit was placed into the glove box of the car with the external antenna connection to an aerial on a magnetic mount stuck to the outside of the car. This gave an incar hotspot for the duration of the trip. The Huawei gave a very good signal for most of the journey where as the Note 4 would indicate a poor signal. Doing a straight comparison between the phone and the signal with the Huawei and aerial showed that in every location the E5776s got a better signal.

There were some times where it looked like there was enough signal through the mobile phone network for the E5776s but phone and latop refused to connect to the E5776s for periods of up to 10 minutes, the phone showing that is was waiting for the internet quality to improve, but this may well have been a congested cell in Vodafone's network or other network issue. Generally though it was worth using the superior connection of the MiFi.

In conclusion it makes sense to use the Huawei MiFi in rural areas with an external aerial so it can handle the connection to the mobile network and devices connect over WiFi. If it's your mobile phone connected the battery will last noticeably longer as it won't have to use battery power talking to cells that are a long distance away.

The MiFi came with a Cellhire SIM which allows International roaming for a fixed cost (though not particularly cheap), the SIM is guaranteed to work abroad and cost are capped which is more suited to the business traveller. As the SIMs are 3G and 4G you'll get access to those networks when travelling, quite a lot of consumer services only give access to slower 2G networks.

Urban situation 4/10 Everywhere else 8/10

21/07/2015

Ofcom rules Vice isn't subject to UK On-Demand fees

Ofcom, the Super Regulator has upheld an appeal by Vice UK that it's video service is not subject to Authority for Television On Demand (ATVOD) regulation and is thus not required to pay fees as an “on-demand programme service” (ODPS) for the purposes of Part 4A of the Communications Act 2003 (the Act).

ATVOD originally determined that Vice (specifically the "tab" at Vice Video was subject to ODPS regulation and thus subject to ODPS fees.

Ofcom have overturned this decision as the Vice Video tab is under editorial control from the US and thus outside the regulatory auspices of Ofcom/ATVOD.

The full response from Ofcom can be found here as a PDF.

15/07/2015

Xaomi MI smart band - Chinese tech at Chinese pricing

There are lots of smartbands on the market at the moment all claiming to aid fittness by quantifying activity on a daily basis. Many companies have been preaching expensive devices which limit their attractiveness to the general market, however there are now devices coming out at the lower end of the market (such as the Jawbone UP Move which was reviewed recently). Lower pricing means that more consumers will use these devices and start tracking what they're doing.

Xaomi are a Chinese mobile phone maker who have been producing a range of phones that compete with Samsung's Galaxy offerings. It has recently been branching out into other products such as Internet TV's and fittness products.

Xaomi recently launched the Mi band, originally only available in China, it's now available to the wider market. The Mi band arrives in a rather plain card box box and contains the Mi unit (in aluminium) which fits into a silicon strap with 'pop' style clasp so it's easy to fit. There's also an odd looking USB charging cable and some Chinese instructions. Not a lot in the box but it's pretty much self explanatory.

First thing to do is charge the Mi unit by placing it on to the charging cable and plugging it into a spare USB port. Then download the app (available for iOS and Android, search for Xaomi) and then it's ready to start measuring.

There's no display on the band, just 3 LEDs. These correspond with either pairing or the amount of effort you have made to complete your steps. The band paired with a Galaxy Note 4 and it's lasted several days without a recharge.

The interface on the "Mi fit" app is faily simple with a round counter showing how far you've progressed towards your step goals. It tracks sleep and steps like most of the others and does a good job. Compared to other apps such as the S Health app on the phone and another band it showed the similar data for steps and mileage. The interface is relatively simple as can be seen below:

The app shows how you have been doing everytime you open it. There is no background syncing going on, which may be a good thing for battery life. The band tells you with a buzz when you have reached your step goal anyhow. The app does though have a couple of differences, compared to others. It shows you the amount of fat you have burned which is fairly depressing. A US band probably wouldn't show this information because it could be seen as negative. There are also no goals to reach like Nike and there are no pep talks such as Fitbit and Jawbone. Very plain and simple and to the point. Sleep tracking is automatic without having to press anything which is a nice feature (the Misfit Shine also does this and though the Microsoft band has a sleep mode, it can auto-detect sleep if you forget to manually set it) but there is no info apart from a histogram about what it looked like.

Bacause the Xaomi Mi band is basic, it also misses some of the accelarometer information of some of the other devices and it cannot necessarily differentiate between different activities like other apps. There is also no way of telling it what you are doing and for how long. For example last week having walked about a bit and cycled about 35 miles the Samsung app shows this:

While the Xaomi App shows this:

Conclusion

So even though the Xaomi Mi band is not great at everything and there is still some work to do its not a bad piece of kit. The fact you can also get it for £15.99 on Amazon is an amazing deal!

4/5 for general getting fitter (walking and running) 1/5 for sports people

17/06/2015

Apple gets big connections

Apple are building up their connectivity worldwide. They already had connections into LINX (the London Internet eXchange), unfortunately they don't say what connectivity they have. Now Apple has taken more connectivity into LONAP who do publish what connectivity their members take, and Apple have taken a big chunk 4*10GE + 4*10GE + 4*10GE + 4*10GE, which makes a whopping 160GB of bandwidth (the next largest members only take 2 x 10GE).

Apple's huge bandwidth requirements could be for many reasons, but it's likely that they'll be pushing stuff into the exchanges rather than getting traffic from other sources. This is likely to improve Apple's download services (there's always big spikes in exchange traffic when say, Apple release a new version of MacOS X or iOS).

More likely it's to support Apple's new Apple Pay service that is coming to the UK in July (along with the latest version of iOS), supporting the alleged 250,000 merchants who are going to offer Apple Pay on it's release, means a lot of potential traffic back to Apple (though the wireless terminals will connect back to the merchant services servers such as Barclaycard), but mobile users paying for stuff in-apps/etc will go back to Apple.

Another reason for so much traffic is Apple's new streaming music service that launches soon (they want to replace Spotify) and streaming music does require LOTS of bandwidth.

After examining LONAP's member list, it seems the total bandwidth of all the members is around 630Mb/s (excluding content providers such as the BBC, Netflix, Google and Microsoft), so Apple's connectivity accounts for 25% of all their bandwidth. Google only have 40Gb/s, Microsoft 20Gb/s, BBC 20Mb/s and Netflix 30Gb/s.

12/06/2015

Jawbone Move, cost effective tracking

The Jawbone Move retails for £39 which is pretty reasonable for a tracker. It does look a bit cheap as it's made of plastic and comes with a clip that can attach to your clothes (pocket or belt) and also a silicon strap. Unfortunately the strap isn't particularly strong and relies on tension to keep it together, which may not suit all sports activities as it can get loose when wearing tight fitting sleeves and then come off when removing your top (which happened and the initial version disappeared one day). When wearing the strap it does look a bit like wearing a 'ladies' watch which some may not like.

The boxed product is very minimal as it just contains the Move and the clip and simple instructions on how to set it up (which means installing the Jawbone UP app, available on both Android and iOS).

The UP software is pretty good, though pretty American-centric with a lot of "YEAH" "YOUR GREAT!!" and stuff going on but it is nice and it makes interesting reading. The sleep function is excellent and encourages you to improve your sleep patterns which seemed to work. Just press the button on the sensor before you go to bed and it records sleeping patterns. It also showed that any night drinking sleep patterns changed so that is all very useful stuff. Sleeping is as important as exercising so Jawbone is right on the money here with that feature. It was a little disappointing that the app cannot distinguish between the various exercises easily. A good example of this is with cycling. The sensor has the ability to track any walking or running through the fact that steps make it jolt so it tracks all walking but is a bit vague when running. However, when cycling your hands are on the handlebars so they are not moving and it misses all of this tracking which can be quite a bit of exercise. The app seems to have complete reliance on the sensor to give the app what data it need's, but the app itself is not being clever enough to know that you're moving (even though GPS is turned on so why not sample it), the app could make a rough guess at what's happening as it knows it's moving and what speed it's doing (even without the sensor) so could guesstimate exercise being done. So ultimately the reason for buying this product is to quantify oneself. This means the question is: Does it work and is it useful? Well, wearing the Move daily for everyday useit does work. It tells you if you have done enough exercise and tells you if you have slept enough and it gives some handy hints on what you could do better. Here's some data from a normal day.

what you see is a rolling view of how you're doing compared to your friends. How they slept and exercised versus your view. The competitive person will use that as motivation to be better than your friends.

To summarise: If you are in the market for a budget fitness tracker then this is the one to go for right now. For £39 its got enough features to allow you to understand how much movement you need to achieve to be fitter and to lose those Lb's and get back to a "you" that is more what you want. The app is great and doesn't take up that much battery for what it does and although could do with working out more activities its plenty good enough for the person wanting to get fitter and needs a helping hand.

27/04/2015

MIPS "open sources" CPU

Imagination Technologies who make graphics chips and bought the chip designs of MIPS have made the underlying MIPS processor design available to academic institutions for free.

The CPU has all the features (MMU, cache controllers, debug interfaces, etc.) that a modern operating system needs to run (such as Linux and Android). The actual RTL is included in the release.

This will allow the running of the CPU on an FPGA (field programmable gate array) and Imagination Technology hope that it will lead new new innovations in the Internet of Things, mobile and automative arenas.

This is the first time a complete commercial CPU has been released and is pretty innovative of Imagination. There is a site Opencores and someone did post an ARM compatible CPU, but it was pulled at the request of ARM.

18/03/2015

Beddit - tracking your sleep

Beddit is a device that has a little computing/Bluetooth module and a ultra-thin film sensor that's placed on the mattress that measures your sleep. The strip should be placed on the bed, approximately where your chest is.

Older versions of the device used a Bluetooth 2.0 module which meant the accompanying app (iOS and Android) took forever to connect, while newer versions have a Bluetooth 4 (SMART) module and as soon as the app is opened it connects almost immediately.

The app then tracks sleep quality, respiration and heart rate. It shows how many times you got out of bed, when you went to bed and when you got up. Unfortunately currently you need to start the app to do this which means if you forget, say because you're drunk - when you'd really like to know how you slept, it won't measure anything.

If you do remember to pen the app, then you get a nice display of min/max heart rate and averaged breaths per minute and then a visual graph of what kind of sleep you were in.

The next version of the app should automatically connect when near the Beddit sensor and then know when you go to bed and automatically track your sleep. It may also have a live display showing breathing and/or heart rate.

If you have problems sleeping, this won't cure them, but will show you your sleep patterns and maybe help you improve them.

If you're a Misfit user, Beddit also works with the Misfit app (so will use the Beddit to track your sleep rather than the Misfit Shine/etc).

Prices vary widely on-line, but it can be had for as little as £61.